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Barbara Corbató - Viola



Greetings! I am Barbara Corbató, the Assistant Principal Violist of the Grand Rapids Symphony. My days as a violist began back in grade school. As a fourth grader at Windermere Elementary School, in Upper Arlington, Ohio, I started my musical life learning the viola in group string class. You are probably asking: “Why the viola?” Well, there were so many kids playing the violin and I wanted to do something different. But the cello was too big to lug around, and the bass was MUCH too big to lug around! So that left the viola. I chose it purely out of convenience, yet ultimately fell completely in love with the mellow, inner voice that it creates and with its role in orchestral and chamber music. As I was doing well in group class at school, I started private lessons, and played in Youth Symphony and attended summer music camps in Ohio. I attended Interlochen Arts Camp before my senior year in high school. It was during my time there that I decided to pursue the viola as a career.


After growing up in Central Ohio (or Buckeye-land), and being the child of an OSU Professor, I “rebelled” and attended the University of Michigan (with my parents’ blessing), where I went on to earn Bachelor and Masters degrees and studied with Francis Bundra, Donald McInnes and Yizhak Schotten. After I finished my Masters degree, I moved down to Florida, where I performed in the New World Symphony for three years.


I then moved back to Michigan where I won a per-service position with the Grand Rapids Symphony. A per-service contract is basically a part time position, with a certain number of guaranteed “services” (concerts or rehearsals) but very little in the way of benefits. As most per-service musicians do, I also played in other Michigan orchestras and taught a very large class of viola and violin students to earn enough money to pay the rent, insurance and buy groceries. I don’t think most people realize just how hard per-service musicians work to earn their living. I took every gig offered to me, put a lot of miles on my car and had very late nights driving during those years in order to make a living.


After three years in the per-service viola position, I auditioned for and was awarded the Assistant Principal Viola position, a full time position, in which I have served since 1993. Performing with the orchestra full time showed me just how important it is to have a strong, large core orchestra. The teamwork that is developed in performing every week together is exactly like that of a sports team. We can work together to achieve an incredibly high level of Art, even if something funky happens on the podium or elsewhere in the orchestra. Actually, one of the things audiences often are not aware of is that even the greatest conductors and performers do make mistakes. What happens during the split second after those errors is the difference between a great orchestra and a mediocre one. Audiences will often hear the error with a mediocre orchestra, and often fault the musicians. With a great orchestra, errors on the podium or elsewhere go virtually unnoticed by the audience- the musicians instinctively and wordlessly act as a group because of their connection together, ultimately making everyone look and sound good! The GRS is one of those great orchestras, and that is because we have a core orchestra that performs together week after week. If the number of musicians in the core is reduced or the number of weeks an orchestra works together is diminished, then it puts the quality of what the audience hears, or the Art, at risk. While the conductor is the leader of the musical direction of our sound, the orchestra is the group that, in fact, makes the sound that the audience hears, and implements each conductor’s ideas and gestures. I have found the musicians of the GRS to be a group dedicated to performing at the highest level no matter what style of music is being played, or who is on the podium; my colleagues are true Artists.


Private teaching is an incredibly important part of my life. I feel joy and honor as I pass on the skill of viola playing and the joy of music to all of my students. At home, I teach middle and high school students- many performing in the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony. I have taught at Calvin and Aquinas Colleges and currently am on faculty at Hope College, teaching applied viola.


It’s hard to believe that I have been in the orchestra for 25 years now! During that time, I have served on just about every committee that exists in the orchestra: Board of Directors, President/CEO Search Committee, Marketing Committee, Audit Committee, Negotiation Committee, Strategic Planning Committee, Artistic Advisory Committee, Orchestra Committee, Audition Committees, and the most exciting so far, the current Music Director Search Committee. I have always felt a responsibility to my colleagues to pitch in and contribute to the workings and health of the GRS, and am glad that so many others in the orchestra feel the same sense of duty, dedicating countless volunteer hours to the organization.


I must admit, when I first moved to Grand Rapids, I did not intend to settle down here. As I saw the growth of the city and wonderful community support for the orchestra, I decided to buy a house and make roots here. Once I was in my very own home, I really began exploring with my trusty canine companion and discovered what a truly wonderful place West Michigan is and what great people live here. I love the great places to go hiking and beaches to explore. The food and coffee scene has exploded (in the best way), making it such a great place to live- so many places to go and enjoy time with friends. I am so glad that Grand Rapids is my home and that I am part of such a vibrant, growing community, which of course includes the Grand Rapids Symphony.


Fun Facts:

I met my husband at a dog park in my neighborhood.

I am not as organized as I seem.

My guilty pleasure is eating too much cheese.

In my free time, I enjoy cooking, crosswords, knitting, and competing at dock jumping and agility competitions with my black labrador retriever.

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