Printer-friendly version weekend vote: Do you play the viola?

The Weekend Vote

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Published: June 13, 2014 at 4:52 PM [UTC]

This week I've been watching a lot of high-level viola performances, masterclasses, technique classes and lectures with the 2014 Primrose International Viola Competition and Festival, which continues through tomorrow at The Colburn School in Los Angeles.

violaCertainly the violin and viola have a strong relationship to one another, and many (perhaps most?) violists begin their learning on the violin before they switch to viola. Or one learns both instruments for teaching purposes. For many, they fall in love with the lower viola sound (and better job prospects) and never look back. Or, the viola becomes something they just play when needed, but they still primarily play violin. Some musicians play both instruments equally well.

So our question of the week is: Do you play the viola? And if so, is it a primary or secondary instrument?

From Seraphim Protos
Posted on June 13, 2014 at 5:50 PM
I've recently made a commitment to focus on becoming an alto clef reading, finger stretching, butt of all jokes catching violist.

Is there a support group available????

From Scott Slapin
Posted on June 13, 2014 at 5:52 PM
There was a time when playing the viola meant better job prospects, but I wonder whether that can really be considered the case any longer. At least it's not my impression that it is!

I do remember as a kid being told that 'a good violist is always in demand', but the problem is that kids everywhere back then were being told that.

From Nigel Keay
Posted on June 13, 2014 at 6:05 PM
From my experience in both New Zealand and France, I'd say it's a myth that job prospects are better as a viola player. In both countries the supply of good viola players is abundant, more so than good violin players.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on June 13, 2014 at 6:54 PM
I suppose I was told the same thing about the viola; perhaps it is no longer the case! What does everyone think?
From Paul Deck
Posted on June 13, 2014 at 6:58 PM
Violin only, but that's just because I don't own a viola and can't afford to buy one that sounds good. I think it would be fun and I live in an area where the amateur orchestras and string quartet clubs are always needing violists. All I have to do to play at that level is to learn the damned "13" clef (that is what my daughter calls it).

I think the reason, in many areas, that there is no shortage of violists is because many violin teachers over the years advised their students to "learn the clef," as if that's really all there is to playing the viola once one knows the violin, and thereby get more freelance gigs. And maybe most audiences these days can't tell the difference between a switch-hitting violinist and a "true" violist, if ever they could. Blame Zuckerman, I guess.

From marjory lange
Posted on June 13, 2014 at 9:03 PM
I am more often hired as a violist, and more often asked into quartets on viola. Fine with me: I am equally happy on either side of the divide.
Posted on June 14, 2014 at 1:08 AM
Viola since day one.
From Mark Roberts
Posted on June 15, 2014 at 10:46 PM
Only 8% play both equally? I seem to remember last time this was voted on it was 14%. Here is one for the pedants: are they the "same" instrument just at a different pitch or "different" instruments. Bow speed pressure is the main technical difference.
From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on June 17, 2014 at 6:15 PM
I became a violist by accident, having been drawn into a local orchestra that needed violists (and still needs more!). I voted "primarily viola with some violin" on the survey, although it was hard to decide between that and "equal for both". I do play a lot of bluegrass fiddle - however a couple of times I've brought my viola to a jam and really turned some heads.

As to the question of whether the viola is just a lower-pitched violin or a different instrument, I lean toward the latter. Yes, there are similarities. But when I first picked up a viola I tried to play it like a violin, and it just didn't sound right. Only when you learn to "think viola" can you bring out its natural, rich sound.

A viola has quite a bit of heft to it, compared to a violin - you have to put more work into it to really make it sound. I've noticed (especially when I first took it up) that my left arm tends to get tired more than with a violin. This probably has something to do with the tennis elbow I've developed in my left arm. Fortunately, there's a newly-developed eccentric exercise that researchers have found to be quite effective at relieving the pain.

I still have a lot of fun playing the violin. But the viola is something special. And if you can play viola you won't have a hard time finding opportunities to play (especially if you can play violin too).

Like my banjo-playing bluegrass buddies, you do have to be ready for all the jokes. I try to beat people to the punch. For example: "Someone tried to tell me violists can't play 32nd notes - so I played one."

From Mark Roberts
Posted on June 18, 2014 at 1:27 AM
There was a similar vote on 30july2011: violin 42%, violin with a little viola 30%, viola 19%, equal 13%. To me it is a mystery why everyone does not play them both equally.

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