The Conservatory of Luxembourg City houses a small collection of historical musical instruments. One of these instruments is a viola da gamba that was crafted in the first or second decade of the twentieth century. It is an ordinary looking viola da gamba, with the character-
istically decorated end piece carved in the shape of a blindfolded -- and aesthetically unattractive -- woman’s head.
This instrument has been constructed to nestle in the arms and between the legs of a musician. This (any) viola da gamba becomes functional when it is fused to -- a necessary part of -- the musician’s body. Its bow is a necessary extension of the musician’s hand. The viola da gamba was brought into existence to be played upon, and yet it does not lose its corporeality if it is not played. The instrument is also an object.
Dana Rufolo desired to uncover the facts about this particular viola da gamba both as an object in itself and as the object of musical intervention. When her research yielded only the name of the instrument maker and that it was purchased by the Conservatory of Luxembourg City in the 1950s, she decided to personify it by inventing its life history. This story was written in the form of a long narrative poem.
The poem I Am Viola da gamba of the Singing Building begins in liège at the instrument-maker’s workshop, continues at a dairy farm, and then somewhere else in Belgium in the home of a pastor. From there, the instrument is imported into Luxembourg, abandoned at a closed customs office, found and played by a Portuguese worker, reclaimed by customs, purchased by the conservatory, and put into storage at the old Conservatory at rue Saint-Esprit until the new Conservatory opens. There, it is put on display in a glass case next other instruments where it can be seen to this day.
The poem is structured with an interlocutor asking Viola da Gamba questions about “her” life experiences and Viola narrating in reply. But it is not an inquisition -- the interlocutor identifies strongly with the instrument and ultimately their two voices mix and mingle. If read aloud, the musical quality of the free verse should be accentuated so as to benefit from the metacommunicative meaning of the poem as both a story about music making and as a free verse ode in its own right.