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The Metropolitan Conservatory Viola da Gamba Consort specializes in music of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries written for this unique instrument. This is the only student group of it's kind in the KC Metro area. Contact us for more information.

Please check for availability of loaner viols. If you already have your own viol, please come join us!  Dr. Penniman offers private instruction at the Conservatory. Please contact him with any questions.

Classes meet on Saturdays at 9:45am at 11806 Quivira Rd

Viola da Gamba Consort

Notes from the director, Dr. Victor Penniman:

For continuing members, each semester we continue onward, building on what we’ve learned previously, and collaborate with Nick Jarret and the Metropolitan Conservatory Baroque Orchestra for our semester’s end performances. Of course, as viols become available, we then accept new beginners, and if you’ve never played before, welcome! You will get to explore Ancient music and historical performance practices from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and learn a new (to you) way of playing stringed instruments that can have a positive effect on your modern playing.  All rehearsals and semesters-end concert and workshop will be held at the Quivira Location. The viols are available to us from the Viola da Gamba Society of America for a limited time that is fast running out, so don’t hesitate!

What is a viola da gamba? 


The viola da gamba is a bowed string instrument with 6 (or sometimes 7) strings, held between the knees, and bowed underhand. While it looks like it might be some kind of early cello, it really is its own family of instruments, having come into being at roughly the same time as the violin family (1490s). The violin, however, was at first considered a lowly street instrument, while the viol (short for viola da gamba), having been developed in the Italian courts in Florence, was quickly adopted by aristocrats all over Europe, and later by the burgeoning English middle class. It’s this latter group of people for whom the majority of our ensemble (consort) music is written. The 7-string bass was the favorite solo instrument of Louis XIV, reserved for intimate entertainments in his private chambers. 

Is it hard to play?

For the beginner, not particularly! Because of the frets, if you have any string experience at all, you will find that intonation is not an issue, and that once you get the hang of the bowing, the instrument is not all that difficult to play. It is immensely satisfying to play in consort (as any VdGSA member can tell you: it’s a favorite thing to do!), and the sound is light, airy, and very beautiful. 


Why play viola da gamba?


Will it help my (violin/viola/cello/bass) playing, or just become a distraction?
Studying Early Music on period instruments can do wonders for your “modern” playing. One of the first things you’ll notice about the bow grip, aside from the fact that your fingers are on the hair (!), is that it has a much different natural articulation, perfectly suited to Baroque and Renaissance music (the bow is, after all, the type that was used in the 16th, 17th, and early 18th centuries). You can then flip the bow to the overhand grip and use it on your (violin/viola/cello/bass), and begin to get a sense of Baroque bowing on you modern instrument. Because of the frets, you’ll use no vibrato, and the clarity of the harmony when you’re playing in an ensemble is really beautiful. It focuses your ear in new ways that can carry over nicely to your “modern” playing as well. 


I’ve never heard of this instrument before. Does anyone play it?

Yes! The are many expert players of the instrument here in the U.S. We have at least two of them right here in Kansas City - Dr. Penniman (of course) and Gerald Trimble, who will pay our class visits from time to time. In Europe, the viol is as common a thing to play as almost anything else. Jordi Savall, Paolo Pandolfo, Weiland Kuijken, and Hille Perle are some of the European virtuosi for whom you can find many recordings. Tina Chancey, a noted American violist da gamba, has performed on an electric version of the instrument with Ritchie Blackmore, one of the founding members of the Rock bands Deep Purple and Rainbow. Recordings are readily available from professional viol consorts such as Fretwork, Phantasm, and others. 
Historical performance of music from the Middle Ages up through Bach’s lifetime are extremely important programs at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, Oberlin, UCLA, USC, and more recently, Juliard, among many others. In the last decade, Historical Performance has found its place, enabling the best players to play Bach, for example, closer to the way Bach would have imagined his music played, which is quite a bit different from the way Brahms, for another example, would have imagined his played. When you know the difference, your interpretations  of your recital pieces can take on new life!

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