Betty Rosen, Viola
Betty grew up in a pit. Well, sitting in the orchestra pit while her mother played viola for the Cleveland Opera and at the well-known summer chamber music program in Bennington, Vermont (she attended that before she was even born). “I didn’t realize until I was older how unusual it was to grow up in an musical family,” shesays. Her father played clarinet with the Cleveland Orchestra and her mother was violinist and violist with the Akron/Canton Symphonies and Opera and Ballet orchestras.
“I started playing recorder when I was really tiny and even had private lessons because I liked it so much.” Then piano when she was 5. “I had an intense teacher who promised me a big sundae when I got Für Elise perfect. But she kept demanding more and more and more and finally said I wouldn’t get the sundae. I quit piano that day.” Seriously! Who does that to a kid?!
But sweeter days soon came. At 7, she went to a one-week Suzuki violin course and of course immediately decided to play viola. “I’d love to say I was attracted by the beautiful, rich, mellow tones. But really it was because I’m an iconoclast. Everyone pays attention to violins, therefore I’ll play viola.” She had lessons, played in her Middle School and High School quartets and chamber ensembles (with some extra coaching from mom) and by 14 was playing at Bennington too. “I played a Mendelsohn quartet with people who were a lot older and better than me. At my age, I did a lot of that!”
Then on to Harvard, where Betty majored in Comparative Literature (in Arabic and Hebrew). “I loved music, but I had always been a writer, I wanted to be a poet or novelist. Then I realized you could study literature in other languages. And then, that you could make a living at it!” While at Harvard, she played in the Bach Society Orchestra (which of course does not play Bach, but does play student compositions and even Gilbert and Sullivan!). From there to the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies (with some chamber music) and to UC Berkeley, where she’s now working on a PhD in Arabic Literature. With many summers at Bennington with her parents.
Betty had been our principal violist in the 2016-17 season. She spent last year in Cairo, returning this year to Berkeley and Prometheus. She now also plays in Disoriental, a Middle Eastern Music Ensemble. “I realize I have a really Western ear. Arabic music has quarter tones so when I think I’m in tune, I’m not. And when I think I’m out, I’m in. But music also helps with speaking Arabic, where the length of sounds and how much stress you place on them are critical. You can think about the language in terms of musical terms, like quarter notes and eighth notes.”
Her Western ear is now very happy to be back playing with Prometheus. “It’s nice to have interactions with people of different ages and different spheres of activity. I’m always happy to play and get into a different head space. For me, orchestra is not about us as individuals, it’s about playing music together, keeping the whole ensemble playing as one.” And we’re happy that she’s happy!