So, I’m having another change of expectations moment.
I went into trying to pick up music work anticipating that I would end up at least bidding for a real mix of work across two instruments (maybe sometimes using both), a variety of genres and contexts, live and recording, acoustic and amplified, etc. etc. I had some idea of things I thought would generally be out of reach (orchestra memberships, top-end session work) but otherwise expected a right jumble.
It’s actually more a game of two halves in terms of anything I’m getting. One half is violin, or more post-folk fiddle, amplified, with bands where sheet music is unknown, parts are my own or copied (perhaps approximately) from recordings for covers and the backbone of the group is generally vocs, guitar, drums. The other half is viola, essentially in the classical world even if it’s not concert hall performance (some of it is), and so acoustic and fully scored. Both are gathering some momentum, the two seem pretty much entirely separate at present.
Nothing wrong with that, although it does feel a little disintegrated at present swapping between the two. The fact that the folk/pop/Americana/Celtic/dark cabaret/etc. sphere wants violins but hasn’t heard of viola is hardly news to me, and it’s a welcome relief to have my suspicion confirmed that the market for gigging band fiddle players is a lot less flooded than that for classical violinists. I’m still somewhat surprised at how few other people seem to be playing violin through a pickup by ear and/or off chords to be honest, but there you are. The big shock for me is how much easier it is to get paid for viola than violin. Given that in general you need two violinists for every one violist in almost anything, and given that violin work is incredibly competitive (down in circum-London you would appear to need a conservatoire degree to stand any decent chance of actually getting anything; even current students will usually end up outbid) – how is it that self-made marketing material, commercial confidence and basically the ownership of a viola are adequate to have a fairly high success rate in applications?
(Note to any of my current or prospective musical colleagues: I can in fact play the viola, quite well thank you, I don’t just own one. But it’s my serious conviction that people haven’t generally looked at my CV or listened to my demo recordings to confirm this before booking me to fill a viola chair.)
Swapping from violin to viola (in particular; to some extent the other way) is an emotive subject. Nonetheless, I would suggest that if you’re pro-level proficient at violin, you will be able to play the viola to the extent of producing the right notes with some control over volume with a fair amount of ease based only on practice – you may not be a genuinely good viola player, but see the sentence before that note above. So today’s big-reveal conclusion: career advice in conservatoires is nowhere near hard-nosed enough and should be telling all the violinists to buy violas, noodle around on them and teach themselves alto clef; because unless everyone actually does it, it stands a good chance of being more lucrative than violin. Even if you are the butt of all the jokes.