Born Again Viola Player

If you are reading this and didn’t know, you are one of the last people on the planet to hear that, a couple of weeks ago, I PASSED MY GRADE 8 VIOLA.  I think I have told everyone else: Facebook, Twitter, random people in the street.  I have even been half expecting it to appear on the BBC News app.
From beginner to these lofty heights (Grade 8 is the last of 8 exams, each of progressing difficulty) took me 7 years and I am thoroughly ashamed to tell you that I have been totally full of myself about it.  Yes, it is an achievement, albeit one which some brilliant child would have achieved in a fraction of the time, but if I’m honest it’s nothing to do with the viola itself that makes the moment special.  It’s because in middle age, you hardly expect to learn anything new, let alone get any good at it.  So, setting your sights on something and still managing to get there somehow shows that one is not over the hill.  Not quite at any rate.
But why the viola (like a violin but a bit bigger)?  Well, my initial objective was to find out what it was like to play in an orchestra rather than just conducting it and I assumed that, because it is so deeply unsexy, as a viola player I would quickly be able to join a band that was better than I was.  In fact, I assumed that even Grade 2 would be enough for them to worship the ground my feet walked on.  After all, viola players are supposed to be crap, right?
Q: What’s the similarity between a viola player’s fingers and lightning? 
A: They never strike the same place twice.

This has turned out to be one of many misconceptions, because every viola section I have ever played in has been really, really good.  Full of ex-professionals even (so Grade 3 then?  Ed.).
Joke: A viola player accidentally leaves their viola on the front seat of their car with the window open. Half an hour later, realising their mistake, they rush back in a panic to find that, thank goodness, the viola is still there. And sitting next to it is another viola.
Before my head gets so big that passing flies are involuntarily sucked into orbit around it, consider the achievement of my friend, impressionist Alistair McGowan.  After a glittering career in TV and radio, Alistair took up the piano ten years ago and has become so obsessed by it, he has recorded a best-selling piano album for Sony, toured a show in which he combined his talents as an impressionist with his pianism and, oh yes, started a piano festival in his hometown of Ludlow.
Now in its second year, the Ludlow Piano Festival happens over five days in May and features 19 events in 3 venues and two of them are me.  On 22nd of this month I will be taking part in Alistair’s, trademark Celebrity Piano Concert in which pianists of all hues and professions come out to flaunt their stuff.  This year’s cast of ten also includes comedian Tim Vine and Radio 3 presenter Tom Service, plus Alistair himself, all hosted by local TV personality Shefali Oza.  The following morning I’ll be on the boards again at the Ludlow Assembly Rooms doing my simple but stupid guide to everything classical, All Classical Music Explained.
So, self-praising, utterly devoid of modesty about my viola triumph though I may be, compared to Alistair, I have been a total slouch.
Viola festival anyone?
Info and tickets live shows HERE
Info about Ludlow Piano Festival HERE

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