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March 2005

March 23, 2005 23:52

As editor of this website, I get all kinds of e-mails with various questions. Today, a fifth-grader wrote to ask how much money a violinist makes and how much education a violinist needs. Here is what I told him, and everyone feel free to chime in with comments! (I'd love to find a website that posts specific salaries, too.)

It's wonderful that you are so interested in the violin. It is hard to say what the annual salary of a violinist is, because it is very different for different kinds of violinists. If you are in a top orchestra like the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra or San Francisco Symphony, you can make enough money to live on just with the orchestra job. You also have to work very hard and play a lot when in such an orchestra. Those particular orchestras are very hard to get into. For example, I auditioned for the Los Angeles Philharmonic last year and there were hundreds of people auditioning for one position. I didn't get in! I'm trying again this year, along with hundreds of others!

With just about any other orchestra position, the money you make is only about half of a salary, and of course that is different in different cities because the cost of living is different in those cities. To make more money, you have to freelance, teach or have another job entirely.

Most orchestras have blind auditions, meaning that the people deciding can't even see you. So the most important thing is how you play. That said, in order to play well enough to win an audition, most people need at least a bachelor's degree in music or to study with a very high-quality teacher. It is best if you can go to a top music school such as Juilliard, Curtis, Indiana University, Cleveland Institute of Music, Northwestern University, Oberlin Conservatory, Peabody or Manhattan (and I'm sure I'm leaving some out). Another consideration is that sometimes you have to apply to audition, and they look at your education and experience on the application (or resume) that you submit.

Now, as far as being a concert soloist, I'm not one, and I do not know a great deal about it. But here is what I do know: you get paid by the performance, and you usually need an agent to make sure that you continue to get work. It's very difficult, and unless you achieve very high stature, it is always a challenge to get that next job. Even if you are very good!

Violinists have other jobs, too. You could teach private lessons full time and make enough money to live. Or, you could teach music at a school or teach violin at a university. If you want to teach at a university, you probably need a doctoral degree.

I am sorry I do not have specific numbers for you, but I'll say that violinists in general do not make high salaries. Just enough to live on. To be successful, you have to have a very high level of education and an interest in continuing to work at and improve your craft for the rest of your life.

Best wishes in your endeavors!

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