Cathryn's Convinced the Viola, Arguably the Most Shat-Upon Orchestral Instrument, Is Actually Awesome
It's common belief that if the violin is the petite, blonde younger sister who dots her i's with hearts and orders her grande mochas with soy milk, then the viola is the heavyset softball MVP older sister who can't be trusted with glass. While it is true that the viola is larger, deeper, and more difficult to play than the violin, it has faced an unwarranted onslaught of ridicule for most of its existence.
It's been compared to a lawsuit (everyone's happy when the case is closed), a trampoline (except you take your shoes off to jump on a trampoline), and, in the recent age, has had a plethora of jeering memes aimed at it:
For some terrible viola jokes, click here. There's a site dedicated to them. It's called AintBaroque.com. Heh.
That said, there are valid reasons to scoff at the viola. It's gigantic, for one. When I played clarinet in orchestra throughout middle and high school, we were nestled among the violists, and I always had grave concern that the kid next to me would side-wind me with his neck rest when hefting it up to play.
Thirdly, the viola is acoustically imperfect. In her Ted Talks video, violist Jennifer Stumm demonstrates that the strings of the instrument need to be over six inches longer for the instrument to resonate fully. She ultimately calls it "an instrument of compromise."
However, beyond its limitations and cumbersome bulk, the viola is actually a badass. Why? Because it fuses the fluid expressive capabilities of a violin with the hearty warmth of a cello. It's sound is bold, declarative, and always unexpected.
Giovanni Pasini on viola, Akiko Danis on piano - "Sonata per la Gran Viola" by Niccolò Paganini
Still need convincing that violas are awesome? The viola is large enough that it's possible to turn it horizontally and pick it like a guitar. There are a slew of epic, borderline-pompous pizzicato solos written for it, including this one:
Pablo Márquez on viola - "Exoskeleton" by Arthur Kampela
And, because it's lower in pitch and larger in girth, it is acceptable to make more intense faces when playing it:
Maxim Vengerov on viola - "Viola Concerto" by William Walton
...We just have to stop calling it a violin.
CATHRYN SALAMONE is an actor, singer, and graphic designer based in New York City. She is a recent graduate of Pace University's BFA Musical Theatre program. Current influences include throwback millennial emo-rock and subway fare evasion strategy. www.cathrynsalamone.com
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