The Viper Queen
By David Lilly
When is the term, Viper Queen, a compliment? When it involves space-rocking electric violin and a gifted musician that ain't afraid
to use it. She came out of Long Island, New York, with her violin on fire. They call her Cyndee Lee Rule (taking the cue from Cyndee, herself, of course). Some call her righteous in her gifts
and exuberance. Life has taken Rule from her LI home to her base in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and beyond (her home on the web is www.cyndeeleerule.com). Music has taken her to play in
a symphony as first violinist, touring with a root of the Hawkwind family tree, recording with various artists and teaching, among other things. Rumor has it she has feasted on Reggie burgers
with space rock pioneers on the planet Gong. When I heard her debut solo album, UFOsmosis, I wanted to know more about her, so I asked. The following is a document of our conversation.
David Lilly: How were you introduced to the violin, and why did you choose the violin over other instruments?
Cyndee Lee Rule: There was a demonstration at my school and I immediately liked the violin! There was NO other instrument for me!
DL: When did you become a professional musician?
CLR: In 2001 I quit my job as a baker and started
teaching violin full time. Shortly after starting my job at New Jersey School of Music, I started getting occasional gigs, such as weddings, parties, etc. It
would be several years before I switched to other genres, branching out from classical music.
DL: Correct me if I'm wrong, but since you record,
perform and teach - all involving violin - sounds to me like violin/music is your full-time career.
CLR: Yes, you are correct. I work at 2 different music
schools, teaching private instruction to violin students. Occasionally I will offer a group class such as violin ensemble or Intro to Fiddling. All of my students study
the traditional classical method and, as they progress, they can study alternative styles.
DL: Did your teaching positions require a college degree?
CLR: Most of the teachers where I work do have degrees in Music or Music Education. I attended college at West Virginia
University for Violin Performance for 2 years, leaving only due to financial reasons.
At the time that I was hired at the New Jersey School of Music, it was only to be a substitute teacher for two weeks. As
the original teacher kept postponing her return, the bond between the students and me was becoming very strong, so I was able to stay on permanently.
Shortly after establishing myself at the NJ School of Music as a permanent member of the staff, I was able to use that experience to gain the position at the other school, Music Forte.
DL: What do your students think about your music career outside of teaching? Or do you even discuss any of that with them?
CLR: Since most of my students are rather young, this topic only comes up very occasionally. If a student would like to
pursue music performance as a career, I do strongly encourage them not to put all of their eggs into one basket. I suggest
that they have other interests such as teaching or even something not music related to fall back on in case their career doesn't go how they would expect.
I also encourage them to express themselves artistically rather than parroting their idols. They will have a much better
chance of success as an artist if their music cannot be easily filed into a specific genre or category. Versatility is essential.
DL: Do you work or have hobbies outside of music?
CLR: I do not work outside of music, whether teaching or performing, but I do enjoy doing other things. My husband and I
like to travel and do nature photography. We also love tending to our garden, planting many native wild flowers as well as
cultivated flowers to attract the wildlife in our area. Our favorite is watching the hummingbirds come to the feeders and to
our flowers. I also enjoy gourmet vegetarian cooking, reading, and attending museums and cultural events.
DL: Sounds like a good mix of intellectual and down-to-earth interests. So, when and how did you initially get involved in playing music?
CLR: I have always enjoyed listening to music, even as early as 3 years old. I would put on my mother's Mamas and Papas
vinyl all by myself and sit near the speakers to listen. I started learning violin in the 3rd grade, through my elementary school music program.
DL: I started clarinet in 2nd grade and wish I'd persevered, although asking questions doesn't affect my TMJ syndrome, and playing clarinet does. Where did you attend elementary school?
CLR: I grew up in Suffolk County, LI and went to Moriches Elementary School.
DL: How did you get from there to working with Scattered Planets and recording UFOsmosis?
CLR: Well, in a very roundabout manner! I had played only classical music for many years and had no idea how to play
anything else. Several years ago I had posted an ad in a music store about violin instruction. Surprisingly, I got a call from
someone asking me if I'd like to join their Irish rock band, Dicey Riley. I never really thought about it before then, but of
course I could play something other than classical! It was a lot of fun!
As time went on, I moved into other genres. I joined singer-songwriter Robin Renee. Her music is very edgy, yet could be
commercially popular. Robin is highly influenced by Eastern philosophy, so a lot of the music has an Indian feel to it. I was drawn to the world element more than anything else.
Then in 2003 my husband and I went to see Nik Turner and Spaceseed perform at the North Star Bar in Philadelphia. My
husband told me to bring my violin, which I was reluctant to do. I did anyway, and Nik wanted me to play! He was vetoed,
however, so I didn't get to play with them at that gig. But I did make friends with him and John Pack from Spaceseed. John invited me to play and tour with them in the 2004 tour.
After performing with Nik Turner, it set the wheels in motion for UFOsmosis. Steven Davies-Morris, of the Internet-based band, Systems Theory (
), approached me. He asked me if I'd like to add some violin to their upcoming album, and I was very excited!
Around the same time, I had spoken to Doug McMahon at an Ozric Tentacles show, and he also knew that I had toured
with Nik Turner and Spaceseed. He asked if I'd like to play in Scattered Planets. It wasn't until months later that I joined
him at a set, and there was instant chemistry. My husband, Jeff, also played with us, on his bamboo flute, and then became a member of the band. He plays glissando guitar as well.
In the meantime, Steven Davies-Morris had suggested that I put out a solo album. I thought it was a great idea. Many of the tunes on UFOsmosis
are ones that were originally rejected by Systems Theory. With editing and the addition of my
Viper, we were able to make them come to life more than we ever could have expected. I was very excited to work with such great material!
DL: Daevid Allen is credited with the front-cover artwork of your UFOsmosis. What's the story behind that?
CLR: I saw on Gong's official website that Daevid does commissioned artwork. Most of the pieces are fantasy album
covers. I thought it would be great to have Daevid do a real album cover for me! So I emailed him and he asked me to list
some elements I'd like in the picture. I told him that I'd like me with the Viper, some snakes, my Devon Rex cat and an overall spacey setting. I am very happy with the piece!
DL: Did he happen to ask you to play with Gong?
CLR: I haven't been asked to play with Gong yet, though I will be opening for Tim Blake (Gong & Hawkwind synth player) in
September 2006. I will also be recording for Spirits Burning (www.spiritsburning.com
), adding violin tracks to some music--several of the songs will also feature Daevid Allen.
DL: Do you feel that classical training better prepares a musician - perhaps boosts a player's aptitude - to play other types of music?
CLR: Absolutely. It is extremely important to hold both the instrument and the bow in the correct position. Classical
training focuses on posture, form, and shaping both hands correctly to create economy of motion.
Also important is the study of music theory, scales and etudes. I use scales right away with my students, increasing the
difficulty level as they progress. They also must study exercises in all positions, bowing techniques/styles and musicality.
As they progress, I bring in alternative styles and a lot more aural theory. They can use these principals and ear training to play other genres of music.
DL: For people with short fingers, can violin be played with the back of the hand facing up with the thumb being the appendage closest to you?
CLR: I do not recommend playing with incorrect form. Of course, I come from a classical background, and do stress proper
position from students from the minute they hold their violins for the first time. In some cases, if the students' fingers are
extremely short, I may recommend that they use a smaller size violin.
DL: How was your experience playing onstage with Spaceseed?
CLR: It was a lot of fun!! In the 2004 tour we had Nik Turner join us and this past year Harvey Bainbridge played. It was a
lot easier for me to play with Spaceseed once I had gotten the Viper, since it has a very powerful Barbera pickup. It is
obviously very important for a person playing a non-fretted instrument to be able to hear it very clearly!
DL: Did you get the Viper specifically to play with Spaceseed, or was it something you were going to get anyway?
CLR: Getting the Viper had nothing to do with Spaceseed. I met Mark Wood at his Viper booth at the American String
Teachers Association Conference several years ago and wanted one right then and there! I hung out at his booth for hours,
trying the instruments and talking to him. It was several years later that I decided to just go for it, and my life has never been the same since!
I played with Spaceseed on their 2004 and 2005 tours, but they are based in Georgia so I was sitting in as a guest. The
band that I was more active in for the past year was Philly-area spacerock band, Scattered Planets.
DL: What are the differences between playing electric violin versus non-electric?
CLR: Getting to use effects! This is definitely a huge attraction for me. I have played acoustically since age 8 and it is such
a rush being able to play through the amp and to change the tone so dramatically by using guitar effects. The Viper also
has a support system, which allows me to use a strap to secure it to me. I also have 5 strings, which the classical violin
does not have. Wood Violins even makes Vipers with 6 and 7 strings as well.
DL: You used to play with a symphony in New Jersey. How did you get involved in that, and what was it like?
CLR: I had taken a few years off from playing after leaving West Virginia University and wanted to get back into being
musically active. So I looked up orchestras in the phone book and found the Philharmonic of Southern New Jersey. They
rehearsed only a few minutes from where I was living at the time, so I called them and they asked me to come in for an
audition. After several years of not playing, I was placed in the 2nd violin section.
After I had gotten my chops back, I re-auditioned and was moved into the 1st violin section.
There is nothing quite as extraordinary as playing in a symphony orchestra! The music is so 'big'! To be a part of that is
exhilarating! I stayed in the orchestra for several years before making the decision to use that time to schedule more students.
DL: What are your likes and dislikes (if any) about performing/playing onstage?
CLR: I love getting the energy from the audience and really like talking with them afterwards to hear their feedback. The
only times I have any negative feeling about performing live would have to do with any technical problems that may occur. If
I am sitting in with a band, at times I have had trouble hearing myself play. However, this has improved greatly since getting the Viper.
DL: What are your likes and dislikes about working in a recording studio?
CLR: I love being creative it the studio! It can sometimes be stressful, though, when it comes to technical problems. Other than that, I find it to be very exciting!
DL: Do you have plans for another solo CD?
CLR: Yes, Steven Greg and I will be working on my 2nd CD very soon.
DL: Do you envision ever giving up teaching to make a full-time career of recording and touring?
CLR: I enjoy teaching very much, so I think that will always be a part of what I do. I am not sure what turns my career will take, but I feel that it is important to stay open to opportunities.