Is it possible to become a professional violinist if you start at age 18 or older?
This is a question that is causing us a lot of grief -- recently a discussion on this topic zipped up to 100 responses in less than two weeks, with very passionate exchanges.
One one side of this argument is the simple fact that one has to put in many hours to learn the physical skill of playing, and that starting early can greatly aid in developing the musculature for playing (stretchy and nimble fingers, strength in the arms, etc.) Also, the mental process is considerable: learning to read music fluently, getting a great deal of repertoire into your fingers and mind, etc. Also, when one talks of being a "professional" you have the aspect of career development, which also happens early: making connections with other musicians, learning to play in an ensemble, taking auditions, seeking mentorship, etc. etc.
On the other side of it is motivation and dreams: the general idea that if you put your mind to something, you can do it. A whole lot of people who begin playing when they are young do not actually wind up as professional musicians, and that's because they aren't driven by some kind of fire to do it. The fire can get you quite far, even when you are starting late.
Personally, I'd probably compare it to learning a language. Not too many people become fluent in a foreign language -- speaking it like a native with no accent -- when they start as late as 18. And yet, some do. But certainly it requires a combination of natural inclination, immersion and a lot of work.
I think that if you have the fire to do something, you should pursue it. If you truly have the fire, you will be happy on the road to the goal, whatever the outcome. But it will help to be flexible about the outcome: I've definitely witnessed late-starter musicians becoming excellent teachers, or winding up in a church Baroque group that makes them happy (along with a different day job). Certainly you can find work in music, but becoming a soloist or professional orchestra player is a pretty rough road, even for those who began at age three.
I'd like to see where people stand on this, when given the chance to vote anonymously! And feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
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