All in the family: MSFO siblings share passion for viola

BRIA GRANVILLE | Staff Photographer
Katie and Patrick Gallagher both started playing the violin before the age of 6. Having since each transitioned to the viola, the siblings now play together in Chautauqua’s Music School Festival Orchestra.
They finish each other’s sentences, completing a string of shared thoughts through quick jabbering, as if it was effortless.

Another activity they both make look effortless: playing the viola.

Katie and Patrick Gallagher are both musicians in the Music School Festival Orchestra. They’re also siblings.

“When we’re playing the same instrument, well, we always try to correct the other one,” Patrick said. “Which, in turn, annoys the other one.”

“Yeah, I’m like, ‘Patrick, that’s the wrong note,’ ” Katie said.

“Or I’m like, ‘Do it this way.’ ”

“ ‘Do a better fingering.’ ”

“ ‘No, you should do it this way.’ ”

“We both have similar but differing opinions, and we want to express that to the other one,” Patrick said. “When we’re playing different instruments, we get along very well.”

Katie and Patrick’s back-and-forth chatter is something that exists only in their own spheres. When they’re with the orchestra, they’re silent. Focused.

At 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater, Chautauquans will have a chance to see Katie, Patrick and the 80 other MSFO musicians perform a third concert this season. Already, music director Timothy Muffitt said, the students are forging bonds not too different from the Gallaghers’.

“There’s a great sense of camaraderie in the orchestra, especially in each section,” Muffitt said. “You just see the individuals in the section coming together nicely, and that’s sort of a natural occurrence since they work so closely with each other.”

Tonight’s program reflects that intimate and condensed time spent together. Before each Amp performance, the MSFO has just about a week to learn an entirely new repertoire.

This evening’s pieces — John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances: Foxtrot for Orchestra” conducted by Dean Whiteside, the 2015 David Effron Conducting Fellow; Samuel Barber’s Symphony No. 1 in One Movement, Op. 9; William Schuman’s New England Triptych; and Aaron Copland’s “Billy the Kid” Suite  — are no exception.

“They’re all challenging in their own way,” Muffitt said. “There are some very difficult individual, personal challenges — especially in the Barber symphony. There are great challenges for ensemble in the Adams piece. The music’s always challenging.”

Patrick and Katie are no newcomers to challenging music — Katie, a 19-year-old incoming freshman at the University of Notre Dame, will dual major in mathematics and music next semester. Patrick, 21, a rising senior at the University of Minnesota in the fall, is majoring in music education.

Mara Gallagher, Katie and Patrick’s mom — and a violinist herself — said her kids didn’t always play viola. It took a trip to a music conference in Montreal to turn them on to it.

“I saw they had a kids’ class, and I thought, ‘They can play the violin, I’m sure they could learn another clef and a few more pieces.’ So I sent them both to the viola class,” Gallagher said. “The class was in French, so they had a little bit of a difficulty. But you know what? They managed.”

Viola quickly rooted itself in Patrick’s heart, Gallagher said, while Katie was encouraged to continue pursuing the violin. The kids went on to pursue other things as well — Patrick earned a black belt in karate, Katie a brown belt; Patrick enjoyed cooking while Katie fell into running and square dancing.

“But then, a few years ago, Katie got it in her head, ‘You know, I want to play the viola, and they told me not to, but I want to play the viola.’ That’s my perspective,” Gallagher said.

Katie’s commitments to performances and solo recitals barred her from ditching the violin, though — people expected her to show up with a violin in her hand, her mother said.

“So she also started practicing viola, and she entered a competition, and the first competition she entered, she won,” Gallagher said. “And she didn’t tell her teacher she was entering — she wanted to do it quietly.”

It wasn’t until this past June that Katie decided her third summer at Chautauqua would be dedicated entirely to the viola. Caroline Coade, a viola faculty member and a professor at the University of Michigan, said the switch came easily.

“She has an uncanny ability to learn music very quickly and the musicality comes easily to her,” Coade said. “But I also appreciate that she’s super intellectually curious too, so she wants to dig deeper than she can go musically — it’s fascinating.”

Patrick’s talents lie in his desire to teach, Coade said.

“He’s the more cerebral one. He’s the one who wants to be a teacher, and she’s not sure what she wants to do with her performing,” Coade said. “They’re different, even in their repertoire. What she picked for Tuesday’s viola recital was fun and flashy, and his was austere, very melancholy, very stark.”

Patrick and Katie have blended their talents before coming to Chautauqua — they performed a duet in the Chicago Botanic Garden this past June.

“That was just fun because it was kind of chill and it was a nice day out,” Katie said.

“And we got along that day, with the duets,” Patrick said.

“During the performance he was giving me the look.”

“Because —”

“— the page was turned towards me, and not him,” she said.

“And so I had to stand in a weird, leaning way while playing.”

Patrick demonstrated: pseudo-violin in hand, he wiggled on one foot, leaning sideways and pretending to play.

“We got along,” Katie said. “Well, we usually get along.”

Coade said they’d like to recreate their performance together during their time in Chautauqua. When Katie and Patrick brought the idea up to Coade, she sent them straight to the music office to get it figured out for themselves.

“That’s clearly what that was — they created an opportunity so that they could play together,”  Coade said. “Basically, I think the moral of the story is learn how to ask for what you want. Create opportunities for yourselves.”