I think most violin players, from beginners to pros, are on a continual search for “that sound.” The sound that makes them spend countless hours practicing. The sound that seemed like a celestial sail upon which a melody could travel. The sound whose elusive nature prompts the eternally frustrating question—“what part is the player and what part is the bow and violin?”
While most everyone will tell you technique and skill matters more, the combination of craftsmanship and artistry that goes into a fine instrument produces some very audible differences in sound and also informs and facilitates technique and musical decisions. That feedback loop can be anywhere on a spectrum between vicious and virtuous. And as players grow in skill, the relationship between player and instrument seems to acquire a greater immediacy.
Choosing an instrument can be simple or complicated. I’ve read about people—not beginners—who rely on the judgment of their teachers or local luthier or online sellers who ship them a few instruments for trial. One woman didn’t care to shop and simply called a well known luthier in Cremona and asked her to send a good violin. They chatted for a while and a very expensive violin landed in the hands of a happy player.
My search for sound led me to Anne Cole. I asked in an online forum “if you could play any violin where sound was the only consideration, which would it be?” This forum has about 6000 active members so the number of answers was considerable. It was the first time I heard of Anne Cole.
The idea of a violin made with my physical reality—hand proportions, fingertip width, arm length—was of obvious interest as was the fact that her instruments are extraordinarily beautiful. And rather than just copying the old Italian masters, she is working in the manner of the old Italian masters—experimenting, learning from experience—but with better tools and more access to information.
But sound is not theoretical and not something I can access by reading. So I planned a road trip to see her with stops along the way to trial violins and develop an idea of what was out there—not just in my home town but in other places featuring very different inventories. I was looking for a sound that would make me a happier and better player than did my existing very nice mid-century German instrument.
Anne and I talked a lot about violins and music and she watched me play-having a long career as a teacher as well as a maker gave her an interesting perspective on the “is it me or the instrument” issue. Surprisingly (to me) she thought I’d play better with a smaller instrument—technically a 7/8. I’m small but not tiny. I had noticed that I tended find smaller instruments (there’s a range in 4/4s) easier to play. I had also on a few occasions trialed instruments that were technically 7/8 but had formed an opinion that they achieve “sweet” more readily than “rich and vibrant.” In truth I wanted both. I wanted an instrument that was “spilling over with sound” as someone else had described Anne’s instruments.
It should not have surprised me that Anne was able to bring the same magic to her 7/8 instruments that I experienced in her 4/4 instruments and read about with reference to her violas and cellos. I am currently playing Sappho, a beauty inspired by a Nicolo Amati original, while waiting for Luna to be made from the same tree. Her voice is varied and beautiful and particularly rewarding of a light left hand. A truly wonderful sound, worthy of the extended search. To hear her, you wouldn’t guess she is a 7/8.
And NOW I better get back to practicing!
Thank you for building the most amazing and beautiful viola for me! "Ka'imi" is the best sounding viola I have ever played. That includes many modern makers as well as Primrose's Moennig and an 18 inch Da Salo!
I asked for a viola with projection and resonance and you made it happen. The response is super-fast and I love the beautiful clarity of the A string in particular. No nasal whining here! "Ka'imi" is beautiful inside and out and truly captures my being in an instrumental form. Thank you for creating my, "Dream Machine!"
Caitlin Fahey Crow is a freelance cellist and artist-teacher in San Diego. She began cello studies with Anne Cole at age 6 and later studied with Vivian Barton (Philadelphia Orchestra/Santa Fe Opera), David Schepps (University of New Mexico), Charles Curtis (UCSD), and Yao Zhao (SD Symphony).
Cello: La Sirena by Anne Cole
I teach because I enjoy it.
I teach inspired by the work of master teachers and master artists.
I teach a love of the cello.
I teach to impart the gift of music making.
I teach the capacity for long-term/lifelong learning.
I teach easeful and efficient use of the body.
I teach balanced and professional technique from the beginning.
I teach the ear.
I teach the voice.
I teach the whole person.
I teach to assist the social, emotional, and cognitive development of each cellist.
I teach patience.
I teach patiently.
I teach to build skills for accurate self-evaluation.
I teach to demonstrate the value of repetition and review.
I teach with the vision of the student as an accomplished learner.
I teach real names, real notes, and real terminology.
I teach self-assuredness.
I teach stage presence and body awareness.
I teach respectfully.
I teach respect.
I teach adaptability and flexibility.
I teach strategy and problem-solving.
I teach time management.
I teach joy.
I teach silliness.
I teach seriousness.
I teach musical literacy.
I teach ensemble skills.
I teach appreciation for all styles and genres of music.
I teach effective techniques for memorization.
I teach gesture, phrasing, and expression.
I teach breathing.
I teach care and maintenance of the instrument.
I teach parents and students to work together.
I teach the beauty of integrated, intelligently-designed, step-wise learning.
I teach by following the child.
I teach myself through teaching.
I just wanted to commend you on your amazing workmanship. I’m the new owner from Dubai of the Zuni and the Galileo cellos. They are beautiful works of art, a pleasure to play and carry amazing sound.
Anne is gifted at what she does, and these instruments she creates are truly one of a kind.
Thank you again, Anne.
My instrument is a beautiful object. Its visual strength resonates in sympathy with its aural vitality. From the hand of Anne Cole it could do nothing else.
Dynamically, the Traveller projects a very live sound nearly to niente and commands a stable tone when pressed to extreme loudness. It is rhetorically sophisticated, producing the array of articulations required of modern violinists; strokes speak immediately and with probity. I can best describe the Traveler’s intonation as “true”. A certain cleanness of sound and immaculate tonal balance render pitch discrimination an uncomplicated affair, particularly when finely adjusting double stops. Tonally, the Traveler’s low end luxuriates in a seat of power and the high register scintillates without stridency. Indeed, every pitch rings out as if vibrating sympathetically, giving the overall sound a consistent brilliance and surety across registers.
I am constantly pleased to feel this instrument execute every expressive subtlety or technical experiment that enters my imagination. But perhaps most gratifying is the Traveller’s fitness to my physique. Since Anne creates unique patterns for each commission, she can and does fit an instrument’s myriad dimensions to optimize efficiency for a specific human body. The resulting ease in playing has been unknown to me before. Such physical license translates rather directly to performative and expressive freedom.
This violin’s ultimate success owes to Anne’s sensitivity in exploiting mutual resonances. Her mastery of acoustic resonances are everywhere on display when listening to the Traveler played. Yet, sound alone tells only the most public part of the instrument’s story. Those virtuous aural resonances animate the visual and, in fact, spiritual elements which resound together, making the Traveler such a rare and vibrant musical partner.
This is a most beautiful cello I have ever seen, at least among newly made modern cellos. It is specifically designed for my needs both physically and emotionally, and I think Anne nailed perfectly. The sound is romantic, living up to the title Liebestod with a pure, airy/lyrical tone, especially so in the upper registers, with no sign of shrillness or sounding compressed. The base is penetratingly deep and has a dark solemn quality. There is a certain noble character to the sound, not unlike that of Casals's cello! There is hardly a wolf note audible. It is very easy to play despite the size, and with the slightest bow stroke, you can make a sound, and very sensitive to subtle changes one makes on the bow. You can easily make the faintest pianisimo with it. I painted the nude figures and conceptualized the interior paintings of various scenes from Tristan Und Isolde, but I had to torture Anne to painfully scribe in many lyric quotations and notations, with my constant demand on how to do it right, and she did such an amazing job! She also did a beautiful background scenery paintings. It may be the cello that she has put the most work in, much appreciated!
Just wanted to give you an update. Magnolia is great, everyone melts at her sound. Could never tell I’m playing a small viola! The viola sounds absolutely incredible, it really is everything that I wanted sound-wise out of it. I recorded the first twenty minutes of Steel Magnolia’s life.
When I tried Anne Cole's viola in the winter of 2009, I knew immediately that I liked it better than any of the instruments I already owned. I require that a viola be aesthetically pleasing, have a dark, rich projecting sound, and be easily and instantly responsive in any register. The Cole viola possesses all these qualities. It is the viola I've been looking and longing for for years. I now own the viola that I look forward to playing for the remainder of my career.
Such memories I have... But fast forward to when I started my career in computers, and found that Anne was building instruments: 1978. I took out my first bank loan and asked her to make one for me. As I recall, she asked if delivery could be delayed a bit because she was going to a violin makers' conference.
The happy result was that she won prizes, including the best quartet of instruments, and my cello individually despite being outside the accepted parameters of coloration and stain. In those days a single, plain color with no 'antiquing' was specified, but Anne's superior craftsmanship could not be denied.
So for over 35 years I have been the proud owner of Cello number 5, made under the nome de plume "Katherine Alexander Cole", with my name also on a leaf-shaped label dated 1979. Patterned after Salomon, a French maker, she is curvaceous (13.5" upper bout, 8.75" middle, 17.75" lower) with a two-piece spruce top and a one-piece maple back from a tree Anne cut down herself and aged under a porch on the property of friends in Oregon. The ribs are from the same tree, a big-leaf maple. This combination gives power to the upper register with sonority backing it up. The neck is slender, a perhaps daring choice that pays off for in ease of fingering!
I have played this cello in so many settings, always finding her beautiful voice ready to respond and hold her own -- well, except that time I tried a duet with a saxophone!
Fellow musicians notice her special qualities, and some cellists have wanted to make an offer.
I recently had her restrung, and a new sound post fitted. The sound is now better than ever, and I wish I could play more every day. As Elgar said of music: "...the world is full of it... Take as much as you require."
I first tried Anne Cole's Pascal viola in 2004 when I was 17 years old and auditioning for undergraduate music school programs. I tried many violas by several different makers and the Pascal viola was by far the best. Pascal has a beautiful, clear tone quality and very big sound, despite being only 15 3/8". Pascal's cut out shape and larger lower bouts are wonderful for people with shorter arms like me, as they enable me to play on a shorter instrument, but to still achieve the volume of sound of a much larger instrument.
I ended up attending the State University of New York at Stony Brook on a full scholarship; after my undergraduate degree, I attended Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London where I received my masters degree in viola performance. All of my teachers and coaches in both the U.S. and in Great Britain have commented on the beautiful tone quality of Pascal and the range and warmth of the sound. Over the past eleven years, Pascal's sound has matured beautifully. I couldn't be happier with Pascal and don't think that I will ever switch to playing on another instrument.
In Memoriam 2015
I hope you are doing well! I think we may have spoken on the phone at some point, many years ago. I purchased the "Bat" violin from Becktell-Blackerby (now Blackerby) Violin Shop in Austin around 1999 or perhaps 2000. I loved it!
However, in late 2001 or early 2002, while I was doing a gig with the Laredo Symphony, I had stopped off to shoot pool after rehearsal, and, when I went back to my car (actually, a gray minivan) afterward, I discovered that the van had been broken into, and the instrument stolen. I'm not sure if you were ever told about this, but it became fairly common knowledge in our community, as a few of my colleagues were also in Laredo, and there was some fuss made at the time of the robbery.
I'm sure that it went straight across the border. I had quite recently to then suffered a devastating breakup as well, so I think I saw it all as some kind of divine reckoning for me or something. I've always missed the instrument, but I felt like it was just a time in my life to lose things that were dear to me, and to learn about letting go.
Anyway, still, every so often I do searches online to see if there's any mention of it anywhere, since it should be a fairly easy-to-spot and recognizable instrument (or at least, I hope it still is) but I have never found any sign of it. Just a lot of violins made out of baseball bats! I'm originally from Mexico myself, and my family is Italian, so I've even tried looking it up in those languages, but to no avail. Though the manner in which it left my hands was foul, I have the hope that it has fallen into good hands by now, perhaps being played by some aspiring impoverished kid somewhere or something, or at least that it is being played by someone who loves it.
I just wanted to let you know that this is the history of this child of yours in its earliest years. If it's ever discovered, that you find out, please let me know, and I will do the same for you! I would love to play it again, or at least to know who is playing it.
Your work is sublime, and I'm grateful to have played one of your instruments for the short time that I did! Thank you!
I first played my new viola on my birthday in December of 2013. Just one week ago, I competed in the concerto contest for a solo with the Albuquerque Youth Symphony; and I won playing the "Elegy" by Faure. The judges complemented me on my tone. I love my viola.
"Glory" is a beautifully made instrument and I purposely tell everyone, as it is often admired, it was made by a woman luthier. Although it is a large instrument it was designed for a woman's hands. It has a soulful, rich warm tone with a wonderful full voice. Often its resonance continues to vibrate a few seconds longer than the other violas in the section (particularly noticeable as we are practicing Beethoven's Fifth for our upcoming concert in the Oklahoma Community Orchestra).
As J.S. Bach believed music brought glory to God, by signing his compositions with Soli Deo Gloria (To God alone be glory), so I feel the purpose of my viola is to bring glory to God.
When I joined the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra as Principal Violist in 1972, I was playing a viola made by the famous eighteenth century luthier, Michele Deconet. It was a fabulous instrument but didn't quite have the power and projection I wanted at the time.
I soon became aware of Anne Cole's work as a violin maker. One of her instruments made a particular impression on me—a violin patterned more or less after Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu. THAT was the sound I was looking for in a viola!
She agreed to make a large viola for me on the same design as that violin, and as luck would have it, it was finished in time for me to show it to Pinchas Zukerman who was performing with the New Mexico Symphony. His exact words after playing it were, ”It's expansive. It's like an apartment.”
The apartment proved to be too large for me however, but luck stepped in once again. A wonderful six-foot-something violist took it off my hands, and I came to own another of Anne Cole's violas—moderate in size, suave, and easily the most artistic instrument I've ever played.
That relationship lasted for many happy years until John Di Janni, the retired principal violist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra became aware of it. He had just parted from his lifetime companion, a viola made by Andrea Guarneri, and was trying to find a suitable replacement for it. He begged my Anne Cole viola from me, and I couldn't in all decent conscience deny it to him.
I will only add that Anne Cole's instruments, like fine wines, have improved over the years.
I once had a beautiful Matthias Dahl Guarneri that was made especially for me. During the year of 1968 I would go after school to visit Dahl's violin shop and see and smell the wonderful smells and watch the process of my violin being born. It was finished in 1969. I was 11 and it was beautiful in both tone and feel. It was my only full size instrument until 1994 when it was stolen one midnight in a great storm while loading into a Holiday Inn in Ft. Worth Texas...I still hope for my Dahl to come back to me someday.
Well, after my violin was stolen I had to play on something we were so busy touring. Someone kindly sent me a violin. A 1920's German violin — that hadn't been played in twenty years. I played it though it had no voice. Heartbroken, I went every chance I could get, often several times a week, to violin shops looking for a violin to replace my beloved Dahl. I looked for two years. I played hundreds of violins. I played with my eyes closed looking for my violin until finally Anne Cole's Narwhal violin came into my arms.
As soon as I stroked bow on string it was a revelation resonating through my whole being. With joy I discovered that this very alive and responsive violin had a deep, clear, gorgeous and soulful full range tone capable of such nuance and sweetness, and also an ease of playing up and down the neck. I had found my red violin and we have been together ever since. We touched, I sang through its voice and felt its cry and recognized myself.
Anne Cole is a great artist and I am very blessed to have the Narwhal in my keeping for it will surely have a long and resonant life for generations to come, and very possibly in future times be valued as the old greats are now.
Perhaps the only thing that could equal my joy in playing Solomon was my experience with Anne. I have never met one who is as helpful and passionate about her craft. In spite of her wealth of experience in this field, she comes across as a humble and sincere person, always willingly to try new things and accept comments. Every one of her instruments is an unique individual, whether it be style, the wood, the color, etc. you just can't get enough of it. It is amazing how she's able to work with such a large variety of woods and work them into the style of the instrument, rather than treating the wood just like a mere raw material. I must thank Anne again for sharing her art with me and I am proud to be the owner of one of her beauties.
When I am asked about great makers of cellos who are making instruments today, your name is always near the top of the list. Great sound that is easily accessible and responsive to nuance combined with your own very personal sense of aesthetic[s] which is so attractive. We all enjoy and are nourished by our connections to beauty. Your instruments are such [a] happy play.
Anne's “Yojo Lazuli” violin received constant compliments during my two years at Yale for its lovely rich tone and the stunning beauty of its workmanship. Then, when it helped me win an audition for the Minnesota Orchestra, one member told me, “I was sure that was an Italian fiddle.”
Yesterday was one of the really happy days in my life, because I took Venus in my arms. I was really impressed by her beauty. I think I have the most beautiful instrument in Europe now.... Great painting inside! But the best is the sound! It's totally what I have hoped it would be. Already now she has a full clear sound, indeed sandy on the A-string.
Today she will have her first public (open-air) concert.... Many passages in my score are sounding better now and are easier to play. I appreciate especially that the tone comes at once when playing ppp. Summarizing my feelings: I am deeply contented and happy to own such a great cello. It is a real masterpiece. Thanks a lot to the great artist who created her!
Clyde McKaney, a Jackson native, is the principal violist and a frequent soloist with the Jackson Symphony Orchestra. He has enjoyed teaching at the JSO’s Community Music School since its founding in 1992. He began his musical studies in the Jackson Public School’s 6th-grade string program playing the violin. In 1981, while still in high school, he joined the Jackson Symphony Orchestra. Just a couple of years later Clyde fell in love with the sound of the viola and decided to major in viola performance at the University of Michigan where he studied with renowned viola soloist Donald McInnes and Nathan Gordon, principal violist of the Detroit Symphony. He also majored in viola performance at Michigan State University where he studied with the New World String Quartet’s violist Robert Dan.
While attending MSU, he was often invited to perform with the faculty in recitals. He went on to study in New York with Joseph Fuchs of the Juilliard School of Music. While there, Clyde was appointed principal violist of the Bach Chamber Orchestra performing Bach’s Double Concerto with Mr. Fuchs and Glenn Dicterow, concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic.
Highlights of his many solo performances with the Jackson Symphony include the world premiere of Quixote! , written by JSO composer-in-residence Jonathan Bruce Brown, the complete Der Schwanendreher by Paul Hindemith and concerti by Telemann, Stamitz, Bach and Mozart.
I think that I hold the record of performing as a soloist with the JSO. I’ve played as a featured soloist 16 times!
About Clyde’s Instrument
My viola is quite rare because it was made by an American woman, rather than a European man. The luthier’s name is Anne Cole. She is from Albuquerque, New Mexico. At least twenty years ago, I was in the showroom at Shar music trying violas when I was offered the most beautiful viola I had ever seen. I couldn't believe my ears! It was also the best sounding viola I've tried in years from Bein and Fushi to the Guarneri house to all the others. I've played all over, even at Julliard and have competed against violists from all over the world. No sound comes even close to my Cole viola. I want to say thank you for conceiving something so utterly head an shoulders above the rest. My viola is truly magnificent!
Hey Anne, I've been meaning to write to you as I love my Dove SO MUCH. Actually I also played it on Brian Wilson's new album, “Gettin' in Over my Head” in a string section. I am so into women artists and proud to have a viola by a female luthier and artist. I have one of your serigraphs on my wall right now, of a woman violist.
The tone of my viola is so amazing. I was eyeing “The Mouse” but it was a little too long for me when “The Dove” came along. I purchased it with an inheritance from my grandmother, and so it is quite meaningul to me. Actually when I bought it, shortly after her death, I performed in her church and they kind of blessed it! The pastor there is a woman, by the way. So anyway I always feel like all her work saving that money as well as her love and support of me is kicking in when I use that viola. Of course I don't have it with a pickup—I have a $4000 Jucek I have a pickup on, I use the Dove for acoustic settings and recording and the rare classical gig I get to do these days.
The Music Lives On
I’ll warn you, this is a tear jerker story. My best friend, Amy Farris, who I met in high school All-Region Orchestra (25+ years ago) purchased an incredible Anne Cole viola with the inheritance that her very special grandmother had left her. The “Dove” was her most prized possession and she played it on her solo album “Anyway,” as well as on many others, including those of Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys and Exene of X. A few years later, Amy became very ill. When she felt that her time was coming to an end, she told me that she was leaving me the Dove in her will. She told me it made her happy to think about how much I would enjoy playing it. I was so honored, but it was a gift I would have rather not have received, if you know what I mean.
To say that that the Dove is a magical instrument would be an understatement. It is classified as a 15 inch viola, but it is really wide and makes a 16″+ sound. Anne Cole names all of her instruments, they each have a theme. Mine is the “Dove”. There is a dove carved at the base of the scroll, the tuning pegs have little dots of real turquoise at the ends, and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” lyrics (NAACP theme song) are written in calligraphy in the interior of the instrument. This song speaks to me because my passion as an educator is to create opportunities for all students, regardless of economic status or race, to play in orchestra (viola preferably!)
I was honored when you agreed to make a viola for me as well, and got my beautiful wolf viola a few years ago. The viola is also an amazing instrument. It is perfect for me, because it is as light as a feather, and feels more like a violin than a viola, with the special narrow neck. And the sound is outstanding. Both instruments draw a lot of attention, because they are so beautiful.
Although I do not play professionally, as I spend my days peering through a microscope defending the human race from pestilence, it is the familiar voice of comfort and beauty that I come home to after work that motivates me more than anything else. Well, except for my children...
Now as I sit at my computer and look to my side and see my case which holds my new baby, I still can hardly believe it. This 'cello is beautiful in every meaning of the word. Her tone so clear and... well, I guess you know all of this! I couldn't phrase it better than when Steven Isserlis spoke of the de Munck Strad: “My dream cello, that has everything that a cellist looks for in an instrument.” She's has the big sound I've been looking for in a 'cello without the big size I often get lost behind, being a rather petite girl myself. And the connection we share... money can't buy it.
I have since moved to New York City. Even though the BAT no longer resides in Austin, it serves as a constant reminder of home. I play it at the Lion King on Broadway, New York Pops, New Jersey Philharmonic, Princeton Symphony,and wherever else they let me. Since I've been here, I've played on Saturday Night Live with Kanye West, The Conan O'Brian Show with U2, and the Today Show with Il Divo. I've recorded many things,including a Mastercard commercial and Clay Aiken's new album.
Everywhere I play, I am complimented on the huge, rich sound of my viola. I love my viola more than life,and it literally has allowed me to live. I've been able to buy two apartments here in New Jersey thanks to my viola playing. My compliments go to Anne Cole!
Anne is different, and each violin she creates is unique. She loves to have the client involved from the start of the process. One is welcome to be as involved in the process as possible.
We started with Anne asking me basic questions such as the size of my hands, how I would like my violin to sound and how I would enjoy the instrument's appearance. As Anne loves to explain, "you are creating a violin that will be played for hundreds of years. So, what you like to leave to the world?" I chose the wood for the back and sides from a selection of three choices. Anne discussed the belly wood and selected an excellent piece of spruce.
Anne supplied me pictures of each stage of the carving and building. It was like watching a family member come to life. Part of the unique process is that Anne likes to design a personal picture inside that in some way reflects her client. In many ways, the violin takes on a persona from this point. So, I encourage you to take advantage of this unique violin maker and her process of creating a specific work of art for you. She welcomes your input in the process and you will be rewarded with something personal and irreplaceable that you will cherish for the rest of your life.
I knew from the moment that I stumbled on your web site and saw the tiny Papillon that here at last was the viola of my dreams. The whole saga from then on has been a magical experience from choosing the wood to deciding on the final colour. It was great to receive illustrated updates on the progress and to be involved in every step of the way. I never dreamed that one year later I would be playing duets with Mary Anne, the owner of Papillon in Philadelphia and then flying to New Mexico to meet you.
The best comments so far? “Wow, that sounds like a real viola!” and, “You know, you may have something very special there!”