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By the way ...

with Richard Graves

10. Viola Players

Since time immemorial viola players have been the butt of cruel jokes among professional musicians - such jokes being particularly relished by violists themselves, I hasten to add. How all this started no-one quite knows. Certainly way back in the early 18th century viola parts, when written at all, were so dull and undemanding that they could be farmed out to the least accomplished performers - perhaps even to those of less than outstanding intellectual as well as finger agility. Playing nothing but sub-Handel viola parts all your life would in any case be certain to send you round the bend before long. And there's another thing: the viola itself is a bit of an odd-ball instrument in that it is too small to stand on the floor yet too big to be held against the chin with real comfort. Viola players have to do just that of course - and that is why they so often end up in need of therapy ... of one kind or another.

My contribution to this particular subject is an advertisement that I noticed when casually reading through the small ads in The Musical Times for November, 1934 - yes, I am always a bit behind with my reading. Here it is just as it originally appeared.

ATTENDANT REQUIRED - Must be a proficient Violin or Viola player. A single man. age 21 to 25. Wages 35s 6d per week, plus a fluctuating bonus, at present 2s 9d per week. A deduction of 19s 10d weekly will be made for board, lodging and washing. Uniform provided. Subject to 3% deduction under the Asylums Officers' Superannuation Act. Apply, giving full particulars of experience with copies of testimonials to the Medical Superintendent, Parkside Mental Hospital, Macclesfield.

There is a lot to ponder in all this. Some of us might think that the bit about 'washing' seems quaint where viola players are concerned. And one wonders what on earth the uniform can have been like. And what, for goodness sake, were the duties to be carried out? Moreover, what specifically did you have to do in order to qualify for the bonus? The mind boggles indeed.

It is sad that the advert slightly spoils the fun by giving the alternative of Violin or Viola. Nevertheless I would not mind betting that it was a viola player that eventually got the job in the end.

Copyright © Richard Graves, June 24th 1999

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