Quartets anyone! Which musician is the hardest to find - violin, viola or cello?

June 13, 2023, 9:16 AM · [This might make an interesting poll.]

Say you want to organize a chamber music, quartet evening (or pro session). Which musician is most often 'rate limiting', that is the hardest to find at an appropriate ability - V1, V2 (depending on which you play) Viola or cello?

For me it seems the hardest is cello.

Replies (30)

June 13, 2023, 9:34 AM · Cello.
June 13, 2023, 9:49 AM · Cello. There are plenty of amateur cellists, but few that play well enough. With violinists I find the percentage of good-enough players much higher. Conclusion, cello is harder? ;-)
June 13, 2023, 10:07 AM · In my town--Cello. A lot of violinists also play viola.
Edited: June 13, 2023, 1:37 PM · I don't think it has so much to do with the fact cello is harder, but more that maybe we violinists tend to know each other better than we do cellists.? If it were me, since I'm equally comfy on both violin and viola, I could always be the group's violist, but if you only play violin and your area is short violists, you'll probably have an easier time finding a cellist than a violist.
June 13, 2023, 12:34 PM · Viola. There's darned few of us around.
June 13, 2023, 12:44 PM · Probably cello, because enough violinists switch hit as violists.
June 14, 2023, 6:57 AM · In my area, it is probably violists. I think people may overestimate how many violinists actually play viola and don't realize how few violists there really are. But others in my area may have a totally different experience.
Edited: June 14, 2023, 7:25 AM · Judging by how much I'm called on to play viola, I guess I would have to answer "viola" in my area.

In my experience the position that's hardest to fill for just playing through chamber music is the pianist.

Don't be surprised to see this question recast as one of Laurie's "weekend vote" features!

June 14, 2023, 12:40 PM · Wayne Booth wrote a whole book about how he took up cello just to play in string quartets: https://www.amazon.com/Love-Amateuring-Its-Rivals/dp/0226065863/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=. Strategic choice apparently.
June 14, 2023, 1:09 PM · As an experienced violinist, violist and pianist who has done some collaborative accompanying/chamber music, I can confirm Paul's statement that finding pianists who can do collaborative piano well is hard, especially in amateur circles. It requires you to step out of your comfort zone and it involves skills that simply aren't as important in solo piano performance. Besides, at least in my experience, it is not uncommon for piano parts in chamber music to be much harder than the string or wind parts in the same piece, though there are always exceptions.
June 14, 2023, 3:37 PM · I would also say cello, but that is mostly because the music programs in my city all encourage or require violinists to learn viola.
Edited: June 14, 2023, 8:07 PM · In my area, it might be violin! In the amateur chamber music club I've been involved in, and also in my experience putting together casual reading groups, it seems like it's more common to have to ask violists to double on violin than the other way around. The club's last house concert had two people who were mainly violists doubling on violin, and one cellist doubling on violin. No violinists doubling on viola. I've played more viola quintets than string quartets for that reason.

It's an interesting dynamic because local orchestras have a surplus of violinists and a shortage of violists, but a much higher percentage of the violists are interested in playing chamber music.

June 14, 2023, 7:02 PM · I am reminded of the joke definition of a string quartet: it’s a group of people consisting of one good violinist, one bad violinist, one failed violinist and someone who hates violinists!
June 14, 2023, 8:12 PM · Just want to add: the informal amateur chamber music club I mentioned includes all levels from lower intermediate to semi-pro. There's a surplus of violists and shortage of violinists among local amateur chamber music players at every level, even though the numbers are the exact opposite in local community orchestras at all levels.
June 14, 2023, 9:16 PM · Any particular reason for that Andrew, that is the shortage of chamber group violinists - and I presume it applies to both 1st and 2nd?
Edited: June 15, 2023, 11:18 AM · It all depends on where you live and who does or doesn't want to play with you (and vice versa!)

When I first moved here almost 28 years ago and joined the College of Marin Symphony Orchestra there were 10 cellists, 12 to 16 violinists and 1 or 2 violists. I played with that orchestra for 16 years and the numbers of violinists fluctuated, the cellist numbers remained fairly stable and the violists dropped to one. Some "ringers" were brought in to fill the ranks. I left the orchestra at the end of 2011 and when I did attend a concert or two the violin ranks had been diluted and even with ringers were not strong enough to balance the winds. I just have not had the heart to attend any more concerts even though I have friends still playing there.

June 15, 2023, 2:03 PM · Raphael that's fantastic!
Edited: June 15, 2023, 6:58 PM · :-)
June 16, 2023, 1:13 PM · Where I live it is definitely viola. In one of the quartets I'm in I have to play the viola! ??
June 17, 2023, 10:41 AM · Always been viola.
This is totally anecdotal, but it seems to me there are way more pieces for 2 violins and cello than for string trios with violas.
June 17, 2023, 11:45 AM · Julie, I think this is correct. The problem is that the trios really worth playing are almost all violin/viola/cello (unless it is 2 violins and viola...).
June 17, 2023, 12:11 PM · The dearth of violists is why I bought a viola several years ago and learned the clef. Now, I'm playing quartets and string trios all the time, I would say around 80% viola and 20% violin. The people I play with are extremely grateful while also very forgiving if I sometimes misread something, which is becoming quite infrequent these days.
June 17, 2023, 12:40 PM · I have not yet found a group of amateurs to play chamber music with, but in my unique case I am flexible on instrumentation because I'm proficient on three instruments. But yeah, back in my youth ensemble days, we were chronically short violists. The shortage is precisely why I ended up learning viola at age 12 (and my brother, to my surprise, has also taken up viola for the same reasons). I did end up loving the viola's beautiful tone, and I legitimately love playing the viola, which is why I chose to stick with it long-term. I also felt highly needed as a violist in ensembles. Nowadays, I play violin in my local community orchestra because guess what? Apparently our orchestra is incredibly lucky to have a healthy number of violas so I'm not really needed in the viola section. This past season, we actually got an influx of violas, before that, the orchestra lacked viola players.
Edited: June 17, 2023, 2:18 PM · Things can change in an area very quickly... At one point I played in a community orchestra that, in a single summer, suddenly went from having a shortage of violists to needing to bump violists to the second violin section.

Elise: yes, the current local shortage applies to both 1st and 2nd violin. I've played in quartets where both violin parts were played by people who are primarily violists, more than once. And again, this is in a city where most community orchestras have chronic shortages of violists.

I'm not sure why there's such a discrepancy between orchestras and chamber music. Chamber music seems to be a high priority for the majority of local community orchestra violists, which I don't find surprising because chamber music viola parts tend to be juicier. But only 10-15% of the violinists in the same orchestras seem to be involved in chamber music at all. I've been wondering for a long time if it's because violin training might not give chamber music as much attention as viola and cello training. Or maybe it's a confidence thing for some violinists: two violinists I've asked about playing chamber music have declined because they don't want to play one to a part and prefer safety in numbers in an orchestral section, even though both are excellent violinists who would not have difficulty with the 1st violin parts in most of the quartet literature. These are just guesses, I really don't have a lot of information to go on.

June 17, 2023, 4:05 PM · Andrew, your situation is interesting. I should add that there is at least one or two other community orchestras in my area that struggle for violists, but I'm not in them. One is short on upper strings in general, lots of cellists but not enough violinists or violists. The other has plenty of violins and cellos but not enough violas (classic youth ensemble situation). My group is just lucky.
June 17, 2023, 6:37 PM · Elise I think I will steal this for the vote! :)
June 17, 2023, 9:22 PM · I guessed you would (see opening post ;) )
June 26, 2023, 1:16 PM · Cellists - I live in a big city and not everyone has a car, so sometimes getting some to lug their cello is a big ask.
June 26, 2023, 1:35 PM · Violin 2.
June 26, 2023, 2:25 PM · I take it you play V1 Marty? We generally have time for 2 quartets in a session and often swap 1st and 2nd. It also helps prep time....

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