Now Hear This: an Interview with Rebecca Glass, viola

Plano-native Rebecca Glass recently earned her Doctorate of Musical Arts in viola performance from the renowned Cleveland Institute of Music. She returns home this week to perform in recital with Alicja Basinksa, piano, at our final Bancroft Family Concert of the season on May 12. The duo will perform works by Frank Bridge, J.S. Bach, and Johannes Brahms. Not only is hearing a solo viola concert rare, but Dr. Glass is a unique performer as she is blind. Read more to learn a bit about how she started playing, how she learns music, and more!


Was there one piece on the program that you especially wanted to perform, or were you equally interested in all three? While I like all the pieces on the program, the Brahms sonata is my favorite. It is definitely the most musically and emotionally complex. Another wonderful aspect of the sonata is that it equally showcases the viola and piano parts. Alicja and I have been performing together since 2011 and when I chose the program for the concert the Brahms sonata came to mind not only because I really love the music, but also because I knew that Alicja’s artistry would make this piece a great experience for both the audience and for us as players. As for my overall program choices, this concert afforded the opportunity to select works from varying composers that display the beauty of the viola and at the same time offer an engaging and interesting recital for the listeners.

How old were you when you started playing viola? Why did you choose it, and did you learn other instruments? I didn’t begin studying the viola until I was 13. I was originally a pianist since age 3. I decided to learn the violin in second grade. Over the next five years the violin’s high register didn’t endear it to me, my parents, or our poor cat. Eventually I kept covertly transposing violin melodies down by an interval of a fifth and finally took that as a sign that I should switch to the viola. Besides studying both viola and piano through high school, I also briefly spent some time with the Chinese erhu.

Can you walk us through your process of how you learn a piece? Is there Braille for music? There is Braille music, however I mostly use it for my own note taking purposes or occasionally score study for music theory. I learn all my viola repertoire by ear. That goes for orchestral, chamber music, and solo literature. Here I owe a huge thank you to Barbara Sudweeks, assistant principal viola for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, for recording all my music for the last 14 years. The parts she records for me include not just a played line, but she also tells me important markings such as dynamics, bowings, articulations etc. There is hardly any viola music available in Braille so Barbara’s work in making my music library is truly incredible.

When did you decide to pursue a career as a musician? I never truly considered a career in anything but music. The real question for a while was which instrument.

What type of music did you listen to as a kid, and what do you listen to now? Growing up I mostly listened to classical music, though occasionally an oldies station or the inevitable country music would end up on the car radio. Now days, I have a very wide range of tastes in music. Since our family is passionate about overseas travel, I have ended up bringing home folk music from many different countries. I also love both European and American music from the ’30s and ’40s. Classical music is still my mainstay in terms of listening, but as I spend the majority of my time practicing it, other genres can be a welcome break at the end of the day.

Growing up in Plano, what were some arts organizations you interacted with? I played and also toured in the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra. I regularly attended DSO and Dallas Opera performances throughout high school.

Different sections of the orchestra have different roles. Can you explain what the viola’s focus is? We are the middle voice in an orchestral string section. Violas usually provide harmony and/or counter melodies, not to mention comic relief.

Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play? It seems like my favorite composer is always changing, but right now I’ve been enjoying Brahms, the late works of Mozart, and Debussy.

What advice would you give 14-year-old Rebecca? Worry less about comparing your musical and academic accomplishments to fellow students. Time would be better spent focusing on pursuing long-term goals. Every orchestral chair test is not a make or break situation. 🙂

What advice would you give a high school student who wants to pursue music in college? Use your time wisely in preparing. Talk to students at the college or conservatory you are hoping to attend and find out what kinds of achievements really make a difference when your auditions and applications are being considered. High school goes quickly. Prioritizing your practicing so that you can ultimately present the best audition possible can give you a real edge at the collegiate level just like in real life.

What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical), and your least favorite sound (musical or non-musical)? My favorite would be the evening call to prayer in Istanbul. If you ever find yourself there, try to find a high place to listen so you can hear calls of the many muezzins echo throughout the city’s thousands of mosques. As for my least favorite – no offense intended to any brass players that might be reading this – but some of the sounds that come from those instruments while warming up can be truly hair raising!

When you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert do you hope to hear? Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

One comment on “Now Hear This: an Interview with Rebecca Glass, viola

  1. Marjorie Elizabeth Steakley Reply

    Having played viola in school orchestras in the ’70s & ’80s, I especially enjoyed the viola recital in May. It was an extra bonus to take an activist friend to the recital to offer him a glimpse of my musical past. I’m really looking forward to coming to the summer concerts (except for the heat) & hope to be able to bring someone along.

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