viola_racketThey burn longer and hold more beer, but did you know that violas make excellent tennis rackets? British violist Graham Oppenheimer has created a video tutorial showing how to turn an unwanted viola into a useful lightweight tennis racket. Just pull off all the extra pieces (the strings, tailpiece, pegs, chin rest, etc.), fill it with expanding builder’s foam, brush it with polyurethane varnish, wrap the neck, and you’ll be good to go. It even fits perfectly inside of a tennis racket case!

This isn’t the first time that an enterprising musician has found other uses for a stringed instrument. The Viola-Matic carbon fiber viola serves an all-purpose kitchen tool. On the flip side, there’s the National Symphony Orchestra violinist Glenn Donelan who created an electric violin out of a Louisville Slugger.

To learn more about how to transform a viola into something you might actually use, check out the video below.

via The Violin Channel


SecondNature-911x612Lyric Unlimited will soon present a new opera in a “wild” venue – the Lincoln Park Zoo. Four world-premiere performances of Second Nature, a children’s opera by Matthew Aucoin, will take place on August 19 and 20. The 45-minute performances, recommended for children ages 7 to 12, are free and open to the public.

Second Nature takes place in a dystopian future, where humans must live in an artificial habitat due to the deterioration of the environment. Two brave children decide to venture outside in order to revive the planet. The opera’s environmentally-friendly message will be supported at each performance by an interactive, informational talk about conservation work at Lincoln Park Zoo.

This performance is part of Lyric Unlimited’s long-term initiative that brings opera to and collaborates with communities throughout Chicago. “Two facets of Lyric Unlimited’s mission are to identify and nurture new operatic talent and to present opera that explores contemporary themes in unexpected venues. Second Nature succeeds on both counts,” said Cayenne Harris, director of Lyric Unlimited. “We are so pleased that families will be able to enjoy this work that celebrates the importance of nature and conservation in a setting as appropriate as Lincoln Park Zoo.”

The performances will take place at Café Brauer in the Lincoln Park Zoo (2021 North Stockton Dr., Chicago) on Wednesday, August 19 at 10 AM and 12 PM, and Thursday, August 20 at 4 PM and 6 PM. Although the performances are free, reservations are recommended. Free tickets and complete information are available at



This is a joint review between Viola da Voce and Contrapuntist.

If Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals are gems renowned for their heartfelt storylines and memorable melodies, then Carousel is the Hope Diamond. Cited by TIME magazine as the greatest musical of the 20th century, the musical transforms Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár’s work into a work of nearly operatic scale. In fact when the show opened in 1945, Broadway performers sang without microphones, just like operatic vocalists.

Like great opera, musical theater demands excellent vocals, great theatrics, a beautiful score and an unforgettable story. It’s appropriate then, that Lyric Opera of Chicago tackled this musical in the third year of its American Music Theater Initiative.

Contrapuntist and I have seen plenty of musicals at community theaters and as part of Broadway in Chicago productions. We’ve also been to numerous operas at Lyric. As a result, we were curious to see what would happen when the opera company put on a musical. We also didn’t know what to expect from Steven Pasquale, who is playing the character of Billy Bigelow. We had only seen him as the meathead firefighter Sean Garrity on the TV dramedy, Rescue Me.

The outcome was both mesmerizing and memorable. Pasquale is a masterful singer, who performed with unexpected power and tenderness in “If I Loved You” and “Soliloquy”.  Laura Osnes’s (Julie Jordan) voice soared with forthright passion in “If I Loved You” and “What’s the Use of Wondrin’”.  Jenn Gambatese (Carrie Pipperidge) sang with silvery clarity and ditzy innocence.

Denyce Graves graced the stage as Nettie Fowler. Her grand operatic voice seemed overpowering in comparison to the rest of the cast, which is our only minor critique. However, her performance of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was spiritual enough to raise the hairs on our arms.

Hearing the full orchestra perform the score under the direction of David Chase also brought out the rich harmonies and complex orchestration not heard in simplified arrangements for smaller ensembles.

Abigail Simon excelled in her heart-wrenching portrayal of Louise, Billy Bigelow’s daughter, during the ballet in the second act. Her motions captured the angst of a child carrying the burden of her parent’s actions.

Lyric Opera’s production of Carousel allows the audience to experience this musical in a different way than a Broadway show. The high-quality singing coupled with the full orchestra brought the musical’s emotional character to fruition in a way that could only happen in an opera house.

Carousel runs April 10 to May 3 at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr., Chicago. Tickets start at $29, and are available at or at 312-827-5600.


curtin_blackoakWant to learn about the science of violins from a renowned luthier and journey from Bach to Balkan music all in one night? Then you’ll want to check out Joseph Curtin and the Black Oak Ensemble present: The Music & Science of Old and New Violins. The event will feature a talk by MacArthur Fellow Joseph Curtin and a performance by the internationally acclaimed Black Oak Ensemble on Saturday, March 7 at the International House, 1414 E. 59th St., Chicago.

Curtin has created violins for artists including Ilya Kaler, Yehudi Menuhin, and Ruggiero Ricci. He was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2005. In 2013, the “ex-Ricci” Curtin & Alf violin set a world record price for an instrument by a living maker when it sold in auction for $132,000. Recently, Curtin delivered a colloquium on violin science at Stanford University and was featured in an NPR story about Stradivari instruments.

The Black Oak Ensemble consists of the award-winning soloists and chamber musicians Goran Ivanovic (guitar), Desirée Ruhstrat (violin), David Cunliffe (cello), and Aurélian Fort Penderzoli (violin/viola). The group has performed on Live on WFMT, The Steinway Series, Music in the Loft Series, and the Ravinia Festival. The ensemble’s performance will take the audience on a journey from Bach to Balkan with works by composers including  Bach, Beethoven, Bartok , Paganini , Monti, Piazolla, Kreisler/de Falla and Ivanovic.

The event schedule is as follows:
5:30PM: Doors open
6:00PM: Joseph Curtin talk, audience questions, and intermission
7:30PM: Black Oak Ensemble Concert
8:30PM: Concert ends. Reception for people with VIP tickets begins.
9:30PM: VIP Reception Ends

Ticket Tiers and Prices:
VIP: $35 – Only 50 available. VIP tickets include a special reception with the artists after the concert
General admission: $25
Student: Free – Reservation required, and students must show a valid UChicago student ID at the door.

To purchase tickets, or for more information, click here.

Photo credits: Joseph Curtin by Ching Chen Juhl. Black Oak Ensemble courtesy Black Oak Ensemble 


ErlkoenigSchubertManuscriptPageI’m now in the third part of my series about a playlist which I created for one of my violin students who came to me never having listened to classical music. Part one is available here, and part two is here.

7. Franz Schubert’s Der Erlkönig Op. 1, D 328

I wanted to introduce my student to the operatic style of singing. But opera can be an acquired taste. I didn’t learn to like it until I got to college and became friends with several sopranos.  I decided that Der Erlkönig would be an ideal gateway for my student to learn about operatic singing. It’s only about four minutes long, so it’s easily digestible. Plus, it has a compelling story about a father, his son, and the evil elf king who kills the boy right in his father’s arms.

8. John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine

At this point in the playlist, my student had listened to music mostly from the romantic, classical, and Baroque periods of music. I wanted to move her towards various styles of contemporary classical music. John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine is probably one the most easily approachable works from contemporary style known as minimalism.This piece is loud, boisterous, and includes an intriguing array of percussion instruments. I love this particular video because it shows many of the different instruments in the orchestra up close, and I wanted my student to become familiar with instruments outside of the string family.

9. Igor Stravinsky’s “Infernal Dance” from The Firebird Suite

As with the John Adams piece, I wanted to continue familiarizing my student with contemporary classical music. But this time, I wanted to drive her towards the Russian composers of the early 20th century. The Firebird Suite was the first music by Stravinsky that I had played or even heard, back when I was in youth orchestra. I was about the same age as my student when I fell in love with this work, so I hope it would appeal to her as well. I was fiendishly delighted when my student told me that the explosive first chord of this piece startled her.  I remember having the same experience. That chord really is scary the first time you hear it.

Image of  Der Erlkönig manuscript via Wikimedia Commons


Part 2: Playlist for a Violinist Who’s Never Listened to Classical Music

February 13, 2015

This is the second part of my series about a playlist which I created for one of my violin students who came to me without ever having listened to classical music. You can read part one here. 4. Mozart’s Allegro from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Serenade in G, K. 525 Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is not only […]

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Lyric to Premiere Klezmer Opera Adapted from Graphic Novel

February 4, 2015

Lyric Unlimited will soon present the world premiere of a true rarity – a klezmer opera based on a graphic novel.  The Property, by composer Wlad Marhulets and librettist Stephanie Fleischmann, is drawn from a graphic novel of the same name by acclaimed Israeli author Rutu Modan. Performances will take place in partnership with the […]

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Playlist for a Violinist Who’s Never Listened to Classical Music: Part 1

January 30, 2015

I recently began to teach a junior high-aged violinist who had played the violin for six years, but had never listened to classical music. As a Suzuki-trained violin teacher, I believe that listening to high-quality performances and recordings is a must. Learning how to play an instrument without listening to music would be the equivalent […]

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Three Christmas Flash Mobs Celebrate the Season

December 24, 2014

There’s nothing like a flash mob to add a joyful zing to holiday music. Here are three Christmas flash mobs guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Students from the Berklee School of Music joined Boston musicians to perform “O Holy Night” in the courtyard of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Soloist Mark Joseph […]

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Hanukkah Music Takeoffs on Taylor Swift, Meghan Trainor, and More

December 18, 2014

If you can’t get enough of “Shake It Off” and “All About That Bass”, then you’re in luck. The Jewish singing groups Six13 and the Maccabeats have created their own takeoffs on the popular tunes to celebrate Hanukkah 2014. And if you like a little dancing to spice up your Hanukkah music, then you’ll love […]

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