Repertoire and Guidance Help Spotlight the Viola

It’s a fact of musical life: The melody gets more attention than the harmony. The sopranos often stand out over the altos. And yes, the violins usually have more opportunities to shine than the violas. But as Cathie Hudnall, director of orchestras at Brookwood High School in Snellville, Gerogia, stresses, “Violists are important! We can’t do without them and we need to express this to them regularly.” The best way to do that is by choosing music that has challenging and interesting viola parts.

Here are some suggested pieces:

  • Le Deluge by Saint-Saëns
  • Psalm and Fugue by Hovhaness
  • Serendipity Suite by Richard Meyer
  • “Santa Plays the Viola” by Mark Williams

Hudnall and her school district have been very active in promoting respect for the viola: “Our district has a special day for violists to come and have master classes and celebrate the violists. This is called Violapalooza, and the kids who attend love it!” Each year, Violapalooza has about 200 participants, grades 6-12. “We have two workshop sessions led by professional violists in the area,” reports Violapalooza organizer Kim Craft, herself a violist. “In those workshops, the students work on developing skills that are specialized to the viola and learn two pieces for viola choir. It is so cool to hear a 100-piece viola choir!”

On a smaller scale, even a day spent during the orchestra class showing the rest of the orchestra some of the unique sounds that the viola can make will not only help draw students’ attention to the viola section, but will also remind violists of their specific, individual role within the orchestra.

This article was adapted from an article of the same name by Cynthia Darling. Turn to page 60 of your April 2009 Teaching Music to read the entire article.

— Nicole Springer. April 16, 2009. © National Association for Music Education.