Gabriela Villa Walls of Mexico City
My name is Gabriela Villa Walls and I live in Mexico City. I went to college in Chicago (Roosevelt University) where I got a B.A. in Music History in 1988. While I was in Chicago I studied viol with Mary Springfels and I got the chance to perform with different groups there, like the Harwood Early Music Ensemble directed by John Nygro I also performed with the University of Chicago Collegium Musicum that was led by Mary at that time. I was lucky to be there when Howard Brown was there and every Tuesday a bunch of us would get together at his house and read viol consort music. We destroyed a lot of music but it was great fun.
While I was in Chicago I got to do a lot of different music; medieval, renaissance and baroque with all the different groups I played with. Since I've come back to Mexico I've done mostly baroque music. But what I've really missed is doing viol consort music which I did a lot of in Chicago with Julie Jeffreys and Angela McTaggart, a couple of times with Mary and Scotty Banks.
I returned to Mexico and started teaching at the Escuela Nacional de Música (ENM) of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) where I still teach music history and viol. Viol is only an elective but over the years the school has been willing to let me buy instruments and bows for the students to use ( and strings also), which has really made it possible for people to get to know the instrument.
Two years ago the ENM finally bought two 7-string gambas and that happened in a rather surprising way. I needed strings (from Gamut) so I went to see the person in charge of buying things for the ENM and asked him if I could order strings. First I have to explain that the UNAM is a huge university with over 255 thousand students, so you can imagine the kind of bureaucratic ordeal you have to go through whenever you want to do anything. This person in charge of buying things told me there was no money for strings but did I need anything else. So I said I needed a 7-string gamba and he asked me how much it cost. When I told him he said, "Why don't you order two?"
So I was unable to buy strings but they bought two 7-string gambas. The mysteries of bureaucratic rules.
I built the viol department from scratch when nobody knew what a viol was, and it has slowly grown. At the moment I have 8 viol students and over the years five of the students who became acquainted with the viol at the ENM have gone on to study formally abroad. Two have recently returned to Mexico after getting masters in viol: Paulina Cerna from the ESMUC in Barcelona and Rafael Sánchez from Montreal,Canada; Israel Castillo, who lives in Holland and studied with Wieland Kuijken, returns frequently to do workshops at the ENM.
Not many people play the gamba in Mexico, but the last workshop we had in January 2014 there were probably about 10 students there. It was really exciting to see all those kids playing viol together.
In Mexico I played with an ensemble called La Fontegara for more than 20 years, but I don't play very much anymore, though in August Israel Castillo is coming back to do another workshop and the idea is to play consort music, which I am really looking forward to.
My biggest hope is making a degree in viol finally come together. The ENM is the only place in Mexico where you can study gamba, even if it's only an elective, but I'm hoping the UNAM will shortly approve a degree in viola da gamba-which would be great after 25 years of working on it.
In 2011 I got a masters degree in Comparative Literature (music and literature) so I now sometime teach a seminar for the masters students.
I'm also in the middle of putting together an online music history course, which is a lot of work. I guess the degree in viol and this online course are my biggest projects at the moment.
My relationship with Gamut goes way back. I remember buying your strings when I was in Chicago and I have kept using them. I also get Gamut strings for our viols at the ENM. Dan Larson has always been very patient either with the ordeal it used to be sending strings through the mail to Mexico (it's no problem now) or with the complicated and lengthy process of selling strings to the UNAM (that hasn't changed at all, I think it's even become more involved).