Leanne Darling

creates a powerful new voice for the viola.

 She draws from her classical technique, her skills in many musical genres, and her passion for improvisation to break the boundaries of this underused instrument. A versatile performer, composer, and improvisor, Darling has appeared with virtuoso oudist Simon Shaheen in Carnegie Hall, with poets Robert Bly and Clarissa Pinkola-Estes at the Omega Institute, and at the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet’s premiere performance.

Leanne Darling creates her own unique solo viola compositions using the entire scope of her instrument, mixing more traditional sounds with electric sounding effects. Using a sampling/looping device, Darling generates layers of sound — from lyrical melodies to driving rhythms and textures — simulating a whole room full of musicians. The layers are improvised as well as planned, making each performance distinctive. Her musical style ranges from minimalist to free jazz, blues, Arabic, and ambient music. Her debut CD, Spiral is available on Bandcamp and Spotify.

As a player of Arabic music, she has performed with the Near East Ensemble in New York and Philadelphia. She has studied for many years with master musicians Simon Shaheen, Bassam Saba and Ali Jihad Racy. She has performed in New York and Italy with the Near East River Ensemble, the Sultanana Ensemble, and currently performs with Masti World Music Ensemble in Buffalo. Her articles on Arabic String playing have appeared in American String Teacher and Strings magazine, and her composition Isma’a, an arrangement of Arabic themes for string orchestra is a best seller at Alfred Publishing. 

As a composer, Ms. Darling’s work on Toy Box Theatre’s The Landlord earned her the New York Innovative Theater Award for best original music in 2007. She has collaborated with choreographers Jodie Gates, Ann Robideaux, Sara Baird and Aynsley Vandenbroucke, and theater director Richard Calibahn. Performances include Lincoln Center’s Clark Studio Theater, Joyce Soho, Dance Theater Workshop, the Brooklyn Museum and HERE arts space. She has been awarded two Meet the Composer grants and three New York Council of the Arts DEC Community Grants.

In 2008 Ms. Darling founded Trio Tritticali, a genre bending string trio with violinist Helen Yee and cellist Loren Dempster. They performed throughout New York City at Riverside Park, Café Vivaldi, The Living Room, and with choreographer Chris Ferris, and toured the west coast in 2012. Their debut CD, Issue #1, was named one of the best albums of 2011 by the Lucid Culture Blog. Ms. Darling has also collaborated with Storahtelling, a Jewish ritual theater company, and as a rock/jazz musician with Slow Six, the Foster Family, Robert Gomez, DBR and the Mission, Los Tramway Rockers and the New York Symphonic Jazz Orchestra.

Before embracing improvisation, Leanne Darling was a well established classical musician. She holds degrees from the Eastman School of Music and the Cleveland Institute of Music. She was a finalist in the ASTA National Solo Competition and a winner of the Durham (NC) Young Artists Competition. Professionally, Darling has held the principal and assistant principal position in the Florida West Coast Symphony, the Missouri Chamber Orchestra, and the Salzburger Kammerphilharmonie.

As a teacher Violist Leanne Darling has made it her mission to bring creativity back into string playing. A featured clinician at the 2003 and 2005 ASTA National Conferences, she has created StringPlay, a workshop introducing the concept of improvisation and alternative styles to string players. Darling has taught middle school and elementary school strings, group classes and orchestra, chamber music, and private lessons to all ages for over 25 years. She has led master classes in improvisation and Arabic music throughout the New York City area and Buffalo. In 2021 Darling graduated from Music for People’s Musicianship and Leadership program to facilitate music improvisation for everyone. She currently teaches viola and chamber music at the University at Buffalo and and leads improvisation workshops in the Buffalo area.