Chris Farrell

Hometown: Arlington, Texas
Member of the Nashville Symphony since 1999 

What attracted you to the viola?
I started playing in my elementary school strings program, and the strings class practiced on the stage in the cafeteria while the earlier grades were at lunch. I heard the violins play, and didn’t like the way they sounded – too high and shrill. I knew I wanted to play viola or cello, and the cello was just too big and heavy to carry home from school, since I walked to school. So I chose the viola for practical reasons!

Which composers write the best music for viola?
Brahms, hands-down. His music is so harmonically thick, and he always gives the violas a really great part in his symphonies. He also wrote two of the best pieces in the viola rep, the two viola sonatas.

You led an OnStage performance where you wrote your own arrangements of holiday music. Do you do other writing and arranging outside of your work with the Nashville Symphony?
I started writing Christmas carol arrangements for practical reasons, for a gig I was performing, and it just took off from there. Now I’ve got a whole bunch of carol arrangements, and I try to make it interesting for all of the payers so we don’t get bored — as fun as they are to sing, they aren’t always exciting to play.

I’ve also done some composing, and for another Nashville Symphony OnStage program, we performed a new string quartet I wrote and a piece for English Horn and strings I wrote for my good friend Roger Wiesmeyer.

How does writing and arranging music influence your work as an orchestra player (and/or vice versa)?
Being a viola player, you’re in the middle of the orchestra, in terms of range, so we’re either going to go with the bass line, or we’re going to be melody or harmony. By paying attention to all those different parts over the years, I can hear how other composers have put their music together. So listening to other composers from the inside has helped me learn how to compose music.

Now that I have started composing, I listen to music differently than I did before. I’m more analytical about why a composer chose to do a certain thing in a certain place.

What do you enjoy doing when you're not rehearsing or performing?
I’m a fair-weather runner for short distances. I also like gardening, and I like to read as well.

What are you reading right now?
I’m reading What If?, by Randall Munroe. He’s an engineer who has a blog where he answers bizarre scientific questions like, “What if I took a swim in a spent nuclear fuel pool?”

What's your favorite thing about living in Nashville?
I do like doing outdoors things, and Nashville has a lot of beautiful parks. I like that it’s a city, and yet it also feels like a small town at the same time. Chances are if I got to grocery, I’m going to see someone I know there, or I might run into their car in the Trader Joe’s parking lot. But I am trying not to hit cars anymore.