Sunday, August 23, 2009

All Jokes Aside, I Hope She's Reunited with Her Instrument Soon

Q: What's the difference between a violin and a viola?
A: The viola burns longer.*
(classic musicians' joke)
Pity the poor violist. Of all the instrumental performers in the orchestra or band, the violist may have a tougher existence than any other. It's not easy to distinguish one from the violin, especially at a great distance; it's the only instrument that regularly plays in the alto clef, which limits the literature available to it (especially the "fun" books; I can't tell you the number of times that a violist came into the store where I used to work and left disappointed because Aladdin and Star Wars were published for nearly every instrument except theirs); and they probably get picked on more than any other instrument, even considering the wealth of instrumental humor out there. (The joke at the top of this post is not the worst one made at violists' expense; this one is: " Q: What do violists use for birth control? A: Their personalities.")

So, while this would have been Just Plain Wrong no matter who it happened to, I felt particularly bad for a local musician who had one of the worst fates that could befall an instrumentalist happen to her a little over a week ago: Her instrument was stolen:
Claire Garza's viola stands for good and beauty. She used it to soothe patients in nursing homes and hospitals and to teach music to children.

Someone stole the viola Friday from her Swiss Avenue apartment in Old East Dallas. But maybe the burglar would have reconsidered if he had known how Garza employed the viola.

Garza, 27, said she thinks the thief came in through a locked apartment window. A violin and a DVD player also were stolen, she said.

But the viola, estimated to be worth $30,000, became the focal point.

Garza's high school viola teacher sold it to her, and she had used it to play more than 100 concerts in nursing homes and hospitals all over Dallas.

"It was a very special thing to have an instrument that used to belong to my teacher," she said. "It was heartbreaking for me to have to tell him it got stolen."
Didja catch that, petty thief? Not only did you steal a valuable piece of equipment and the tool of someone's trade, but she used it to do some real good in this city. And if that's not enough to make you feel bad, try this on for size:
Garza graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees from the Cleveland Institute of Music and soon helped start a series of educational programs for at-risk children called the Charles Barr Concerts for Head Start. The series is named for her boyfriend, who was killed in a bicycle accident a few years ago.
I had a student whose baritone sax was stolen out of his truck while at dinner one time, and it was definitely devastating. Those of us who play music forge a special bond with our instruments, and in this case, on top of the emotional distress, it sounds like Garza was really using her gifts for the greater good. I really hope the thief gets caught, but I hope even more that the viola gets returned.

Garza hasn't been taking this sitting down, either; you can read here about all the different steps she's taken to try and entice the guilty party to return the instrument, up to and including setting up and publicizing a couple of anonymous drop-off points.

I haven't read any updates on this story since Wednesday, but I'll certainly pass them on as they come in. I think this is a situation that, when it happens to one musician, we all kind of take it personally.

*Having worked at a music store that burned down, it's entirely possible that this joke is actually true.

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