It’s the US State Department. They wanna buy a viola.

It’s the US State Department. They wanna buy a viola.


norman lebrecht

July 05, 2019

Here, at last, is the first-person story of how President Trump’s people went shopping in Little Rock for an American instrument for the new Emperor of Japan.

Interview with Arkansas luthier Joe Joyner:

I went in to work at 9 a.m. and my employee Wesley [Rule] said, “Hey, we got a call from the U.S. State Department saying they wanna buy a viola. Seems kinda weird, but here’s the number.” So I called, and sure enough, somebody answered and said, “U.S. State Department,” and I asked for the woman who’d left her name, and she said, “Hey, we’re looking for a viola to purchase as a diplomatic gift for a head of state.” And I happened to have a viola I thought met their requirements — that it was an American-made instrument and that it was within their budget. … Two weeks later, I got another call back saying, “Hey, we wanna get the viola,” and so we got to work trying to set the viola up — it had cheap student-level strings on it and needed a new bridge.

Do you know how the State Department found you?

I don’t. I never asked; I should have. I assume they found us through the website. We have a section on American violins and American violin-making. So I think if you Google “American violin-making,” we probably show up somewhere in there.  


  • Anon says:

    There’s a viola joke in there, somewhere….

  • PaulD says:

    Well at least this gift works, unlike the DVD set Obama gave to PM Gordon Brown. The DVDs were encoded for play in North America only.

    • Bill says:

      If only someone had invented a DVD player that could play DVDs intended for any region. They could call it a region free DVD player. Then poor Gordon Brown could have played DVDs from any of the regions, not just his own.

      Something available worldwide is a less interesting gift than something unique to the giver’s home.

    • John Sorel says:

      Not necessarily. The viola was encoded to play only in the alto clef. The number of Heads of State who can read the alto clef is ever rarer than the number of Betamax video users.

      • Bruce says:

        That’s cute, thinking that viola uses only the alto clef. I wonder if he thinks cellos use only the bass clef.

    • fflambeau says:

      The Obama DVD set also works. Besides, with Brexit, maybe the North American encodement will soon work.

    • Violinist says:

      Yeah, tRump is so much better than Obama…

      At least the morons in this country think we’re better off with an illiterate, racist conman at the helm.

  • What a misjudgment — woefully, disgracefully amateur.
    The viola which Emperor Naruhito owns and has played for years is probably worth as much as a very fine classic car.

  • John says:

    I’m sure the fake news and democommies can find something negative here…

  • MacroV says:

    I’m a little puzzled, simply because I can’t imagine how a U.S. government agency would be able to spend much on a gift to a foreign leader (and the official limit on a gift from a foreign official to a U.S. official is $375).