Written by Laurie Niles
Published: October 23, 2015 at 5:07 AM [UTC]
An interesting article has been circulating the Internet this week, about a book called Producing Excellence: The Making of Virtuosos, in which the author, Izabela Wagner, interviewed 100 prodigies. Billed as an ethnographic study of these young musicians, it appears to paint a bleak picture of a competitive and saturated field.
What I find to be interesting is that so many websites are reproducing this quote from the article, as if it were some kind of scientifically proven result of the book:
"...what (the author) found is best put by one former soloist, 'For every ten students, one will attempt suicide, one will become mentally ill, two will become alcoholics, two will slam doors and jettison the violin out the window, three will work as violinists, and perhaps one will become a soloist.'"
Notice that these statistics simply come from a quote from a former soloist; I don't see any evidence in this article that her study actually yielded those statistics, or that it really even sought to gather them. The quote seems to refer just to prodigies and aspiring soloists, though that is not specified. It also seems to stem from the experience of someone who opted out of the soloist track.
That said, what do you think of that quote? From your vantage, does it have any validity, any basis in reality? Please discuss below!
I think any parents who push their children into a career or success at an early stage is highly likely to produce a neurotic child. That behavior isn't anything specific to the violin world- it's the same for the kids who are pushed into Harvard at age 4.
I think the broader issue of music majors sort of follows this pattern (if not the entirety of the disfunction). When I was in school, I was a decent violinist with no firm goals for the future. Parents, conductors and teachers pushed me toward a music major because they didn't quite know what else to do with me. I wasn't really give the time or opportunity to find myself. I dropped my music major, but I had a lot of friends who didn't. Some are happy playing professionally, but quite a lot of them have moved on to other careers unrelated to music. And I went to a reputable school. I don't know what people do who go through smaller music programs that aren't very good. That's all anecdotal, of course...
Can you clarify: Is the sentence that has been so widely circulated even in your book?
The value of the quote, which may summarize the trend in psychological status of violin prodigies, can only be judged if proper methodology and statistical methods have been used, to write this book.
The main hypothesis is: the population of musicians, who start really early, is more vulnerable and prone to psychological issues than the rest of population.
It remains to be seen if the book is worth the paper and ink spent to print it.
I don't think it applies to amateurs, kids who play in their school orchestras, adult starters, freelancers, school music teachers, orchestral section players, i.e. the vast majority of people who play the violin.
I can't speak to whether it applies to people who are started on the instrument at a very young age and groomed from that time onward for a solo career as the pinnacle of success. I don't know very many people like that in the first place, and the lifestyle doesn't appeal to me. I might have thrown my violin out the window if I had been raised that way. But as it is, no. I don't think this describes reality for me or for most violinists.
When I have a chance I hope to comment more seriously on the related thread.
I don’t doubt that some disgruntled or disappointed aspiring soloists have become alcoholics or committed suicide. But I’ve never personally known any who did.
I’ve never felt like throwing any of my instruments out the window -- wouldn’t have the heart for it. Then, too, since I have a one-floor home, my instruments couldn’t hit anyone below; and they’d probably survive the limited impact -- provided they were in their cases. I guess that defeats the purpose of the throw.
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