Why we should stop viola jokes
I play the violin and a bit of viola.
So, I had a chance to talk to a handful of teens about classical musical instruments, strings in particular.
When I came to viola, they said no, it sounds terrible. I was stunned. Why would you say so? Turned out they're all subscribers of a very popular violin comedy channel who routinely perform viola-shaming acts.
I felt so bad as an educator. This would discourage young viola learners. And it's giving violist unnecessary pressure. The joke is real.
I watch that channel too. It's good. Except the viola part. I think by shaming viola, you'll shame violinists too. I look at all the weird viola comments by young people down there and honestly it's quite disturbing.
There was a time when those jokes had a kernel of truth to them, because at one point violists were infirm or failed violinists; Haydn used to complain that orchestras couldn't scrounge up two violists capable of playing his viola parts. But that time ended 200 years ago with increasing professionalism and wider access to competent teaching.
I think we need to find a way to make the viola look like a beautiful instrument, and we need to learn to ignore these jokes. I suspect the commedy channel you're referring to, TwoSet Violin, actually appreciates the viola, but they're probably just trying to make some commedy show or something.
I play viola, and I used to enjoy the cleverer viola jokes and even told a few on occasion. However, since the advent of that "comedy" duo who tell viola "jokes" in an incredibly mean-spirited way then yes, I've lost my willingness to accept viola jokes.
I don't think they actually believe what they're saying about violas; they both played in major orchestras before becoming comedians and have undoubtedly been around some excellent violists. But what annoys me is: it's clear they're deliberately targeting the age 12-17 crowd by playing up all the stereotypes kids hear around those ages, and by doing so they're reinforcing the stereotypes. They're just as bad about adding to the stigma of playing second violin.
TwoSet's content has taken a huge dive in quality lately, and their fanbase is more of a cancer on the face of the earth as ever. If you've seen the subreddit, you've seen just how low comedy can go. They've gone from creating fun, original content to regurgitating the same 4 jokes ad nauseam, to the point where it's just indescribably bleh.
Ella and Andrew: Yes maybe they actually think otherwise but that's not important, isn't it? And exactly, if they know music, why are they reinforcing absurd stereotypes to the general public? With great influence comes great responsibility.
Cotton, yeh that was one of the other things that also made it easy for me to unsubscribe from all their stuff. I'll stick with the truly talented and original Igudesman and Joo for my musical comedy fixes.
That's your opinion, Kiang. Maybe instead of complaining so adamantly about how violas are discriminated against, take some action and make a difference in the community that you say is so anti-viola.
Horace, what I said about TwoSet Violin’s viola comments is certainly not important, but I said it for your information. I heartily agree with Alex’s post about giving the viola a good name.
Hey Alex, thank you. You’re right that we can all contribute to destigmatising viola. Sincerely, I am doing that in real life in my occupational setting. I am personally not even a violist myself, tho I play a bit of it. I consider raising awareness here a tiny part of it too.
@andrewh: "Haydn used to complain that orchestras couldn't scrounge up two violists capable of playing his viola parts. But that time ended 200 years ago" so you're saying these viola jokes are more than 200 years old? The old ones are the best, lol.
this is a little bit similar with drummers in rock music, there are thousands of jokes about drummers, even the same as on violists (fall from building etc.) but every rock musician knows that good drummer is heart of the band and even me (like a solo guitarist) almost cannot play without perfect drummer and my solos sounds like shit without him making phrases and so on, but the jokes are here. When not drummers people will find another. Every normal musician who even played just one time knows this.
What strikes me most about Twoset is how hysterically funny they themselves think they are. The Viola Jokes video is mostly two kids laughing hysterically at their own jokes. Some people find this infectuous. I don't.
Has the viola shaming actually gotten worse since TwoSet have been around? Especially in the US there seems to be a lot of competition among young string players around seating, and the stereotypes regarding second violin have been addressed by Ms. Niles just recently. In such a climate, I wonder, is viola bashing really that new?
Occasionally, one finds a good new one: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=pTKSPQmu7xc.
In this and other contexts, I believe that the cathartic quality of humor resides in its freedom and chances that it might be offensive.
in order to do this reminding, comedy needs to be funny first and not full of itself.
Carlos, I am afraid that your romance might not apply to this case. Their humor, as you referred to, has defeated its own purpose. You must also agree that there are good humor, bad humor, and non-humor. You may watch some of their viola episodes, and decide by yourself.
I'm with Carlos. You might as well try to hold back the tide as regulate humour. And as with music, I don't believe humour is objectively present or absent, good or bad. If anybody laughs, it's humour. The only thing you can do is set an example of what you think acceptable and hope others follow it
Maybe I simply don't agree that it's ok to bully or to reinforce unfair stereotype as long as somebody laugh
@Horace: have you considered writing them a letter? They may get a number of fan mail, but they seem to read through their mails and their comments. I work around many teenagers, it does seem like they have a huge influence on the moldable minds of the teens.
I'm with Carlos on this one. Forbidding bad jokes - or jokes that we think are bad - is a dangerous path. Who gets to decide what is OK and what is not? I am all for freedom of speech. (Where I live there are political parties going in the direction of limiting free speech).
Hello Bo and all, thank you for the responses. I think no one would say telling jokes is a bad thing. But insisting on repeating a joke even if it went wrong because of the principle of "jokes are good" sound unreasonable to me. I really don't see why their viola jokes shall be worship on such a moral high ground that nothing should go against it. To me, they are just bullying the convenient victim. Just being lazy to innovate.
I watched about three "two set" videos before I was entirely sick of it. But then, I could not bring myself to watch "Saturday Night Live" either. After a short while it's just all the same. Rather like pro baseball: The highlight clips are enough for me.
I think I am in the minority here... I love viola jokes (despite being a viola player). There are even violin jokes out there! I share viola jokes with people I know can take it, and likewise with me. Its funny, and that is all they are meant to be. I certainly don't see viola jokes as viola bashing, at least not in the context I experience viola jokes. Perhaps others have received viola jokes in a more sinister way? They give me a giggle, and kept me entertained on a 12 hour coach ride back from a Paris tour (most of the bus was sharing in the fun).
Mary I agree, my high school-age part-time violist son (and cellist daughter) enjoys the viola jokes, and proudly wears his TwoSet "It's a Viola" t-shirt :-). They poke fun at pretty much anything related to classical music, with varying degrees of success. If I wanted to be bothered by something it would be the Ling Ling sort of Asian stereotyping instead.
@ Stan, I never found the Ling Ling references especially funny.
The Ling Ling reference is very relatable to us Asians. I was always compared by my parents to my “perfect” friend growing up. I just didn’t realize it was actually more prevalent than I thought.
I agree. The viola is a wonderful instrument, and while there's nothing wrong with a little humor, let's not cross the line.
a very large bra, apparently, that just happened to be unoccupied?
Stan and Mary, this is the thing. Those jokes won’t hurt if it’s told among musicians, they all understand it’s joke. Problem comes when it’s told repeatedly by some KOL to outsiders or beginners, esp young people.
I just checked one TwoSet video about viola jokes. It's downright insulting. Basically mocking a group of musicians, singling them out as talentless and awkward.
For your reference.
You're never going to change this. Stop pretending you have an audience that is so sympathetic to your opinions. Get out there and change it yourself. The computer screen is not going to provoke overnight viola adoration.
Thanks Alex. I am doing that already. I am here simply wish all of you who are educator like me aware of the situation. I am happy to listen to opposing views too. I think that's what a forum is for - talking. Talking is very important. I am glad to be a part of the talking.
The shame of it all is the duo's Eddy Chen actually has the makings of being a fine teacher. He was making some nicely done teaching videos on ewechube before he decided he was "funny".
Like them or not they have contributed to the idea that playing a string instrument is 'cool' and in particular for boys.
I am a living viola joke.
I am not disagreeing with the view that some viola jokes are vile and counterproductive to young people. For those who never heard any viola performance, I can see how they come up with the idea that "viola sounds bad" because someone online say so. However, for kids with music education? Especially if they are trained in string instruments and they don't know better? If this is the case, I have to say the teachers share the blame for not finding opportunity to demonstrate how beautiful the viola can sound. Assuming the kids are not totally stupid, the myth should dispel itself once they get access to good viola performance.
The crux of the matter here is not whether we like TwoSet or not, but whether their public shaming of an entire group of string players is acceptable. It clearly isn't, IMO.
I do, because it was the viola I wanted to play first; I started on violin only because there was an old violin in the family that I could get for free. Because I have almost no neck and my fingers are the shortest of any adult I know (I have friends almost a foot shorter than me who have larger hands), my 15.75" viola is the largest I can possibly handle and an octave in 1st position is almost full stretch.
"Philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato alluded to the idea behind the superiority theory thousands of years ago. It suggests that all humor is derived from the misfortunes of others – and therefore, our own relative superiority."
Another simpler solution.
Thank you, Craig.
Bullies? Lighten up people. They are called jokes.
Hi Timothy, I've never seen TwoSet Bullies, and think I will pass now. I thought this was about Viola jokes.
I do think some of the TwoSet jokes crossed way over the line. Therefore I was surprised at the amount of tacit approval they get for shaming the instrument and the people who play it. I think one of the reasons seems to be that in classical world there has been a culture of viola jokes all along. That said I'm really curious why the viola was singled out as the target of ridicule among all other instruments.
I'm a violist and I think those jokes are funny! I completely understand why violinists make fun of violists. The viola is physically more difficult to play, so of course many more terrible sounds are going to come out of it if we assume equal input of effort invested in comparison with playing the violin. The thing is, violinists also really notice when there is an outstanding viola player, and they show the utmost admiration.
Yeah James, I think there's a culture of jokes going on. Having said that I also think not every violist is a fan though. Such as the girl in this video:
The thing that bugs me the most is that tacit approval they get. They're not going to offend much of their audience for mean-spirited viola put-downs because their target audience is so young and actually believes them. When your audience is mostly children, you have to be cognizant of what happens when people believe you; it's not just about avoiding offense to your audience.
Yeah Andrew, I think any joke that portrays someone as being handicapped with a non-functional brain isn't funny.
I do agree with you guys that it is not so nice. I guess the reason why I go along with it, is because I honestly think violists still have a long way to go before the *MEDIAN* skill level is equivalent to that of violinists and cellists. I actually do believe that the peaks and lows of both violin and viola skill levels that are currently attained are roughly similar, which I'm sure you guys will agree.
The "Three Stooges" unfairly pokes fun at knuckleheads and numskulls.
the main problem with TSV's humor is that it's lazy and dumb.
To the people yet again missing the point of most of this discussion, almost none of us who play the viola dislike viola jokes! Can you firstly get that into your heads please?
Even the joke about throwing two violists off a cliff I had heard from my violist friend a few years ago, although perhaps she was just being illustrative with that particular one. Her boyfriend is a trombonist. I asked her, "didn't you fancy going out with a musician?"
In the end, all we're talking about is just memes in general. They're not just funny anymore, but very offensive. And these Twoset memes are really some of the least offensive ones out there. Memes are just part of pop culture now. There's nothing really we can do about them. If you haven't noticed, Twoset Violin is basically trying to become the PewDiePie of classical music. I think Twoset should do a video on how they REALLY feel about the viola. And they should probably come up with some new material, they've been recycling the same stale material for months now. They say the goal for their channel was originally to motivate peoe to practice, but I don't see them doing much of that anymore. They should start a practice challenge like Hilary Hahn's #100daysofpractice, which was really successful on Instagram. A lot of young kids look up to them, and starting something productive like that would be beneficial to everyone, and the whole world of classical music.
Some types of jokes, e.g. on women, slaves, and minorities not only got stale, they also got irrelevant in today's age. Moreover, many 'acceptable' jokes nowadays aren't that safe for broadcasting on social media and flaunting to the world.
I am sorry for those who have strict or repressive regimes, tbat wish your freedom of speech to go away. Very much hope all of those efforts against your freedom fail.
Well, violino actually means little viola, so Brett and Eddy are really playing viola themselves.
@Sander Marcus I loved the bagpipe joke! I've been a piper for about 39 years now and that's one of the best I've heard :)
Diana Moon Glampers approves this thread topic.
I agree with Adalberto. His comments about the fallacy that these jokers bring a young audience into theclassical music fold are especially salient.
Regarding the positive effects of a young child being influenced by the beautiful sound of a viola, see this delightful Ted Talk :
Couldn't possibly read through all the above comments, but I love viola jokes. I'm a violinist and receive classical music jokes directed at me all the time--not much different. I've also spent 2 years in the distant past playing viola. So I'm not truly anti-viola.
I started as a violinist and learned the viola as an adult. Nowadays I am mostly a violist and I love it. In my community viola jokes are told but it's almost always in fun, and often by other violists. In my experience, it makes the community of violists a more close-knit and supportive of each other. I enjoy being in the viola section more than I have most violin sections. And there's always the comeback that the violin isn't really smaller than the viola, it just looks that way because the violinists' heads are so big . . .
The Two-Set guys are actually darned good players, as revealed in their hula hooping challenge with Hilary Hahn.
I've never met a TwoSet fan who wasn't already either a musician or an avid classical listener before seeing TwoSet. Perhaps they encourage kids who play a string instrument to stick with it longer. I don't see them bringing in a lot of new people.
I've got no idea why I bother posting this. I guess I'm thinking out loud.
If many of the duo's fans are high school kids who bring such viola jokes (good or bad) to their schools, then we have got a big problem. Bullying and teasing in schools is a real issue and such jokes could only exacerbate the problems for kids who play or want to play the viola.
I would guess the problem is much smaller than our tribalism imagines.
The reason I started this thread is exactly viola shaming going to school, an insider joke popularized.
@Horace, this thread has popped up on their reddit now I notice
Oh, sincerely, it was all out of goodwill. I tried to be as calm and objective as possible. Wish nobody is offended…
Is it a problem that for small kids it's much harder (nonsensical, even?) to find a 1/4 size viola than a 1/4 size violin?
The smallest common viola size is 12", which is the same size as a 1/2 size violin. (There are no fractional viola sizes because there is no standard "full size" viola.) What this means, though, is the minimum age to start on viola is probably 8 or 9. To start younger, you have to start on violin and then switch.
Despite the trash fire that Reddit tends to be, it seems to be going ok at the moment. The complaint here isn't really against TwoSet, I would say it's against some of their more impressionable fans (and yes, at their channel size, they have a great many idiot kids who don't know better), who make viola jokes because they want to be "in" on the joke. Humor unfortunately doesn't work that way.
IMO many, if not most, jokes are like pornographic materials; they should be circulated only among adults, not impressionable children.
In line with your analogy, the channel would be a popular site with tons of distasteful porn, aiming at children
Andrew H, have you ever heard of violins strung as violas? They're fairly common for kids playing viola. Sometimes, a luthier may even take a small violin, pierce a hole in the top plate under the bridge, and make it a viola (this operation makes violins better suited as violas, but the operation is not reversible). I have to agree that good violists under 13 years of age are not that common outside of school string programs. Plus, not that many people pick the viola compared to the violin and other popularly-played instruments, and the viola gets little public attention compared to the violin and other popularly-played instruments.
I've seen violins strung as violas, and even violins with the pierced top, but never anything smaller than a 1/2 size violin (which is 12"). Are the strings available in smaller sizes?
Hear hear! Tasteful porn for our children! Lesniak 2020!
Andrew H, for violas smaller than a 1/2 violin, you can use violin gda strings, just like you can on a 14" or smaller violas. I don't know exactly about the C string, but I guess you use the shortest C string you can find and cut it to length if necessary. Some people put another string, usually a G string tuned to C, in place of the C string. Of course none of these solutions are ideal, but they are better than nothing.
How does drilling a hole into the top plate affect the instrument? Is it rather about tone color, or also the way it responds? Never heard of this...
A hole is drilled under the treble foot of the bridge and the soundpost is attached to the foot of the bridge directly. This makes a small instrument sound darker and more like a viola. The technique is called "the hole in the heart", or some such thing. I've seen it done, it works.
Here's the fiddlerman forum thread on it. I can't remember if it's public or not. https://fiddlerman.com/forum/fiddle-violin-repair-making-and-set-up/hole-in-heart-fractional-viola/
Wow, talk about weird procedures! This hole would mean that the treble foot of the bridge is at a lower point than the bass foot.
Herman, I suspect one makes a longer soundpost...
Forging a hole to an expensive violin is a lot more costly. So that blue violin makes sense to me. I remember seeing this colour, and bright red, purple, lime green violins etc. for less than $100 on Amazon.
The fiddlerman website reference to the hole-in-the-heart modification is in fact about a viola invented in Finland. In the comments I noticed these apposite observations:
Thomastik violins had one foot of the bridge directly on the sound post as part of their design - Can't remember which foot.
If the “hole in the heart” helps make a violin sound more viola-ish, what happens if you do it to an actual viola? A cello? Will it turn a double bass into a triple?
Herman, One guy in England does this kind of conversion. You can see some images on his website, and the "new" sound post is longer.
If you are brave enougth, tell a viola joke to Pinchas Zukerman...
Without knowing him I am sure he can appreciate a good viola joke.....
Speaking of viola, in honor of International Women's Day our local NPR station is playing a lot of music by female composers and I heard this piece, and I thought it was really beautiful. I'd like to try playing some of it -- the part that's not obviously too hard for me.
Re: women composers, the viola is unique among all orchestral instruments in that its most frequently played recital piece over the last decade is by a woman. That would be the Rebecca Clarke sonata.
Thanks for the Nadia Boulanger pieces, Paul. A quick listen suggests it's beautiful. Will have to take the time to look into it more. Thanks again.
Tim, I'm a little hazy about the relevance of your Dr F. to the viola..
We must cease any form of communication which might possibly offend anyone, so henceforth, there shall be no communication. :-)
David, it's pretty sad that this is what society is coming to.
So it's not a viola, it's a "differently-sized" violin.
"Different"? Someone might take that as being pejorative. How about "special" violin? ;-)
"What is the one thing violinists can do better than violists? Play the viola." Now that's just funny. After a few seconds you start to wonder who the joke is really on.
Charlie, the violin ("violino") was designed as a "small viola" for children and other people with short arms, too short to reach out on a real one. Out of sensitivity with short men with hurt ego (since this type regularly caused trouble in the history of mankind...) they were given most of the solo parts and the first seats in orchestra. Unfortunately this type of "mini-viola" was too small to produce the pleasing rich, warm and vibrant sound of a real viola, so they had to be strung up differently and get tuned to a higher pitch, which is still problematic in a large portion of these instruments.
So violins were originally invented as a way of dealing with toxic masculinity?
Sure David! And it emphasizes your important role in making this world a slightly more peaceful one. How could you shoo Mr Bonaparte back to the triangle...
As a non-white person I think political correctness has sometimes climbed to unreasonably high levels in American and Western societies. That said people can still get offended when you tell them they're plain stupid clowns - while they aren't, and you're only half-joking. Which is why I still find TSV's viola jokes to be bad.
Hmmn I'm torn on this. On one hand I'm a firm believer that comedy shouldn't be censored no matter how offensive it is, on the other hand I know that kids tend to take things like this too far and have a hard time defining the line between playful rousing and serious bullying.
I approve of political correctness and health and safety. The alternative is lack of them, i.e. the past, and no-one wants that, except for a few English politicians.
I think it's fairly easy to see if the jokes are OK by imagining someone projecting them onto you.
@Gordon: The term has long been banned, they have been called "Schokoküsse" (chocolate kisses) for many years now.
There are so many jokes that people find offending. But to prevent them being told is a way to a very rigid society in which some chosen ones set the boundaries. And that is not good for the most of the people. Like in Russia there are a lot of things that cannot be joked about and its closing into totalitarianism.
So Timothy, are YOU a Creme owner?
When I was little in dear old England, it was rude to say a person was "black", we had to say "negro" (but never n*gg*r).
Timothy wrote, '[the joke] is definitely more fun on the giving end than the receiving end.'
@Adrian - would that have been in about 1966? I can reliably report that a prominent member of our dear old government recently got it wrong while in the act of defending her opposite number in Parliament against racist abuse. Opposite number proceeded to take deep offence at the wrong choice of well-meaning words.
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