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
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