LivingArts: Dialing Back the Vibrato

Vibrato is an inescapable aspect of classical string training that can be challenging to remove from the technique. It’s a musical aroma that is so commonplace that many players cease to be able to smell it. It smells like classical.

Vibrato is the oscillation of the finger on the string that embellishes the sound, and has it roots in the imitation of the human voice. Retaining a tight and focused vibrato is a challenging fine motor task. It requires a high level of physical fitness, discipline and daily maintenance. When one is involved at that level, it becomes increasingly difficult to turn off.

True expressive control of the vibrato involves being able maintain it when it is technically difficult to do so, and to turn it off when it is not required. Recently I was trying to develop something out of the box for Twin Within’s Faraway Car Ride. This is a very non-traditional vibrato, undulating from note to note, and employing several different vibrato techniques. The whistle tones recorded on the flute by Sara Traficante are an extended technique more associated with contemporary electro-acoustic music.

My benchmark for hyper-modern orchestral performance and production is Peter Gabriel’s album Scratch My Back. Modernity is not the first thing that one normally ​associates with the orchestra.​ While crossing over orchestral instruments into popular music is not a new concept, it affords interesting possibilities as seen in the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra’s Indie Series. This series is reminiscent of the CBC show “Fuse” pairing local bands with musicians from the HPO. I had the good fortune to produce a live off the floor recording for Twin Within and the HPO last year. The band and arranger Christien Ledroit made a bold choice to replace the band entirely with an octet of HPO strings, wind and orchestral percussion. Musically I found this to be a compelling choice, allowing the sound of the HPO to speak for itself and not force it into the context of a traditional rhythm section.

While the challenges of reconciling different artistic practices can be significant, the musical possibilities of the Indie Series are exciting. I look forward to seeing how other local acts frame the orchestral collaboration and take the material to unexpected places.

I’ll still be here working on my vibrato.