Friday, May 23, 2008


Dreary, clammy, rainy day – pouring down in buckets, sheets, all sorts of domestic animals. Poking at books: Pierre Bourdieu's Distinction (having just finished The Field of Cultural Production), Detlev Claussen's Theodor W. Adorno: One Last Genius (full, jam-pack'd, bursting with interesting sociological, historical connections, but absolutely, aridly devoid of any narrative drive), Beckett's Murphy (whose 1st line definitely makes the top ten of such things: "The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new."). Feeling myself a kind of Murphyan intertia, the desire to do nothing – or perhaps the desire simply not to do anything.
Familial pressure, now that P. (aet. 6) has begun to show a real aptitude for the violin (yesterday's grand expotition, thru sheeting thunderstorms, purgatorial traffic, to acquire her a new quarter-sized fiddle), to take up a string'd instrument – in anticipation of turn-of-the-last-century style domestic quartets. And the pressing question: viola or 'cello? Viola pros: lovely moody sound, portability, always seats in the local community orchestra, John Cale. 'Cello pros: lovely moody sound, getting to sit down (cf. incipient middle-age back problems). Suggestions, votes?


Emily said...

Cello! Cello! Cello!

(It's my favorite stringed instrument. Could you tell?)

Your description of the trip to buy the violin reminds me of the trip to buy my first (umm ... and only) clarinet. The sky turned PURPLE -- and a particularly devastating tornado hit about 15 miles away.

Michael Peverett said...

I vote cello too. You'll be able to play Ravel's duo for cello and violin with P. Besides, the viola is the wrong size for its tonal range, mathematically -it should be half way between fiddle and cello, but is made smaller so it can be played under the chin. That would bother me.

Vance Maverick said...


Got some Duncan in your spellchecker?

Cello is more autonomous: both a more viable solo instrument, and more likely to serve in small groupings, like piano trio. But if there will really often be several other strings to play with, you'll want a viola in the pack. Intrinsically, it's lovely, as you say, but a bit odd, as Michael says -- the upper strings are fairly recessive compared to the superb C-string (think Brahms' 1st, first movement).

Amy said...

I played cello for years and loved it, but it's hard to keep up with: large, expensive, etc. Violas and cellos have the same strings and basic fingering patters, and I always wished that I'd learned both, so that when the cello got unwieldy, I could have switched to the smaller instrument.

So I vote both. :-)

( t.a. noonan ) said...

I agree with Amy on this one.

Random: I had a friend in high school who played viola and told me the only viola joke I know.

Q: Why are violas better than violins?
A: Violas burn longer.

(No, he didn't hate it. He just liked to be contrary about being a viola player because he didn't look or act like one.)

Vance Maverick said...

Google "viola jokes" and you'll find hundreds, for better or worse.

Bradley said...

I'm going to disagree with my wife here and say viola. Mostly because John Cale looks so damn cool when he plays his-- I think you could pull that off too.

Mark Scroggins said...


not Duncan (wch wd be "stringd") but I think John Latta...

My fave viola joke (which turns out to be a violin joke):

Q: Why is a viola larger than a violin?
A: It isn't, violin players just have bigger heads.

I'm beginning to be persuaded cello-ward, tho the John Cale sheer R&R sexiness of the viola is a strong persuasive. Then again, there's Chopper of Oysterband, who plays the thing standing up...

I'm almost thinking that I've got enough experience with 4-course-in-fifths instruments that I'd be able without much trouble to transfer any cello tuition to the viola anyway, given they're an octave apart (right?)...

Vance Maverick said...

Yes, they're an octave apart. For some reason one hears more of players switching between violin and viola -- only a fifth apart, and the scale is not even as much larger as that would suggest. Mozart of course played both (and I seem to remember his having claimed to prefer viola).

Anonymous said...

I recently heard Eric Friedlander to a beautiful solo cello concert at the San Franciso Museum of Art. Apparently the published reportoire (sp?) of cello scores & soloists is tiny according to Eric. His reportoire varies from improvisations on American root music to jazz works of his own. Anyway, I am useless when it comes to describing anyone's music output, but it was a wonderful concert, and I been listening several times to his most recent CD , Block Ice & Propane - which includes improvs off the photographs of his father taken while the family criss-crossed the country during his childhood.

If you don't have Lee Friedlander's Museum of Modern Art catalogue of his retrospective, both show and book are absolutely major.

In terms of your reading, I wonder what it would be like to Picture Adorno at the Friedlander show - a collision or ??

Stephen Vincent