Viola jokes (seriously)

Edited: February 16, 2021, 6:12 AM · What is it with the viola jokes? Perhaps it's me, but they seem mean-spirited and I see some who seem to believe the jokes. Is it just me? Curious to hear thoughts on this. Very curious how this dynamic developed.

Replies (78)

February 16, 2021, 5:34 AM · Possibly because violinists don’t mix with drummers?
Edited: February 16, 2021, 6:46 AM · I've never had much interest in them. A lot of viola jokes are just a generic structure that can be and is used on pretty much any instrument.
February 16, 2021, 7:03 AM · Good point Gordon, personally I find them a turnoff, but that isn't my usual style of humor. It's been perplexing to me why they seem so popular though perhaps they just seem that way to me as I find them rather irritating so I will notice them more.
Edited: February 16, 2021, 8:57 AM · Serial jokes can get nastier and nastier as time passes and people strive too hard to follow what might have started as an amusing idea. My teacher, a violist, told me a few viola jokes when I first met her 5 or 6 years ago, but two-set have taken it too far.
In the same way, the first Essex-girl jokes 30 years ago were amusing, but then they became rather unpleasant.
February 16, 2021, 8:56 AM · As a British-schoolboy-humoured violist I enjoy exchanging them with fellow violists; best to get in first!
The best ones have an element of truth, the least pleasant are converted Irish jokes, or Belgian jokes here in France.
Edited: February 16, 2021, 9:39 AM · If you want to take this topic seriously and know the truth...

THE TRUTH, facts:

1. It's mostly violinists the ones that tell the jokes (why? Explained here)

2. Viola is far less popular than violin, everybody wants to play violin instead of viola

3. Because number 2, violin places at schools/orchestras/whatever are always taken and disputed, while viola slots are many, many times taken as a second option to those that wanted the violin place but weren't at the top. One joke right there: a violist is a failed violinist.

3. Because number 3, viola places are taken mostly by those that were not at the top, basically the worst players of all the bunch that wanted the violin

4. Viola is way less demanding than violin, mostly because the repertoire. It's like rhythm player vs soloist player.

5. If you have ever gone to a music school, you must have noticed that violinists tend to be the players that put more effort and time into the instrument, compared to the other 3 strings: cello, viola and double bass. Again, basically repertoire and demanding skills. Been in one, can confirm.

It's pretty simple humor: you have one category (string musician) and different levels of difficulty and demanding skills (viola/violin). The group of the most difficult level will "bully" the easier ones. Apply this to everything: college students, you get science students making fun of every other degree. Etc... A conductor will make fun of performers showing how he/she has to follow dozens of scores while performers just one. Pianists will make fun of pretty much every performer because they have 2 staffs, etc...

Hard vs Easy humor. It's fine, generic and laughable. This kind of humor gets intoxicated and cringey if the one making the joke is not related at all in any of the 2 categories. For example, a high school drop out that sells herbs online (legit, cool, fine) making a mechanical engineer joke that bullies history students. Wrong. A rock guitarist making viola jokes. Wrong, kill yourself :)

That's the problem with viola jokes, they are getting so famous that people that are not even musicians are making them. Wrong, cringe, I die, specially if it's very simple.
What these ignorant folks are understanding to make the joke?
That viola is super easy. For a non musician that won't be able to even hold a viola, that's a pretty reckless attitude and very annoying.

February 16, 2021, 9:42 AM · On the positive side, without viola jokes even fewer people would ever know such an instrument exists!
February 16, 2021, 9:42 AM · Some are funny enough, some not really. For me, the motivation of the person telling them counts for a lot. For example, the same joke told by a friend would be unacceptable told by Paul N. above, as he clearly believes a load of anti-violist nonsense.
February 16, 2021, 10:04 AM · Paul N. - I challenge you on the statement that cello is easier than violin.

Cellists have to learn to read & play 4 clefs: bass, tenor, treble and treble-one-octave-down (also called "trouble clef" and "Dvorak treble clef") which is especially troublesome because it is only one whole tone off the tenor clef. Cellists can play 3-octave scales on each string (if their cellos are good enough), who else can do that? The only consolation they have is they can rest their weight on their instruments and playing cello is more ergonomic than violin or viola.

Viola is "simple" because the way most violas are built it is almost impossible for most human hands to get around the upper bout to play 7th position and above. Fortunately and probably because of that most viola music does not require playing.stratospheric positions. However, there are newer viola designs that enable virtuosic high-position playing. As far as I'm concerned the major challenge of viola is enduring the left-hand pain that can come with playing extended sessions.

I recall hearing a concert many years ago where a viola student of Cal Arts, Valencia, CA played with the most glorious tone and fantastic bowing. I learned from her CV that during high school she had been concertmaster of the Utah All-State orchestra and I realized what a marvelous, less challenged career opening viola playing might offer some fine violinists who would face more serious challenges as violinists.

Edited: February 16, 2021, 12:38 PM · The world would certainly be a better place if jokes were much more prissy, and carefully checked for universal accuracy and truth before saying them. (sarcasm)

Anybody got some fiddlemaker jokes? :-)

February 16, 2021, 12:44 PM · I always love a good joke or funny line (I write them occasionally). But I, too, have never quite understood why we pick on violists. If you're going to make fun of a player of a musical instrument, I might suggest the following instruments: church organ (which seems a kind of misnomer), recorder (invented before electricity), kazoo (which actually should be played by an animal), and piano (which should always be played softly).
Edited: February 16, 2021, 12:53 PM · The reason less solo rep (concertos) is written for the viola is simply because the viola does not have the same practical range as either the violin or the cello.

You can say, "oh violists just play chamber and orchestral parts, and those are easier than concerto rep." And yeah that's probably true. But the thing about chamber and orchestral parts is that if you want to play them really well, for example to play them actually in tune and in rhythmic and dynamic synchrony with the other players, then you need basically the same level of technique that you'd need to play the (relatively) sparse viola concerto rep.

I've tried to play the viola for a few years now, in orchestras and chamber groups. Then I hear someone like Scott Slapin, just playing something like Bach suites, and I am completely in awe at how it is even possible to get such a beautiful, even, singing tone and crispy articulation (among all the other musical aspects of his playing) on such a frightfully awkward instrument.

Edited: February 17, 2021, 10:57 AM · I suggest the one musician who has got to be at the top of the tree in the mastery of the mechanics of a complex instrument must be the church organist - coping with up to five keyboards plus a pedal board, more stops than the eye can take in at a single glance, and having three staves of music to read. Oh, and the ability to improvise at the drop of a hat and to be prepared to change key (also at the drop of a hat) when - and not if! - the congregation's singing drifts flat.

Admission: My father was a church organist, and I had a mere three years of organ lessons (not from him) in my early twenties, so I wouldn't put myself anywhere near the level suggested in the first paragraph.

Edited: February 16, 2021, 5:30 PM · Violin is just a little viola. I mean "violino" actually means small viola. So it is really the viola that is the sparkle from where the power emerges. -;)

Anyway, the amount of repertoire for viola has increased a lot. Today you can find an amazing amount of music for viola. And there is certainly music with big technical challenges. But if you want to play Bach, Mozart and Beethoven there is not that much written for viola (except chamber music and orchestral music).

February 16, 2021, 6:01 PM · David Burgess said:

“Anybody got some fiddlemaker jokes? :-)”

Mr. Stradivari, that’s a beautiful new violin you’re holding. By the way, have you seen my cat anywhere lately?

Edited: February 16, 2021, 6:17 PM · In school orchestras, where these jokes are most often heard, the violas tend to be worse, for several reasons. Among them:

1) The viola is difficult to start at an early age, because violas smaller than 12" (same size as 1/2 size violin) are extremely rare. As a result, in school orchestras and younger youth orchestras, the violists have been playing their instrument for a much shorter time than either the violinists or cellist. This evens out with age: for adults, a few years at the beginning matter much less.

2) The viola has a much steeper learning curve than the violin because such a large percentage of the solo repertoire is 20th century. Whereas violinists have a steady progression of concertos all the way from first-position-only student concertos to the "big four", the intermediate viola repertoire is especially sparse and there are big leaps in technical difficulty from one piece to the next. Again, the effect is more noticeable in younger players.

3) Kids in school orchestras and youth orchestras tend to have bigger egos, so fewer are interested in playing the viola if they can play violin.

February 16, 2021, 6:26 PM · When I was a kid it was oboe jokes, not viola jokes. The oboe is a freaking hard thing to play too.
February 16, 2021, 7:25 PM · Scott Slapin, I do not have to believe what I said, I have experienced that myself and I know it. That's why I said those are facts. If you want you can tell me which one of those are not facts, but you are not going to find anything "nonsense" as you called. I can fact check:
1. Checked, violinists are the ones normally making the jokes, because it's basically their business. I mean, an oboe player can tell a viola joke to a trumpet player, but... it's not the same, it's normally string related jokes.
2. Checked, violins are WAY, WAY more demanded that violas. You can get all salty you want, that's a fact. In every single conservatoire I went, if you wanted to get in and study violin you had to be like the top 10 out of 100 or so, while in the viola there were like 20-30. I was told by a violin teacher in one of the places that if I really wanted to enter I should go with the viola, since with the violin it was really hard due to the high demand.
3. Another fact, if there is less demand on violas, and violinists can choose to go with viola if they failed to enter with the violin, then it's a fact violas are going to be worse than violins. It's literally violin requiring 3.3 GPA vs viola requiring 2.0 GPA. It's really easy to understand, if one instrument is way less popular, there is going to be way less people competing each other, and the violin is going to be filled with students wanting to be one of those yearly 10 that enter, or whatever. Now with maths: what's the probability of finding the top 5 students in the violas (30 students competing) vs violins (100 students competing).
4. Violas are less demanding than violin, and I said it is basically because of the repertoire. Not because violin is "better" than viola per se. That makes the violinists to study harder. I bet my strad you go to any random high school orchestra/college orchestra where musicians are not really professional and the top 3 string players are going to be violinists, and occasionally a cellist. Why? Repertoire.
I went last year to a music school where a friend of mine is studying and the string players were playing the solo pieces they had been studying during the year (each student like 2 or 3 pieces). As I expected, there were these 2 violinists that were at a way higher level than the rest of the class (class meaning cellos, violins and violas).

Of course, do not misunderstand me, this does not apply if you are going to analyze top level music schools, the "Ivy league". Obviously in these schools only enter those that are so good, and none of what I have said applies. Well, may be violins are more demanded, probably, but the level of demand is so high whatever instrument you pick.

Viola jokes were not born in Juilliard, but in the kind of places I have mentioned.

Edited: February 17, 2021, 3:03 AM · Those awful Two Set kids have taken it way too far.

Young teen violin students now have the idea the upside of studying the violin (not a very glamorous pursuit with virtually zero chances of getting anywhere) is you get to put down violists.

In many ways I think this is contrary to what music making is about. Thanks Two Set. I guess you made a lot of money off of this.

As to the part where somebody's 'explaining' the viola literature is much simpler. Most composers we tend to see as great or halfway great are from an era when the viola was not a very shall we say emancipated instrument. From the mid-twentieth century on, however (and that's seventy years ago!), composers have been writing great and very challenging music for viola.

February 17, 2021, 4:14 AM · Sounds like the Tunbridge Wells Conservative Association discussing, well pretty much anything they don't approve of. Futile but actually quite funny.
February 17, 2021, 4:29 AM · Paul N., You *know* (not believe!) these things to be true based on your limited experience and what you've read into that. This is the point I was making related to this particular thread; you *know* violinists (i.e. conveniently you) to be superior to viola players, and therefore you're the exact sort of person I wouldn't accept viola jokes from.

Regarding repertoire, the history of the viola is intertwined with that of the violin, and generally the viola's technical studies are the same as the violin's: Wohlfahrt, Kayser, Kreutzer, Rode, Gavinies, Paganini, Sevcik, Schradieck etc. Is Rode easier on viola than on violin? No. I think most would agree it's harder actually.

Many violists start on violin and switch at some point or double on both instruments, making the clear distinction you're insisting on quite blurry. Was Paganini the violinist superior to Paganini the violist? Ah, you mean that the viola parts (and 2nd violin parts *ahem*) in early Haydn string quartets are easier than the 1st violin parts. Probably true in most school arrangements of tunes, too. Yes, they are... but that's not a full picture, is it? It's just what you're selectively emphasizing to make a point you obviously care a great deal about.

Conservatories have to maintain a certain number of orchestras where the ratio of violins to violas should be 3 to 1. While there are more violinists applying, there are also generally three times more violinists accepted. Past that I really can't comment, because you don't give your full name or the names of any of the schools you mention, so all one can do is take you at your word about your experience. Back to the point of this thread though: There are jokes that people tell for genuine humor, to make other people laugh and feel good, and then there are jokes people tell to reinforce a hierarchy, to make themselves feel superior. The jokes can be the same, but the motivations are quite different. You *know* they are.

Edited: February 17, 2021, 4:45 AM · I don't remember anyone in my town's youth orchestra with an ego, except for a girl called Jo whose father was an oil company accountant or executive. The only thing scarier than her ego was her French horn playing. Luckily she also played the flute, and in that section was where the director, strangely, needed her most, lol.
My friends in the orchestra played violin, viola and percussion. I don't remember any jokes.
Edited: February 17, 2021, 5:02 AM · Regarding violas in school orchestras which Andrew Hsieh posted about:

At a certain point in the music school where I work we had a school orchestra where the 3 violist in the viola section were much better technically wise than the violin players. As a result i needed to make score arrangements with challenging viola parts. Quite interesting isn't it?

Edited: February 17, 2021, 8:41 AM · Scott Slapin, you got all wrong, once again. I do NOT think violinists are superior to violists. Never ever said that. What is being superior even mean?

These viola jokes exist or are meant for NON PROFESSIONAL environments, where you get those actual factual "failed violinists" that applied for violin, failed to be on top, and switched to viola to enter. Violin is more crowded, there's more competition, and the ones taking the places are going to be better students as a general rule, it's math: far more appliances result in better students.

It's not neither that one piece is easier or harder on the violin or viola. If we apply that way of thinking, double bass is the hardest instrument ever, because... try to play the Tchaikovsky with one.

I don't have the pleasure to have listened to Paganini live, but you are totally missing the jokes. Viola jokes do NOT apply to professional players, as I expect any professional violist to be way more competent and hard worker than a non professional violinist. If I go see the Berliner Philharmoniker I don't say "look, son! all those in the middle are failed violinists that don't practice".

Also, don't try to blurry math. Even at 3 to 1 ratio, it's normally WAY, WAY more difficult to enter as a violinist than as a violist, and I can confirm with all the music schools I've been. Of course it's not an unbreakable rule, there are probably many orchestras where the violas are taken and it's the violins that have more movement.

Also, I do not tell viola jokes, not for any reason in particular, I rarely talk about jokes with my musician friends. I find them funny though, and I understand why they exist and why they picked violas among the 4 string instruments. As I told you already, go to any non professional music school recital and check the violinists vs the rest of the strings. I've done it 3 times, always same results. Chances are those star students that are above the rest because they put way more effort are violinists. Go see the first levels, those that have been studying for 3 years, 5 years, 7 years. You'll see exactly what I'm telling you. In the last event I went, cellists were way worse than violists (it was an amateur music school, but again, see how violinists develop in any level vs the rest).

And, to be clear that I see you misunderstand me easily:
I do NOT believe violinists are superior to any other musician, you can find excellence in any instrument. Are there may be more excellent players in solo instruments such as violin or piano? May be, due to the competition, repertoire, history and pressure, but you will never see me say these are superior to others, whatever superior means, which I don't know.

When I listen to music, or to a quartet, I am thinking in musical terms, not in complexity and difficulty. I don't care which one is the second and the first violin, I just listen to learn and look if it makes sense.

Edited: February 17, 2021, 9:23 AM · I think there is kind of a universal bias against inside voices. Lots of material written for violin and cello. And when more material gets written, the objective (often enough) is to write something that is more complicated, more difficult, etc., because you know there will be players who can rise to that challenge. So this is why we have so much really crushing rep written for the violin and the cello.

But why those instruments? Why those voices? I'd be willing to bet "my strad" that there are one hell of a lot more operatic arias and art song written for sopranos, mezzos, tenors, and baritones -- and far fewer for altos. Is it unreasonable to suggest that the question of why there is such little rep for the alto solo voice is the same question as why there is less for viola?

I do think Paul N makes a credible point that there is more "bench depth" in the violin and the cello in terms of people wanting to play it and pursue it in college, and that this depth is at least partly driven by the same additional depth in the respective solo repertoire (discounting Kreutzer and Rode), and that when you have N = 10000 in a bell-shaped curve you're going to have longer tails than when you have N = 1000. That part is "just maths," as he said. However the problem is that the portion of the curve that is actually entering the professional arena basically entirely comprises outliers -- people who are so far above the mean that they defy meaningful statistical characterization. On this point I believe Paul N disclaimed and qualified his prior arguments adequately. At the levels far below the professional level, the lack of "bench depth" does become apparent in my experience as well. I should know -- I was invited to play viola on the first stand in our local orchestra after auditioning on the violin.

Edited: February 18, 2021, 6:13 AM · Interestingly, I don’t recall students ever making viola jokes when I was in school. The occasional viola jokes came from the adults. Perhaps that has changed with Twoset.

My experiences with violists in school/youth orchestras were actually different from Andrew Hsieh’s.

In the public high school orchestras that I’ve seen, the violists were no worse than the violinists. There were just a lot fewer violists. There would be 20 violins, and then 3 violas. Most violinists and violists didn’t take private lessons and never got beyond the advanced beginner level. The comparative availability of viola vs. violin repertoire was irrelevant for them. Only a handful of kids reached intermediate repertoire or higher. Usually there was one violist who was more advanced than most of the violinists.

The elementary and middle school orchestra arrangements are rudimentary for both violins and violas. Often, there are too few violists, so some violinists are assigned to play “Violin 3,” which is a transcribed viola part.

The advanced student violinists appreciated the viola. Some of them volunteered to play the viola in school ensembles.

February 17, 2021, 10:20 AM · Paul D., I think that for most of its history the viola was largely a doubling instrument, in the way that piccolo trumpet for trumpet players is today. People studied the violin at conservatory (often degrees in viola performance weren't offered) and switched afterward; that was still the standard route in the first half of the 20th century. It still is a common path today, but many more violists today switched earlier on or even started on viola from the beginning. 20th and 21st Century viola rep. can be expected to be quite difficult technically, but much before (Paganini, Rolla, Ney etc.) and it's the exception.

My experience with viola jokes is that they're certainly told at all levels of the profession. Most people mean nothing by them, and some do.

Paul N., I don't believe I have misunderstood as much in your posts as you claim, but I'll have no further comment on them; your words can speak for themselves.

Edited: February 17, 2021, 10:28 AM · It's a hangover from times when the viola really was a "cinderella" instrument. My best friend at school was practically my twin, academically and musically, until he switched from violin to viola. I very much doubt it was his idea and even today I doubt that many players actually start out with that intention. In chamber music it's been a long time since I joined with anyone who played viola exclusively or first-and-foremost, but the ones who did were the greatest connoisseurs of viola jokes.

I know what it's like to be in a mocked minority group, having been born in Swindon (all yokels) and lived the last 20 years in Tunbridge Wells where every male over 30 is allegedly a pompous right-leaning buffoon. The jokes don't offend me in the slightest.

February 17, 2021, 1:26 PM · I have never met a violist who was offended by viola jokes. We can take it. But try telling an oboe joke - the oboe players are NOT amused! Most viola players have enough self irony to appreciate the jokes and take them for what they are: Jokes!
That being said I agree that Two-Set have been taking it too far; not that it offends me as a violist, but some of their "jokes" have no refinement - they are not jokes but simple mockery.
No - I must resist telling a viola joke now..... ;)
February 17, 2021, 2:31 PM · I'm with Scott here. It is all about the intention of the joker. And that is also the danger or difficulty. I am a woman and blond and I really like blond (and) women jokes. They are hilareous as are violist long as the joker doesn't mean any of it and has a lot of respect for women, blonds or violists. I think that is a very thin line and is also different in the eyes of the listener. But I also think that we all become too serious on the internet and humour in general disappears because always some individual or small group is offended and nobody has the met je to make an innocent joke with respect any more
February 17, 2021, 3:12 PM · Just to clarify, I have zero experience in school and youth orchestras -- I started learning violin in my last year of high school and switched to viola a year and a half later. But I knew a lot of people in my high school's orchestras because I sometimes played chamber music with them as a pianist.

I think depth of good violinists and violists varies from place to place, too. In most of the community orchestras I've played in, the viola section was the strongest and deepest of the string sections -- including one where all of the violists were better than any other string player except the concertmaster.

Edited: February 17, 2021, 5:37 PM · I like viola jokes but I like jokes anyway. I mainly play violin but I have a small viola that I just love and have even given a name. I have unfortunately lost my language learning ability (there goes my big retirement project in languages) and the alto clef remains a mystery though I continue to try to work on it. I enjoy playing violin pieces a fifth lower and also playing some folk pieces. I give patio recitals for my neighbors who are not very discerning but pleasant and appreciative. My viola is by definition a student instrument but I get great pleasure out of it and that's what counts. So bring on the jokes! You can even joke about me!
February 17, 2021, 6:26 PM · If you are a good violinist and fan of viola jokes, what about telling a viola joke to Pinchas Zukerman? Or to Vengerov? Or Julian Rachlin?
Edited: February 17, 2021, 8:01 PM · Luis, I don't know any of those people. I'm not a good violinist so I like violinist jokes too! Jokes are jokes because they can't possibly be true, otherwise they are not jokes but something else.
February 17, 2021, 8:00 PM · Bo, Two-Set does bother me in their excessive seriousness. I was uncomfortable watching the episode when the tall fellow (I forget their names) gave the other one a viola for his birthday and he was clearly not amused. There's some arrogance there, like they've forgotten what it is like to just be starting out. I will always be at best intermediate but that's fine with me. I just don't like to see mean put downs. And the thing about "perfect pitch," please...
Edited: February 18, 2021, 4:50 AM · The intention of the joker is not the only variable here. Imagine, now that you all talk about Twoset violin, that a teenage girl watches them for fun, because they are funny and trendy. She learns that there are these viola jokes and she assumes that they exist because viola must be easier than playing triangle. She is not into classical, never has been, completely ignorant musically. So she goes to school and starts copying and saying some of those jokes to that friend of hers that she knows is in the orchestra.

I don't care what the intention of the girl is, the fact that she's telling them without knowing anything about violas, violins or classical music is what turns me off, "yuck!". It's like a 10th grade boy in school starts telling to his philosophy teacher jokes about "math and engineering degrees mocking liberal art degrees". It just doesn't work.

February 18, 2021, 6:36 AM · Pious disapproval is everyone's right but what would you suggest as a countermeasure - ethical guidelines?
Edited: February 18, 2021, 7:05 AM · I play the triangle in a reggae band. I sit next to the drummer an ting.
February 18, 2021, 9:18 AM · How about this to keep us all modest: Know any violinist jokes?
Edited: February 18, 2021, 9:23 AM · There's a Jewish curse: May your neighbour's child take up the violin!

My teacher told me this one:
What's the difference between a violin and a viola?
None. The violin just looks smaller because the violinist's head is so big.

Edited: February 18, 2021, 9:24 AM · Hear the one about the violinist who also played the viola badly?

Limericks are always in good taste (!): There was an old fiddler named Ann, who...

February 18, 2021, 9:23 AM ·
February 18, 2021, 10:52 AM · What about violin makers' jokes?

How to make 1 million dollars as a violin maker? Start your business with 2 million dollars...

What is the difference between a violin maker and a pizza? A pizza can feed four persons.

February 18, 2021, 11:40 AM · It must be hard nowadays to be a humourist and not offend someone.
February 18, 2021, 3:43 PM · TwoSet has toned down their viola jokes (and other instrument jokes, and not just their recent health break, but even before that). There was a time when it was really getting out of hand, and they must have eventually noticed, or been advised, that what with being an example for millions of young impressionable people on international social media and all, they needed to watch themselves. When was it that had they backed off, I don't know, but I recall it came up on this forum some time ago. Joking has of course existed since long before internet, and in today's hyper-connected world, it's just that things travel faster and become digitally immortalized, for better or for worse. I've certainly said or done questionable things in youthful past that I've matured from.
February 18, 2021, 3:53 PM · They haven't entirely given up on saying "viola" and cringing, etc., however. It's still part of their go-to repertoire.
Edited: February 18, 2021, 9:18 PM · There is a technique to the triangle. For one tune, switching from amplified violin to percussion in a Latin band, I used a Cajun style triangle and announced; "I told them I went to Julliard and they handed me a triangle!" Actually I didn't get past the security guard at Lincoln Center so I went to the gift shop and bought stuff with Julliard logos.
Edited: February 18, 2021, 5:30 PM · Hence my word choices of "toned down" and "backed off" (intensity is "less than" but is not 0).
February 18, 2021, 5:40 PM · Mengwei, I haven't seen them for a while, it got tiresome and I moved on.
February 18, 2021, 7:16 PM · I'm a violinist but I love the viola, it's mellow tone. The tenor of a string quartet and that's one place where it is more soloistic and demonstrates a lot of technique. And what about the Walton and Bartok viola concertos.
Edited: February 19, 2021, 8:38 AM · I love the darker voice of the viola. My teacher, who is a violist, bluntly said my hands are barely large enough for the violin when I asked about playing the viola. Given my ear will likely always be stronger than my sight reading, at this point I wouldn't take on a second clef anyway. Keeping track of the treble cliff is challenging enough for this woman!

TwoSet were publicly chastised by Hillary Hahn on thier viola rhetoric, if they didn't plan it, they improved after that. I don't know that they will ever let that edge go. For them it's not a joke, at least it doesn't seem to be. Still, they have improved and I do watch them occasionally.

February 18, 2021, 10:02 PM · In the last months before TwoSet toned it down, I saw several school music teachers complain that the number of students interested in playing viola had declined precipitously in just two or three years; some had asked their students why and were told it was TwoSet.
February 19, 2021, 2:37 AM · Two Set makes money off of these mean jokes. It's their business model.
February 19, 2021, 3:49 AM · The only thing I truly hate about viola is the alto clef.
Edited: February 19, 2021, 8:38 AM · Back to my original post that started this thread, I don't mind actual jokes, and I've heard some funny viola jokes - just recently as a matter of fact. It comes down to the spirit in which they are given, and many viola jokes I've heard have had that mean spirited edge to them - TwoSet isn't the only culprit in this. Hilary Hahn was able to influence them enough to back off, but the original attitude is still there.

Once they backed off they started focusing on roasting other instruments, though that didn't seem to have quite the same spirit. They were rather surprised by the pushback from the recorder community I think.

Edited: February 19, 2021, 7:00 AM · Catherine, yes, I completely agree with you. You can tell the motivation behind their telling the jokes wasn't only to entertain their audience but also to reinforce a hierarchy.

In my experience, audiences love the sound of the viola for many of the same reasons they love the violin; both imitate the human voice quite well, with the viola better approximating the range of most people's vocal range.

I started on violin but switched to viola because I didn't love that E string in my ear. Most of the unaccompanied violin repertoire can be played on viola (in addition to viola and some cello repertoire), so I saw it mostly as an issue of sound. When I hear why people switched, it's often a variation of that story.

Edited: February 19, 2021, 8:41 AM · If my hands weren't so small, along with my significant shoulder and neck issues, I would consider adding either the viola or cello. I'm told I would need to attempt to use my 3rd for my 4th on the cello, LOL. At 62 it doesn't seem wise to move in a direction that I know wouldn't be kind to my body. Pity, but that means I can enjoy listening to both viola and cello rep for the joy of listening. That is not a bad thing at all!

I don't mind the E string under my ear - depending on the E string. Part of me wants the G to be deeper than it is, but that's the way it goes.

February 19, 2021, 9:16 AM · I'm another e-string hater who went over to the dark side after finding that (when I was setting up a string group in the high school where I worked) it was the only orchestral string instrumentstill intact (hmmm. Is that cause noone played it!). Took it homme over summer so I could learn the evil clef and fell in love.

So why the jokes - it's an imperfect instrument, as Jennifer Stumm reminds us in her wonderful ted talk.

(Ps. Viola joke: stumm is German for mute!)

February 19, 2021, 10:06 AM · Cello playing position is said to be more "ergonomic" than violin. I can't say I disagree but whenever I...don't play cello for a while, my upper back/shoulders/arms get tired (and I lose my calluses) at the next session. It's also partly what one is accustomed to. Several of my violin parents have taken up cello although the exact reasoning is unclear: for example, cello perceived to be adult-friendly, they like the sound, don't want to put themselves in "direct" "competition" with their children. One of them plays a 3/4 size and another has shoulder issues that we as two non-medical people do our best not to exacerbate (she knows what she can and can't/shouldn't do more than I).

I picked up viola as an adult to play Bach cello suites, listened to Lillian Fuchs extensively as well, but then got into actual cello instead because of having to teach it. I make money off of teaching children violin and sometimes cello, so it made more sense to put resources (time, energy, and money) into what the clientele needed. At some point I practiced conducting over cello in order to benefit the entire ensemble class rather than "only" a couple of cellists. Sorry for having to keep my business model alive.

Seriously though, what counts as "small hands"? I can play piano octaves reasonably, RH can just barely reach a 9th, LH can reach it and just barely clear the corners of the inner-adjacent keys, must be the violin LH training.

From my vague recollections of K-12 school days, it takes a certain personality - contrarian? confidence? intentionality? - to "choose viola" rather than what's more popular by numbers and perceived as more cool. Young string players in lower level orchestras and even some advancing youth orchestras are (were?) also exposed to the idea that 2nd violinists are inferior to 1st violinists, clearly incorrect to we who know better, but unfortunately supported by "demands" of the repertoire and seating hierarchy used in some organizations. I could either let this slide in my studio or actively teach them otherwise, knowing that they will still encounter it.

Edited: February 19, 2021, 11:29 AM · I don't really know why it's not standard that a violinist plays viola. We could be just like sax players that switch between say soprano and tenor with ease, maybe playing flute and clarinet too!
A transposing clef would have been nice - so that the notes and fingers are in the same place on the page but the pitch is a 5th down. Or, you have an octave violin.
Edited: February 19, 2021, 2:44 PM · @-C.P.
The equivalent transposing clef would be the Mezzo-soprano C-clef, middle C on the second line from the bottom. Some violinists should not add Viola to their skills for the same reason a small child should not use a 4/4 Violin. The feeling of the bow arm is different can be enough to confuse some players.
February 19, 2021, 2:48 PM · I totally agree that all violinist should play the viola. After playing the viola for a while the violin feels so easy to get around on. Like a toy instrument. But please no transposing. But the clefs (all three of them) could have been an octave apart instead of a seventh......
February 19, 2021, 5:02 PM · I was somewhat fortunate in being first introduced to the viola as a solo instrument -- the first concerto I ever heard live was the Walton! So even though I started on violin, I intended to switch as soon as I got my hands on a viola; the only reason I started on violin was that I was able to rescue an old family violin that had gone unplayed for 20 years.

As for hand size: I barely reach an octave on the piano, and have never met another adult with smaller hands than mine, but I play a 15.75" viola.

February 19, 2021, 10:23 PM · "We could be just like sax players that switch between say soprano and tenor with ease."

I have a friend who is quite a solid tenor sax player, and he bought himself a new alto sax, and he found that switching between them (for example, on jazz gigs) is not so trivial, for a variety of legitimate reasons. And the sax players I know who have "learned flute" all have miserable tone because they've never had any professional advice on their embouchure.

Many violin teachers, however, do encourage their students to play viola for the reasons Bo mentioned. If nothing else, it's one hell of a physical workout.

Edited: February 20, 2021, 9:26 AM · I'm somewhat surprised that I cannot find a solo viola piece from Dvorak. But I played his Terzetto and he knew how to write for the instrument for sure.
February 20, 2021, 9:38 AM · I've got the complete Bashmet RCA recordings (9 CDs). I didn't look at the track listings before buying it. There's no baroque, which is a pity.
February 20, 2021, 4:12 PM ·
February 23, 2021, 3:12 PM · Maybe Dvorak didn't do much viola stuff because they don't go as high as he likes to send the violins. Even then, when we played his symphony no. 8 we violas spent a lot of time in 5th position and had to go to 7th at one point.

As for viola playing not being cool, that's fine with me. I've never been a really competitive type - I prefer to go off and find things that not many others are doing. Once I get good at such things, I'm suddenly in demand.

I can switch back and forth between violin and viola - but it takes 10 minutes or so to adjust to the different spacing. After playing viola, violin feels so tiny and fragile - it's fun to really dig into the strings like you have to do on viola.

Oh, and I do enjoy the occasional viola joke - provided it's clever rather than malicious.

February 23, 2021, 4:41 PM · I told my doctor a proctologist joke:
"Definition of a proctologist: A person who's #1 priority is #2."
He loved it. I'm not sure he would have laughed so much if he was a proctologist.
February 23, 2021, 9:13 PM · Sander, A visual joke, a man asks his proctologist how are things. He responds with the okay sign. Okay, enough of this rabbit hole!

I love my little viola. I play badly enough that you don't have to joke about it.

Edited: February 24, 2021, 8:49 AM · Sander, I think he'd only have a reason for not laughing if he'd heard it too many times before.
A gastroenterology consultant at Barts used to go around wearing a tie with "R" and images of soles on it (whether shod or not I don't know - I heard about it from medical students, one of whom was telling the other that the consultant's reason for the tie was no more complicated than the obvious one).
Evelyn Ebsworth was a highly distinguished inorganic chemist. In the sixties I heard (not from him) that one of his favourite jokes was "Compounds containing the C4H5N ring are Pyrroles. Those containing the C4H5P ring are Phospholes. What are the Arsenic analogues?". Since then, as you will find on Wikipedia, people have published on these compounds, and their official chemical name is exactly what to him was just a joke!
February 24, 2021, 11:09 AM · Running jokes, like a runny tummy?
February 24, 2021, 12:27 PM · Piles of 'em!
Edited: February 24, 2021, 1:51 PM · I was, after all, an analytical chemist. It's actually misspelled, the field is named for me, annalytical chemistry. There are also entire groups of compounds named for me such as annalgesics and annaesthetics.
February 24, 2021, 1:36 PM · John, there is also a chemical species that is commonly called BARF lots more silly things. But BARF did not arise through the rigors of systematic nomenclature, like "arsole" did.
February 25, 2021, 8:03 AM · John: NO proctologist ever heard that joke before, because I'm the one who made it up. Good point, though.
February 25, 2021, 9:50 AM · Sander, I've "made up" quite a number of jokes, but the chances are somebody I don't know about made them up before me, like that of a UK Prime Minister putting an arm round his spin doctor's shoulder, whom he's just appointed as a European Commissioner, and saying to him, "Now -, the thing about the European Commission is that it's not enough for corruption to be done: It must be seen to be done". I had never seen or heard of the political cartoon in which it featured, and I have no idea whether, in time, I or the cartoonist thought of it first. Doesn't matter, really, to each of us it was original.
I wonder whether Buri's one about the best recording of the Walton Viola Concerto ( was original to him?
Oh dear, I've digressed on to the viola!
February 25, 2021, 10:13 AM · No problem; the viola will do that to you.

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