One of the more unusual facts about me (and there are many) is that I’m a violist. I’m not someone who played the violin first and then switched to add the viola as well (though I know at least two girls who have done that), but rather someone whose only musical training (other than voice) is on the viola. I wrote a short and amusing story (I might end up posting it sometime) about how I became a violist due to my own quirky personality and an accident of my voice changing in the sixth grade.
The viola is an obscure instrument, and one that few people have ever heard about. Being a violist (and traveling with one’s instrument) is a lesson in forbearance. It is extremely irritating to have people try to prove that they are cultured by asking you how long you’ve played the violin, or guessing incorrectly that you are carrying a violin and then looking puzzled when you tell them that you’re a violist, and that your viola’s name is Harold and that he doesn’t like people getting his identity wrong.
I thought it worthwhile to write a series of essays about the viola, it’s origin, its role in the orchestra, why it gets horrible parts (like Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King” with 43 measures of rest to start the piece), why hardly anyone knows what the viola is, what it is like to grow up as a violist in very poor neighborhoods, the economics of the music instrument “trade-in,” the joy of community orchestras and chamber quartets and musings on why almost no one thinks to steal a musical instrument given the fact that it is the most valuable possession of many a musician.
Nonetheless, I’m someone who has a hard time writing about something that is either not shared with others or not written specifically to share (like a play, for example). Though writing is a solitary activity, I’m more of a social writer in that I see my writing as part of a conversation more than the solitary work of a cloistered monk. That said, I’m curious to see if more classical music history (and personal stories of life as a violist) are something the readers of this blog would want to see. Just let me know–you know where to find me.
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