In my second duo experiment I met up with accordionist, Andrew Waite. We explored 3 tunes together; ‘Broken Heart’ by Rodney Miller, an un-named tune written by Andrew and ‘Tebay’ written by myself.
We started with ‘Broken Heart’, a clip from the original is in the video below:
I adapted the melody to fit more comfortably on the viola. Below is the original score with the melody rising up to F5 and using the E string on a violin then my altered score with the melody going down to F4 using the D string on the viola:
Although it’s possible to play the original melody by shifting on the A string, it doesn’t necessarily make the tune accessible to amateur viola players. My alteration in the second image requires no extended technique and therefore doesn’t restrict who can play it. Furthermore the adaptation can be used as a variation for players that are comfortable shifting. Andrew and I discussed this alteration from a musical perspective, both agreeing that the change in pitch of the ‘F’ note, in bar 14, delayed the top of the musical phrase, pushing it onto the ‘D’ note in bar 15 creating an interesting variation to the melody. We surmised that the perceived limitations of the viola created a positive and different approach to the melodic result and style.
The combination of viola and accordion resulted in a full texture. I found switching between melody, harmony and accompaniment really satisfying over the accordion’s rich sound. I also improvised some counter-melodies and string lines. The contrast in texture between the accordion and viola gave enough space for us both to improvise, build musically and eventually arrive back at the melody without getting in each other’s way.
We approached playing together in a really fluid and improvisatory way, discussing little of structure or a ‘plan’. This resulted in a vibrant experience. I found playing with Andrew very easy and enjoyable, we both seemed to get into a good groove with all the tunes we explored. Below is a video of one of our takes of Broken Heart:
After Broken Heart we moved onto one of Andrew’s tunes. It currently doesn’t have a title but he informed me that it had been written for his grandmother. He taught the melody to me to begin with which is shown in the scores below; firstly in treble clef and secondly in alto clef and consequently the register for the viola melody:
Once the melody was secure we moved on to the chords and arrived at this draft arrangement shown in the video below:
I think this melody really suited the sonority of the viola, especially towards the ends of both the A and B parts where the bottom end of the viola could be utilised. It is always satisfying when a tune fits on the viola and the instrument is allowed to show off it’s resonances with the C string. Something which doesn’t always occur when a lot of Trad. tunes are in the key of A, which I have found to be particularly tricky to fit on the viola.
Finally we looked at a composition of my own, ‘Tebay’. This tune is quite expansive and broad but lends itself to a driving, dance-like accompaniment. Andrew likened it to the vibe that the Elbow song, ‘One Day Like This’, has and asked if he could incorporate similar rhythmic patterns in the accompaniment. On knowing this melody the most I felt very comfortable in improvising and jumping between chords, melody and complimentary lines. The score in both treble and alto clef are below. This is a melody that would not fit comfortably on the violin without shifting. Although this was not my intention, I quite like that this tune may push violin-fiddlers to doing something other than melody. Furthermore, it’s interesting that tunes in other keys can perhaps ‘exclude’ certain instruments due to complexity or accessibility. A feeling that has been felt by participants in my focus groups with regards to the viola.
In summary I think the viola and accordion worked extremely well together. The disparate tone of the instruments allowed the instrumental identity to remain, but the thick texture and resonance facilitated a pleasing musical blend. The duo gave space for the viola to experiment and the accordion supported the viola when it had the melody. Perhaps when the roles were reversed, accordion melody/viola accompaniment, rendered the viola getting lost a little but that could be down to the instrument I was playing on. I am in need of a new viola; a bigger one which would display the viola’s qualities greater and therefore may be able to sustain a credible accompaniment part to the accordion. This experiment has strengthened my idea that the viola can be the lead instrument in an ensemble; albeit with different qualities to a higher pitched instrument, like the violin, but that it is a viable option for creative work.
2 thoughts on “Duo Experiment 2 with Andrew Waite – Viola and Accordion”
I found this article through a search for “violas in folk music”, and I’m glad I landed here. I’m an experienced solo and small ensemble amateur musician, mostly voice, but with French horn and guitar in my past. My I’m considering taking up the viola in midlife as a way to keep myself learning, and because I’ve been in love with its sound since first hearing it as a solo instrument in my teens. A nagging question in my mind is if this choice of instrument would box me into too limited role in limited genres and repertoire. Your blog helps assure me there are people out there taking the viola into new spaces. Thank you for the thoughtful and detailed narrative of your exploration. You’ve given me hope and encouragement that the viola holds potential for me intrinsically and in the forms of musical exploration I most enjoy.
Hi Joseph, thank you so much for your comment! I’m glad you’re finding this useful. I’m hoping to do better at updating the blog – so much to write! Please stay in touch, I’d like to hear more about what you are up to. Best, Emma