V.com weekend vote: Have you ever been bullied or teased for playing the violin or other instrument?

January 19, 2018, 12:51 PM · This week we have been having a long discussion in response to an eighth-grade boy that has been insulted for playing the violin, and many of our members have responded with sensitivity and wisdom.

violin from above

On the positive side, playing the violin or other instrument is a special activity; not everyone has the opportunity to try it, much less become an accomplished instrumentalist. On the negative side, that leaves some room for those who are unfamiliar with music or who feel left out to mock the activity as "elitist" or worse. And carrying an instrument is not like carrying a cell phone -- it's a conspicuous object. Even if no one is making fun of you, probably people do comment, ask questions and notice the instrument you are carrying! For someone who doesn't want a lot of extra attention, that can be difficult.

This vote is about unpleasant attention, not friendly teasing. Has anyone made you feel bad for playing an instrument? And was it a situation of unpleasant teasing and attention, or did it cross the line of bullying, making you feel threatened? In the comments, please share how you have dealt with such situations and how you would advise others who face this kind of harassment.

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January 19, 2018 at 07:57 PM · Well...I DO play viola...

January 19, 2018 at 08:29 PM · I once received a comment that was neither bullying nor teasing but it was negative. Someone in high school once told me, “You look like you play the violin.” Her tone of voice suggested that it was not a compliment. It was more like “You’re weird.” (This is Pauline Lerner.)

January 19, 2018 at 08:29 PM · I was bullied in 11th grade by a high school band teacher. He replaced the violin parts in the pit orchestra for our school's production of West Side Story with flutes. A violin-playing friend of mine and I went to ask him why. We were kind of indignant. The musical was a big deal in our school and West Side Story in particular was considered special. We wanted to play our violins in the pit orchestra. That teacher looked us both in the eye and said "No. I hate working with string players." He'd never worked with either of us before and barely knew us. (The orchestra teacher was based at a different school and we went there every morning for a joint district orchestra rehearsal).

The band teacher then said something about how string players were too competitive and always obsessed with seating and he hated that. If he'd gotten to know me, he would have discovered that I actually shared this opinion of orchestra seating competitiveness. I didn't like it either, and I didn't consider it an important part of string instrument playing. But he didn't bother, he just said he hated working with all string players. This was an adult music teacher talking to 13- and 14-year-olds. It still boggles my mind, all these years later.

I said to the band teacher, "that's not fair," and the choral director for the musical who was standing next to him said "Life isn't fair." I've hated that phrase, "Life Isn't fair," ever since.

January 19, 2018 at 08:32 PM · Sorry to hear that, Karen. I do think that what the band director said about string players is true to a fair degree, but that absolutely is not a reason to turn them down. My school band director, on the other hand, is very welcoming of orchestral string players (except viola, but that's not a problem, anyway, because there are virtually no violists in the school, anyway), and allows violinists to play flute or oboe parts and cellists to play low brass or bassoon parts. Life is definitely not always fair, but I don't think the statement "life is not fair" is really correct. If you're bullied for musical reasons, the bullyers are definitely at fault for it. Music education is for everyone. It is not elitist and should be available to anyone. I have never been bullied for playing and learning an instrument despite disability. I have feared that people would bully or harass me for using a violin strung as a viola, even for the world's most valid reason, small stature as a youth while still growing. Thankfully, that has never happened.

January 19, 2018 at 08:57 PM · I've seen what he observed as well. I disliked that aspect of string education when I was growing up. It's one of the reasons I took a long break from the instrument, actually, and much prefer playing as an adult student.

I work with teenagers now, and I realize that some kids will always have less-than-perfect attitudes about their subject, their activity, or their teammates. You can see bad sportsmanship on the youth sports playing field as well and in the academic classroom. IMO that's when the teacher's job becomes especially important, to mitigate that stuff and to model better behavior. The teachers are supposed to be the adults in the room.

This happened 30 years ago. And even back then, the orchestra teacher was great; the bullying band teacher was an anomaly. I'm not posting this to bash band teachers in general, just to say that this particular one really screwed up. These days I have nothing but good things to say about the band and orchestra teachers who teach music in my kids' schools. Some of them do both: teach both winds and strings. They are heroes and they do great work. Good coaches and good music teachers create a healthy environment for learning; they don't blame and bully students.

January 19, 2018 at 09:55 PM · I was bullied by a teacher as well. In the 6th grade I broke my wrist, and was unable to play for 6 weeks. My teacher then put me to the back of the violins (I was in one of the first chairs of the first violins, I was put in the last chair of the second violins), and when I recovered well enough to play he would not let me resume my old seat or section. He then demanded that I miss academic classes in order to continue to participate in orchestra. I was singled out to play passages in front of the orchestra for this teacher to prove that I was not worthy of being anywhere but the back of the violins as well (talk about a mortifying experience!). This ill-treatment lead me (with my parents spearheading) to my not playing the violin for the remaining two year duration of middle school.

When I picked it back up in high school, I started where I left off: last chair of the second violins. I worked my butt off and completed high school with multiple solos, and in the first chair of the first violin section (and with my private teacher insisting that I could go pro if I wanted not long into our work together).

My middle school experience was a terrible but important one: don't let a bully determine your life trajectory, or influence your decisions in life. (I sometimes wonder what might have happened if I were not bullied into leaving orchestra in middle school.) At the same time, if my parents intervention could not correct my teacher's insistence that I miss academic classes to "participate" (at that point I no longer cared about where I was seated in the orchestra, I just wanted to play without getting picked on), I doubt there was anything else I or others could have done.

I was, thankfully, not bullied by schoolmates (or not that I remember). Music was really big in my school district.

January 20, 2018 at 01:34 AM · At least in my experience, string players tend to hang to ourselves and have activities (like youth orchestras and chamber music) that keep us in "better" company. Even though I was actively involved in sports programs, I knew better than to bring my instrument into harms way ~ which is what it would be at the basketball, tennis or volleyball courts, the swimming pool, or the baseball field. I would "disappear" from classes when there were competitions, but no one really asked why I had missed school. Any teacher who bullied me would have been lunch for my parents.

January 20, 2018 at 01:54 AM · The harp is another favorite target of the football contact crowd, and I was so burned at a CORPORATE INTERNET level trying to purchase a better one over the holidays that it was never apparent who had generated the scam. Yet probably more because I'm both trans and a vocal liberal- the harp is an overpriced instrument being discouraged by the financial monopoly at the entry level by ridiculous high prices. Not to worry though- I finally got my money back, I'm good with the one's I've got

January 20, 2018 at 02:53 AM · I've been called racial slurs and judged before I can take my violin out the case. People have made comments such as "wow you didn't squeak or I didn't think you could sound like that."

It can be disheartening at times but I always think about my grandmother and her battle with Alzheimer's. She doesn't remember how to eat but she loves singing along when I play violin for her. I hold on to the memories of visiting hospice patients and playing violin for them by the bedside.

Regardless of what people's perceptions are, I have a mission. I want to make the world a better place through music and kindness.

January 20, 2018 at 04:58 AM · I've never been bullied or teased for playing the violin, but in my youth I did get criticized for a violin case I had. My best guess is that the case was made in the 1940's. It had a leather covering, cowhide in fact, but it was treated and embossed to simulate alligator hide. I sometimes endured criticism for supporting the unethical treatment of animals. I kind of can't blame people for that. I won't enumerate all of the species that suffered historically for violin and bow making, mostly bows actually.

Anyway, I got a zip on fabric cover for my "alligator" case. I still have that elegant but politically incorrect case, and I'd still feel pretty embarrassed to go out without that cover on it.

January 20, 2018 at 05:34 AM · It's a tricky issue. A lot of us get into the performing arts because of bullying we're already getting from the "regular" kids at school. So, it completely trips us up when we experience bullying in our supposed "safe havens" of education and performance in the arts. Such was the case with me. I simply didn't recognize it for what it was, because it just never occurred to me that bullying would go on in the places I ran to escape it. Education is key, imo, no matter what the career path is in school. Bullies are everywhere, and everyone needs to be aware of their existence.

January 20, 2018 at 02:07 PM · I've been bullied by older kids for playing guitar, but those kids would bully kids for anything. I didn't play violin until I was much older . I also played football, hockey, and baseball. One of my good friends was a state champion wrestler. Some bullies probably changed their minds about bullying me. I've had some kids think that I couldn't be an athlete because I was a musician. I've also had some musicians think I couldn't be a musician because I was an athlete. Bullies will bully people regardless of what you do . They'll find a reason or they really don't need one , they just bully. It's what they do. You just be you , keep doing what you are compelled to do. You will prosper for it . No bully ever prospered for being bully.

January 20, 2018 at 02:58 PM · Being 6' 1" and 190 lbs as a sophomore in HS, the QB on the football team and starting forward on the basketball team, as well as CM of the orchestra, provided an enlightened existence in school...and while there were a few that'd cast sarcasm, I actually served as somewhat of a role model and others were tempted to blend sports and music...pity that physical stature is so significant in who-gets-bullied. But isn't it mostly a male-thing when it comes to bullying ??

January 20, 2018 at 03:45 PM · Regarding seating in a string section, many non-professional orchestras have the policy of placing a strong player (or two) at the back of the section so as to help the less experienced and give a more solid and homogeneous sound. Perhaps worth mentioning to a good young player who may be worried about "demotion" to the back of the section.

Deputies called in for a concert are invariably placed at the back of the section, unless someone is deputising for the section leader at short notice.

January 20, 2018 at 05:17 PM · Just point out that if so many good-looking girls are in orchestras, you are what the military calls a "target rich environment", then see the look on their faces!

January 20, 2018 at 09:36 PM · Never really been teased or bullied, but then again I'm an adult starter. However, the viola jokes really do get old quickly and I'd suggest for the younger ones amongst us the jokes would constitute teasing severe enough to discourage them from learning an instrument. Just something to keep in mind next time you're tempted to make such a joke...


January 20, 2018 at 11:12 PM · Not at all. I actually think that playing made me more popular than I would have otherwise been, and may have even prevented bullying. The fact that I was one of the top instrumentalists at my school only added to the popularity. Without it, I think my sole reputation would have been as the weird, nerdy troublemaker.

But I think that my school social climate was a little unusual, and made it easier to be popular if you played an instrument. It was a non-traditional performing arts school which was contained entirely in two main rooms, where the dress code was pajamas and athletic clothes, and all of the grades were mixed together to study very non-standard curricula. If I were at a traditional school, I am not sure it would have worked out the same way.

January 21, 2018 at 02:42 AM · Not since I left elementary school, fortunately. Kids were too busy teasing me for being a nerd.

January 22, 2018 at 09:51 AM · At my elementary school, I was sometimes bullied for to be a “loser in sports” I am not sporty boy, I miss a ball catch, etc. Easy target. So I was missing these games.

In these times I was playing guitar, and it was cool, it brings me better popularity, so it fixed sport loosery little bit.

But it was not something hard, because our school was little bit alternative, we also was focused to see the difference like advantages.

But (at the other school) teacher told me during singing in theater playing, that I am singing badly, that I am humming and ruining for the others. So I stopped singing, for years. Now I cannot sing, I have very good music ear, not perfect pitch, but almost, but I cannot sing.

January 26, 2018 at 04:59 PM · Hi..I read your article and I am relieved that I am not the only one who has suffered from the similar kind of situation..I have a great passion with this instrument but I am not actually that good..so friends were laughing and teasing..also my parents thought may be I am wasting my time, but thanks to internet..I found this amazing site where I have started learning online for a week..Its a 30 days course and totally worth it..now atleast no one tease me while I'm playing my violin..I feel the entire new world..Just sharing the link below if anyone wanna try..god luck and please don't give up..https://tinyurl.com/y88x6xej

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