Passing the torch, or not?

May 29, 2018, 1:27 AM · As an amateur I would like that my children would study music seriously (strings or keyboard) during their education and I would welcome if they would dedicate their professions to that.

It would be their own decision eventually, but in order to give them a chance, parents need to decide to open that possibility by making them take classes when they are very young... Often before any other education.

Flowers are more fragant in the neighbour's yard. Maybe I welcome a prospect of them musicians because I have not suffered the pains and struggles of that career. So I would like to know what is the position of the professional violinists (or musicians). Do you encourage your children to try a musical career or would you rather prevent them?

Of course musical classes as one more educational subject like languages or gymnastics in your neighborhood academy is not the issue. The point is to encourage the high level, top teachers, and competition that is the way for professionals nowadays...

Do you violinists wish for your kids to follow your path or to avoid it?


Replies (21)

Edited: May 29, 2018, 1:41 AM · I feel we should do all we can to make the career possible, but not impose it.

All four of my children still play at a "pre-pro" level, but the two pianists are more into composition, choral rehearsals and arrangements than solo concerts.

May 29, 2018, 1:56 AM · This is a great subject to discuss. Should a parent (or even a teacher) push a student towards a professional career in a field that, if not actively contracting, is certainly not expanding. Let's assume we're talking about a "normal" career, such as professorship, and not a career as a professional soloist.

I will always believe with every fiber of my being that if a person loves music to the very bottom of their heart there will always be a place for them. I know a guy, probably in his early 50s by now, who's never held a full time music job in his life. He plays decently, is a member of many regional orchestras, has a private studio, plays various gigs with his string quartet etc. and is the happiest person I know. He LOVES music, and the violin in particular. I've never seen him not on top of the world when he's in his element. He has a family, a nice house and drives a decent car so he must be ok financially (his wife is a public school teacher).

Music was the only road for this guy. I'm convinced he would have been miserable sitting in a cubicle, even for good money. He must have known early on what path to take.

But if your'e not 100% sure, if you really don't feel "it" the way a person like that does, I'd at the very least STRONGLY recommend an alternate course of study to pair with music in college.

I don't know if I would actively "wish" any certain thing for my kids, only that they find a path that provides them with the most happiness. If my son or daughter came up to me and said "I'm not going to study music" it wouldn't hurt me in the slightest.

However, if they said "I want to give music a real shot. It's the only thing I can imagine myself doing" they would receive 110% of my support in their endeavor. I'd tell them "Go for it and don't look back."

And "practice at least 5 hours a day". There are certain things that only become apparent when you spend that kind of time with the violin. I believe in the 10,000 hour rule. It's probably more than that for some of us.

Edited: May 29, 2018, 4:44 AM · I think most would agree that some supplement to the typical public-school education is beneficial. Music is one option, but there are others. Some kids learn additional languages, others learn to draw and paint, others do sports. It's good to find something where there is long-term quality (pro) instruction available, and I think it is helpful but not essential that there is a critical mass so that a sense of community develops (for example, a strong Suzuki group).

The challenges with getting kids to a truly pro in music (or anything else) are legion. First of all, "pro level" has become ridiculously hard. Then too, discipline and perseverance must often be encouraged (i.e., enforced) by the parent. Other competing (balancing?) activities, especially school team sports, gradually get squeezed out (suggestion: start early with an individual sport like tennis). And at least one parent must be prepared to make financial and career sacrifices to make sure the young Heifetz gets to all their lessons, competitions, etc., and has the necessary equipment.

I don't subscribe to the idea that majoring in music in college is necessarily a waste of time or money. College has come to be viewed as a job-training exercise. I think it should be primarily for broad learning and self-exploration. Obviously, well-paid jobs accrue more readily to STEM graduates. But I had a nice conversation with a pro cellist recently, a man who taught cello in a university for many years (not the university where I teach). He told me he sympathizes with the view that it is unethical to recruit students who have no realistic chance of becoming performance pros, but he didn't see why majoring in cello performance was any worse than political science, philosophy, or English. He's got a point. These people, if actually well educated, can do a lot of good things in life and get paid well for them. With a handful of chemistry and biology courses, such a student might well go on to medical school, for example.

I think most of the problems arise when expectations become unreasonable -- expecting that the child develop sufficient skill at soccer to earn a college scholarship, for example, or that they will play the violin well enough to matriculate at Curtis. One has to remember that natural aptitude and dumb luck are not insignificant factors.

Edited: May 29, 2018, 6:30 AM · @Carlos D'Agulleiro I cannot answer your question directly since I am not a professional, and the wonderful musicians I have come across who tried to make a career, on the whole failed. I post, in spite of my lack of expertise, to draw your attention to a couple of useful sources. If you wish to enter the project with eyes open to the downsides, you are probably already aware of the the recent sociological study of training musicians by Izabela Wagner. There are several summaries by journalists, e.g. https://newrepublic.com/article/123167/how-make-virtuoso-violinist. The Min Kym book 'Gone' also gives interesting insight into the world of the child who is training to be a violinist, and one is left with the impression of a rather damaged person on the downside--I do not think she would deny that--who on the upside achieved a minor career as a soloist, as well as celebrity for having a Strad stolen in a careless moment.
May 29, 2018, 7:11 AM · I think studying music making as a child is a wonderful thing. Both my sister and I did it. My 3 children did it and so have my 3 grandchildren, although it has stuck as a life-long pursuit for only 2 of the 6 and at a professional level for only a short time for both of them. However I don't like the idea of pushing a child toward a profession in music.

My personal experience with some very fine professional musicians is that can be tough way to earn a living. I think those with a great flare for it will show it in a short time - and even then personal temperament will have a major influence on likelihood to stay the course. The impetus must come from within even if the opportunity comes from without.

May 29, 2018, 7:11 AM · Parents should provide starting opportunities, but children are best served when they find their own driving interests, and parents support them. As an example, one of my sons showed impressive musical talents at age 4 or 5, and by 7 would put his own interpretation on any violin piece he played. If we had started him on saxophone he might now be the next John Coltrane. He thought seriously about going 'pro', and had the chops and the early awards. Late in high school, he decided on engineering. Years later, he now designs satellites. Space is even more unforgiving than a classical music critic. His early childhood abilities to see how the parts/phrases contributed (or not) to the whole composition, and carry it out with precision are now expressed in different ways. But music performance got him started on the path to find his most enjoyable skills. My advice is to plant them well, but let them grow and flower in the ways they see the sun.
May 29, 2018, 7:33 AM · And what if your child prefers rock guitar or drums? Will you still be as supportive as if they pursued classical violin/piano? Or they want to be a bassoonist?
May 29, 2018, 7:34 AM · Nice story, Mike Laird!
May 29, 2018, 7:59 AM · I wonder if there are examples of children who were not initially interested and after some time and coaxing along began to show a true love for the thing the parent wanted them to pursue?

I would guess one of the most perplexing issue would be were do you draw the line? Do I keep them in it for five years if they don't like it? Personally after the first year I would want to see some kind of wind in their sails.Sorry for my constant use of metaphors/comparisons, but I see this as a kite you must run with to keep in flight. If the kite doesn't eventually stay aloft under the power of the wind you'll grow tired of running with it.

There must be the occasional, Dad I hate this, dad I hate this, dad I hate this, dad this isn't so bad, dad this is easier now, dad I might like this, dad I love this.

Maybe this is too optimistic.Do you eat your spinach now and like it ;)?

May 29, 2018, 8:10 AM · Timothy, I think it is rather common to have to "stick with it" for a number of years before expecting it to become self motivating. My son is a prime example. He's been playing for 6-7 years, and only in the last year has his inner flame truly been kindled. I think if you only gave it one year and expected them to love to practice, the population of future violin layers would go extinct.
May 29, 2018, 8:49 AM · Maybe you're right Craig. I had my son playing drums for about two years. He asked me if he could stop playing. I could have continued to push him. I know he would have hated me. Maybe there would have been a turn around. It was his idea to play. The fact that he's been out of school now for a long time and has zero interest in any instrument or even music makes me feel I made the right choice.

I don't think I'm referring to practice so much as the interest. There are days when we could all probably say we don't like practice.

Maybe some of the lift in later years is the sense of empowerment that being astute on an instrument brings. It now becomes " I can do this well on my own" instead of " I can't do this and it's frustrating". If the feeling is always like going uphill the child needs more than - This is what my parents wanted me to do. I can do this. I can be good at this. I like this process overall. JMO.

May 29, 2018, 10:22 AM · I am not a professional musician. My son is really into violin. He is 5. He has now in total 6 lessons of music per week (2*2 of violin+ 1 rythmic + 1 music theory) and claims that he gonna be a composer. And only the reason i pay for all of this is his joy.
I do not wish him to be a professional, but i will not prevent him, if i will see a real potential. However, i am considering the musician carrier as a very difficult one. I know quite a lot musicians, and none of them has an easy life stile, from my point of view.

I appreciate, that all people are different, but to be on money shortage, or to be forced to make a music you do not like, or after many-many years of a hard study to get a stupid car crash... i do not wish it to my son.

I prefer to see him as a doctor who, as hobby, plays in orchestra or deliver joy to his friends and family.

But people are different, and everyone has different needs how to be happy.

May 29, 2018, 10:41 AM · I had exactly zero enthusiasm for the violin when I started. What got me interested was the experience of playing in an orchestra.

But I'm one of those players for whom practicing is generally a chore.

May 29, 2018, 3:24 PM · "And what if your child prefers rock guitar or drums? Will you still be as supportive as if they pursued classical violin/piano?" No, there are limits! I'm fine with the bassoon, though.
May 30, 2018, 9:45 AM · I think that you should expose your kids to music, make it clear that playing is an option, show your own personal enthusiasm for music, and then let them show an interest in it before you get them started. I'm not a parent, but I would think there is a balance between letting the kid understand that it is their choice, and letting them understand that having made the initial commitment, it takes some (but not heavy) dedication.

I think that instilling the love, beauty and the community and relationship-building aspects of music is the most important, so that the kids grow into playing with a sense of personal ownership of what they are doing. Thinking about competitions and college and money and stuff starts to introduce a lot of new motivations that can make it all seem like a chore, but I think they can all be introduced in the same spirit of exploration. Good luck!

Edited: May 30, 2018, 12:39 PM · I started all three of my children on the violin at a very young age. One by one they got to fifth grade and let me know how much they hated the violin. So the oldest switched to double bass, the second to oboe, and my youngest to flute. All three excelled on their instruments of choice. The first two played at conservatory admittance level by the end of high school but chose to pursue other fields of study. The jury is still out on my daughter, who is in high school.

Studying music while a child at home was never presented as an option to my children but as more of an expectation. It was part of their education. I enforced lessons and participation in school ensembles, but not hours of practice. When they wanted something badly enough (success in an audition or a solo performance), they practiced for it. But the choice of what to study in college was left up to them.

I had some experience with parental expectations myself; my father made it clear he hoped I would follow him into physics. Alas, I did not love physics the way he did but I did love music, so I followed my heart. My children must do the same.

May 31, 2018, 2:46 PM · Does music have to be a profession? I've never even been able to conceive being a professional musician, but I get so much enjoyment as an amateur that I'm satisfied. I think all children should be exposed to music at an early age - not to prepare for a job but to have the background. Even if, as I did, they leave music behind for 25 years, what they learned in childhood will be there should they decide to take it up again.
Edited: June 1, 2018, 9:16 AM · "Do you encourage your children to try a musical career or would you rather prevent them?"

In this day and age, I would NEVER encourage my kids to be professional musicians. Granted, "professional musician" encompasses a wide variety of paths. But in general, music is not a growth industry, and everyone wants to do it. And in the large urban areas where there are opportunities, the US is having a housing affordability crisis, thanks to the tech industry and other factors.

I'm talking about the US, a large and relatively prosperous country. The competition in classical music for stable careers like orchestras or teaching is so intense that I would call it a "Lottery" profession:
big rewards go to a very few, and the rest become bottom-feeders. I can't even imagine how much worse it would be in Carlo's location of Vietnam.

Give them lessons, let them enjoy it as long as they can. If they want to do something else, let them. The world is far too interesting to spend all one's time practicing. If they don't demonstrate the skills of a prodigy by age 10 or 12, don't push it. There's no trap like the "pretty good" trap.

Edited: June 1, 2018, 9:45 AM · No. In our country many violinists (virtuosi, professors at schools or violinists in orchestre) todat rarely let their children persue the career of classical music, generally they are usually too democratic, and will ask their children's desire. But under particular situation, in fact, pupils are not encouraged to choose this career:

First, this circle is still too crowded and competitive though today there are not many people interested in it. It is even harder for young people to find a job than what it was in early days, without job, they think it is hopeless to spend time (at least ten years) on it.

Second, the government will not be likely to spend more money on conservatories and orchestras (stuff reduce), hence there are fewer opportunites to find job. I think career will be hampered by this policy.

Another factor: antique violini are too expensive today. In Italy in earlier days, many pupils in conservatories had antique violins because we believe for professional students, a violin with excellent sound is necessary, I have a C. F. Landolfi (not in good condition) and my classmates have G.A.Rocca and A. Gagliano... at that time family could afford. However, these antique violins today are as expensive as a suite of flat. With the shrinkage of economy, how many people can afford one??

June 1, 2018, 11:08 AM · You don't need an antique violin to make a living at music. But you do need a place to live, health insurance, gas, college loans, etc.

As I've said many times, there are, at least in the US, way too many schools turning out too many professionally-trained musicians.

June 1, 2018, 12:41 PM · Scott is correct. I work at a state university that has one of the best music education programs to be had in this area, although I work here as a computer building automation specialist.

A few here take double majors with one being music education.

Music education is probably the best path for a person in music at this time. Stable benefits and salary. The only kicker is the salary all depends on the school district and the area. Some school districts in the US pay beans or don't have a music program at all. Luckily the districts around here in the West Chester Pa. area pay fairly well after the new hire is there for awhile. Salary is determined by the union contracts.
Even at my university though, they hire a lot of part time professors to avoid paying benefits.
The few opportunities come about when a music teacher retires, moves or dies which isn't often.


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