Angela Claybrooke started playing violin when she was eight years old. “I was always drawn to it,” Angela says, “when I was a kid, and heard violin music and how expressive it can be.”
In high school, Angela played in orchestra and performed at gigs with a string quartet. When the orchestra needed more viola players, Angela learned to play the instrument.
“When I started learning it in high school I was like, ‘I’m not going back.’ I love the viola,” Angela says.
The tone and sound of the viola make it Angela’s favorite stringed instrument. She says the viola is meant to help blend the higher tones of the violin and lower notes of the cello.
Angela describes the different sounds of the four string quartet instruments like sweets. She says the violin sounds like milk chocolate, the viola like caramel, the cello like dark chocolate and the standup bass like 80 percent cacao. “I like caramel,” she says.
Angela loves the challenge of playing stringed instruments. She says they are some of the toughest to play because they require so much coordination. The player has to know exactly where to place her fingers on the instrument’s neck to produce the right note. If one finger is a little to the left or right of where it should be, the sound sours. And the musician plays the instrument with a bow, so the bow pressure and angle of her bowing arm also affect the sound. Ultimately the bow hand and fingering have to move together in unity to make beautiful music.
Angela enjoys making her own music, but she also likes to teach. Angela directs the orchestra at Columbia Independent School, and she gives private lessons in violin and viola.
When she starts with a new student, Angela teaches the different parts of the instrument, how it works, how to care for it and how to pluck the strings. Once a student becomes comfortable with the instrument, Angela introduces the bow.
She tells students to make a bunny shape with their bow hand. The thumb curves and fits between the stick and the bow. Then she says the bunny’s “teeth” chomp down on the stick. The index finger “falls asleep” and lays on its side on top of the bow. And the pinkie sits lightly on top.
As a teacher, Angela’s proudest moments are when she helps a student learn to play a piece they struggled with at first. She remembers one time when a student was so excited he finally nailed a piece that he ran a victory lap through his house and played the song for his parents.
Angela says there’s a decreasing trend in the number of people learning to play stringed instruments. But she wants wants to continue teaching students in a way that shows how fun it can be to make music with stringed instruments.
“I just don’t want it to be lost,” she says. “I want kids to be excited about playing a stringed instrument.”