Viols of Houston consists of over a dozen professional and amateur aficionados of the instrument. The organization sponsors at least two concerts a year; hosts workshops with visiting artists; holds “Gamba Ramba” outreach gatherings to offer those interested a chance to learn the instrument; provides access to private instruction; offers outreach concerts to schools; and provides access to instrument rentals. The organization began in about 2003 with an informal group that gathered on Thursday afternoons. Barrett Sills, principal cellist of the Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera orchestras, organized the first meetings, and served as coach and teacher. Occasionally Mr. Sills would hold workshops where people with an interest in the viol would come to try out the instrument. Many current Viols of Houston members got their start on the viol in this way. By 2005 membership had increased to the point where the group felt it was time to organize into a regional chapter of the Viola da Gamba Socitey of America. William Pannill (a frequent host of viol events) then facilitated a donation to the VdGSA to purchase instruments for the Houston chapter (the organization currently owns four), which would then be available to rent to individual members. The chapter was christened Viols of Houston.
ABOUT THE VIOLA DA GAMBA A viol (or viola da gamba) is a bowed string instrument, held between the legs like the cello. The viol first appeared in Europe in the late 15th century and became one of the most popular Renaissance and Baroque instruments. Viols were heard primarily in ensemble, or consort, music. England, in particular, has a very rich history of composers for the viol consort. Starting with King Henry VIII in 1540 and continuing with Queen Elizabeth, royal patronage may have inspired an English school of performance and composition which, fueled by remarkable composers such as Byrd, Jenkins, Lawes and finally Purcell, continued to thrive long after the viol had been superseded by the violin elsewhere in Europe. The 20th century has seen a resurgence of interest in the viol for the authentic performance of early music. Houston is home to an active society of viol players, Viols of Houston (a chapter of the national organization, the Viola da Gamba Society of America or VdGSA).