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Why I Play the Viola- Emily Hiemstra

I had always loved the violin, but I didn’t start taking private lessons until I was ten years old. I was inspired to start playing after my family went on vacation to the east coast and we went to a traditional fiddle concert, called a ceilidh (pronounced CAY-lee). After hearing a night of incredible fiddle music, I was hooked.

Even though I was inspired by fiddle music, when I came home I started taking classical private lessons. I was fortunate enough to take private lessons as well as Suzuki group classes on Saturday mornings through a music school in London, ON called the Forest City for Talent Education, or FCTE for short. These classes were divided into theory, Suzuki book classes, violin ensemble and string orchestra. I am very thankful that I was able to be a part of this program, because it helped me grow into a well rounded musician. It is also the place where I was introduced to the viola for the first time! The rule was that you could start playing in a string quartet (two violins, viola and cello) a year early if you played viola instead of violin, and I jumped at the chance to play in another ensemble a year early. It was challenging at first because I had to learn to read music for viola, which is written in alto clef, but I fell in love with the beautiful, rich tone of the instrument.

All through high school I played violin and viola interchangeably, taking private lessons on violin and playing viola in quartet and orchestra.

When I went to university, I knew it would be hard to play both instruments at the same time, but I was nervous about picking one instrument over the other. However, I ultimately decided that I wasn’t finished taking violin lessons and decided to major in violin performance at Wilfrid Laurier University. I had amazing professors that helped me grow into a better violinist, and helped me explore other outlets in music. One such outlet was composition, and I was able to double major in music performance and composition at the end of my undergrad.

After three years of violin lessons, I felt the draw back to viola. I missed the depth, the warmth and the beautiful mellow sound that the instrument had to offer. The wonderful thing about playing violin and viola is that almost all of the skills needed to play violin transfer to the viola. To this day I do still enjoy the violin, and sharing my love of both instruments with all my students!

After my undergrad, I moved to Toronto to do an Artist Diploma at the Glenn Gould School on viola. I have loved getting to know the city and its wonderful musicians! I have been fortunate enough to work as a violist, violinist and composer in the city and abroad. I love music because it connects people at the heart level from all walks of life. It is a wonderful tool to express emotion and is limitless in its possibilities and variations.

I love being a musician because there is so much amazing music out there to play and enjoy, and the community of musicians is a wonderful group of people to work with. It is so much more than a job because it blends work and play, and always has something new to offer. Whether it be teaching, performing or writing there are always new ways to grow!

Emily Hiemstra is a freelance violist in Toronto, as well as a violin/ viola instructor at Upper Beaches Music School. She is passionate about playing and composing new music, and has degrees in music composition as well as viola performance, When she is not playing the viola, Emily enjoys running, drinking tea, and spending time with her husband.

This post is part of a series that features Toronto's musicians' journey to becoming a professional musician. To read more of their stories, click here.

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