Awww, poor violists. Week after week we berate them here, and why? Because it’s funny, that’s why. But I do think it’s important to
know thy enemy let all sides explain themselves, so on this day meant for sweetness, we shall check in on how the other half lives. I went straight to the source: my friend Elizabeth, who is (gasp!) a violist. GUEST POST!!!! I said to her, and she obliged, entitling her essay “Sense of humor required.”
I wanted to play the violin. You had three options at my elementary school: violin, viola, or cello. Cellos were too big and bulky for my taste, and what the heck was a viola, anyway? When I told my mother, however, she told me she thought it would be better if I chose a less popular instrument, so I “would get more individual attention.”
I don’t know who suggested this idea to my mother, but it actually backfired. It turned out there were so few students who chose viola or cello, that they combined us into one class, which meant that our instructor had to divide his time between teaching two instruments during a single period. I stuck with it, though: it turned out playing an instrument was kind of fun, and eventually everyone but me dropped out and I was the only viola. At this point I realized the true, often-overlooked appeal of being a violist: very often, you end up first chair by default.
Of course, there’s much less prestige linked to be first-chair violist, and you have to put up with a lot of jokes. In fact, the word processor I’m using to type this doesn’t even recognize “violist” as a word, and asks if I meant “violinist.”
And yes yes, I know about the whole stigma about violists only being second-rate violinists who couldn’t make the cut, and switched to an instrument where no one cared if they sounded terrible. This was not my experience, however. In fact, since I often represented the entire viola section in my school orchestras, my mistakes were that much more obvious. I was never an excellent player, but I did take pride in knowing that my directors depended on me to complete the orchestra. My high school orchestra director sometimes referred to me as the “sherpa,” which I suppose was meant to me a compliment, and it was true that no matter how well I played, I was never going to get to play the melody or stop having to explain what my instrument was (a viola? isn’t that like a miniature violin?).
So if I could go back and explain to my 8-year-old self why she should choose the viola over the violin, I’d tell her that at least she’ll get to sit close to the conductor.
Thanks, Elizabeth! Certainly your insights are witty, well-put, and valuable. I’m going to keep posting viola jokes, of course, but all the same, well done, you! Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody. 😉