I am hooked on the NPR-segment-turned-podcast “This I Believe.” I’ve been mulling over what I would say, if I were to actually submit an entry rather than just stealing the concept in order to create content on my much-neglected blog. (By the way, I AM still reading YOUR blog. I know you couldn’t tell it from my complete lack of commentary, but really I am — and you are marvelous.)
I believe in violas. You are all highly intelligent people, and able to Google anything you don’t already know, but I answered this particular question hundreds of times back when my own viola sometimes still saw the light of day, so I’ll just save you the trouble:
A viola is held and played like a violin, but it’s bigger and deeper — it has the same strings as a cello, but up an octave. Viola music is generally written in alto clef, because violas occupy a space that is in-between. It’s a space that is rarely melodic, rarely flashy. Rarely, in fact, even noticed by people who aren’t listening for it.
An orchestra needs the melodic and the flashy. If you heard just the viola part of, say, the William Tell Overture, you’d hear a monotone of duh-ditty-duh-ditty-duh-ditty etc. It’s essential to the rhythm and drive of the piece, but it’s also boring as hell.
When I first chose an instrument to play, I decided on the viola because so few other people wanted to do it. I’d never heard of it before. As a fourth-grader, I really didn’t think I was making a decision of any kind of importance. As it turns out, it was a choice that led to many of the longest-lasting, most significant friendships of my life. I had somehow lucked into an instrument that was perfect for my personality.
Not the boring as hell part, of course. Ahem. But I do value, in life, the qualities that come through in the musical parts written for violas. Finding beauty and importance in the mundane. Patiently waiting for your brief moments to shine, then fading back to give someone else the spotlight. Keeping the character and rhythm of the music going while the soloists pause to breathe.
The world needs soloists. We need their innovation, their power, their charisma, their passion. It is the nature of these, though, that they fly in for a night, perform brilliantly, then disappear.
To keep the music going, we need the people whose hard work is more difficult to see. We need violas.