Are violists born or made?
Inspired by the "personality profile of violinists" post, here's another philosophical question to ponder : )
I began with violin than changed to viola.
Started on vln, included vla in jr high (aka middle school) b/c 24 vln 0 vla, vla looked more interesting. Full scholarship to university on vla. Now, 40+/- yrs later I again "include" vln.... but in ensemble only 2nd.
I agree absolutely with Marjory: I always enjoyed singing second treble, later tenor, and trying to harmonise "on the fly". On the viola, fast music expresses passion rather than empty brilliance (!) and slow music, well.....
Frieda, I think it's hard to start on the viola when you're younger because it's bigger and teeny violas just sound like total crap. Plus, why not start on violin anyway, the basic technique, at least in the beginning on fractional instruments, is the same.
Adrian wrote, "rather than empty brilliance..."
To each their own. There are "brilliant" viola works out there.
There are people who start on viola, but it's unpopular to the point that extreme beginners don't have a lot of opportunies to really play with others (e.g Suzuki groups). Ensemble playing doesn't really happen until they've played for about a year or two and can get into a junior-level youth orchestra. Plus, fractional violas (or restrung violins for that matter) are often not recognized and not treated like they're fractional violins or cellos. Futhermore, finding a viola teacher willing to take on a kid-sized violist seems rare.
Even Primrose agreed ig better to teach viola after basic violin, because apart from issue of bad sound, he felt the difficulty of proper sound production on viola as rather hard to teacb a rank beginner.
I definitely agree with A. O. that getting a pleasing tone out of a viola (especially C string, I don't think G, D and A are a huge deal) is harder than getting that same kind of sound from a violin. However, there are some people who like to bow hard more than anything else and are more likely to sound better on viola than violin because with viola, that "bowing hard more than anything else" attitude can be a good thing and a necessity with viola.
I wonder how it is that some of the most famous living violists, such as Lawrence Power, Tabea Zimmermann, Paul Neubauer, and Paul Coletti all started on viola without any violin training, and got to the level of any good player who started on violin. Tabea Zimmermann started at age 3 and started winning local competitions a few years later. It has to be achievable somehow, but is somehow rare. Perhaps it's a cultural thing to do with familiarity and perceived prestige.
Maybe they were violists in their previous lives. I can definitely see how you can attain a high playing level on viola without any violin experience, but what concerns me more is what sort of viola they used as a kid. How big was it? It must've been a fractional viola, right?
Cremonus only blesses certain lucky individuals to play the viola. For it is written, "I only bless certain lucky individuals to play the viola." (Book of Cremonus, 9:23)
@Ella I am not sure exactly what size their instruments were. Probably fractional, though I heard Lawrence Power was a pretty large child. I am sure they weren't the best sounding instruments, but hey, what 10th size violin sounds like a Stradivarius?
Also by the way, a viola former teacher I studied with for a few years gladly took on beginners of all ages, for whom it was their very first instrument. She taught some of them using the Suzuki method, supplemented with reading practice, and had started on viola without violin herself. Those who weren't big enough for a real viola had a restrung fractional violin. It seemed to work out just as well as it has beginning violinists, in my opinion. Though I have seen what you are talking about when it comes to violists lacking facility for whatever reason. In my experience, these tend to struggle with any instrument they have try.
I have definitely heard of restrung violins used for kids physically unable to manage a proper viola and I'm perfectly okay with them. I feel that users of fractional violas (or restrung violins) should be respected, treated like fractional violin and cello users and not looked down upon (restrung violins shouldn't be promoted). I don't recall saying anything about people lacking facility, but I realize everyone perceives text differently. Can you clarify?
I play in two string quartets, playing both violin and viola; I played the viola the most, but in recent months I've been playing violin as much as viola.
My oldest son is a native violist who started at 12.5 years old. He was able to start on a 15" and is now on a 16.5" at age 15. The only issues he has is folks assuming that he started on violin so must be thoroughly familiar with treble clef, which he still struggles with. He never liked the violin. So yes, I think there is such a thing as a born violist.
Mostly they are failed violinists, but some may be born violists.
I disagree with Peter that violists are failed violinists, and I agree with Krista that there are born violists. Plus, there are even some violinists who find out they're more natural on viola once they switch.
E.g Peter Schidloff, Pinchas Zukerman...
They crawl out from under a stone...
When I started learning, there WERE no 'small' violas, so no one learned viola from scratch if they started when they were small themselves. "Failed violinists" is such an insulting and inaccurate assessment--and so out-of-date, I'm surprised to find it here, even if (I hope?) in jest.
We have been duly ticked off (and quite rightly) by Marjory. I hope my comments were seen in jest ...
I know many, many viola jokes. All told to me by violists...
I started on a violin for about a year - that's all I had access too. Then I got a viola and now my violin never leaves the case.
I wouldn't say viola is harder to play than violin. I wouldn't say wider spacing is easier to deal with than narrower spacing, but I do agree that it's harder to get a big sound out of a viola than a violin (particularly C string) and that dealing with the larger size means more postural precision.
I think that it's a recessive gene that allows one to count better and have a heightened sensitivity that facilitates blending with everything that's going on in all the other sections.
Also, alto is a stupid clef. If classical guitarists can read two more extra lines below the clef than violists, why can't we just read three and leave violas in treble, that way I could stop having those c/g/b brain farts at the end of a late rehearsal when I switch back and forth.
Edward - in the words of a famous violists (I can't remember which right now) - The viola is just a violin with a college education!
@Michael: It was primrose who said that. :D
"Now looking at it from a Jungian perspective, firsts would be the narcissistic extroverts and violists the reflective introverts."
What does Primrose mean by "the viola is a violin with a college education?"
Ella, violists are well placed to take an interest in the inner workings of a composition. Some of the even enjoy adminstrative tasks as well.
Edward, I admit it's over 55 years since I read "Psychological Types", but even so, I think I'd remember if the words "narcissistic" and "reflective" had been employed in their categorization.
Re Octavia's original question, violists are certainly never UNBORN by their playing.
John, I know, just couldn't think of the others off the top of my head.
My earlier comment was addressed also to the rest of the posters saying one acquired a better technique being someone who switches from violin to viola, rather than beginning with viola.
I agree with Peter that musicians are as varied as the general population. I do disagree with Lieschen that a violist is less virtuosic than a violinist. It's just that society isn't that way, which I don't like (that's why I want to primarily study violin and play viola for my own pleasure).
Richard Strauss Viola parts 1 & 4 are plenty virtuosic for me- (love it them!)
See, now we're getting into the nature vs. nurture arguments, which lead to the multiple intelligences platitudes- "Jenny/Johnny, you"re plenty smart, just in a 'different' way than the firsts."
Violists are neither born nor made. They are concocted in laboratories by mad scientists! ;-D
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I think it might have been a viola joke, John.
Are violists born or made? Well, do you know any violists who were not born? All the violists I know were born.
I think a born violist is someone who starts viola without learning violin. Anyone is born.
I never said violists were less virtuosic than violinists. I was trying to voice my disagreement with those who thought otherwise. I guess I wasn't clear enough.
But Michael,BP advertised without paying v.com for it.
Born or made?
In my daughters elementary school they offer Recorder to everyone in 3rd grade and strings or band to those who choose to take music in 4th and 5th. She chose Viola because of the alto voice. She is now in middle school and a committed Violist. Like most things in life, some come to the discipline by choice, others by circumstance. The important thing is that you enjoy it. Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Paganini were all quite fond of the Viola, which was also mentioned earlier.
Dunno about others, but I was definitely made. A friend who was in a local community orchestra dragged me in, thrust a viola into my hands, and said, "Here, learn this - we need more violists." Thus I became
William Primrose made one or two (beautiful) recrdings as a violinist; it was Ysaye who encouraged him to play viola, and hearing Lionel Tertis clinched it.
Charlie, what ......have......you......done.....?
There's another violist named Charlie that was a professional violinist first - CSO principal Charles Pickler
I'm not a Pickler, but I am working on a batch of sauerkraut right now...
Simple - first remove brain!
Malcolm - Thank You for that.The Oistrakh-Barshai recording is on YouTube and is certainly marvelous (Oistrakh duo is also on Youtube). I recognized the album cover from the Youtube and sure enough I found a copy of the LP in the remains of my collection that I shelved when i moved here 22 years ago. Apparently it was never converted to CD and even the LP seems to be unavailable online. I found a few other forgotten treasures among my LPs while looking for the O-B SC.
Onions are neither - They are grown.
How on Earth can you tell the difference between a native violist and a converted violinist, just by their playing alone?
A lot of converted violinists initially have a vibrato that is too narrow for viola, in addition to struggling with sound production in the right hand. I have also seen a few converted violinists initially play quite sharp. I couldn't imagine that all of these thugs couldn't be overcome by most people though.
Well, I get your point, but I think Malcolm was talking converted violinists who already sound and look like violists vs native violists. How on Earth can you tell those apart?
The flip side, though, is Zuckerman. Although a "converted" violinist, so to speak, he always had a marvelous viola sound. Since the Sinfonia Concertante was mentioned, check out the recording and video with him and Perlman from the Huberman festival in 1981 or thereabouts. Or listen to his recording of Berloiz Harold in Italy. I'm not sure I've ever heard a richer sounding version!
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