Orchestra Joke: Violist

“There was a violist in a community orchestra, and one day he meets a genie who says he’ll grant three wishes. So the violist wishes to double his musical skills. And the next day, he wakes up and he’s a lot better, obviously, so he goes and reauditions and he gets first chair in his orchestra. So he goes to the genie and wishes to double his skills again, and when he wakes up he’s a lot better so he goes and auditions for a better orchestra, and he gets first chair violist, so he’s like, ‘awesome.’ He has one more wish, he says he wants to double his musical skills again, and um, the next day he wakes up—no. wait, yeah, the next day he wakes up and he’s first chair violinist in his community orchestra.”

My informant first learned this joke from another orchestra member in high school. She said that everyone in orchestra makes fun of violas. The stereotype was that violas were just the bad violinists. If an orchestra needed violas, the last chair violinists would switch to viola. She also told me that historically, composers used to neglect violas, so “the violinists would be playing these sixteenth notes, and the violas would just basically keep the beat.”

The implication is that the violists are so far beneath violinists in skill that even after doubling his musical skill three times, the violist is only good enough to be the last chair violinist in the orchestra he started out in. This joke is an example of blason populaire—the joke relies on the stereotype that violists have the least musical skill in an orchestra. The joke also promotes group identity within an orchestra, since it would need to be explained to someone who isn’t part of an orchestra