The Viola Family

Although we may not be able to know when the first viola of all was born (as we may recognise today), it is in the 1530s that the instrument was first recorded in history, painted in a fresco by Gaudenzio Ferrari in the Santuario di Soronno in Milan together with its numerous family. What we need to understand is that the viola family, whose name had derived from the Medieval French vielle, in the end simply meant stringed instrument and that this family englobed all stringed instruments present at the time.

The Renaissance is the golden age of polyphony. We can therefore interpret that inspired by choral music, it had become common to experiment with the different sizes and shapes of all instruments with the end of doubling the voices in performance or otherwise called, to play colla parte

It is interesting to observe that before the distinct names of the instruments (violin, cello…) came about, a clear distinction was made between the instruments played on the shoulder “da braccio” and the ones played on the leg “da gamba”. And within these big categories the instruments where called according to their voice in an ensemble like in a choir: soprano, alto, tenor and bass, from which the violin was the soprano and our viola the alto, tuned a fifth lower than the soprano.

In the 16th and 17th Centuries, besides the alto voice, also the tenor voice was originally played by a viola da braccio, together with a fifth voice but tuned and sized differently. Also the cello belonged to the da braccio family although it was played vertically!

Many times we search to bring justice to our instrument by comparing them to others in our own family, searching for confort in trying to prove that our name happened first in history or that it might have been once more popular. However, what we can certainly rejoice is that it is an instrument that plays its own important role in keeping a family in balance.

Viola History – Vienna Symphonic Library

Violin History -Vienna Symphonic Library

Adventures of a Cello by Carlos Prieto, Chapter one

Bow hair or Horse hair?

How strange it is that one of the features of string players is that we all walk around with a lock of horse hair hanging from a wooden stick and it isn’t fishing gear, neither an amulet to scare off bad spirits. It is an object, which we venerate and adore because we depend on it for our craft. Suddenly, time doesn’t seem to have passed and looking back at cave men feels like staring straight back in the mirror. 

This is a strange thought that occurred to me in the rehearsal the other day. I must say that one of the best things of rehearsing with the Jubilees are the wonderful conversations that arise when you least expect them. How this strange thought came to my mind wasn’t so odd – Somehow the topic of bow rehairs came up and we started discussing about what makes a good or a bad batch of hair and how this can influence our playing

We often think so much about the wood, how old it is, where it comes from, who gave it the shape… and we care for it and speak of it as if it were a human being. But somehow the thought that the hair we all tense up and rosin before we can even tune, actually comes from a living being, an animal with a life, a name… is so distant and somehow inspires such respect. Then, you would think you could actually walk up to the winning horse in a race and request to be given a strand from the tail to use on your bow for good luck!

Aside from the symbolism of the lock of hair, the whole dressing of the bow is a very old ritual. It’s interesting that nowadays we consider our instruments a feature of Western Culture, going back to paintings from medieval times. Having said this, however, starting from the cave men who used to string their hunting bows to the warriors in Central Asia around 10th Century CE where the use of horse hair on bows became evident, this tradition was a world-wide trend! And you might be thinking that perhaps the hunting bow is not the same thing, but call it boredom or too much time to kill, there is evidence to show that cave men were the first to use their bows to make music. 

Going back to the horse race, bow makers will be able to tell you it’s not so much the breed that matters but the place horses come from (and anyone can correct me here). Looking back at the previous paragraph might give you a clue to where horse hair is still imported from to this day. So, if you’re wondering if the hair on your bow is from the farm next door, then you would have to be living in a cold country such as Mongolia, Siberia or Canada where the hair is more coarse. The colour of the hair is also important to some extent. You will probably have seen that most bows use white hair. That isn’t because the hair is bleached, which must be avoided at all costs, but because of its texture and resistance. Lower strings, however, such as double-bassists often use black hair instead as it is more coarse. 

We all know how tricky hair can be. Sometimes one wakes up and it’s untamable and other times it seems to be holding too well together and so horse hair is nothing out of the ordinary. Although at first sight the hair on your bow might always look the same, it is very absorbent of humidity too so depending on your environment some days it will speak easier than others.

Finally, keeping the hair looking beautiful on the bow is so complex that it requires as many as 47 steps to be put together. I know there’s brave people out there who cut their own hair, but when we talk of bows normally we string players leave it up to professionals to do the honors of dressing them. In any case, if you are into keeping old traditions, now you know this makes a good bow the most romantic and expensive gift you could offer anyone!

From today, you might never look at your bow the same way ever again, but then you wonder “had I really looked at it before”?


Newgren, A., 2021. Violin Bow Hair: Having a Good Hair Day. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 April 2021].

Spiller, M., 2021. The History of the Bow. [online] Melanie Spiller and Coloratura Consulting. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 April 2021].

Team, S., 2021. How to Replace Your Instrument’s Bow Hair. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 April 2021].

Deprived of inspiring quiet time during lockdown?

This is a strange paradox, but I am a musician who likes being in silence. Specially after moving to the big city having never lived in one before, I found noise incredibly overwhelming. There were cars at all times of day and NIGHT! You would wake up and everything around had been transformed into a working sight, with the drilling and the banging….How could I be expected to carry on with my practice as if it all were part of the music? 

And so, the pandemic hit and we were forced to stay at home. I didn’t mind it so much because I liked working in my own space, but it quickly became impossible as we were five musicians in a tiny flat. Besides this, as if cued by the music, the neighbour from downstairs would come up to complain. In desperation I found a church nearby and I begged to be let in to practice every day. The first time the thick door closed behind me, I realised that for the first time in a very long time I could actually hear my own thoughts. Cars from the inside sounded like waves rocking softly and singing birds were the only party disruptive to the serene calmness. That day I fell on a wooden bench and I just stayed there in silence for a long time absorbing every bit of silence there was. From that point life began again. Slowly like a new crop growing, a new desire to create music and break the silence emerged.

Feeling that you are rested to practice is crucial for a healthy state of mind and to connect with yourself and what you are doing. There’s many reasons why you might feel overwhelmed practicing at home. Maybe the room is very small, or there are no windows, or it’s very busy…In any way, if you feel deprived of that quiet head space in these tricky times and you can’t go anywhere, here is what you can do.

I first got myself sound canceling headphones at the airport and it was one of the best items I ever bought. Since then, I used them for so many different situations and even incorporated their use in my own practice.

  1. When I need to disconnect from the city, I like to put on the headphones at times without any music at all. Just to feel a bit of distance to the noise. 
  2. Other times, I like to listen to music that makes me feel in the right state of mind and completely covers any other sound around me.
  3. There’s also plenty of playlists with white noise that can be soothing such as water sounds or birds which you can use to go for a walk or meditate.
  4. You can try to do your scales with a drone which you can set on a phone up. I find the experience of spending quiet time tuning as a warm up very comforting.

Considering the time you might be spending at home I would invest in good ones. Mine are Sony but trust your own judgement better than mine! Give yourself time everyday to clear your mind and enjoy your own creative quiet space!

My book journey

It is with nostalgia that I look back at those afternoons I would spend in the garden with a book. At that age when time didn’t just fly by, I would sit in the sun during “siesta” time with my head buried in between the pages of a book, as if that way I would be even closer to being part of the story.

I have always been a huge fan of adventure and mystery novels, and I can’t quite remember when times changed and I wasn’t able any more to keep up my reading habit. Somehow, I gradually became “older” and with that, time went. I started spending many hours at school, then studying and doing my homework, going to music school in the afternoons and having to fit in practice time in between everything. As life became relentless, my precious books started to gather dust and become decorative assets. But that wasn’t the only thing that was gone with them. The time to think and reflect on myself was gone too – the key to all creation !

It wasn’t until I unpacked my boxes in London and discovered its magnificent libraries and book shops that it became evident to me that I was starving to read. Books can have many purposes. They can be entertaining and relaxing, but they can also be inspiring, energising and… life changing! It certainly is thanks to them, that I started self-teaching and growing confidence as an artist and today, I never leave home without one. 

It happens to all of us at one point or another in our lives that we give up on books for other seemingly more important priorities. The book is the artist’s best companion and the time you spend with it is precious. If you are one to think you don’t have the time to read… Never underestimate the power of a good book!

What does it mean to be an artist?

It’s in our human nature to try to transform the abstract in tangible. It is often, therefore, that this question comes to my mind and I find myself trying to figure out its true answer. Knowing the impossibility of this task, I find comfort in the precious moments of clarity.

To me art is about passion and communication, artist being the person who irrespectively of age, gender or race, has an urge to move heaven and earth to learn and create. A contemplative person who seeks to make sense of life and the world we live in, as they forge deep connections with other people. More than being a violist or a graphic designer, I like to think that every facet of art in our lives is complementary to each other, presenting the artist with challenges that make existence a never-ending quest towards self-completion.

What does being an artist mean to you?

Hello everyone!

My name is Lorena Cantó and as professional violist and graphic designer my work consists in guiding musicians. I like calling myself this rather than teacher because my work doesn’t consist in telling you what you need to know or do, but rather to accompany you through your own learning journey to achieve your goals. I have been part of the music industry for more than ten years and gone through many life changing situations that have made me realise that to me, music is a philosophy of life and not merely a career. And since it all has to do with finding fulfillment in our own practice room through discovering your own identity as an artist, from today I will be posting tips and advice about this fascinating subject as well as how to promote yourself in the present industry.