VIOLA-TING AMERICA - Chasing the dream of music and motos

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by viola-tor, Oct 18, 2008.

  1. GS Bones

    GS Bones Long timer

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    Holy SHITE, man.....riding with a high end Viola in a light pack vs. red fanged taurantula like spiders. I can't decide which is more dangerous. But THIS is an adventure ride, for sure. Don't drop that four stringed instrument or get it wet. That would make for some tears. And don't get bit by spiders. You need all those fingers to play.

    I don't want this ride report to include "I got home with my viola intact, but I now have only 8 fingers left."


    Can't wait for more.......



    Bones

    p.s. Now, all we need is a link to a sound bite of the Viola as a sound track. Now THAT would be cool.


    Someone figure out how to give this thread some stars!!!
    #21
  2. viola-tor

    viola-tor Needs to ride!

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    Just wait until you SEE the viola I'm running on these trips... Next post.

    Hmmm, I'll think about the sound clips, but I'm a professional! Need to get paid. :evil That would make for an interesting dimension to the report! Considering...

    Thanks for the kind words!

    #22
  3. ADK

    ADK dain bramaged

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    I think 5 people have to rate it before stars show up.
    #23
  4. Owlseye

    Owlseye Been here awhile

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    Enjoying your thread so far... especially those spiders. I thought you might have photoshopped the reddish-orange one to attract the KTM crowd. Maybe add some black stripes.
    And the viola-ator is a bit modest too... although the violin players make fun of the violists, everybody gets to make fun of the double bass players:D.
    eg the conductor was called in to break up a fight between the bass player and the second violinist. " what are you guys fighting about?" says the conductor. "He loosened 2 of my strings!" says the bassist. "And he won't tell me which ones!":rofl
    #24
  5. viola-tor

    viola-tor Needs to ride!

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    Now for the instrument. It may sound like an easy thing to do, strapping an instrument to your back or tucking it in your luggage for a motorcycle ride, but let me assure you it is not that simple. Sure, we’ve probably all seen someone with an acoustic guitar on a bike, or maybe some other simple percussion instrument, but these are usually low in cost and rugged, not anywhere as fragile or expensive as a fine orchestral string instrument. If you’ve ever known a professional string player (violin, viola, cello, or bass) you’ll no doubt remember the near fanatical level of worry they dote over their instruments, and for good reason. Yes, a fiddle can be purchased at the local pawn shop for a few hundred dollars, but classical musicians are expected to pay into the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, even MILLIONS of dollars for their tools, most of which are older than the motorcycle industry. Nearly everyone has heard the name Stardivarius, which has become the household term for a fine violin. Antonio Stradivarius perfected his violin making skills by 1700... yes, the year 1700 A.D., over 300 years ago. Old + rare + expensive + Italian = GOOD in the string tradition. String instruments are made of wood which is of course organic matter, so it’s susceptible to decay, moisture, humidity, and shock, all of which are in ample supply on a motorcycle. My viola has a rich personal history, so one of my first personal rules when starting to motorcycle was that the viola would never (okay, almost never) travel on the bike, it’s just too fragile, too valuable and irreplaceable. And camping? Fuggitabouddit. So what to do? I’ve racked my brain for over five years on how to somehow combine my love of motorcycle travel with searching for my dream symphony job, and it always seemed like a cruel irony that both involve travel but had to be mutually exclusive (the accepted method is naturally to fly and stay at hotels). Maybe I could ship my viola to my destination and ride? No, too expensive and risky for the instrument, and I’ll be in no shape to play well having just ridden across the country without practicing for days. What if I take a cheap-o student viola that is stronger, and if it gets damaged, oh well, it was cheap? No, it won’t sound good enough to be a contender in the audition. Hmmmm, stumped...

    Don't want to end up with one that looks like this:

    [​IMG]

    Technology to the rescue! Several inventive personalities have been working with carbon fiber technology to make instruments in recent years. Of course we motorcyclists know and love carbon fiber, it makes our machines lighter, stronger, and it looks really cool too, but the classical music world is all about tradition: rules and ceremonies that are passed down orally (and aurally) from one generation to the next, evolving very slowly. Not very often is it that something comes along to overturn the apple cart, and I believe that carbon fiber string instruments are the latest shock wave. I discovered Luis and Clark carbon fiber instruments, and since they are the only company that has actually brought instruments to the market I decided to pull the trigger and buy one, sight unseen (and more importantly sound unheard!), which was a very unusual way to purchase an instrument for a classical musician. Luis Leguia is a Boston Symphony cellist who was into racing sail boats as a hobby. His inspiration to try carbon fiber for instrument construction was hearing waves reverberating off of the hull of carbon fiber boats. Over the course of ten years he was able to experiment and now offers all four orchestra string instruments made almost entirely of beautifully woven carbon fiber. Carbon fiber and/or graphite has come to be accepted as an alternative for bows as the rain forest wood used to make them is nearing endangerment, but the instrument?!?! That’s crazy talk! Carbon fiber is of course very strong (stronger than steel of equivalent thickness!), and is unaffected by temperature and moisture, so it’s almost worry free. I’ve only had it about a couple months as of this writing, and I’ve “tested” it in every different professional situation I can think of, and it’s passed every test so far. I’ve played it in orchestra, chamber music, opera, and professional auditions. It’s been outside, under the sun, in the rain, below freezing, over 100 degrees, and in a bunch of other situations no fine viola should ever be subjected to in the time I’ve owned it, passing all those tests too. I even have a name for it: “Black Death.” If Batman played viola, this would be it! We are in business. Am I really going to do this thing?

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    Well... how does it sound? The short answer: Good, it is indeed a viola! It does some things astonishingly well, freakish really, better than any instrument I’ve ever laid hands on. It is LOUD! The thing has pipes (a figure of speech, it actually has strings. huh-huh...). The proportions are just right for me, and it is very responsive, so I find getting around on the instrument and playing fast to be easy. It speaks immediately, no hesitation at all! So fast I have to remember to finesse the bow and be very smooth, because it’s easy to play too loud and bright. When I pluck the open strings I’ve counted up to fourteen seconds of ringing vibrations. My “good” viola has about half that. All this responsive power has a downside, however. The main job of a violist is to blend into a warm section sound with other violists. The violas are in the middle of the orchestra (in physical location but more importantly in timbre) and our job is to bridge the tonal gap between the high pitched melody and the bass line. This viola requires great care to play in that blending way. If I don’t pay attention and get a little too aggressive it can get a metallic tinge to the sound, which is not desirable and will make my job of introducing carbon fiber as high art more difficult. Playing solo is great with this instrument! The thing wails, especially in the higher registers and the sound never breaks, it seems there is no limit to how much weight can be applied to the bow, which means more and more sound! And what player doesn’t love THAT? Will carbon fiber render wooden instruments obsolete? Not any time soon, probably never. But it IS a very interesting alternative that has many pluses and only a couple minuses. I have done some “farkles and performance mods” (as we motorcyclists put it) to make the instrument a little more friendly. My friends at Terra Nova Violins added a thicker bridge, a wooden tail piece and Obbligato strings help to soften the tone, and a sound post adjustment has really evened out the sound across the four strings. I added my special tall, fully adjustable SAS Chinrest and a black Strad Pad (they finally make them in black, just in time for my black viola, Yay!).

    The master luthier Absss who helps me sound good. What up, G ?!?

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    Here's the new bridge Absss made me vs. the stock. You can see how much thicker the new one (on the right) is. Those tiny variations in material can make a huge difference to the player, just like having a fine tuned motorcycle with hot suspension.

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    My new friend Doug who's also a luthier (a person who makes/repairs string instruments). He's also a talented sculptor of sorts and is into geo-caching. Cool.

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    I spent the better part of a day at the shop trying out every synthetic viola bow they had to find the right relationship. Many string players believe that bow selection is just as important as choosing an instrument, or maybe even MORE important. Finally I found my Excalibur and it happened to have matching black carbon fiber weave finish, so all the better.

    [​IMG]

    One HUGE benefit of all this carbon fiber is cost. The old Italian instrument and fine French bow prices are out of control these days. Carbon fiber is expensive “bling” for motorcyclists, but compared to antique wooden instruments this stuff is quite “cheap.” These Luis and Clark instruments are certainly not toys and they cost real money, but I can actually (almost) afford this experiment! Wheeeeee! (Even though that means my orange KTM dreams will not be fulfilled for some time. Darn. Patience...)

    The really interesting pitfall about the carbon fiber viola is the reaction from other musicians, string players in particular. String players are definitely in that traditional “old school” mind set, in fact I think that the term “old school” could have been coined to describe string musicians. Many have trouble believing that my new instrument could sound good, even though they are hearing it with their own ears. “T’ain’t natural!” I’m the first person in Texas to have a CF viola, and probably the first professional to have a CF instrument in the state, so everyone wants to know about all about it. I’m calling it the “CFDF” - Carbon Fiber Delay Factor. Between my instrument case and my chair I’m usually horse and thirsty from fielding questions. I think that several of my colleagues made up their minds the moment they saw the instrument, and it wasn’t a favorable judgement for my “plastic” or “fiber-glass” viola. I’d say I’m facing roughly 90% skepticism from string players. The reactions of non-string player musicians (brass, woodwind, and percussion players) is “that is so cool!” and the audience loves it, especially children. I recently learned of other instruments that are starting to be made with with carbon fiber: clarinets and some percussion instruments. One of the finest clarinetists I know says point blank “it’s the wave of the future.”
    The big question is: can I win an audition with this thing? I remember hearing the saying for Moto GP racers that winning is 80% rider and 20% machine (in the past anyway, I guess the technology is becoming more and more a factor for winning). I think it’s probably a similar set of numbers for an auditioning musician, but when and if the screen comes down at an audition, will the committee (which will be made up mostly of string players) make up their minds based on the fact that my viola isn’t made of wood? My experience so far is unfortunately yes. If it’s a blind audition all the way then it shouldn’t matter, unless the sound is actually repulsive compared to wood, but I don’t believe that. Winning a job is hard! (Interesting that we call it “winning,” not “getting” or “earning.” It really is a kind of wacky lottery... You just have to have your good day at the right place at the right time) I’ve been moderately successful at auditions, but I have a long way to go. Is this really a fight I want to wage right now? Winning the audition is difficult enough as it is, but to do it with unproven technology that the committee will almost certainly hold against me? All of the places I’ve taken the CF viola have been firsts, there’s never been one before, and I expect that at the highest level of competition it will be the same story, I will be the only one crazy enough to bring one. Different isn’t always good... The “other” carbon fiber instrument company, Quintus, has developed carbon fiber instruments that have more traditional shapes and even the appearance of wood grain, but sadly the violas are still in the prototype phase and not available to the public (according to their website, more investigation is needed...). Perhaps I need to become one of their testers, I wouldn’t go easy on them!

    Speaking of testing... Tomorrow when I finally get to Guadalupe National Park I have another idea on how to initiate the Black Death!

    Stay tuned... :evil
    #25
  6. ADK

    ADK dain bramaged

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    How about posting a Vimeo or Youtube clip of you playing? :thumb
    #26
  7. InsuredDisaster

    InsuredDisaster Sam's Summer Camp

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    I will admit, though your ride report doesn't have a lot of pictures in it, and half of it is only loosely about motorcycles or even riding, I really like your report. The challange you face, and the sollution in the form of a CF viola is quite interesting. And being in China and on their internet, my connection usually times out before 1/3 of some of these more pictury reports are loaded up, so I get text only reports anyway.

    I certainly look forward to reading more of your report.
    #27
  8. viola-tor

    viola-tor Needs to ride!

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    I'm glad you like the report so far, it's very much about motorcycles and is gonna start having lots of pics soon, I just gotta get through the overture before the show can begin!

    I just missed a chance to visit China, I'm looking forward to seeing some of that part of the world soon, mb in about a year. The Chinese are way into strings!
    #28
  9. mistercindy

    mistercindy In a state of equilibrium

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    What a wonderful report! I'm looking forward to more!

    Viola-Tor and I have introduced ourselves before via PM, but in the interest of full disclosure I also play the viola professionally, although part time in a Dallas suburban symphony orchestra. Imagine my shock when rumaging through ADVrider one fine day and seeing a post from a FF whose avatar was the alto clef. The alto clef... are you kidding? :huh Most people who are introduced to music become familiar with the treble and bass clef from childhood piano lessons. But the alto clef is fairly uncommon except for those of us who saw away on violas. I had to PM the man to find out what was going on!

    I've never had the cajones to strap my viola on my back and take the motorcycle to rehearsal or a concert! Although, I'm currently looking for a case cover with shoulder straps, so you never know.

    Finally, like all violists, I love viola jokes. My little contribution:

    Did you hear about the violist who played in tune?
    Neither did I.

    How can you tell when a violist is playing out of tune?
    The bow is moving.

    What's the difference between a washing machine and a violist?
    Vibrato.

    :lurk
    #29
  10. viola-tor

    viola-tor Needs to ride!

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    :thumb Hello there brother!
    #30
  11. viola-tor

    viola-tor Needs to ride!

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    After waking and eating a Clif bar and a can of fruit cocktail I packed up and decided to head back the way I came. Risking being stranded behind a locked gate didn’t sound too appealing for such a short trip.

    [​IMG]

    Last summer my exhaust-side pannier started melting pretty badly, so I made a makeshift heat shield on the fly to get me home. This is my replacement (also being tested!), and it seems to be working splendidly. Go me!

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    The road out was almost surreal in the early hours of the day. There were HUNDREDS of jack rabbits darting across the road. I felt like Moses parting the sea with is staff; all bunnies make way for the viola-tor!

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    In addition to testing my wacky viola and pack I decided this would be a good time to try out some cheap travel tips. Inmate JamieZ wrote a great travel-on-the-cheap thread over in Trip Planning, and I tried to follow some of his ideas ranging from cheap food and drink as well as camping for free (even though I didn’t plan that part...). Thanks Jamie! I stopped in a grocery store for about $4 worth of supplies that would hopefully last me the rest of this prep mission.

    I made it to Guadalupe National Park by about 11:00, grabbed a tent site and prepared myself for the hike. I guess I’m what you’d call and “avid hiker” as I enjoy doing big hikes, mountains, canyons, all kinds of stuff. I’ve hiked a number of the Colorado 14ers, the Grand Canyon Hermit Trail, and have previously done twenty miles in a day over mountainous terrain. Despite all this I found myself huffing and puffing pretty severely as I ascended Guadalupe Peak. “No prob,” I kept telling myself, “just a little out of shape, keep breathing...” In the past I’ve been known for my low-gear power hiking up hill, but I wasn’t feeling it today, it seemed like I had to stop to suck wind at every switch back, where normally I could cruise on up. Stupid Texas, it’s hard to stay in shape here! The big cities aren’t conducive to the active lifestyle in this state. We sit in our cars, then sit at work, then sit in our cars again only to sit at home. I try to get to the gym, take walks, and anything else I can think of, but the lifestyle here isn’t geared that way. Oh well, summer is when I try to get it all back!

    [​IMG]

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    Getting close, I can feel it!

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    Whew! Made it. I sat down with the provided map from the visitor’s center and learn that it’s over a 3000 ft. elevation gain over only a few miles. No wonder I’m panting! Okay, a slight rest and then it’s time to get to work: The premier of...













    PEAK PERFORMANCE!!! -ormance... -ormance... -ormance...

    [​IMG]

    Yup. I hauled it all the way up there. Mostly for the picture :evil but also to get a real-world feel for my new pack, plus I want to know if I can actually get anything done practicing out in nature. This has to be some sort of first... :super

    I put on some more sunscreen (I’m a white, white dude) and started practicing at the highest point in Texas. Twenty minutes should have sufficed, but as I played I got in the groove and kept on rocking. I wasn’t watching the time, but I have a good feel for how time passes when I’m practicing so I’d estimate I was playing on the peak for over an hour and half. Nice! Most of my audition material is memorized so I didn’t bother bringing any sheet music up the mountain. Playing outside is a little strange, mostly because there is zero reverberation. Stringed instruments are designed to be indoor tools, and they aren’t very happy with extreme temperatures and sunlight (until now! The Black Death strikes...) so most of my experiences through my musical life have been indoors. It's not the usual view I'm accustomed to either! :eek1 I wandered about the top of the mountain as I played through all my standard excerpts listening for feedback from different geologic formations. I found some “pockets” of rock where my bat-radar was working and I didn’t feel like my sound was just evaporating into the air, and I also began to relax and not rely on the reverb as much as I normally would. Very interesting.

    As I was running through some of my memorized solo Bach a hiking couple made the summit, and had quite surprised looks on their faces when they got within earshot of the viola. I forgot to get a picture of them with my camera, but they got a mini recital and lecture about the carbon fiber viola which was good practice for me. Part of this whole experiment is subjecting myself to sub-ideal performance environments to condition me to play in top form regardless of my mood and/or surroundings. The couple shared some snacks with me and were on their way as I packed up and started heading down myself.

    After resting and snacking at camp for little while I still had some time to kill, so I took the ax over to the amphitheater, this time with my music stand and some music I need to learn for an upcoming music festival. My legs were tired (I usually practice standing up) so I sat on a bench learning my notes and taking self portraits. Despite my efforts it appears I got a little sun! I bet it was the reflection off the white rocks at the peak cooking me under my hat from below. Sneaky Sun.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    So far so good. Tomorrow I pack up and head back to San Antonio and evaluate the test in preparation for when the “real” adventure begins.
    #31
  12. Peka

    Peka Long timer

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    Cool :thumb

    Waiting for the next installment :D
    #32
  13. viola-tor

    viola-tor Needs to ride!

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    The morning was sunny and clear with a slight chill (which was a welcome way to begin the 600+ mile ride that will surely get hot-hot). I pack up and hit the road, opting for a route home that takes me through the Davis Mountains, a nice ride.

    I turn west out of the park (even though I’m headed east, go figure! The preferred motorcycle line is usually not straight, eh?) and descend past El Capitan for a view of the other side.

    [​IMG]

    It’s kinda funny that it almost completely obscures Guadelupe Peak from this angle. El Capitan dominates the scene with it’s sharp, vertical faces while Guadalupe’s frumpy sloping angles are an after thought in the background. Well, we know the truth! From the peak yesterday El Capitan sure seemed small...

    The speed limit on the highway that passes through the park is predictably SLOW and I saw several cops the day before making sure everyone knew about it, so I cautiously cruised out. After taking the El Capitan pics I keep seeing all these 75 MPH signs in my direction, and at one point I actually turned around to confirm that I wasn’t imagining things. Sure enough, 75! Whoo-hoo!

    My next highway connection to the south has one of those long, sweeping entrances I barely have to slow down for, and I see a straight black line of pavement shooting ahead of me. I put the needle at about 80 and settle in for a day of big miles.

    Soon my radar detector gets anxious and I instinctively snap some brakes as I see the Black-&-White approaching, probably two miles out. I start going through the mental calculations and try to remember what the speed limit actually is (so often I just ride and don’t worry about it, maybe not the best plan, but I like it!). It’s still early in the morning and my mind is a little foggy, but yeah, I DOUBLE checked those 75 MPH postings, so I should be golden. The red and blue lights come on anyway...

    I know there are many different approaches to handling a traffic stop, but I find that being courteous, polite and friendly certainly doesn’t hurt my chances for riding away with a only warning. If the lights are on, I pull over immediately. Running seems like a great way to kill myself or get seriously arrested, so I try so smile and be Mr. Nice Guy Citizen who just happens to be riding a 100+ horse power motorcycle. I’ve gotten out of some doozies just by being nice. D-o-o-oozies. If the lights don’t come on, however, I get the hell outta there before the officer changes his mind!

    It turns out that the speed limit changed back to 55 (groan...) when I made that banking highway connection, but the officer lets me off after I explain that I double checked the 75 MPH signs, and this road is just as straight (or straighter, sheesh) as the last. I chat him up for a bit and find out he’s actually based in Houston (huh?) and for some reason is patrolling way out here. He warns me that I’ll need to slow way down for some bumps (?) about fifty miles ahead that would throw me off my bike at 75 MPH.

    Well, there it is! It says right here on my warning citation: V-I-O-L-A-T-O-R... That’s me!

    I only had to the stones to pull out the camera after he pulled off:

    [​IMG]

    So now I’m spooked down to 55 MPH for at least the next fifty miles, great. At least there are a few mountains to look at. After a time the left-handed camera comes out of the pocket, mostly cause I’m bored.

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    This bike used to be all shiny. Hrumph. As I ride slowly onward my mind starts to drift to... Motorcycles naturally! This is the only hobby I think I’ve ever had that I day-dream about while I’m doing actually doing it. Oh man, I really want a big dual sport that’s ready for some abuse. This bike has been great over the years, and I’ve learned so much, and I think that where my riding is I’m ready for the some new challenges. Mostly I want a travel bike that’s tough, dirty, and ready for anything. I’m not really interested in motocross, stunting, road racing, enduro, or iron butt competitions specifically, but if I get an itch to try a sampling of any of those things I want a bike that’s up to it. There are only a couple out there that fit the bill, and spending time on ADVrider.com only fuels that desire, right? Well, I’m a struggling musician and a one-bike man, I’ll just have to save my pennies and be patient. Oh, and those "bumps" that the officer warned me about were a joke, had I known I would've tried to jump them at 90 MPH!

    There! The Davis Mountains. This really is a big sky out here.

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    Heh, I wish! It’s been a while since we’ve seen those prices. My lunch stop:

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    Between Alpine and Del Rio I’ve noticed this funny service road that parallels the highway. It’s quite long and looks fairly challenging in sections. I decide to give it a try on my BMW.

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    Inspired by the ADV community here I know it’s possible to go some crazy places on sport bikes, but this time isn’t really very fun. Standing on the pegs is difficult as my neck starts to hurt because I’m hunched over funny to reach the bars. I give it a go for a few hills just as an experiment but return shortly to the pavement which lies only a few yards away. I’d really like to explore this type of riding...

    Have you guys seen these? I’ve run across these hand-dryers in several locations recently. Holy-Schnitkke, these things BLOW! Leave your ear plugs in, guys. Seriously, they’re probably over 100 decibels. Never did I imagine I’d be posting about a freakin’ hand dryer, but there it is!

    [​IMG]

    Trial run for moto-music: Success! Let’s get this party started. I leave for a month-long trip soon, stay tuned.
    #33
  14. MikJogg

    MikJogg Weekend Adventurer

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    :clap great rr and pics,i´m in...
    #34
  15. Dru

    Dru Hardly an Adventurer

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    Great stuff man! I'd seen carbon cellos before, never violas though! Nice pics! Swell writing!
    #35
  16. Ragin Rabbi

    Ragin Rabbi Semper Fidelis

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    With all the references, do you prefer Classical over Baroque or Romantic? I myself prefer 20th Century, but that's me...

    I play the Violin, I suppose that if we trolled a bit we could put together an Adv. Rider Stringed Quartet!!!

    I could see it now, we'd get paid to bring culture to the various Rally's!!!:clap
    #36
  17. brfinley

    brfinley Brooster

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    So..... do loud violas save lives?
    #37
  18. GS Bones

    GS Bones Long timer

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    The Violator is assaulted by the Xlerator!




    I can only imagine hiking all the way to the top of that trail and hearing a viola playing, without seeing the player. I am sure it would have freaked me out.



    Absolutely loving this report. Can't wait to hear how your audition crew takes to the carbon fiber beast.



    Carry on.....


    Bones
    #38
  19. viola-tor

    viola-tor Needs to ride!

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    A lot of musicians give this answer when asked a question like yours: My favorite piece of music is the one I'm working on right now. I think this is true for me too, I enjoy playing all kinds of styles and periods of music, including baroque, classical, romantic, 20th century, modern, rock, jazz (I kinda suck at jazz, but it's fun to try!).

    Hmmm, an ADV quartet you say??? That could be cool, legitimize this motley crew, eh? :lol3 I think finding a cellist willing to carry the instrument on a moto over long distances might be a trick... Side-car hacks?
    #39
  20. viola-tor

    viola-tor Needs to ride!

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    Rockies. Freakin' Rockies.
    Have you heard of the latest L.A. crime wave?

    Drive-by (or RIDE-by) viola recitals. :evil


    No, I don't think any lives saved, but maybe some lives enhanced...
    #40