Welcome to the website of the Viola da Gamba Society of America!
Lisa Terry, VdGSA President
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. Like the viola da braccio family, violas da gamba come in many sizes, from very small to very large. 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.
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.
The VdGSA has members in North America and abroad, ranging from children to nonagenarians, and in ability from beginners to advanced professionals with major careers. 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; a large collection of instructional videos; 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.
In addition to these programs, the Society’s principal event is the annual summer Conclave, which brings together 100-200 members for a week of classes, concerts, lectures, and casual playing. 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 started playing viol in college, and attended my first Conclave as a scholarship student in 1981, a couple of months after starting my serious post-grad private study on this new instrument. At that Conclave I met folks who have remained life-long friends. Some of them welcomed me into their on-going consort once we returned home to New York City, opening my mind and ears to the viol consort repertoire. I joined the faculty at the 1988 Conclave and have attended or taught at more than 20 Conclaves since then.
The VdGSA and its annual Conclave have deeply enriched my life, and I hear this sentiment from our membership over and over. We all take part because we are deeply passionate about our instrument, our repertoire, our history, and we delight in the humor and goodwill that comes out of this great community 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.