Welcome to the website of the Viola da Gamba Society of America!
The viola da gamba—or viol—family of instruments came into being in the early 16th century, around the same time as the viola da braccio (literally “viol of the arm”), that is, the violin family. As time went on, the violin family took precedence in large ensembles, though the viol family has “survived” as the double bass of the modern orchestra. (The observant will note that this instrument, unlike violins, violas and ’cellos, has sloping shoulders, strings tuned in fourths, and a bow held sometimes from underneath.) Like the viola da braccio family, violas da gamba come in many sizes, from very small to very large. Just as violins play the upper voice of a polyphonic piece, treble viols do the same in a viol consort, and so on.
From their beginnings, viols were played for the most part by cultured amateurs, some of whom were very advanced musicians despite not being considered “professional.” This remains the case today—people who enjoy making music, in addition to just listening to it, are drawn to the viol. The repertory available to us spans music from the 1500s right up to music that is being composed even as you read this message, and there are old instruments to be found as well as wonderful modern ones. A typical viol ensemble consists of two to six players, each with a part that is equally interesting musically—much of this repertoire is also very technically accessible, and doesn’t require virtuosic skills for a satisfying experience.
Incorporated in 1962 by a small group of enthusiasts meeting near Annapolis, MD, the VdGSA has members in North America and abroad, ranging from children not yet in their teens to nonagenarians, and in ability from beginners to advanced professionals with major careers. The VdGSA has a Board of Directors that is elected and appointed to guide the Society as it works to advance the knowledge and love of the viol. This Board truly represents the Society as a whole and is comprised of remarkable individuals who share their time and expertise to make the viol accessible to as many people as possible.
The VdGSA’s initiatives include an instrument rental program (in the US and Canada); grants to individuals and groups; a comprehensive directory that lists members and teachers by geographical region; the formation and nurturing of regional chapters; a rich quarterly newsletter full of information, news, and advice; a scholarly journal; listings of makers and vendors; classified ads, and much more. More information on all of these programs can be found here on this website, or by getting in touch with someone from our Points of Contact list.
The VdGSA Board also guides the Society in its principal event, the annual summer Conclave, which brings together 100-200 members for a week of classes, concerts, lectures, and casual playing. (Conclaves usually hover around the 150 person mark, but the 50th Conclave celebration in July 2012 had more than 300 participants!) Conclaves rotate among different parts of the US to serve the Society’s geographically diverse membership, and are housed at educational institutions that offer accommodations and classroom spaces on-site. At Conclaves, members can learn the latest ideas in practicing and playing, get their instruments and bows serviced or buy new ones, hear performances, buy music, and participate in ensemble playing at all levels and all hours of the day and night.
I arrived at my first Conclave in 2000, having played the viol for just a few months. What I found there was not only a rich source of endlessly interesting musical challenges, but also a wonderful new community—that was also the year I met a fellow scholarship student who would 11 years later become my husband. My life has been immeasurably enriched by this Society, and I have heard this same refrain over and over again in speaking with our membership. We all take part because we are deeply passionate about making music together and we delight in the humor and goodwill that comes from this shared project. And we are also very happy to open the circle and make a place for you as well! We heartily welcome new members, and we hope you will enjoy this website and possibly consider joining our merry company.
So, you are most welcome here—please feel free to e-mail me directly if you have questions or comments about our instrument or our website.
Marie Dalby Szuts