Perspectives: Violinist takes his role in orchestra very seriously
December 7, 2013
Joining the orchestra for Sunday’s 87th performance of Handel’s Messiah is probably not too much of a stretch for violinist David Puls who, along with his cellist wife Cynthia, often entertains with the local Trillium Trio parlor group.
A native of Oregon, it seems Puls was fated to become a musician.
“When I was young my grandmother gifted me with a violin. She really wanted me to learn to play,” he said. “I scratched around a bit on my own at first, and later started into formal lessons. I’ve been playing now for about 45 years.”
At age 22 Puls left Oregon to pursue an undergraduate degree at the University of Arizona. Later in Ohio he earned a master’s of music degree at the University of Akron.
Puls has lived in West Virginia for 25 years, the last 15 in Parkersburg where he offers private music lessons, but he also teaches music at Marietta College.
He said Handel’s Messiah is a unique work from the Baroque era composer who had concentrated on writing operas before composing The Messiah in 1741.
“At that time he was probably not seeing a lot of success as his operas were fading, but then he converted this opera into an oratorio of religious music with lyrics based from the Bible,” Puls said. “The work is divided into three segments focusing on the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ.”
He noted that portions of Handel’s Messiah, better known as a Christmas presentation, are also performed during the Easter season, although the focus is more on Christ’s life and death at that time of year.
The Messiah is a very complex piece of music, Puls said.
“It’s intricate, varied and involved,” he said, “And the orchestral sections are varied. Some are ‘all play,’ meaning all of the instruments are playing at once, other sections require a smaller group of instruments to play, while others are solo.”
He said there are portions of the performance in which a solo instrument will accompany a vocal soloist, but other segments include the full chorus and orchestra.
Puls said professional musicians must practice continually to be able to perform a work like Handel’s Messiah properly.
“You have to constantly stay prepared to play,” he said. “You can draw a parallel to an athlete. If a player doesn’t show up for a week the coach can’t put him right into the game because he’s not conditioned. Playing an instrument well is very similar to that. You have to stay conditioned.”
Puls said his wife, Cynthia, will be performing on the cello during Sunday’s production.
“It’s demanding. The cello maintains the flow of the entire work, and, along with the harpsichord, weaves a narrative trend that continues throughout the production,” he said. “She plays almost continuously through the performance.”
Dan Monek, associate professor of music at Marietta College, and conductor of the annual Messiah performance, said in recent years a professional orchestra is hired for the production.
“Over the last several years we’ve hired professional orchestras to accompany the chorus and soloists during the Messiah as the community has come to expect a more professional performance,” he said. “But we still have some local musicians who take part, including David and his wife, who are both excellent musicians.”