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04-23-14: Puyallup graduate is veteran violist with Oregon Symphony
Posted on 04/23/2014

For nearly two decades, Charles Noble has entertained thousands of concert-goers as the assistant principal violist with the Oregon Symphony.


The Puyallup High graduate plays alongside 75 other professional musicians in more than 80 concerts a year, most of them at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland.


Noble also participates in the Oregon Symphony’s education and outreach programs, plays in regional string quartets and ensembles, teaches private lessons, and has been a guest presenter at an academy that serves adults with developmental disabilities interested in the arts.




The musical beginnings for this accomplished violist date back several decades to Maplewood Elementary School in Puyallup.


Noble picked up a violin as part of the fifth-grade orchestra program, took private lessons to hone his skills, and continued to play the instrument in the Aylen Junior High and Puyallup High school orchestras.


He competed in and won numerous solo and ensemble contests during those years and also played violin for four years in the Tacoma Youth Symphony.


The former Viking graduated in 1986 and enrolled in the University of Puget Sound (UPS), still interested in music but unsure of an exact career focus.


ImageIt wasn’t until his second year at UPS that he fell in love with the viola. The university orchestra was short a viola, he said, and his professor asked him to fill in.


“That was a turning point for me,” he said. “I realized I could pursue this professionally.”


The viola is slightly larger than a violin in size and has a deeper sound. Since the 18th century, it has been the middle voice of the violin family between the violin and the cello.


“I really liked the register and the sound of the viola, as well as being an inner voice in the music,” he said.


Noble graduated from UPS with a bachelor’s degree in music and viola performance and went on to earn a Master of Music from the University of Maryland, College Park.


He culminated his post-secondary education with a Graduate Performance Diploma from the prestigious Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University.


Noble landed a position with the Oregon Symphony a week before his graduation from the Peabody Institute.


“I definitely lucked out,” Noble said. “It’s really difficult to land a job with a symphony or anything else that requires a special skill set. It’s a demanding and competitive field.”


Noble encourages elementary, junior high, and high school students interested in pursuing a music career to be skilled in a variety of subjects. It’s especially important, he said, to be able to write and communicate effectively and have strong technology skills.


Noble credits his professional success to several supportive Puyallup teachers, including retired elementary orchestra director Bob McNamara, the late junior high and high school orchestra director Bill Watson, former Aylen Junior High science teacher Tim McKamey, and Puyallup High orchestra director Todd Giltner, who continues in that role today.


While he only worked with Giltner during his senior year, Noble remembers the impact the new director had on the orchestra.


“He really grew the program a lot in that one year,” Noble said. “He made it cool to be in the orchestra and did a lot of different kinds of music that was appealing to us as students apart from classical music.”


As a new director at the high school, Giltner said Noble was a valuable member of the orchestra and dedicated to his music.


“Charles was always a great student,” he said. “I enjoyed his serious attitude about playing and his willingness to work hard to get the results he wanted.”


Music career


Noble continues to push hard to perfect his craft. He works about 40 hours a week, including concerts, rehearsals, teaching, and outside gigs.


Image“I’m trying to learn every day,” he said. “If I am open to that, I learn from my students, and colleagues, and conductors. I try to absorb things from other performances. Out of that, I am more efficient at what I do.”


While his taste of music is eclectic, he has a clear favorite when it comes to playing the viola.


“The music of (Johannes) Brahms is dearest to my heart,” he said. “It is luscious and romantic and is good stuff for us to play.”


Noble has been a featured soloist on the viola several times throughout his music career and has won numerous awards and honors.


While the Oregon Symphony mostly performs in and around Portland, Noble has traveled with the orchestra to play at revered concert venues such as Carnegie Hall in New York City and Benaroya Hall in Seattle.


The Oregon Symphony season begins in early September and continues through mid-May under the direction of Carlos Kalmar. Now in its 117th season, it is the oldest orchestra west of the Mississippi.


During the season, Noble frequently plays viola with several string quartets or other ensemble groups including the Arnica Quartet, Third Angle New Music, and 45th Parallel.


Each August, Noble is the principal (first chair) violist for the Sunriver Music Festival, in which he has participated since 2002. He has also played section viola for the Oregon Bach Festival every summer since 1995.


The Portland resident returns to Washington several times each year to visit his parents, who still live in Puyallup.


Noble is an avid cyclist who also enjoys reading, making bread, entertaining his cats, and posting entries on his blog titled, “NobleViola, Life on the working end of the viola.”

“I thought it would be cool to write about what I do from an insider’s perspective,” he said. “It’s a window into my life as an artist.”


He added, “I’ve been very fortunate to continually love what I do.”