They are the butt of most orchestra jokes and jeering. But there is a little truth to the jokes. And though I don't subscribe to most generalizations, viola jokes are hilarious. Here are my top 5 favorites...
Conductor: "Start three measures before the da capo."
Principal violist: "Hold on! We don't have measure numbers."
A violist and a 'cellist were standing on a sinking ship. "Help!" cried the 'cellist, "I can't swim!"
"Don't worry," said the violist, "just fake it."
An American orchestra had just arrived in Europe for a two-week tour. One hour before the first concert, the conductor became very ill and was unable to conduct, and the orchestra suddenly had to find a substitute. The orchestra manager asked everyone in the orchestra whether they could step in and conduct, and the only person who was willing was the last chair violist.
The manager was very nervous about this. "We can't audition you," he said.
"No problem," replied the violist.
"There's no time to rehearse. You'll have to do the concert cold."
"I know. It'll be all right."
The violist conducted the concert and it was a smashing success. Since the conductor remained ill for the duration of the tour, the violist conducted all of the concerts, getting rave reviews and standing ovations at each one.
At the next rehearsal, the conductor had recovered, and the violist took his place at the back of the viola section. As he sat down, his stand partner asked him "Where've you been for the last two weeks?"
And just in case you think I absolutely hate violas, I don't.
Here's a TEDtalk given by Jennifer Strum. She calls the viola the "middle child of the string instruments." Through a mixture of talk and performance, she offers a compelling meditation on the viola's capacity for emotion-- and for making beautiful music... It's pretty fascinating!