Imagination, Motivation, Intention, Tools
Ear magnet: That sound that draws you in. Captures your breath. Makes you move. Embraces your soul. I heard this at Utah Symphony. It was a solo instrument: ethereal and substantial; I could not tell which: wind or sail? I heard it several times, in several concerts, searching the 90-member stage for its source. Finally: Viola, Brant.
Principal Viola for Utah Symphony, Brant Bayless plays the viola solos wandering through the orchestral repertoire, and if you go on the right night, you’ll hear him play. There is something about his sound. Others hear it, too. Like his instrument, Brant is big, but not too big, and genial in his luminescence, and I wanted to know from whence his sound radiated. So I invited him over to offer some clues. “Bring me your best bow arm exercises,” I asked him, “The ones you relied on to develop your sound. Can you draw it out of me?” I plied him with homemade chili & cornbread.
Brant came over Friday between morning rehearsal and evening concert, after his 30-mile bike ride uphill (This is Utah, we have real mountains here.), and we spent a couple of hours working. He talked about straight bowing, the upper & lower arm triangles, and the square the arm passes through getting from one to the other. Pressure and weight. Even speed. Even distribution. As he talked, a vague irritation began to brew in me. This was not new information. I’d heard it all before, in various wordings, from pretty much every violist or violinist that I’ve worked with. It’s pretty standard stuff, apparently codified by Ivan Galamian in his 1960s book Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching. I wanted to know what made Brant’s sound Brant’s sound, and I wasn’t getting an answer. Piss me off! The best Brant could convey is that, yes, we all know and use this information, but there are so many variables: a person’s size, coordination, imagination, motivation, instrument, opportunities and on and on. Pretty much anyone can get the bio-mechanical principals advocated by Galamian and learn to play the instrument. But how can you predict who’s make-up will allow them to get good at it?
For Brant, it was Pinchas Zukerman at Manhattan School of Music who imparted essential technique and insisted that Brant take time to work on it. Yet, being the student that he was, it was only after he graduated and pointed his musical direction in life that Brant intentionally applied these tools to burnish his sound to match his imagination. More I could not learn in our interview. In many ways, Brant is a genuinely ordinary guy. He goes to work and pays his mortgage. He gets home in time to take over childcare so his wife can get to work. When he can, he fits in bike rides in the summer and skiing in the winter. But his sound! His sound speaks another sphere.
Article originally published on Violinist.com