Viola Section Tunes Up For LASO’s Spring Concert

The Los Alamos Symphony Orchestra viola section rehearses for its May 2 performance. Photo by Bonnie J. Gordon/
Los Alamos Daily Post

The Los Alamos Symphony Orchestra (LASO) will perform its Spring Concert at 7 p.m. Friday, May 2 at Crossroads Bible Church and the viola section is busy preparing. The program includes “Overture to Nabucco” by Giuseppe Verdi, “Carmen Suite #1” by Georges Bizet and “Symphony in D minor” by César Franck.

The viola, the violin’s larger, deeper sounding sibling, may not get as much attention, but the smooth, mellow tones of the viola have captured the hearts of a number of dedicated musicians.

Sam Sherrill, a junior at Los Alamos High School started playing viola at age nine. He chose the viola because his siblings played the bass and the cello and he wanted to carve out his own musical space. Kate Kettering and Kathleen Neher played viola together at Los Alamos High School.

“My brother told me that string quartets are always looking for viola players,” Neher said.

Several of the violists mentioned that since there are fewer violists than violinists, opportunities to play are more numerous.

Neher went on to major in viola performance at the University of Kansas.

“I made my first check playing viola with a rock band,” she said.

Neher also plays viola with the Worship Band at Calvary Chapel.

Many of the members of LASO’s viola section started out as violinists and switched to viola. Lisa Van Sickle started playing the violin as a child and began playing the viola about seven years ago.

“The first piece I ever played on the viola was the Franck piece we’re playing in this concert,” she said. “I wanted to see what it was like to play one of the inner voices, not the highest and not the lowest. The viola is completely different than the violin.”

Linnea Ohlsen made the switch to viola in high school, when a violist was needed for a string quartet.

“When I started playing viola, it was love,” she said.

Ohlsen is the viola first chair. Neher talked her into joining LASO. She moved from Los Alamos 27 years ago and recently returned. Ohlsen also plays with the Rosewell Symphony Orchestra. Rebecca Krentz-Wee made the switch from violin to viola in college.

“It took me about two weeks to get used to playing in the alto clef,” she said. “I discovered playing with string quartets and that was it.”

Music for the viola is written in alto clef, which uses the C clef. The alto clef is rarely used by other instruments. Music for the violin is written in treble clef.

KokHeong McNaughton started playing violin as an adult, along with her children. She began playing viola seven or eight years ago. Now she plays both instruments.

“The viola is more forgiving,” McNaughton said. “The viola is more mellow and very soulful.”

All of the pieces on the program have nice parts for viola, Ohlsen said.

“The Franck has beautiful, lush inner voices,” she said.

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