5. The viola joke and fun stuff

Is this the World’s oldest viola joke?

“There is a joke, if you can call it that, which says the viola (or the sound of the viola, or maybe the people who play the viola – who knows?) is very cold.

Well, it’s not really a joke as such because it has no actual punch line, nor any rational, or even irrational explanation as to why this state should exist. It is presupposing that that is what violas are and thus the effect, notwithstanding the absence of cause, is that somehow being synonymous with very low temperature makes them hilariously funny – over and over. Call me dull, but I really don’t get it. Help me out, someone?

I have never discovered the origin of the joke or, indeed, an explanation. However, I have found that it is quite ubiquitous; wherever you may travel in the universe, apparently, that is what you seem to find. So it has become a sort of folkloreFolklore, schmokelore!

There are many viola jokes (mostly awful, where you simply replace any alleged underdog with the word ‘viola’) but I suspect that this is one of the oldest. So if Absolute Zero is the ultimate cold then it’s an ironic name for a viola quartet, don’t you think? I quite like it, I think I shall write them some music.” From the memoirs of Sancho Engaño, composer. Translated by Alison Thomas – Manager, Absolute Zero Viola Quartet

Can you spot the odd one out? It may not be that obvious
The Royal College of Conducting exam paper
End of Term Viola Exam
Glossary of Viola Terms
You can meet some odd characters in the BBC

Have you ever wondered if you have what it takes to be a conductor, or even a great Maestro for that matter? Well now is your chance to find out. “The Conductor’s Handbook” by Imrich von Wörstenbeat (principal of The Royal College of Conducting) has all you need to know. Although it is important to stress that his views as expressed in his writings do not reflect those of ourselves, or indeed any sane person in our opinion. But you might find it interesting and entertaining nonetheless. However, to warn you in advance, his ‘likes and dislikes’ can be summarized thus:
Likes: Himself.
Dislikes: Musicians, percussionists, journalists, all living composers, journalists, soloists, women, foreigners, journalists, other conductors, and journalists.

Chapter one The Philosophy of Conducting:
“No, I have never had an electric shock, why do you ask”?
Chapter two Baton Technique:
“Even conductors are human…(All right, if conductors are human then what are musicians?”
Chapter three Rehearsal techniques:
“An orchestra, not dissimilar to many predatory animals, can be quick to smell your fear.”

Chapter four Knowing the orchestra:
“The stool survived, but no one wanted to own it – net even an American. So it spent some time displayed as an exhibit in an instrument museum”.
Chapter five Do’s and Don’t’s:
“Lurking in the shadows of the auditorium will be that demon from hell, the music critic.”
Chapter six In the studio:
Chapter seven Repertoire and soloists
“The task of researching original manuscripts should ideally be left to the musicologist – they seem to have acquired a more robust immune system.”
Chapter eight An Opera:
“Francis, with the very real prospect of imminent death all around, confronts his own sexuality.”
live clip part 1 live clip part 2
Chapter nine Off the Podium:
“String players, more than any other symphonic instrumentalists, will, in a very real sense assimilate the personality and nature of their instruments”.
Chapter ten Administration:
“Listen, Maestro mate. You don’t really want to treat my band in that way, do you? Let’s just say from now on we are all going to be one big happy family – okey-dokey?”
Chapter eleven In Pursuit of Excellence:
“The ‘year three’ course on ‘sucking lemons in front of a mirror’ will have developed the facial muscles to a peak of fitness.”
Chapter twelve About the Author / Appendix:
“He turned to drink in a big way – indeed, he owns a large part of France’s finest wine producing country. And has, consequently, not been sober for the last three decades.”

Interpretation: seeing the message in the music; what the music says to you, is so important, don’t you think?

How well do you know your symphonic repertoire? Are you, like us, a viola knurd? Here’s a chance to test your knowledge – and you might even win a prize!

The quizzes below are all about orchestral viola-parts. Follow the instructions, then if you think you have the correct answers send us an email (even if you don’t recognise a piece you may be able to make an educated guess). Good luck, and we look forward to hearing from you.

Quiz 1

Quiz 2

Quiz 3

Quiz 4

Quiz 5

How well do you know your string quartets? Here’s a chance to test your knowledge. Email your answers to us and you might even win a prize!

String Quartet Quiz

Viola jokes: Should you wish to pursue this sordid topic further, there are a number of websites devoted to just this subject. Try:







Get in touch, we’d love to hear from you: abzeroviolaquartet@gmail.com