Printer-friendly version weekend vote: Are any of us really tempted to throw our violins out the window?

Laurie Niles

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Published: October 23, 2015 at 5:07 AM [UTC]

out the window

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!

Posted on October 23, 2015 at 7:32 AM
Thank you for your good comment and precision about the sentence which was attributed to me. Actually this is my work and I don't think that this is a black picture. I am sure that what was said about is black, however I invite you to read the book and after we can discuss. I hope that it will be also another discussion about my work than this sad face of the reality.

Izabela Wagner

Posted on October 23, 2015 at 10:54 AM
It would be nice to have a 'I don't know' option for this poll - those of us who do not are forced to vote anyway to see the outcome. That means a lot of the votes are from people with no information....
From marjory lange
Posted on October 23, 2015 at 12:21 PM
I haven't read the book, but the author is a university faculty member in Warsaw. Perhaps the scholarly conventions of sociology are different from those in other disciplines, but certainly 100 is a mighty small sample (even in a field as limited as solo violin playing) and the conclusions seem way bigger than the data would allow. I also wonder how different the statistics are for the population at large (same ages or same economic levels--using another 'lens). Maybe she's trying to get tenure? (meow)
From Jenny Rambo
Posted on October 23, 2015 at 2:24 PM
Small sample sizes are okay; the explanation of the methodology is more important. There is a significant portion of every sociology article and book that covers their methodology. The publisher is also important- reputable journal, university press, etc. The quote is something someone said to the author, probably used because sociology writing can be dense and do a degree, unquotable in a news article formant.

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...

Posted on October 23, 2015 at 2:26 PM
How do these statistics match up with the total population (i.e. I heard, and I could be wrong, that 1 in 4 people are considered mentally ill, so 1 in 10 in prodigies might paint a different picture).
From Laurie Niles
Posted on October 23, 2015 at 2:37 PM
Dear Izabela, I would be most happy to read and review your book and speak with you about it. (I contacted the publisher yesterday but please feel free to e-mail me at

Can you clarify: Is the sentence that has been so widely circulated even in your book?

From Seraphim Protos
Posted on October 23, 2015 at 3:03 PM
It seems those options are about the same for the public in general.
From Paul Deck
Posted on October 23, 2015 at 3:18 PM
The "statistics" in that quote are what we in the sciences describe as "not even wrong." Not all percentages are statistics. Statistics derive from a deliberate analytical process, which may or may not be flawed. But the quote is likely just a off-the-cuff rant from some disgruntled conservatory dropout. **If** the quote was included in the book, likely it was only to capture and convey the exasperation that one subject felt, and the author used it because she is not able to express that exasperation more compellingly because of her limited skill in written idiomatic English.
From Rocky Milankov
Posted on October 23, 2015 at 3:21 PM
I think that it is not possible to make a fair judgement about the book based upon this article alone. It is also not possible to tell if a single quote taken from the article presents reality or is just another example of journalistic sensationalism.

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.

From Ramón G Castañeda
Posted on October 23, 2015 at 9:45 PM
If it were 100& true, there would be an exponentially larger number of soloists. 1% of all violin students is sill a huge number. :-)
From Laurie Niles
Posted on October 23, 2015 at 9:50 PM
One in ten would actually be 10 percent of all students. Which is an awful lot!

Posted on October 23, 2015 at 10:10 PM
Do music schools track how many of their students find jobs in their fields and publish this information?
Posted on October 23, 2015 at 10:30 PM
This quote has an air of truthiness, but not truth.

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.

From Raphael Klayman
Posted on October 24, 2015 at 11:26 AM
I've never, ever been tempted to throw my violin out the window. I have, on occasion, been tempted to throw a competitor's violin out the window! Just kidding! ;-)

When I have a chance I hope to comment more seriously on the related thread.

From Jim Hastings
Posted on October 24, 2015 at 6:12 PM
Haven’t read the book but did read the linked article. For me, the ideal answer to the quote is: I don’t know -- based on my own experience as a former music major and what I’ve seen firsthand in other musicians, Still, since I decided at 21 not to go into the music business, there’s a lot about this field -- good and bad -- that I’ve never seen firsthand.

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.

From janet griffiths
Posted on October 25, 2015 at 5:44 AM
Like most I haven't read the book but I did read a report produced by ESTA (European String Teachers Association) produced many years ago in which the development of childrens competition winners was monitered.Unfortunately this report came to much the same conclusion.This is however a small nucleus of children many of whom are pushed into achieving ever better results more for the gratification of their parents rather than themselves. Most children who grow up from a young age enjoying music as an art form and as a means of socialising with like minded youngsters would probably not harbour resentment and frustration

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