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Sam Rubin

What's that big violin over there?

August 8, 2012 at 9:17 PM

The Viola.

The butt of all jokes,
relieved by the presence of Oboes,
After all Oboe jokes are true.

I can't understand the world's insults on the viola. To my ears it is the great color of the orchestra. Under my chin lies the suspension of every chord, at least I like to think that way.

But we, The Violists, still get picked on. I was reading a free book from an unknown author on my kindle last week when I read a mocking description of the viola in the orchestra. The sentence went something like this.

The violas C string resembles the death of a moose, while the A a shrill bird screeching.

Needless to say I disagreed quite a bit.

Historically the violist was a poor violinist. A sub-par musician unable too play the more challenging violin parts. This reflects in the music of that time as well. Today while playing Water Music by Handel in a rehearsal I noticed that while every other instrument was doing 16th runs I was playing a steady quarter note run, Excuse me Mr. Handel but I am more then able to play more then quarters on open strings!

Maybe instead of complaining about past composers I should urge new composers here....We are competent! I know not every modern composer gave these boring parts to the viola...But so many do!

(I may seem like I'm being irrational and stereotypical. I am being irrational and stereotypical, Just ranting!)

From Kahne Raja
Posted on August 9, 2012 at 2:33 AM
hehehehe. good old violas.

every year i think about picking up a viola and downgrading for better gigs... :\

From Sam Rubin
Posted on August 9, 2012 at 2:49 AM
Downgrading?! WHAA
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on August 9, 2012 at 4:18 AM
I am a violinist seduced by a viola. (See my blog called "Violinist Seduced by a Viola at ). I really love playing the viola, and I wonder where those bad images come from and why they exist. One of the things I love about the viola is that it blends so well with other instruments and voices that it enriches the totality of the sound. I use my viola, rather than my violin, at jams now. Perhaps the blending quality is regarded as inferior to the prima donna quality of some of the other instruments.
From Paul Deck
Posted on August 9, 2012 at 12:44 PM
For the last time, Sam, we're only joking.
From Sam Rubin
Posted on August 9, 2012 at 12:49 PM
Pauline that's so true. Acoustically the viola doesn't project or stick out as well, it shades the ensemble more then speaks out of it... No more viola posts! I'm on too elephants.

From Richard Watson
Posted on August 9, 2012 at 12:48 PM
In an interview with the press, Pierre Monteux once said: "I began my career as a violinist. When that became too difficult for me, I became a violist. When that became too difficult, I became a conductor. When that becomes too difficult I will become a critic."
From Ann Marie Cordial
Posted on August 9, 2012 at 12:58 PM
I came to love the viola in a 'backwards' sense. My daughter brought home a viola from school in 5th grade. I had no idea what it was, as I was of the '70's generation that went to school when music, art, and gym were cut due to budget constraints. Hearing her learn it inspired ME to get my own and learn it as well.

---Ann Marie

From Sam Rubin
Posted on August 9, 2012 at 1:16 PM
Richard that's a hilarious quote... and to a certain extent my difficulty true, except for the conducting! I think that conducting is very challenging, a great conductor understands the whole piece individually and as a whole.

Ann that's great. I hope that the current U.S. Gov. continues expanding the arts...I was speaking with a bassist who was in close to 10 orchestras just in Manhattan and Brooklyn. "Back in the day"

From Joshua Iyer
Posted on August 9, 2012 at 2:51 PM
Don't worry! I'm putting some interesting viola parts in my symphony! (Well, actually, right now it's mostly copying the second violins, but I will change this. The violas deserve their own complex voice to blend the rest of the orchestra together!)
From Rob Schnautz
Posted on August 9, 2012 at 3:56 PM
Actually, I'm proud to have two very competent violists in my string quartet! That's right, got two violas in the quartet (though one of them frequently plays violin when needed). I find it provides a much fuller sound than having two violins, and both these violists have my full respect!

When arranging for the quartet, I'm a bit self-conscious of the fact that as violinist I get a bit of spotlight, so I intentionally put the melody on the violas quite often.

Oh, and if you ever get the chance to play Wilhelmj's Air on a G String adapted for string quartet...savor the muted viola!

From Lisa Van Sickle
Posted on August 9, 2012 at 5:53 PM
Part of the reason violists get a bad rap is because the violins are always sharp, the cellos are flat, and there's really nowhere to go.
From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on August 9, 2012 at 6:15 PM
Last year I saw an orchestra play Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall". Partway through the piece one of the violists stood up. He had a pickup on his viola which fed some sort of electronic processor, and he NAILED the guitar solo. Viola rocks!
From Sam Rubin
Posted on August 9, 2012 at 8:30 PM
Josh- Sounds great! Let me know when you get a draft of it I'd love to see it.

Rob- That's an incredible idea, I've never seen anything like that. Have any audio of these arrangements? Sounds like an interesting middle mix. And I will check out the wilhelmj.

Lisa- Ya know I think I was experiencing that in orchestra today...haha, that'll be my excuse!

Charlie- One of my favorite bands. I never thought of having that piece as a total orchestra...Now in my head it works out nicely

From Nairobi Young
Posted on August 10, 2012 at 3:41 AM
That quote is hilarious and terrible at the same time! I agree with you quite a bit on your opinion on violas. I have been lured to the dark side and now I am in the gray area of violin and viola and I love them both! Violas are just as complex as violins and sometimes a little tougher even though some composers thought differently. Long live the competent viola player !! D
From Sam Rubin
Posted on August 10, 2012 at 1:12 PM
I've lurked on the violin side, just not my thing for some reason...I love the sound but i find playing it difficult....I've still trained on it so that I can teach it though.
From Thomas Cooper
Posted on August 12, 2012 at 7:04 PM
If take a look at a Mahler Symphony, the viola part is just as hard as the violin parts, especially if you take into account what kind of stuff is actually hard on the viola.

Shifting to high positions is extremely difficult, just because the viola is so big. Also, fast notes are hard because the viola takes longer to speak unless you play FFF.

Mahler, Strauss, Stravinsky, and other composers of this era wrote great viola parts. In Mahler's 9th symphony, there are more principle viola solos than concertmaster solos.

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