Gift of guitar leads young man to Viola da Gamba and career in music

By Marlys Good

When Colton Hodge, son of Tanya and Cory Hodge of Basin, was 11 years old, his paternal grandfather (Jerry Hodge) gave him a guitar for his birthday. That “present” was to change the course of the young boy’s life.

Now a student studying the Viola da Gamba at Sheridan College, Colton said he has always loved music, “But growing up in a small town drastically limited my access to music education and fellow music lovers. As a result I kept to my room where I spent hours a day practicing on my guitar.”

He never took lessons, didn’t even own a “how to” book. According to his mother “He played by ear; he’d listen to a song, then try to play it.”

His Grandpa Mark (Cheshier) has played guitar and sung for years; he taught Colton the basic chords and Colton was off and strumming.

His grandmother, Charlotte Cheshier, said with a smile in her voice that Colton’s love of music and guitar led him to purchase five or six more guitars.

Colton graduated from Riverside High School in 2014, and not knowing just what the future held for him, he went to work as a cemetery attendant for the Town of Basin, “and contemplated my life options. I was told that I wouldn’t be able to pursue a music degree because of my lack of experience and knowledge, mixed with a field of competitive musicians. That notion stuck in my head and I feared failure and rejection, so my goal idea of pursing a music degree was out of the question.

“It wasn’t until an accident at work, involving a tree and my foot, made me realize that I desperately wanted to leave my small town. I wanted to prove these people wrong, and also be the first one in my family to get a college degree.”

So Colton left Basin and enrolled in Sheridan College. He had initially thought he would “go into” computers. He took beginner-level music classes and got his general courses out of the way.

He hadn’t been in college long when he realized computers were not in his future. “I decided to officially switch my major to music.”

It was a move he seemed destined to make. He met what he described as “amazing” students and teachers, but more importantly, “I came across this strange historical instrument I have never heard of, and it spoke to my soul.”

That instrument was the Viola da Gamba, which according to the dictionary is 1) an old musical instrument of the viol family, held on or between the knees and 2) an organ stop of eight-foot pitch giving a string-like tone. In Italian, it is literally a “viol for the leg” and is the second largest and lowest member of the viol family.

Colton said, “It sparked an interest in me I had not experienced since I was 11 years old and first picked up the guitar. But this was different. After learning the basic ropes of the instrument, I discovered that I had a natural feel for it and a passion that superseded my love for the guitar ten-fold.”

Dr. Mark Elliot Bergan, professor of strings at Sheridan College, provided Colton with a Viola da Gamba, and gave the young man the opportunity to play in an ensemble, a requirement for his major. (Colton explained that the guitar ensemble had been cancelled.)

Colton said he has gone “back to his roots,” and spends hour after hour in the practice room, “learning everything I can about this beautiful creation, and working extremely hard to catch up with my peers in musical knowledge.”

With his required courses out of the way, ”There is nothing in the way; I am immersed in music; every ounce of my time is dedicated to music.” No matter what else is going on, Colton said, “Music is always in the back of my mind.”

His hard work and hours in the practice room have paid off. The young man not only carries a 4.0 GPA, but he recently had the opportunity to go to Florida and study with Josh Lee, a professional Viola da Gamba player. Colton said, “He spent hours a day preparing me for an audition at the Schulich School of Music at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, where I hope to finish my undergraduate and pursue my graduate degrees in historical performance/early music on the Viola da Gamba.”

Colton said Lee’s “incredible knowledge, mentorship and amazing support has pushed me to work even harder to achieve my goals.”

His end goal is a doctorate in early music. The journey will be a long one. His application for an audition in Quebec must be in by Dec. 1; auditions are scheduled in March of 2018.

If he is accepted the financial picture gets tighter. As a non-Quebec student, Colton would have to prove he could provide for himself for a year, somewhere in the neighborhood of $9,000-$10,000 before enrolling. And as a non-resident, he would be restricted to working just 15 hours per week. Daunting? Formidable? Yes. But Colton is young, has a passion, a dream, and is extremely motivated. He believes in himself and knows that his future is in God’s hands.

Colton said what he has already achieved, “would not have been possible without the grace of God, the love and support of my friends/colleagues, my family and my girlfriend.”

His Grandmother Charlotte said Colton has a God-given talent. “We are all so proud of him. We can’t wait to see what God has in store for him.”

And to think it all began with a simple birthday gift.