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Loving the viola

Why do so many people take an instant dislike to the viola? Because it saves time. I kid, I kid! I'm part of a lovely chamber music concert being held Sunday, April 6 at 4pm at Christ Church Episcopal, 7 Elm Street, in Westerly RI. We are the Ariosti Ensemble, named for Attilio Ariosti, a well-regarded Italian composer whose sonatas for viola d'amore (translation: viol of love) are part of the standard Baroque chamber repertoire. Okay, my eight blog readers: What is a viola d'amore, and why should you care? Dr. Joe Ceo with his viola d'amore

If violins are the sopranos of the orchestra, then the violas are altos -- and the viola d'amores are the Red Hat Ladies of the section, proud of their maturity and celebrating their unique experience. Violins play the highest pitches, while violas have a deeper, mellower sound. In addition to its six strings, the viola d'amore has extra "sympathetic" strings that vibrate as the top strings are played by the bow. These extra vibrations give the viola d'amore a distinctively warm, sweet sound.  The "d'amore" indicates the era in which the instrument was developed -- there is also an oboe d'amore. Both instruments date back to the 17th century, and are still used in Baroque ensembles. Violas, and viola d'amores, are notoriously difficult to keep in tune. Hence, the plethora of viola jokes.

Did you hear about the violist who played in tune? Neither did I.

Joe and Eden, rehearsing for the Ariosti Ensemble Concert

Dr. Joe Ceo knows me from our work together at Salve Regina University (where he directed the orchestra for 17 years and I'm a voice teacher), and at the Chorus Of Westerly (where he plays plain old viola and I sing plain old Soprano 1). When Joe invited me to sing with the Ariosti Ensemble, we originally chose arias by Ariosti and by J.S. Bach. We've ditched the Ariosti and have kept the Bach. (It's "Stein, der uber alle Schatze" BWV 152, composed in 1714.) We've also added a piece by Leonardo Vinci. No, it's not the "da" guy who had a special code. This Leonardo came along about 250 years later, and I don't think he painted a thing. He wrote about 50 operas in his short life. He died at 43, poisoned by his girlfriend's husband; one of those dramatic endings that is also apparently true. I'm thrilled to perform Vinci's coloratura-centric "Mesta O Dio fra queste selve," written in 1728.

What's the difference between a viola and a trampoline? You take your shoes off to jump on the trampoline.

I invite you to ignore the viola haters, choose love, and specifically choose to attend this wonderful concert featuring the much-maligned viola d'amore. This is the final event of the Arts Commission's season. The concert will last about an hour and 15 minutes total. In addition to my arias, the Ariosti Ensemble will perform J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 6, and a world premiere chamber piece by Derek Ferris. Admission is always free, and  always includes a fabulous reception right after the concert. Since we have Derek's world premiere to celebrate, there will be champagne. So, I hope to see you at Christ Church on Sunday at 4 -- to listen, be merry, and drink. In that order!

We're ready!





Hallelujah, it's Lent (almost)!

Father, forgive me: I love Lent. The Dogma Dogs of Franciscan University of Steubenville have the same idea.

In fact, I celebrate the liturgies of Lent! The first time I attended an Ash Wednesday service, I was in RCIA. I was so thrilled to get to participate in a sacrament. . . even though it was not technically required. I loved getting those ashes. I didn't wash my forehead for days. I love attending Stations of the Cross and recalling the Passion. I love having some special readings and devotions in my purse. I love the huge changes in the Palm Sunday Mass, from the triumphant "Hosanna" at the beginning of Mass to the too-quiet, unnerving ending, a foreshadowing of the Triduum. I love processing through the incense-filled church to "Pange Lingua," then watching the altar being stripped bare on Holy Thursday. I love the long, long line to kiss the Crucifix at Good Friday. I LOVE IT!

Musically, to me, Lent is the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. Everyone seems to get more focused, and when they do get loud, it's not a boast or a joyful cry -- it's a supplication. Simple melodies. Aching, yearning music. Everyone hearkens back to the "churchy" sounds that remind them of, well, church. Chanted Psalms, or at least chant-like. Palestrina. Victoria. Byrd. Purcell. Bruckner. Bach. And -- one of my favorites -- Allegri's famous treatment of Psalm 51 (here's a zip file of yours truly singing the highest part of the "Miserere" several, uh, years ago). I also like some new music for the organ-free Triduum, especially this treatment of the "The Reproaches."

In many ways, Lent is a 40-day feast for my ears.When parishes reserve chant and Bach, etc. for Lent, it always makes me grin like a Cheshire cat. It's no penance for me to have such music. At my previous parish, we always switched to chanting the Kyrie  and the Agnus Dei . . I never wanted Lent to end!

Lent is arduous for me when there is little to no recognition of its uniqueness -- when the music is the same old, same old stuff from "Breaking Bread" and other recyclable Missallettes, played the same way. If I had to endure this version of "We Remember" every day of Lent, that might be a proper Cross-- and I'd probably lose weight, too. Instead of giving up Facebook, maybe I should give up the St. Matthew Passion. The thought makes me shudder enough that I probably ought to consider it.


Voice Lessons, Vocal Coaching, Piano Coaching, Performance Coaching, and Musical Production.

Eden Casteel Music Studio, 81 Post Road, Wakefield RI 02879. Phone: 401-932-5589.