When it comes to viola humor, quantity has a quality all its own

The viola is the butt of hundreds of jokes. Not that many are terribly funny. I once wrote a short story about a violinist who dates a baseball player ("Chin Music"), and I culled through tons of them.

"What do you call a violist with two brain cells?" she said.

"I give up."


That's pretty much the best I could find. A lot of them are clearly transferable to any subset you want to scorn or call stupid (lawyers, the Polish, blondes. Buffy Kasmarsky, Esq.)

How do you drown a Viola player? Line the bottom of his bathtub with scratch 'n sniffs.

What's the difference between a dead skunk in the road and a crushed viola in the road?

Skid marks before the skunk.


But at least a lot of them are unique to music.

How do you get a violist to play a tremolando? Mark the passage "SOLO."

A lot show contempt for the instrument itself, stomping and such. A few drag down other musicians with them — a quick perusal of the trove of mediocre viola jokes you can find online makes it clear that conductors and sopranos aren't too popular either.

I talked to Jill King, a violist with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. She says her favorite is: "How can you tell if the stage is level? The violist is drooling out of both sides of his mouth."

I'm not sure how important a level stage is, but clearly King doesn't mind the jokes. But what of her fellow violists?

"Sure, some of them do," she says. "But most violists are pretty laid-back, easygoing people. You can't be sore about [the jokes]."

So, for us who barely get the tremolando one, what's the deal, why violas?

Aesthetically, violins and cellos are better known as priceless works of art, and while there are expensive, centuries-old violas, they're caught in between.

And if the viola were a rock instrument it would be the rhythm guitar — the Bob Weir to the violin's Jerry Garcia. The high-pitched fiddle hogs the "champagne" melody line, while the viola gets the middle register "mashed potato" notes — renowned violist Kim Kashkashian calls them "purple" tones.

And to go back to baseball, violists are a bit like right fielders. Which I think is fair since right fielder Tony Gwynn was just elected to the Hall of Fame on a near-unanimous ballot. But in Little League, it's where you hide your worst player.

"I hate to say it, but there's a little bit of truth to [the jokes]," King says. "At a professional level, violas are great, but when you get to the school and community level, it can be pretty bad. We also tend to have easier parts to play."

All affability aside, I'd like to see someone crack jokes like this one to Jan-Marie Joyce, the CSO's principal violist, who stands a supermodel-esque 6'2."

What's the difference between a violist and a seamstress.

A seamstress tucks up the frills.


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