Illustration: Amy Yan


How do you keep your violin from being stolen?

Put it in a viola case.

What’s the definition of a minor second?

Two violists playing in unison.

Why do violists stand outside people’s houses for long periods of time?

They can’t find the key and don’t know when to come in.

Before all else, I’d like to introduce myself as a former violinist who switched to the viola out of choice. No, I’m not dumb. No, I was not bribed. And no, I wasn’t looking for easy admission into orchestras. I chose the viola because I wanted to play it. Please don’t leave now, I promise I’m being 100% honest. From here on.

One more thing: there are only so many acceptable names you can call a viola. A viola is not a second-grade violin, nor is it “basically a cello.” I say this because I’ve heard both. The politically correct description of a viola is that it is a smaller, cuter, less appreciated cello played like a violin. Glad we cleared that up.

I love viola jokes so much. Most of the time, these jokes make violists out to be dumb violin rejects. The majority of the violists I’ve met are, in fact, violin rejects, but they—sorry, we—are definitely not stupid. I honestly don’t understand where this misconception originated. Don’t most people know more violinists than violists? Simply because there are many more violinists, more stupid violinists should exist than stupid violists.

If you are not a violist out of choice, you’re probably in the orchestra out of necessity. What probably happened was the conductor decided the hell you made on the violin would be less prominent if played on another instrument: the viola. Obviously. I think a good three-quarters of all violists are made violists because of this, which might be the reason why violists are thought to be dumb. Arguably, this wouldn’t make them violists; rather, they’re untalented violinists who were forced to play the viola. But to all my violin rejects, look at it this way: the violin is just not worth clinging to, unless the screams of a dying animal are pleasing to your ears. If this is the case, send your conductor my deepest condolences.

Violas are to an orchestra as altos are to a choir. Both are important in their respective groups, yet both are neglected (altos perhaps less so). Without that middle voice, orchestras and choirs sound very hollow. Like medieval church music. Or, oh god, Debussy. Basically, not very good.

“I think the viola’s a very emotional instrument,” says Ryan Li. Good guy, Ryan.

You see, altos are made altos because of their capabilities. Violists are really no different. Violas and their players have their capability to be deep. Deep in sound. Deep in thinking. Deep in so many things. #deep

Unfortunately, violists are still a minority when compared to the enormous mob of violinists and cellists. Well, unfortunate for conductors of smaller orchestras. As a violist, I am much coveted by said conductors. The point is, this is much more than a group of angry violists trying to convince people that violists are worth more than the monetary value of their instrument. This is a movement, an ongoing campaign for viola equality.