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Job Opportunities for Violinists

Performing: I'm a high-school junior wondering if violin is the right path to take for a career. Any advice is much appreciated!

From Adam Clifford
Posted September 28, 2008 at 05:05 AM

Today I auditioned for Eastern Virginia's Regional Orchestra (the one before all-state). I was rather taken aback by the whole experience- so many violinists, so many different levels. Some very, very talented players; some playing out of tune, with bad hand positions, posture. Needless to say, I began wondering about my place in the whole scheme, pondering over the journey towards becoming a professional violinist.

I realize that without hearing me play, it's practically impossible to judge my playing, potential, etc. I am, though, really wondering if it's a smart idea for me (or anyone else, for that matter) to dive into a career in music. I believe I play reasonably well, but I'm not where I'd like to be, especially with conservatory/college auditions just around the corner. Lots of hard work ahead... If a person has the interest and the drive (not to mention a good teacher!), are these factors 'enough?' What else does it take? On that note, what are some of the job opportunities that are out there for violinists? People say "don't limit yourself to just one option," but besides teaching and performing, what other violin-related job opportunities exist?

From Adam Clifford
Posted on September 28, 2008 at 03:25 AM
From Paul G.
Posted on September 28, 2008 at 05:15 AM
I think you'll make it:)
It sounds like your kind of in the same situation as me(but I know I want to be a soloist).

Here's my story:
During my first year(8th grade), I was in a beginning orchestra, 3rd chair of the second violins. They had all been playing for at least a year, i was the only true beginner. I worked and practiced everyday. 2nd term I was 2nd chair of the first violins, and then 4th term I was concertmaster.
My 9th grade year: I started in the middle of the second violins, not sure why. But stayed there 1st term. During the second term she moved me to 2nd chair of the 1st violins, and then I moved to principal 1st and stayed there the whole year except for full orchestra where I was 2nd violin section leader. At the beginning of my 9th grade year, I had no idea what 3rd position was and stuff like that, and now at the beginning of my sophomore year, I'm shifting to the end of the fingerboard, have perfect vibrato, great intonation, and am rapidly developing a repertoire.

So my point is that I've doubled or tripled my ability each year. We'll see where I am in a year.

But I think you'll be able to do it:)
I dont know that much about careers in violin, but besides teaching, or soloist/orchestra member, or chamber music there might not be a lot out there.

Just pick pieces that really show off your talent. Things that are going to blow people away; Chaconne by Bach, The Sibelius concerto(my favorite!) and maybe Paganini Caprice 24.

And you think that you blabbed in your post:D

From Paul G.
Posted on September 28, 2008 at 05:29 AM
And BTW...

What else would it be about than passion? It's not like we get in it for the money.

From Inna Langerman
Posted on September 28, 2008 at 05:21 AM
Hi,
You remind me of myself when I was a junior in high school - I asked myself the exact same thing and it sounds like you're in the same boat as I was regarding technique and picking a road. You should only pick it for a career if you truly love what you're doing and can't imagine living while not playing to your full potential. I imagined myself with another career (computer science, for example) and realized: I have so much potential with music and if I go another way, the level of my performance will only drop and I wouldn't be doing my best. It's important that as a musician you love what you do and not just do it for money, like a lot of people I met.

Speaking of jobs, you should realize one thing: I hate to break this to you but 95% of people coming out of college with music degrees can't find a decent job (including those from places like Juilliard). A lot become freelancers, which is a great start. Connections and meeting new people are very important so keep an open mind. And of course, practicing seriously.

What kind of job can you get, you ask? For one thing, you can always get together with friends and form an official chamber group and see if it goes anywhere serious. Tons of orchestras, of course. PIT orhcestras - don't forget about those. Also, you can be adventurous and try out a new genre, like jazz or dixieland. Broadway musicals is yet another possibility. The violin can be used for so many things the average people don't even realize. It can even substitute other instruments in a band.

If you're really enthusiastic about going for music and take chances, do it. It's smart to have a backup plan (minor?) as long as you have enough time to practice. Don't let those kids with poor intonation get your level down. I have the same problem at Queens College, where I'm studying music - I still can't believe how many people play out of tune, or how they got accepted.

Okay I talked way too much.
Good luck with everything!

From Marc Bettis
Posted on September 28, 2008 at 02:55 PM
Here in the US there are orchestras--but the ratio of (qualified) applicants to positions available is usually at least 20:1 if not often far worse. Also many orchestras are going belly-up, there was anoth casualty within the last week, as I recall. Making it solely as an orchestral performer is near economically impossible unless you're playing in upper/top tier orchestras.

There are many other areas of musical employment-but few that are strictly violinistic--aside from instrument making/adjustment. There's merchandising (someone has to sell all that music, or all of those instruments to youngins), there's stage-staffing, there's of course teaching, there's artist managing amongst many others

From Ben Turcotte
Posted on September 28, 2008 at 04:40 PM
I disagree with what Paul G. said about picking pieces that are difficult that showcase your talent. ANY piece that is well played will showcase your talent. I attend the Cleveland Institute of Music and for my Audition, I played the Bruch violin concerto (because it was extremely polished) and 2 movements from Bach's 3rd partita, Gavotte and Bouree. Along with that, I played one Dont and one Rode etude. Not too flashy of rep but it was prepared, in tune and worked well for me getting in to one of the best string programs in the country.

Along the lines of jobs for violinists, there is always opportunities to get into the business of music because of your knowledge of music and experience. This would include jobs like working for a record label or an orchestra etc... It is just doing with you want with what you know. I wish you the best of luck with your decision and hope my advice helps.

_BT

From Marina Fragoulis
Posted on September 28, 2008 at 06:06 PM
Hi Adam, I studied with Ms. Mullins too when I was in high school.

It's never too early to think about what path you want to take but make sure you have the tools you need in the mean time. Scales scales scales, etudes etudes etudes. Have fun at regionals.

From Marina Fragoulis
Posted on September 28, 2008 at 06:06 PM
Hi Adam, I studied with Ms. Mullins too when I was in high school.

It's never too early to think about what path you want to take but make sure you have the tools you need in the mean time. Scales scales scales, etudes etudes etudes.

The next most important thing to do is spend as much time at summer music camps as possible. The people you meet there come from all over the world and end up being great musicians as well. I can't tell you how much those connections have benefited me now.

A good idea would be to join the Governor's Magnet School in norfolk. I now look back and regret that I didn't go to that school.

From Adam Clifford
Posted on September 28, 2008 at 06:31 PM
Thank you everyone for your advice! I really appreciate all your positive feedback. Your comments about "all" of the opportunities violinists, especially musicians, have, other than purely orchestral, provide me with a small ray of hope!

Inna: I definitely have the passion and the dedication, I can't see myself doing anything else. I have a pretty high GPA and am planning on having good SAT scores (ha), so I'm sure I could be successful in the law field, medical field, business field, etc. The only problem is that I don't like any of that nearly as much as I LOVE music. I suppose that's what should tell me to become a musician? After all, money is NOT the most important thing!

From Bart Meijer
Posted on September 28, 2008 at 08:12 PM
Adam,

music can be a great hobby, too. especially when you love it and play well.

good luck!

bart

From Rosalind Porter
Posted on September 28, 2008 at 08:57 PM
Adam, I'd definitely suggest you look into arts administration. You could, for instance do a first degree which concentrates on performance and then perhaps a post-grad in arts administration. You mention law too, why not consider a law degree with a specialism in entertainment law?

Several of the best musicians I met at school ended up in non-music related professions, but they all still enjoy playing in their spare time.

Keep working hard and you'll find the right route for you! At least you seem very realistic about the future and that's a good attitude to have right now in your life. Good luck!

From Michael Divino
Posted on September 28, 2008 at 11:05 PM
This is my situation exactly!

I'm not the best or worst, but I want to do music!

As Rosalind suggested, Arts Management would be a good career to get into. I have looked into it.


Most recently though, I'm thinking about pursuing conducting as a career.

Also think about these:
Music Librarian
Professional Chamber Music
Artistic/ Music Director

From Adam Clifford
Posted on September 28, 2008 at 11:49 PM
From Michael Divino
Posted on September 29, 2008 at 01:33 AM
Good job!


Message me or let me know somehow when you look into those other careers I talked about.

From Scott Cole
Posted on September 29, 2008 at 07:26 AM
No one seems to have answered your original questions of A. what jobs there are out there and B. is it a good career choice.
A. Most violinists out there survive by freelancing, usually in several orchestras, and by doing gigs like weddings and parties. They usually teach private lessons, and do the occasional show that comes to town and needs a string sections. This is the life of the typical string player in an urban area. Some are able to amass large studios of 25-30 or more students. Can one actually make a living with this lifestyle? It depends on the geography, your spouse's income, and your lifestyle choices. For the most part, it's marginal. No benefits, no retirement, no paid sick days.

A very, very small subset of string players are able to teach at the college level, or join a full-time orchestra. This is like winning the lottery. I've known many very fine violinists that were rock-solid and musical, yet could just never win a big audition. Much recording work has left the country or been covered by synthesizers.

So in short, as the economy falters, I would say that music is not a great career choice. There is one thing that will help you decide, and that is the results of your college auditions: if you are offered a full scholarship to a major school, then the market has already spoken in a way, and you may have a chance. If you don't get into a top school, or are admitted but have to pay your way, I would think twice about performance as a career.

If you'd like to see available jobs in academia, check out this website: http://chronicle.com/jobs/100/100/4000/

Violin teaching positions come up occasionally, but are rare.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on September 29, 2008 at 11:11 AM
What about teaching kids in a public or private school? I read somewhere on this site that there is actually a shortage of string teachers in public schools--maybe someone more knowledgeable than I can confirm or deny this.
From Marina Fragoulis
Posted on September 29, 2008 at 12:01 PM
Yes, there is a shortage of string teachers, art teachers, and all teachers in the arts. But the only reason there is a shortage is because public schools usually cut funding and the arts are first to go. The shortage is not due to lack of talented teachers, it's due to the lack of funding given to arts education.

Scott is right about what he says - very few have stable careers. I see the top notch graduates from top notch conservatories win auditions for rinky dinky orchestras all over the country with an income as low as $25,000 per year. There are more good players than there are jobs. We have phenomenal orchestras, chamber music series, but not many people make a living from it. Orchestras don't pay their orchestra money. The money is reserved for a few people: The artistic director, the conductor, the concertmaster, and the big name visiting artists.

Not everyone can become a soloist. In order to get a good job you need to be skilled in the following areas:

-arts administration - know what's going on in the music business, how the arts get money, where to look for funding, who's really running the show, and how to attract an audience. Also how to put together a press kit, and write a bio and resume.

-Education - if you have the opportunity to get a degree in education, do it. You may want to go into teaching public school, but even if you're not this can give you an edge when forming your studio.

-Networking - the most important thing you can do as a musician is network. Meet people, go to concerts, join orchestras, make up your press kit, know how to sell yourself, get hired for gigs, show up on time, in a nutshell put yourself out there and make yourself indispensable. Be nice to everyone and trust no one. Take gigs that don't pay in the beginning and it will lead you to better gigs. Make friends with people higher in rank. And whatever you do don't back down.

From Christopher Payne
Posted on September 29, 2008 at 04:32 PM
Well most people will tell you that as a violinist you only have 3 playing options: orchestra, chamber or soloist. If you are going to be a working violinist you have to think outside the concert hall and outside of classical music. There are many other styles of music but the music schools do very little to prepare musicians for the real world in my experience. College professors have their cushy jobs so they don't really understand the job market. What's really lacking is training in playing by ear, improvising (for accompanying as well as soloing) and stylistic techniques. These are the skills you will most likely need if you are going to play other styles of music. Music is still a tough career but is much more possible if you are versatile.
From Christian Abel
Posted on September 29, 2008 at 06:05 PM
Some job opportunities include violinist/doctor, violinist/lawyer, and in the world of fictional characters, violinist/private detective and violinist/sea captain. One of the cellists in my orchestra is a cellist/undertaker, currently freelancing in Les Miserables while it is being played in our city.
From Scott Cole
Posted on September 29, 2008 at 08:02 PM
I'm dying to see his show.

But seriously, teaching in the public schools has little to do with being a performing violinist. It is a totally different occupation. And I believe that one of the reasons there is (supposedly) a shortage of string teachers is that there is a high turnover.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on September 29, 2008 at 08:16 PM
"Teaching in the public schools has little to do with being a performing violinist. It is a totally different occupation."

Sure, but it's still a job opportunity for a violinist.

From al ku
Posted on September 29, 2008 at 10:15 PM
i wonder how the new economy will pan out for violinists in general,,,heck, for anyone in general. looks like we are witnessing a once in a century event unfolding. all kidding aside, good luck everyone during and through this saga. do something you love and keep couple dollars under the pillow...
From Paul G.
Posted on September 30, 2008 at 01:58 AM
I think you should pursue your dream, but have a back up plan. That's what I'm going to do...

I would kill to be an international soloist! I'm going to pursue this til the last moment... And If it doesnt work out in the end, It's smart to have a back up plan.

From Paul G.
Posted on September 30, 2008 at 02:09 AM
From Paul G.
Posted on September 30, 2008 at 02:08 AM
From Smiley Hsu
Posted on September 30, 2008 at 03:38 AM
Music is wonderful, but IMHO a pretty lousy way to earn a living. I happen to love golf and windsurfing also, but man am I glad I don't do it for a living.

If you love music so much that you can't imagine doing anything else for the rest of your life, then go for it. Otherwise, get a good career going first, then continue your music as a hobby.

Note, I belong to a string quartet and two of the members are former professional musicians. Both have changed careers (for financial reasons), and now treat music as a pastime.

Sorry, don't mean to offend anyone, or put a damper on your dreams -- just giving honest feedback to your question.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on September 30, 2008 at 05:11 AM
Greetings,
one of my teachers at RCM, (John Ludlow) always got hi snew studnets together and gave them a cocnrete lecture on the practicalities of being a musician. He strongly recommended we marry another musician. The reasons were a) they are the only people who will undertsand why you are travelling all over the country at ungodly hours for little money becuase they are doing the same thing and B) the combined salaries is just enough t live a comfortable life.
That was over twenty years ago.
Cheers,
Buri
From Scott Cole
Posted on September 30, 2008 at 05:52 AM
Additional advice on above: marry a GOOD musician.
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on September 30, 2008 at 06:54 AM
but not better....?
From Anthony Chi
Posted on September 30, 2008 at 11:48 AM
Here is a listing of violin jobs across the US.

http://www.simplyhired.com/a/jobs/list/qa-violin

From Marina Fragoulis
Posted on September 30, 2008 at 12:34 PM
My purpose in life was to NOT marry another musician.

Being a musician is not for everyone. It's only for people who cannot imagine doing anything else. It takes more than courage to be one and lots of people tell me they are jealous that we have the passion and perseverance for it.

Hey, even Beethoven and Mozart suffered.

From Mendy Smith
Posted on October 1, 2008 at 01:52 AM
I only know of a few musicians that "made it" professionally for it to be their full time job. Even then, they still work additional "jobs" (studios, weddings, chamber concerts, etc..). Granted - they seem to enjoy it tremendously, however there have been times that I have seen the strain.
From Roland Garrison
Posted on October 1, 2008 at 03:46 AM
My two cents worth:
Success is finding what you enjoy doing, and finding some way to get someone to pay you for it.
With that, if you really love music enough to put up with the various parts of what it means to be a professional musician, then you can be a success but you may or may not be paid well for it (note my criteria of success does not mention wealth...).
However, if you have anything else you enjoy doing, or any related field you think you would enjoy, do not think that will proclude you from joining any number of local orchestras, playing in a park, or just having fun playing with a few friends. If you find a way to include music in your life, that should be more important.
That said, I am not a professional musician, so take my advice with a grain of salt.
From Jennifer Laursen
Posted on October 1, 2008 at 01:01 PM
There are many fields where the chances of getting a real job are fairly low, so this shouldn't put you off. Think about all the English majors vs. the number of published writers or journalists! In biology it is not uncommon for someone to get a Ph.D. and then do two or even three post-doctoral fellowships with the hopes of eventually landing a faculty job. The odds of getting a tenure-track position at a university in any field are very low, and probably no lower for music than any other field.

Than being said, it could help you assess your chances in music for you to seek opportunities to see how you stack up against other aspiring violinists. One way to do this is to attend one of the well-known music camps this summer (Interlochen, Aspen, Tanglewood, Meadowmount ...). You should talk with your private violin teacher. Hopefully, your teacher will give you his/her honest opinion on the advisability of your majoring in music. Also, as a previous writer said, if you get into a top music school, this would be an indication that your chances of having a career in music are pretty good.

As a junior, you should begin to look at the web-sites for the audition requirements at various schools and begin to get your program together. Your private violin teacher can help you choose potential schools and your audition pieces. You might also consider double majoring in music and something else.

From John Smith
Posted on May 14, 2010 at 12:02 AM

Speaking of jobs, you should realize one thing: I hate to break this to you but 95% of people coming out of college with music degrees can't find a decent job (including those from places like Juilliard).

And only remaining 5% of those are not only a great musicians, but also people who "have a head on their shoulders". Some of them, by the way, are not necessarily that great but they have everything required to be qualified for the job: rhythm, intonation, e.t.c. I happened to know many terrific players who can not make it simply because of inability to get along with people, especially with those on whom your career depends. Every person's thinking is different.

A very, very small subset of string players are able to teach at the college level, or join a full-time orchestra. This is like winning the lottery. I've known many very fine violinists that were rock-solid and musical, yet could just never win a big audition.

Are you a professional musician? If you are, thanks for giving me my laugh for the day. If you are not, please know that this is NOT a lottery. No further comments.

If you are offered a full scholarship to a major school, then the market has already spoken in a way, and you may have a chance.

This is true, but again only if during your studies you won't make mistakes, that later will not be possible to fix.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on May 14, 2010 at 03:11 AM

Just a little concern: Buri,  in 2010 your teacher would say to marry a neurocardioophtalmomaxilodermatogynecogastrourologist if you really want to be sure to have just a little comfortable life...   ; )

Seems to me that jobs are always harder and salaries always lower!  

Anne-Marie

From Scott Cole
Posted on May 14, 2010 at 03:25 AM

 Adam,

As I reread you original post, I wanted to point out this:

You're interested becoming a violinist because at a recent audition you saw lots of people with poor setup and faulty intonation.

However, just realize that at professional auditions, almost EVERYONE has a good setup. Almost EVERYONE plays in tune. Everyone has studied the excerpts to death. 

Scott

From Adam Clifford
Posted on May 14, 2010 at 12:51 PM
From Manuel Tabora
Posted on May 14, 2010 at 01:33 PM

Adam,

If I did my math right, you're graduating. Is this right?

If so, tell us where you're going. Are you going to go for a violin-related career, or have you decided to go a different direction?

In any case, I wish you the best!

From Adam Clifford
Posted on May 15, 2010 at 06:38 AM
From Lex Carter
Posted on May 15, 2010 at 09:26 AM

 Learn to busk, buddy, you'll never starve. 

From Lex Carter
Posted on May 15, 2010 at 09:30 AM

 Haha you went to some audition, saw a bunch of lousy playing and figured you can cut a wide swathe? That would have been like me, back in my pistol shooting days, going to see a cops' qualification where lousy shooting abounds. Luckily for me, they don't let the public see those, instead, being in California, even winning a "small" match involved beating shooters who were at or close to National Team level. I didn't care. I liked shooting, the concentration and discipline, and frankly I had no idea I was competing against guys who were really good. I just loved what I was doing. 

That sentiment should be your guide. 

From Scott Cole
Posted on March 9, 2011 at 12:50 AM

 A very, very small subset of string players are able to teach at the college level, or join a full-time orchestra. This is like winning the lottery. I've known many very fine violinists that were rock-solid and musical, yet could just never win a big audition.

<<Are you a professional musician? If you are, thanks for giving me my laugh for the day. If you are not, please know that this is NOT a lottery. No further comments.>>

John,

Why would my comment make you laugh? Many, many careers are what could be called "lottery" professions. Most in the arts certainly are. Music, and the arts in general, are only partly meritocracies. And yes, I'm a professional musician. 

Scott


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