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  • Writer's pictureClaire Zogaib

Why I play the viola (and you should too!)

Viola! No, not the flower, and no, not the exclamatory French expression. I am talking about the hidden gem of the string family! I started playing the viola at age 4. My two older sisters already played the cello and the violin and my parents were trying to decide what instrument I should begin learning. They went back and forth between the violin and the viola until Ms. Laura, my first viola teacher and our family friend, decided for them that I should really play the viola. It was a match made in Heaven! Though I did not pick my own instrument, 20 years later I can think of many reasons why the viola is the perfect instrument for me and why I love to play it so much. 

8 year old me and my parakeet named Benjamin

1. Versatility

The viola is the unsung hero of an orchestra or chamber ensemble. Its high, dulcet tones can support the sound of violins, while the low, rich C string can blend with the sounds of the cello or double bass. It is a musical chameleon! I love being able to play many musical roles. If your child is having a hard time picking between violin and cello, why not have the best of both worlds and choose viola! 

2. Individuality 

On its own, the viola has a distinctive rich and soulful sound which sets it apart from other instruments. I thrived on learning an instrument which is (wrongly!) forgotten by many. In a sea of violinists and cellists, I had something to set me apart and to take pride in: being a violist. The unique qualities of the viola and being one violist among few have been a great source of creativity and inspiration for me, especially in my earlier years of music-making. 

3. Special Opportunities

In time, being one of few young violists in my area gave me many special opportunities, such as years of playing chamber music with the best musicians of my age! One highlight is playing on NPR’s From the Top (a radio show featuring young musicians) as a member of the Cecilia Octet at age 16. You can find our performance and a brief interview here. It was such a fun and amazing opportunity, which I got because there was a need for a violist and I was there! Violists are always in high demand in both small and large ensembles. Choose viola now and it could really pay off later!

4. Collaboration and Being a Team Player

Every musician has to learn how to collaborate with others. Playing chamber music requires each member to listen intently to others and respond to the sounds they hear. Playing in an orchestra requires each string member to put all their efforts into unity and blend with the rest of the section. A great ensemble is like a single organism. Each player contributes to the whole like the hands, feet, and liver all contribute to one human being. Playing the role of the middle voice in chamber music ensembles taught me how to listen in a special way. Sometimes the viola supports the melody or the bass line, sometimes it has the tune, sometimes its function is to provide the rhythmic energy underneath the other lines. In each role, the viola line is crucial to the music as a whole. Now, in whatever role I play in situations outside of music, I have practice in setting aside ego and working towards a greater good. What a gift! 

I can't wait to meet all of the new violists at StringTime this summer! 

With joy, 

Claire Zogaib and the StringTime family

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