Musicians trained, but no jobs

February 27, 2007 at 09:03 PM · First, I apologize for my not too good english

A very sad and old topic. I have read a thread about this topic in a clarinet forum, and that almost make me cry. There are numerous of musicians living in poverty. They do not have a car, living in studios with roommates (in their 30s), not able to pay for health insurance, doing night time jobs for living (mcdonalds, starbucks) working 7 days a week, and hence, do not have time for their family, some cannot even have one.

Why does that happen? because there are too many professional musicians in this country. I do not have any stats about how many music major graduates every year, but I am sure that there are not enough job vacancies for them, as you can see the competitiveness in major orchestra auditions. Other jobs such as regional orchestras, teaching jobs simply cannot provide a living. Since I am not from this country I do not know the usual wage for such jobs. However, I can draw a conclusion. According to supply and demand law, if there are fewer pro musicians, the wages will raise. Imagine if a couple want a string quartet in their wedding, if they know there are numerous of musicians around, are they willing to pay a lot? musicians are unique, and should be rare too.

Therefore, I think the number of music students every year has to be controlled. That means, only the most talented sector of people should be trained as pro musicians. The remaining, probably those who are very passionated but less talented, should be given a chance to study a dual degree.

I think music teachers as the responsibility to evaluate whether the child is capable of being a pro musician. and the standard should be pretty high. (I remember a conductor in my homecountry saying that you should not have any technique problems by the time you enter college in order to be a sucess musician)

Okie, here comes my personal problem. I am graduating this April with a violin performance degree in a university (which is so called among the top tier, but not the best) I am 22 now, and I am so worried about my future. My technique is fine, and my fingers move quite fast, just not always accurate, and a lot of people said my tone is sweet and gorgeous. Right now I am applying for grad schools, and I hope I can get into one(I probably need full scholarship since I am an international student) However, I am still not certain whether I can get into a good orchestra after the master (not likely) What I am concerning is should I give up being a pro violinist if this happen two years later?

I like playing violin (should I use the word love) but I am very concerned about job security. Being raised up in a middle class family in Chinese society (I am from Hong Kong btw) I really do not want my life style downgraded, and I really want to have a great family and provide good education to my children in the future. This is why I am really deperate for a good orchestra job. I am fine with doing something else, but I would really miss my violin if I do so, and of course, 4 more years for another degree. (I dun think an i bank will hire a music major :P)

Replies (100)

February 27, 2007 at 09:18 PM · hey jon, "my technique is fine, and my fingers move quite fast, just not always accurate, and a lot of people said my tone is sweet and gorgeous." that is just about the cutest thing i have ever read on

i know people will lecture you about playing music for the love of it, so i will spare you the rhetoric.

even though i can try to imagine your fear and anxiety over your future as a prof musician, i think music schools, like business schools, law schools, medical schools, also operate out of the supply and demand as you mentioned. but, instead of having quota enforced by the schools in a central planning fashion, in the long run and on a larger scale, the students need to assess their own chance of making it, their willingness to risk or not. in a free market, that is probably the most efficient way to go about it.

of course, as an individual, it will be much easier to work hard and have your future laid out for you ahead of time. socialistic and communistic societies have tried to provide that, i mean tried.

best luck to you and hang in there. take it one day at a time!

February 27, 2007 at 09:51 PM · Hi Jon,

It is obvious that you are very passionate about music and that you want to make a living at it more than anything else. I would say that you should try to audition for a good orchestra. Give it a little time, and then if you can't land a spot, then you will have to do something else to make a living. That doesn't mean that you have to give up all hope of being a professional violinist! There are many people who freelance, in addition to having a daytime job, and some of them make very good money. And as a freelancer, you get a variety of opportunities, and it's very exciting. And freelancing could lead to a full-time performance job, which is what you want. Hang in there. Practice as much as you can and keep your strength of passion. If you want it badly enough, which you do, something will work out for you.

February 27, 2007 at 10:15 PM · I'd like to share a bit about one of my lecturers from University. He's a born and bred New York Cellist. He was a late developer. After he had completed his bachelors, he went on to do masters in performance.

After his Masters degree, he still couldn't get a job, so for a while, he and two other friends from the masters program went Busking. Yup, that's right. Busking.

But they were smart about it - they performed in front of the Met around closing time, then went over to Central Park and performed at the front of the line to a Shakespeare Performance, then went over to broadway to perform in front of a theatre, then in a kebab shop (where they were fed) and then over at another theatre for intermission, and then just on the street on a busy sidewalk.

Apparently they were making about $300/night each. Now I don't know about you but that sounds like fantastic money.

What's more, is that he ended up doing about 12 hours of playing a day, because he didn't have anything else to do during the day. So that really helped his technique along.

He then went on to work on broadway (both as a musician and as an actor - he's often name dropping this no-name actor that I've never heard of... David Bowie? Anyone? hehe), before doing orchestral work. He then later wound up being part of a piano trio in australia that was one of the very few professional piano trios.

The thing is that there is money to be made out there, if you're willing to work for it. There's a whole heap of different types of work that all involve you playing music. So what if it might not be the job that you really want. Like in the example above.... if you continue to play, you get better, which opens up more opportunities.

February 27, 2007 at 10:36 PM · I do hear your frustration, but can't think that you don't know the answer. Schools are in the business of offering coursework and degrees. They set a standard for admission, but that is no guarantee to receiving a degree, nor is a degree a guarantee to a job. This fact is not limited to music performance, though the gap between music grads and seats is a very wide one. I do hope that your major teacher and/or your advisor has not specifically or wilfully misled you, but beyond that, you chose your school, your major, at least part of your courses, and how well you did in them. Now it is also up to you to decide if you want to keep on. Only you know if you have the will to persist with more studies, more practice, applying and auditioning. Your education is never wasted, but it might not tie directly to how you will earn your living. Sue

February 27, 2007 at 10:41 PM · Greetings,

one of the hardest things I ever learnt in life was that almost always if you follow you passion and dreams the money comes. If you limit your passion and dreams because you are worried about money then a) you never seme to have enough and b) you can`t enjoy it anyway.

For what its worth, one of my best friends is a healer specializing in shiatsu, cranio sacral bodywork and Chinese medicine.

He grew up on a housing estate in Bristol in utter poverty, was arrested often for stealing food to live on, kicked out of school at 16 to work at a dead end job in a factory where people were regularly maimed by heavy machinery. Through all this he somehow maintained his convictions that healing people was everything , eating animals wa swrong and that meditation was central to living. By nurturing these ideas against incredible odds he met enough people to give him space to escape and travel around India where he learnt very advanced yoga, meditation and healing. He never thought about money or possesisons, just travelled and studied and tried to help people, workied in leper colonies and so forth. He told me that when he wanted something he just asked `the Divinity` and somehow in some form it appeared.

Last year he heard one of the old people he looked after in England all those years ago ha sleft him a mansion and land worth 10 million pounds. It barely interests him a) because he rarely thinks about money and b) he owns so many companies and restaurants that is actually a meaninlessly small sum to him.

What does he do everyday? The same as he has always done: gives away mor e than he receives whenever possible, meditates, practices yoga and heals people.



February 27, 2007 at 11:13 PM · What would happen if you asked him for the mansion and land, since he doesn't care about it?

February 27, 2007 at 11:42 PM · Donation is an art, which requires a lot of thoughts and research to make a responsible decision as to how to distribute the wealth, especially when the amount is large.

February 27, 2007 at 11:53 PM · Ha ha, Jim.

Jon, I hear your frustration, but I don't think limiting the number of music degrees would solve anything. For one thing, unlike other professions, having a music degree isn't a prerequisite or even necessarily the best path toward getting a job in music. So that wouldn't really work to limit the supply. A far better solution, in my opinion, is to increase the demand by improving awareness and appreciation for classical music. Many violinists, amateur and professional, are going about this in their own ways.

It helps, too, to be creative in finding ways to make a living in music. I love the "busking" story, Ben.

February 28, 2007 at 12:23 AM · Jon - good luck and use your imagination if necessary to find a path that will allow you to make a living in music. One of the previous posters made th important point that in music, having a degree does not necessarily guarantee you a job and may not help you. Also, while giving music your all, as a parent I would advise you to think a bit about what your Plan B might be. I know a certain number of Julliard trained musicians (including one who was in my law school class) who are now lawyers. So, think about what kind of day job you might want to pursue, if necessary, to support yourself. I know a lot of actors in my area and even the best ones have day jobs of some kind.

February 28, 2007 at 01:03 AM · I recommend you apply to MSM or CIM for orchestral programmes.

getting into an orchestra requires a certain skill in auditioning as well as knowing the orchestral repertoire.

Gennady Filimonov

member of Seattle Symphony

February 28, 2007 at 01:17 AM · if you choose to play in the orchestra for the money and stability, yet don't like the repertoire, you will wish you went into cleaning fishbowls for a living.

February 28, 2007 at 02:31 AM · Greetings,

Jim, he`d probably give it to me. Can you lend me the readies to pay the inheritance tax?



February 28, 2007 at 03:16 AM · Bilbo,

What is there not to like in the repertoire?

February 28, 2007 at 04:19 AM · Colleges are for profit. They'll sell you the degree, it's up to you whether to do anything with it.

Under a centrally-planned economy, you might not have had the chance to learn music at the college level at all.

The bad thing about an open-market system is people often get a degree in what they love, then find there are no jobs in it. Then they get training in something else, or wait for a musician to die so a job opens up lol.

February 28, 2007 at 04:22 AM · Mr. Clapton makes a good point about busking. One of the reasons I'm learning violin is to busk, I am a slave to my small biz and it's only a matter of time before a nervous breakdown or heart attack happen to me, then I will not be able to work. I am preparing my bail-out plan. And that plan includes busking.

February 28, 2007 at 04:27 AM · alex, i think you are looking for an adventure and jon is looking for a job:)

what is boredom to some is stability to others.

February 28, 2007 at 04:34 AM · well the thing is, that with an orchestra job, the field is open to do (on your free time) whatever else your heart desires, gingles, teaching, chamber music or be with your family whatever.............

February 28, 2007 at 05:58 AM · Buri, it's so true. Even when your passions don't seem to make any sense. I can remember applying for a journalism internship during college, and the interviewer was just flummoxed by my educational choices. He asked, "Why are you majoring in journalism AND violin? Are you just not a good enough violinist and doing this as a backup?" And also, why would I study things like calculus, if I just wanted to write and play the violin? I suppose so that I could marry (and understand) a math guy while we were both in journalism school and we could eventually start But that wasn't exactly something I could explain back in 1988 to a myopic Gannett newspapers internship coordinator who apparently hated college kids.

The moral here is that the more you follow your own unique inclinations, the more likely you are to stumble upon something in the world that fits YOU.

February 28, 2007 at 06:19 AM · al ku -- No, I am looking for stability. There's none in our Brave New American Job Market. Being able to go out and play and make a few bucks is more stability than one will ever get other than being born rich (which I didn't do) in the Empire.

February 28, 2007 at 06:35 AM · There's a chapter in a book called "Freakonomics" which deals with something like the original question. The chapter's topic is: "If crack dealers are so rich, how come so many still live at home with their moms?" And the authors then examine the data - statistics about life expectancy, street dangers, profits from a sample gang (don't ask), etc. - to come up with the conclusion that it's not drug dealers, or foot soldiers, or officers in a gang that makes the real money. It's the boss, and the boss' overlords on a sort of Council Board. So if, as the chapter determines, one has a longer life expectancy on death row in Texas (5% of 500 death row inmates executed in 2003) than on the street as a crack dealer (1 in 4 or 25% over a period of four years), why do so many people get into dealing and trying to get into (get INTO, mind you) a gang?

The answer may be equally valid for our profession. Just substitute the word "violinist" for "crack dealer" (I always do!) and the particulars of our job to see a description of us in the following summation.

"So if crack dealing is the most dangerous job in America and, if the salary was only $3.30 an hour, why on earth would anyone take such a job? Well, for the same reason that a pretty Wisconsin farm girl moves to Hollywood. For the same reason that a high-school quarterback wakes up at 5 a.m. to lift weights. They all want to succeed in an extremely competitive field in which, if you reach the top, you are paid a fortune (to say nothing of the attendant glory and power)."

February 28, 2007 at 08:06 AM · Laurie and Buri, the way I see it, in his first paragraph he's telling you the reality. I'm not sure, but I think both of you had to actually deviate from your passions to get where you are today - not hold to them, assuming your passion is violin, which I believe it is.

If you're happy with where you are, you look back and think you made the right choices, and you might see unexplainable series of events that brought you right where you want to be, but I think it's an illusion that results from being happy. Not everyone is happy. So far we have two out of a few billion :) If he wants to have a family, he needs to sit down and figure how much that will cost, and when he thinks he will be able to earn that much, and by doing what. If he avoids that because it's just the wrong approach, as you say it is, then he may well move in with the people in his first paragraph. Also consider that you two may have won the luck lottery, so to speak. You obviously did to some extent. Random choices are not just as good as considered ones. Some people have the micro level figured out, violin technique, balancing the checkbook, but preach that the rest runs on magic.

You could hop on a random bus if you don't know any better or you don't care where you go, or you have faith you'll go someplace better. You could end up in Beverly Hills or down in Watts. If you end up in Beverly Hills, you might tell everybody else to do it too.

February 28, 2007 at 07:56 AM · I'm not talking about making random choices, I'm talking about committing to your passions. There's nothing random about it. It's only when you aggressively pursue those things that you find opportunities to make a life doing those things.

I've gone without health insurance. I've worked at McDonald's. We've endured long and uncomfortable unemployment, underemployment, not to mention winter in Omaha Neb ;). We've had times where we lived paycheck to paycheck. We don't own a house. Our student loans have taken 20 years to pay off.

But we have what we want: a family, each other, and the opportunity to follow our passions. I'm very grateful and happy. Call it winning the luck lottery if you wish!

February 28, 2007 at 09:50 AM · Deviation is an admirable way to reach your goal. Some can walk (or run) straight to it. I can't. My whole life so far has been a circuitous route around and amongst obstacles (fairly gentle ones, in hindsight, I have to admit). My passion is violin and music, no matter what I do for a job. I can still be very good at what I do for a job (even very keen about it) without it getting in the way of the music.

The English clarinetist Jack Brymer was a school English teacher for many years, I believe, before he became a professional musician and soloist. If, one day, I could make a living as a violinist, well, that would be nice. I live in hope, and I keep practising. But if it never happens I will still be happy as long as I can keep learning.

Go where the money is (if you can). Just make sure you can allocate yourself just the right amount of spare time to keep advancing as a violinist. In other words, try and get a job (or training that will lead to a job) that will keep your head above water. You can't learn violin very effectively when you are struggling each day to survive.

Perhaps busking will provide that money and security; or you may have to consider taking a non-music job. Either way, the best of luck to you. The most important thing of all is to keep trying. Don't give up.

Whenever I think about the plight of struggling artistic persons I am reminded of a lovely scene in David Lean's 'The Elephant Man'. A downtrodden circus performer gives a parting blessing to the departing John Merrick as he escapes his tyrannical boss and flees back to his beloved England:

"Good luck, my friend - for who needs it more than we?"

P.S. I would encourage anyone to pray for God's help. Ask simply for what you want and need. It never hurts just to ask.

February 28, 2007 at 09:59 AM · Jon Y. wrote:

"I do not have any stats about how many music major graduates every year, but I am sure that there are not enough job vacancies for them, as you can see the competitiveness in major orchestra auditions."

Though the situation in the U.S. may not be comparable to the situation here, there's a statistic ascertained by the Deutsche Orchestervereinigung (German Orchestra Union):

Between 1993 - 1997 around 5.000 orchestra musicians passed their exams.

Between 1998 - 2002 there had been 844 positions in local orchestras.

In 1998/99 it was in the average 60 candidates per free position, in 1980 it was 16 per position.

Apart from many great musicians coming from abroad joining preliminaries, the casting procedure has extended, it's not unusual to let 150 to 180 musicians play. Not to mention the time slot you have as an orchestra musician.

February 28, 2007 at 11:32 AM · Jim wrote, "... You could end up in Beverly Hills or down in Watts. If you end up in Beverly Hills, you might tell everybody else to do it too."

Man, is that the truth!

I'm all for dreams and the beauty of artistic endeavor, but a little common sense can be a beautiful thing. We all love to applaud the artist who sticks with it through so many struggles, never gives up, and eventually finds his dreams. Ahhh! Makes a great movie, doesn't it? -but no one talks about the other 99.9% of artists who are just as talented, work just as hard, stick with it just as long, and end up as janitors or living on the street. In fact, if they talk about it at all, it's usually "look at that bum, he was too lazy to get a real job..."

Every artist's mother says, "make sure you have something to fall back on." I bet your Mom said that too, right? -but if you have something to fall back on, eventually when the artistic going gets tough you WILL fall back on it.

The problem is, if you truly devote the time it takes to reach the top, you will not have had time to develop any other skills or career options, and by the time you finally realize that the dream's not gonna' happen, most of your other options are long gone.

Be careful what you wish for.

February 28, 2007 at 02:15 PM · So, Jon Y, here's my recommendation:

1: Be brutally honest with yourself. Are you good enough to make it to the top? If so, the chances are still overwhelmingly high that you won't make it, but if you are that good then you really must try, regardless, and be prepared to be OK with things if they don't work out.

2: Be brutally realistic about your options within the field. Others, above, have given great examples of alternate ways to "make it" with music. I remember once hearing some mid-level actor in a TV interview. He was asked about how hard it is to be an actor. His response? It isn't all that hard to be a working actor, it's just hard to become a STAR. If all you want to do is pay the rent, there's lots of work to be had. Same goes for the music biz.

But again, if you truly, absolutely KNOW that you have what it takes to make it to the top, then what choice do you have? If you don't go for it 100%, you will be miserable on your death-bed. Just be ready to accept some alternative reality, and be ready to accept that this alternative was worth it.

February 28, 2007 at 01:38 PM · " -but no one talks about the other 99.9% of artists who are just as talented, ...."

Allan - Not entirely true. I remember seeing a Ph D thesis a while ago on people who didn't make it. The author tracked down art institute graduates and interviewed those who didn't make it in the art world, where they were and what they were doing. It would certainly be interesting to know what musicians are doing if they didn't make it, whatever "it" may mean.


February 28, 2007 at 02:30 PM · i think roughly speaking there are 2 types out there, one being the job seeker, the other the adventurer.

the job seeker looks for stability, predictability and to follow an established routine is not boring but comforting. get a job by certain age, get married by certain age, have kids by certain age, etc.

the adventurer is less bound by tradition or others' expectation and pursue the dreams with conviction, often at a cost and with greater turbulance. or thrill, depending on the perspective.

as a parent looking at my 2 kids, i see one in each catagory. looking at jon's writing, i think i see where jon will be most comfortable. i think eventually, the personality determines the direction and destination. more EQ than IQ than MQ, M being musical.

bottom line: lets hope we each find our own slot.

February 28, 2007 at 02:22 PM · Ben,

I also thoroughly enjoyed your story about busking! I've seen quite a bit of that in NYC. Here in the Washington, DC area, we have some, but not as much. Most of the buskers tend to be either drummers or horn or keyboard players. However, I did see a violinist late last year. She was standing outside the entrance to Macy's, and it was during the busy holiday shopping season. She played one tune over and over again. Misty. Her intonation was accurate, and she got a good sound. And people were dropping money in her case. I don't know how much though. Recently, they decided to allow musicians to play outside the Metro (subway) stations. Of course, in NYC, they've had this sort of thing for years. The musicians play inside the stations. So anyway, they held the auditions here. One day while I was out on my lunch hour, I walked by the Metro Center station and I heard a violinist. It was the same woman who had stood outside of Macy's! I can't recall what she played, but she had changed her repertoire.

February 28, 2007 at 03:00 PM · Jon,

I am one of those musicians that works at Star Bucks for the insurance. Musicians have to be ready for an non-traditional life-- a bohemian life.

It's great if you can get some security and try for that. However it's all in how you look at it. I don't have a fulltime position anywhere. I've performed freelance and maintained a private studio for the past 30 years. I have a 401K with a school district that I substitute teach for on an on-call basis. I have insurance through Starbucks coffee working part time. I have the job I want as a teacher and a performer.

Through my teaching I am constantly honing my own skills and passing them on to the next generation. That is very satisfying.

Don't worry--trust your own love for music and your own intelligence.

bon chance

February 28, 2007 at 04:11 PM · Laurie, I thought I read whatever you do, it'll work out. In you or Buri or some combination. I seem to hear it a lot. Sorry I misunderstood. Man, I wish things worked that way!

Also, I want to say that any work is good work. I honestly don't think any differently about someone because of how they make thier money. The only issue is are you doing what you want, or at least doing ok.

February 28, 2007 at 04:43 PM · Why do Universities keep churning out graduates when there are no jobs? Alex answered along these same lines, but I'm going to guess this:

Because it's their job.

They're musicians who found a way to make a buck--teach.

February 28, 2007 at 03:13 PM · Balancing career, family, happiness is no easy task. It requires a strong dose of passion, and a reasoned look at available facts.

Career success, in any industry, is most closely correlated with how flexible one can be to getting along with others of different personalities. If you are an introvert, can you be enough of an extrovert at critical moments to get along with an extrovert and vice-versa. This puts you in a position to lead – be it as a manager in an office or a concertmaster. At the same time, you need to know when to hold your ground. And if you are flat-out stinking good at what you do, that goes a long ways towards having people get along with you and your ideas.

Conversely, regardless of how you play, if you irk someone who’s different than you, they will be less inclined to cooperate with you. This will affect your career.

A person who is happy with who they are and what they are doing is often more inclined to be agreeable in a workplace. That workplace can be an orchestra, or it can be on the 35th floor of the Sears Tower in Chicago.

It's smart to consider the market. If you decided you really loved to work with 8-track tapes and were utterly convinced you could sell them for a living, well, good luck in a digital world. It probably doesn’t matter how much passion you have for 8-tracks.

In short, try to optimize career, family, happiness. Don't ignore any aspect of it. A little luck never hurts either! Sharing one's process with others can also help in getting new ideas.

February 28, 2007 at 07:41 PM · I trained at college but have never made much money out of it, I practised very hard for years while doing badly-paid jobs and I'm now on my second well-paid IT job both of which I've been offered straight after the interview, so in a way you do get it back somehow. I can also play anything I want on violin or viola and never have to practise scales or studies, and though I'm not interested in the money I earn per se I take a lot of pride in trying to develop as a musician, in a way I'm lucky to have had the training despite not being good enough for the professional life I was selected for - the exact scenario which the original poster is picking up on.

February 28, 2007 at 10:28 PM · I thought of something else. Your English, by the way, Jon, is fine. My Mandarin stinks.

Good luck making this very tough decision. I think finishing a Music degree is something to be very proud of.

For a while, a Law school I know of was targeting music graduates for their Law program because they found music school grads had the discipline necessary to do very well in Law school. There are plenty of graduate programs who will accept you based on your undergraduate degree even if your chosen graduate program doesn't match your undergraduate degree. I guess that's something to speak to the school counselors about though. I know a couple of people who went to med school after finishing performance degrees.

February 28, 2007 at 11:12 PM · It's not just that... C'mon it's Music.

Music is like the ultimate religion. We all worship Music, we all sacrifice our lives for it, we all love it personally.

What's the MOST important thing though, to me, is our connection. It is a bond we all take for granted; we are like a family that lives off the soulfulness, the spirituality, the coolness of making, seeing, hearing... music.

Though trying to make money off it is like the worst idea in the world, we all are already rich because we are able to understand music.

Personally, for me, those who just can't handle classical music have no soul. It is just obvious for me -- there is no connection there. And that is what drives all of us really, our profound love.


February 28, 2007 at 11:21 PM · Greetings,

Jim, your point is well taken.

`Following one`s passion,` is not such a simple cliche. First of all one has to establish that it is a passion rather than just a habit. Lack of burning `committment` (a s Laurie mentioned)is one indicator that it isn`t. Another might be following the comments of others than a deep feeling in the guts.

The danger is lack of information, and genuine research, a dependency on the well meaning but uninformed comments of relatives or next door s dog. One can easily follow what one believes is a passion to the top of the ladder and find it was against the wrong wall.

Did I deviate to get where I am?

Yes, my passion is the violin. But it is more precise than that and I think this is where the problem lies for a lot of people. Its actually teaching, chamber music, playing in public, coaching and orchestra in that order. Having followed the traditional route through music college into an orchestra in Britain I can say that being a professional orchestral player rarely actually met my passion or needs. If the surveys of orchetsral players Ive seen are anything to go b\y this experience is quite common. Orchestral players can kid themselve s there is no other option, a s much as anyone.

Leaving the music profesison and reorientating myslef in the field of language education was a deviation of which the motivation had a great deal to do with a nee d for prestige and financial comfort. This is not the way to do things I cannot say the time I was working hard and very successfully in this field was my happiest.

It wa s only after I decided to take a job that laccks any kind of challenge but allow a sufficent salary and plemty of fre e time to practice, give concerts, rehearse the piano trio, play in orchestras at weekends was I finally able to say I was following the p` to the best of my ability.`

My point is that if you evaluate the situation and then decide to take a stable job in order to commit as much of yourslef as you can to your passion that`s great. but one of the reasons for the widespread unhappiness you point out is that the tool becomes the goal. When people start talking in terms of money (or the euphamism financial secuirty) and have no other purpose becaus e they have given up on passion to further this end they might as well not have bothered.



March 1, 2007 at 05:32 AM · The music industry of today is vastly different from that of yesteryear. Going all the way back to the baroque and classical times, the performer was expected to as equally versed as a composer. By the late 1800s a phenomena occurred and the role of the performer started to become that of just performer. Now, the role of the performer is starting to warp again. A violinist is not expected to just give classical concerts - people want to see boundaries being pushed. Why do people like Joshua Bell and Maxim Vengerov so much? It’s not JUST because they are fantastic performers, it’s also because they are always pushing the envelope and reinventing themselves. Personality is a huge factor now. Heifetz was always called cold, yet he still packed houses wherever he went. In today’s society, if you come across as cold, nobody will come see you. Artists of today really make a genuine effort to be in touch with their fan base. They meet fans after recitals (look at Sydney’s many photos), they have web sites where they blog (Hilary Hahn and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg), they do outreach music programs to bring music into inner-city schools (Midori), and the list goes on.

In order to survive as a musician today, one must be willing to take risks. Change is never easy. The idea of surviving as a musician must be approached from multiple angles. Ben mentioned busking. Recitals and orchestral playing aren’t the only form of concerts. We as musicians must always be thinking, “how else can I use my skills?” Performers like Kennedy (or is it Nigel Kennedy? I’ve lost track...) Asked themselves that question during their careers. And the end product was something new and exciting. It might not be to everybody’s tastes, but it was new. I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan of him, but when he started experimenting, I bought the CD out of curiosity. And I’m sure many people did the same thing. For each person who got curious and bought the CD, he made a slight profit. Kudos to him for that.

In college you get a degree in music performance, and too often we just take that at face value. We go the standard route of auditioning for orchestras and the whatnot, and turn a blind eye to the unknown. But Jon, when you suggest that only really good musicians be allowed to get degrees in performance and people of lesser talent be made to do a dual degree, you forget the creative element. There are many performers out there who may not be absolutely top-notch, but still have great jobs as musicians because they were able to think creatively. For example the duo “Igudesman and Joo”. Now, they studied at the Menuhin school, but I don’t think I would call them the most amazing performers ever. But, they had another thing going for them - comedy. I would advise anyone who wants to see a violin-piano duo in the style of Victor Borge to check these guys out. They are doing fantastically in Europe.

Also Jon, your “supply and demand” idea seems slightly strange to me. Competition is a good thing. It’s what keeps the quality strong. What if there was only one quartet in your city? After a while, they would realize that they control all the gigs in the area and that people are essentially forced to hire them out of convenience. In an ideal world none of that would happen. Sadly, we don’t live in that world. Competition forces people to keep on top of their game. If somebody else can do the same thing you’re doing for less than you, and better than you, more power to them.

I’m sorry this was so long, and I’m sure I’m going to get flamed for this, but oh well...

March 1, 2007 at 10:31 AM · Emil Chudnovsky (sp?) -- I like your post. There was a famous economic study of crack dealers in the 90s, I think the early 90s.

It's "rumored" to be good-paying and also easy to sign onto, so the result is an oversupply of dealers. Hence the $3.30 an hour.

I've been curious about working for the ..... post office, but everyone and their brother wants to work there, the result being it's not as good as a lot of other "non-glamour" or just not known as well about, jobs. Like a friend of mine who monitors/maintains sensors for the the city next to mine. I never even knew such jobs existed. But they do. Or, working for the library, which people know about, but pays better than most people think, most people think libraries don't pay well at all.

Government jobs are the last ones that have things like health insurance, retirement, etc in the USA.

I'd not mind a bit working for say, the library then playing at gigs or on the street or something for fun and extra money.

Although I am considering just working on becoming a decent street musician, there's more real-world security in that than for working for any entity in the US. In about 10 years we're going to start having the power shortages, blackouts, etc., and knowing a delightful, and non-electric instrument like the violin is going to be a real winner.

March 1, 2007 at 10:37 AM · John Y - you said: "

A very sad and old topic. I have read a thread about this topic in a clarinet forum, and that almost make me cry. There are numerous of musicians living in poverty. They do not have a car, living in studios with roommates (in their 30s), not able to pay for health insurance, doing night time jobs for living (mcdonalds, starbucks) working 7 days a week, and hence, do not have time for their family, some cannot even have one."

I have to tell you, there are tons of Americans in that situation WITHOUT knowing an instrument, they did everything right and they're still screwed. Failing Empires are never pretty.

We Americans are trained to smile, smile, smile, no matter what. We lost our job - smile. We develop a debilitating illness our "health insurance" won't touch with a 10-foot pole - smile. We're on a watchlist - smile. We lost our job - smile. We can't get another one - smile.

The truth is, there are people who worked their butts off, even had their own businesses, did everything right, and still failed. Go to any Home Depot and talk to anyone over 40 who works there - do you think they planned to be working there at 40? What about your average Starbucks manager, with those grey streaks in her hair? Think she planned life that way? They don't make much more than baristas you know. The old guy who knows all about plywood at the chain hardware store - they once owned a business and a house. Once.

My point being, if you're a non-rich American, you stand a pretty good chance of having a pretty miserable, hand-to-mouth life. You can do this with music or without it, because you have a pretty good chance of doing it. Music could make it a lot less miserable.

March 1, 2007 at 10:49 AM · "Being raised up in a middle class family in Chinese society (I am from Hong Kong btw) I really do not want my life style downgraded, and I really want to have a great family and provide good education to my children in the future. This is why I am really deperate for a good orchestra job."

Did your parents lifestyle just happen? They probably worked REALLY hard. My husband and I had parents who grew up during the depression, when nothing was certain. No job in any field is absolutely secure. That includes music-orchestras do fold, so even if you have that "great job", it might not be there forever. It also may not have spectacular health benefits. Most orchestral musicians wear many other musical hats performing and teaching. If you are "desperate" for that orchestra job, make sure your technique is flawless and that you play perfect auditions. You still may not get the job. Sorry, but that's reality. Now go practice!

March 1, 2007 at 11:27 AM · A bit bleak, but well said Alex.

March 1, 2007 at 01:45 PM · Buri's point about the unhappiness of many orchestra members is a good one and supported by Blair Tindall in her book "Mozart in the Jungle." Being in an orchestra is not necessarily the ideal job for someone who is passionate about music and can be as much a trap as being in a large law firm is to lawyers.

March 1, 2007 at 03:41 PM · The best you can do to carve out a happy life for yourself is to find out what makes you truly happy and do everything you can to prepare for the challenges that come while striving to attain what you want, being grateful for all you've been given in the process.

So, good luck everyone! I'll help in whatever way I can. Boise is a good place, Jon. A musician could make himself a pretty decent life here. The Phil will have spots open in Sept..

March 1, 2007 at 04:04 PM · being passionate about music is an interesting concept. not knowing the consensus, can we talk on the assumption that everyone is already a member of the Passion Club where the club drink is called Passion,,,with that little umbrella?

jon came all the way from hk to try to make it as a music prof; that is an elite member imo. having paid his dues, i can understand he feels betrayed by the system and confused about the future. a real dread.

to be blunt, the concept about buskering for jon may not go well with his middle class parents in hk. no. no. no. just have to take my word for it on this one. domestic harmony is a good thing.

one perogative of being a Passion CLub member is to be yourself. if the aim is to achieve financial stability, GO FOR THE MONEY. (and jon is asking: but where is the money?)

NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK. get to know those who can help you and make them know you and like you. which means, you need to first know them, to know what they want and like. to establish long term mutually beneficial relationships, being able to play violin well is not that important because 100 others can play better on any given day. what other qualities can you bring to the table? good attitude? integrity? helpfulness? maturity? loyalty? can you crack a joke or 2 that is not considered cheesy on these are all very important. because when the right time comes, often it is a matter of a phone call or an email and you must be trustworthy enough to be be an asset and not a liability.

i can tell you from experiences that more often than not, the best jobs do not go to those most qualified technically, but to those who have worked hard on networking and understood what others want. it is a game with interesting rules and an acquired taste.

March 1, 2007 at 04:50 PM · Very intelligent posts...I wanted to add one more thing. Many musicians go on the assumption that everyone else in the world has it easy. For instance, they think "If only I went to medical school, I'd get a job", or "If only I had a backup, I'd fall back on something". Let's have a reality check here.....The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. No one knows what could have happened (or what will happen, for that matter). There are plenty of people who go to medical school and drop out. There are also plenty of people who work high paying jobs for hours on end and don't see their families. I think we're all looking for the one-size-fits-all solution, which has yet to be found anywhere.

I for one believe that you have to know what you want and never stop searching unitil you find it. On top of that, your needs will change depending on your stage in life. In the mean time, however, live in the present and the future simultaneously. It will make you at ease with yourself.

I think it's also very healthy to constantly evaluate your present situation and decide if you're going in the direction you really want to.


March 1, 2007 at 07:49 PM · Good post, Daniel.

I'll add something to it (I think it applies)

Any time you turn your passion into your job, it becomes, well, a JOB. Consessions are bound to follow. Sometimes it can work out, but passions should, for most people, probably remain hobbies.

March 2, 2007 at 11:04 AM · Daniel,

an interesting point about all those other "safe" jobs. I have had medical school friends who took a long time to break into a proper job with a regular salary; at the moment I have two friends in their early 40s with PhDs in "safe" subjects looking for jobs, and another with an engineering doctorate who almost lost his (has had to shift paths to stay).

So there is really no easy way to plan.

Government jobs are very well paid here, and many will leave you with lots of free time; hence there is strong competition to get to work for any govt. (local, regional or state) agency, be it as a doorman or a librarian, in the youth office or as dustman, or answering the telephone or a technician.

Each one of us has to decide what is satisfactory. There is a very nice relative of mine who works for the post-office in a rural area (good salary and hours) so that the rest of his time he can indulge in his real passion, farming!

March 2, 2007 at 11:48 AM · When I was in school this message got hammered home pretty hard, at least to me. I was told quite a number of times that the only people who "make it" in music are prodigies and wunderkinds. And that somebody like me who started at the elderly age of 7, in a school program, and was a solid player but "nothing special" shouldn't even think about it. It's interesting to me, though, that some people I knew in school who had similar abilities and training experiences--orchestral stand partners, for example--are now in fact pursuing successful professional music careers as adults. It makes me think that all the gloom and doom I heard when I was younger was a little overdone.

In any case, I am happy about the career I chose (in neuroscience), but I agree with those who've said that nothing is certain for anybody. Academic science actually has quite a number of parallels with music: the training period is long, the pay isn't very good, and it's arduous and makes you susceptible to burnout if you don't absolutely love what you're doing. There are many more PhD's being trained than there are academic jobs for them. Government funding for basic research is flat or being cut, and young investigators are really struggling.

So, what's happening in science is that what used to be called "alternate careers"--for example in the biotech industry, in pre-college teaching, or in intellectual property law--are becoming much more mainstream. It's no longer expected that anyone with a science Ph.D. who's any good is automatically going to aspire to and run his or her own lab at a top academic institution. The paid job I hold, now, as a science writer and project manager at a research institute, isn't one I even knew existed when I was in graduate school in the late 1980's and early 90's.

I think the music equivalent to the scientific career running an academic lab is the professional solo and/or orchestral career. It's not the only worthy game in town and never was: but schools and training programs in both fields have been way behind the curve in realizing this and acting accordingly. As recently as the mid-90's, the institution where I got my PhD was holding "career fairs" aimed at graduate students where the only speakers and role models were professors at academic institutions. Nowadays the career fairs at the institution where I work bring in speakers from venture capital firms, pharmaceutical companies, scientific publishing houses, and law offices, among others, in addition to the academic professors. I've been invited to speak at one of these things myself and have talked more informally to many students in other settings.

I don't have any hard data to back this up, but my impression is that the music world is 5-10 years behind the scientific community in this evolution of what the career landscape looks like. And the scientific community has plenty of work yet to do. This can be daunting but it can also be an opportunity for you to be a pioneer in creating a path for yourself that fits your own needs and desires.

This change in the science career landscape is happening because of demand from students and postdocs. They organized, they wrote books and built websites. They started businesses and created careers for themselves. I don't think schools and training programs should be let off the hook entirely: they are slow, cumbersome, and like most human institutions, interested in protecting the status quo. Change isn't going to come from within. Higher education is in a bit of a "buyer beware" situation at the moment and I think it's all to the good when this is made known to students, as early as possible. Probably many of us came from families where formal education, in a school setting, was viewed as the holy grail, the ticket to success, and more schooling was always better. That may have been true in the past when our parents were growing up, but I don't think it is now. I think we have to realize that "education" comes in many guises, not all of them degree programs.

Anyway, it wasn't easy for me to pursue a different career path from the one that was expected of me. I was the first one out of my PhD lab to go into industry, and people were pretty surprised, and some didn't understand. Some people tried to talk me out of it. But now, in mid-life, I feel like I'm in a much more interesting place than I would have been if I'd kept to the narrow path that I'd envisioned when I was in school. I have flexible, interesting work that gives me time for family, my house is paid for, and I can practice the violin or viola every day.

March 2, 2007 at 01:59 PM · it is fair to draw parallels, but with this issue, jon was talking about a perceived oversupply or underdemand of music degree graduates.

granted, there are unemployed people in every walk of life, but if you look at classical music orchestra jobs against the whole spectrum of all other professions, i would think, classical music in the modern era has never been even close to the top as the most sought after opportunities for financial or job stability or availability. for instance, there is a huge demand for nurses... a real demand where if you are a nurse, you can walk in anywhere and get a job on the spot.

for many people in this world, the most fundamental question is... what can i do to make the most money?

for many classical musicians, that will be an insult.

and yet, classical musicians, like everyone else, still need to raise a family, pay bills, pay tuitions, pay rents and mortgages, and that is where the conflicts reside.

March 2, 2007 at 03:46 PM · So true, Al. The overtrained/underemployed issue isn't even a question with musicians. That is why I appreciate Karen's comments. As musicians open their minds, it could bring balance.

Maybe we're standing on the edge of the frontier and don't even know it. Now, not everyone is a Lewis or Clark, but I'm going to keep my eye on the adventurers, because they might give us a new place to settle.

In fact, I'm almost certain they will.

March 2, 2007 at 03:27 PM · One of my ex-teachers used to call us pacients, because we know we are doing something without any future, what so ever, but still, going on with it, investing all our time in's like we are drogged....but it still makes us happy , in some dimenssion,that's what's so great about it...and if it were for some to make it just to achive it...unfortunately, justice is dead, and it would still be for nothing, just look at all competitions, it's not about who's the best, it's about who has more money,and I dont need to say for what anymore,good students and children , very talentated, are drown away, so they quit, or thing they are noy good their age..., so luckely, it's the only job( or activity, if not), which can help you ignore all the injustice and all that is so unbareable in this world, so I desagree with reducing the nr of places, that would mean only the rich ones could make music, and the good ones would probably have to quit..because in life it's not about what's normal or right, it's just the way it is ,plus the right to shut up and be able to do nothing.

March 2, 2007 at 05:32 PM · Al--

I think the parallel between academic science careers and music performance careers actually holds quite well, specifically in the area Jon was speaking of: oversupply of trained professionals for a limited number of plum jobs. For a more scholarly treatment of the issue as it relates to careers in academic science, see:

March 2, 2007 at 05:43 PM · An interesting career option that is often overlooked is to play with one of the US Service Bands. For those who are lucky enough to pass the audition it's a great job. My partner played trumpet for 20 years in the US Army Band. He spent the entire 20 years stationed in Washington. During that time he played all over the US and in several other countries. While he was with the band he had a chance to play Carnagie, Radio City, Hollywood Bowl and many other stages. He played under the batons of Bernstein, Copland and others. He did countless White House gigs and other cool stuff. The job is NON combat.

The best job in the Army Band is the Army Strings. The Strings have a much lighter schedule (but still with full pay) They do things like stroll for White House state dinners. Right now that doesn't sound appealing to me but in 2 more years it could be a lot of fun.

Since the schedule is light, many of them teach, sub for the NSO or persue advanced degrees at DC area universities.

The musicians are all top notch. They've been trained at some of the best schools and conservatories in the country. You can check out the website at

They list current vacancies too.

Like I said, my partner spent 20 years with them and at 41 he "retired" and gets a pension of 50% of his base pay and medical benefits for the rest of his life.

I really don't want to sound like a recruiter, but I know first hand that it's a great gig. So, I thought I'd share it.

March 2, 2007 at 05:58 PM · Adela, maybe they are the sacrificial lambs. I think there are dark aspects to classical music. Don't the poor families there have their own music? Is it lesser? Less what? I almost have to laugh. Over here orchestras use computer programs to squeeze money out out of you like a turnip. What the hell kind of mojo is that? :) Do you think that uplifts humanity and civilization? Entertainment for the hateful or unaware, maybe. Who needs it, or anything else that happens inside gold walls. Now, individually and practically, if someone is earning their living as a classical musician (or just about anything else), more power to them. If that's what you do best, by all means do it.

March 2, 2007 at 05:56 PM · karen, thanks for the link. i agree wholeheartedly that academics and high level music training is very similar. from your impressive education background, i trust your perspective in the comparison is reliable.

i also share your thoughts about reaching very high level in post graduate studies and then have to decide to stay academic or go into related (or unrelated!:) fields/industries. i have some contacts in the similar environment, such as medical research, where they literally live on grants alone. a friend in hopkins is being asked to leave because she is not bringing in enough grants. this is someone with a MD/PHD from institutions of your league and can basically go anywhere,,,physician, pharmaceutical, teaching, etc, but she just loves research and in a way have to deal with the reality that 100 other equally brainy persons are competing for that particular grant.

to make things better or worse, she plays violin. hehe.

March 3, 2007 at 07:19 AM · Er, with the Army Strings, aren't you joining the Army to do that? That means a certain amount of time spent in Basic Training, throwing the grenade, lots of quality time with your M-16, and learning to blow stuff up with antitank weapons etc..... Basic these days is not Boy Scouts! Oh, and a certain risk of getting sent to Iraq.....

Or is Army Strings kind of like support personnel, not full soldiers but more like gov't employees who happen to work for the Army?

March 3, 2007 at 03:03 PM · Alex.... Well... yes... you do have to join the Army and go through 8 weeks of basic training. My partner spent 20 years in the band and as a result I know many musicians who were with the group. They were no different than any other group of liberal and free thinking musicians.

The field bands are real soldiers, but the DC based service bands are musicians first. Many of them don't consider even consider themselves in the military when they're outside of rehearsals and performances.

It's not for everyone, but it's a decent paying gig with a lot of benefits you'll never see in even the best of orchestras.

March 4, 2007 at 01:56 PM · "The best you can do to carve out a happy life for yourself is to find out what makes you truly happy and do everything you can to prepare for the challenges that come while striving to attain what you want, being grateful for all you've been given in the process."

Kimberly, very well said. I am a 37 year-old husband and father, an engineer by day and an aspiring musician at night. What you have said above I have long known within, but it is only now beginning to take flight. You get to a certain point in life where you can no longer ignore your heart, and you find you must at long last yield to your true calling in life. It is a very liberating experience, to say the least, as your life begins to take form and your true self emerges from the rubbish of an ill-spent life.

Well, perhaps that last bit was a tad too strong of a statement. I have no regrets whatsoever in marriage nor family, and my career has allowed me to develop and mature as a person, preparing me for many a pitfall in life. I only wish I would have believed in myself while still young. I have always had a deep and abiding love of music, but never considered myself one capable of making it happen. Now, here I am just three short weeks into violin lessons and I have learned that I never had reason for such doubt. It is early, for sure, but it is going very, very well. I suppose the years of pent up hope and ambition are finally being put to task. I find it amazing what the one can accomplish when one's heart takes the lead.

March 4, 2007 at 02:43 PM · Whether your live is "ill-spent" or "well-spent" most of the time does not depend on how you actually spend it. It depends on the way only you look at your life.

Sometimes it will bring less suffering and pain for yourself and your dearest to sweat and suffer a bit to change your viewpoint than change your job.

It is one thing to dedicate yourself (for your very own selfish reason) to music and another thing to want other people pay you for your dedication. There is always an element of gamble. And before one starts to gamble a sportsperson-like attitude needs to be developed (will never be achieved through practising more). Loosing a gamble does not mean more or less than moving on to another one.

Beware of people who infiltrate you with the ideology of determination and security. These guys are market developers for shrinks, just in disguise.


March 4, 2007 at 02:46 PM · as we go through our lives, the balance of priorities shifts.

in youth, we focus on our own dreams, often with others' support, or dependent on others' support.

one major turning point is post education: getting a job, developing a career and living independently. we learn to acquire a new set of values.

then, a humbling clash awaits. marriage mandates us to balance our personal interest with that of another person we care.

the ballon pops when we have kids and some of us realize our interests are not that important in comparison. we live and work so that the next generation can live better.

then, at some point, sacrifices after sacrifices, it dawns on some of us: hey, what am i doing? "I" want to learn violin! :)

March 4, 2007 at 06:20 PM · FMF I don't understand what you're saying completely, but it sounds like it could be interesting. I know you aren't saying the people in Jon's first paragraph just need to change their self-image, and that if they find themselves determined to find some security they're headed for a psychiatrist's couch.

March 4, 2007 at 10:52 PM · Alex Carter Said:

"I have to tell you, there are tons of Americans in that situation WITHOUT knowing an instrument, they did everything right and they're still screwed. Failing Empires are never pretty.

We Americans are trained to smile, smile, smile, no matter what. We lost our job - smile. We develop a debilitating illness our "health insurance" won't touch with a 10-foot pole - smile. We're on a watchlist - smile. We lost our job - smile. We can't get another one - smile.

The truth is, there are people who worked their butts off, even had their own businesses, did everything right, and still failed. Go to any Home Depot and talk to anyone over 40 who works there - do you think they planned to be working there at 40? What about your average Starbucks manager, with those grey streaks in her hair? Think she planned life that way? They don't make much more than baristas you know. The old guy who knows all about plywood at the chain hardware store - they once owned a business and a house. Once.

My point being, if you're a non-rich American, you stand a pretty good chance of having a pretty miserable, hand-to-mouth life. You can do this with music or without it, because you have a pretty good chance of doing it. Music could make it a lot less miserable."

I have to respond to that. I'm 61 years old, and have lost just about everything that I thought was important to me. My wife died, I had to close my business due to a long term illness, I'm unable to do my chosen field of work, and it's damned hard to find a job.

Yet, in many ways, I'm happier than I've ever been before. I've found that as long as I'm warm and fed, and have something interesting and worthwhile to do, that's plenty. I finally have time to practice violin enough to get pretty good at it, and I finally found a job that satisfies a life-long fascination with musical instruments, even though it pays about a quarter of what I used to make.

Not being rich does not equate to being miserable in any way. I've been rich, and I've been "financially challenged" enough to have my house foreclosed on and to have to decide whether to buy food for muself or my dog. I was more miserable when I was rich. Money and security are nice to have, I guess, but they're not worth focusing your life on. If I had someone to share my life with right now, life would be just about perfect. In fact, I'm working hard at getting rid of most of the possessions I have left. If my house burned down today and left me with nothing and no insurance, I'd be inclined to welcome it as an opportunity, not to regard it as a tragedy.

My experience tells me that security is overrated compared to following one's passions. If I had to do it over again, I'd do what gave me joy, and let the money take care of itself. I have found out how little it actually costs to live well in America, if all you need is the basics.

About failure: If you don't fail, you're not trying, and you won't ever improve. Life is all about transcending failures. Failure is only permanent when it results in death. Otherwise, it's just nature's way: first the test, then the lesson. I feel sorry for anyone who thinks failure is permanent. I think persistence is a large portion of what constitutes true genius.

This probably sounds like a lot of cliches, but I've been living it for the past few years, and it seems to work for me. It's all about how you choose to look at things.

March 5, 2007 at 12:02 AM · michael, does the "basics" include sufficient health insurance?

March 5, 2007 at 12:12 AM ·

March 5, 2007 at 12:22 AM · I'm an American too, and definitely not "trained to smile, smile, smile." Nobody I know is either, not by any stretch, in reality. But you say that as if it's a bad thing, then you conclude by saying it's all in how you choose to look at things, as if smile, smile, smile is the answer. I'll say again that any work is good work. It depresses me to be reminded by you that people look down on people with "bad" jobs. They are inevitable, you know. If you're trying to characterize Americans somehow, maybe it would be we have to look down on our neighbor to feel good, eh?

March 5, 2007 at 12:20 AM · I was always given hell for not smiling like some kind of idiot little robot, and it only stopped when I got the idiot robot smile down pat. One benefit though, you can say all kinds of things to people in 'merrica as long as you smile doing it! And yes, I did those "bottom of the heap" jobs for years and people do look down on you, although it is work that has to be done. All work that is good and beneficial is something to be proud of!

I guess one thing I want to say is that the American empire is falling and if you want to play violin, play! Get as good at it as your heart desires, because in a few years you may find yourself doing a lot better than a real estate agent, computer programmer, stock invester, etc.

March 5, 2007 at 12:24 AM · Michael Richwine -- I agree with you completely!!!!!

March 5, 2007 at 12:35 AM · "I was always given hell for not smiling like some kind of idiot little robot... "

By who? What? That makes me smile. I want to meet all these smiling people!

March 5, 2007 at 12:45 AM · Ugh, you've never worked in say, an ice cream parlor have you?

Lots of good insights on this thread!

I deal in electronic surplus which translated means I buy junky test-equipmenty-stuff cheap and try my best to sell it dear. It could be that I will never be a 100% professional street-player, but learning violin might take enough of the pressure and drudgery out of life so that I will be a happy junk dealer and a happy violinst (and if I work hard, maybe my listeners will be happy too?)

March 5, 2007 at 01:01 AM · I always have the impression the person behind the counter would keep on smiling even after the sale was done if we kept talking. You mean I'm wrong? Are they just that good? Actually they don't smile now. They look sort of scared. I really need to clean myself up.

March 5, 2007 at 01:09 AM · From al ku

"michael, does the "basics" include sufficient health insurance?"

I'm not insurable, except through a high risk pool.

Fortunately, I spent some time as LBJ's cannon fodder, and the VA does a good job covering the important stuff. I have to pay a good portion of the costs there, because I'm employed, so I guess it works out about the same, cost-wise.

March 5, 2007 at 01:34 AM · there is a recent study which confirmed the long held belief that indeed money does not buy happiness.

however, according to their stats, the ones with more money tend to be physically healthier.

many people in the mid tier have no coverage at all, essentially cutting themselves off from health maintenance and care when needed.

March 5, 2007 at 02:34 AM · I'm don't understand why health insurance isn't mandatory, like auto insurance. I don't know why it's more profitable the way it is now.

March 5, 2007 at 02:34 AM · one thing an employee and an independent contractor differs, besides those irs rules, is health care coverage. if you are a freelance musician, you have to pray that you do not get too sick or too long. this is a real issue confronting musical school graduates, esp those with kids and non working spouse. often a reality vs dream struggle.

jim, one thing that medical insurance differs from car ins is that car ins has a big component called liability--your level of protection once you do harm. we are paying for future lawsuits now.

by mandatory i assume you mean universal health coverage, like in canada and many european countries. one thing about the us system is that, depsite the high level of care (hard to believe, isn't it?:) the health care cost is getting way out of control. i can understand why many people lament it is profit driven model. the establishment of HMO is a step toward controlling the cost, but it is a run away train that i think nothing in sight can stop it. by the time this crowd on heads to nursing home, medicare or caid could be a thing of the past...

March 5, 2007 at 03:15 AM · Jon,

If you love violin, keep playing.

If you want financial security and have clear idea about family planning, and if getting into a good orchestra is the only choice you have to have the kind of financial security (middle class) you are looking for, then you should be worried. But since you said you are fine doing something else, then the sensible thing for you to do is to look for other options that will allow you to keep playing violin while learning something different that you might just as passionate about once you get yourself into. Music is great but there are a lot of equally great careers out there to be explored. You are only 22, why limit yourself to just this one very tough path while knowing full well that you have all these wants that this path may not likely bring you?

If you get into a grad school with scholarship, that’s great. If not, why not take a year off from school and try to get some work experience in the places that you would like to live? I hope you know by now that more schooling doesn’t necessarily mean more financial security in North America. Work experience and your reputation in relevant areas count a lot more.

Also, have you considered exploring other parts of the world? Take your violin along with you wherever you go and play it really sweetly to people you meet, the sky is your limit.

Good luck Jon!

March 5, 2007 at 01:20 PM · I think the comment "There are no jobs out there" is coming from the wrong attitude. If we think about creating jobs and opening up schools of our own, we're more likely to succeed if the performing side doesn't work out.

I think there are many people who would donate to such endeavors.

ps - You were right comment was not too relevant..I just wanted to bring to people's attention that many new Americans came here from war-torn Europe with their violins in the last century and had no idea if they would get jobs. Yet, somehow, even under difficult conditions, they succeeded.

March 5, 2007 at 04:50 AM · Greetings,

Mmm. I wonder how that ties in with the following article?



March 5, 2007 at 05:04 AM · I'm curious how you think it ties in.

March 5, 2007 at 05:41 AM · Only actually they didn't have real adversity, they could go homestead, business and industry was growing, most tellingly oil use was growing, by leaps and bounds. Um, you guys need to read up on Peak OIl.

The point of this whole thread is there are no gurantees, so if you want to play violin, play violin!

March 5, 2007 at 03:41 PM · Hmmm Buri, I'm with Jim on this one.

March 5, 2007 at 04:22 PM · The post before it changed and I don't remember now exactly what it said before... But I do see how it ties in with this version:)There's a trend toward that being privately run but I'm not sure it's significant. They've been doing it for twenty years or so. It was controversial originally, but its big selling point was it was an alternative to funding it with taxes. I can see how privatizing it rather than having it be a burden might not be the best thing that ever happened. Maybe a bit paradoxical too jobs-wise; maybe they could just turn the building into a factory and employ everybody already in it:)

March 5, 2007 at 05:00 PM · I agree with Daniel on this one, combined with Buri's previous post about prioritizing your interests. It seems like with music as with many fields, you have to pick what interests you most and carve out opportunities for yourself accordingly. The money comes. My orchestra is a "2/3 full-time job." This leaves me enough time to sub in another fantastic orchestra, to teach under 5 kids who I actually want to teach, to play lots of chamber music, to write an article every couple of months, and oh yeah, to hang out with my husband and not go crazy (surprisingly not mutually exclusive...)! I am happy at my job and with the general structure of my life, and I feel confident that as my priorities grow I will make the appropriate changes. Sure, as a lofty-minded musician I constantly feel that I could be doing "better" and "more," but I chalk that up to the proverbial (and crucial) "fire in the belly."

March 6, 2007 at 03:53 AM · al ku said:


So very true!

Network means self-discipline. It means one has to be outgoing, be good natured, be persuasive, be genuine, and be positive. Also remember that people have very long memory so always behaving yourself really pays off:^)

March 6, 2007 at 04:14 AM · Greetings,

>always behaving yourself really pays off:^)

ahhh. That seems to be my problem...



March 6, 2007 at 04:24 AM · we all have 2 sides, the mr/mrs nice guy and the monster. it is pretty obvious which side needs more nurturing. tough work, not taught in classes.

perhaps here is a goal for the job hunters: when the crunch time comes someone in the position to help willingly picks up the phone and say: take him/her and thank me later.

March 6, 2007 at 04:45 AM · Always behaving yourself really pays off, unless you are as talented as someone like Buri!

March 6, 2007 at 04:49 AM · and tough to develop talent if you behave:)

March 6, 2007 at 04:50 AM · says who?

March 6, 2007 at 04:51 AM · buri, lol

March 6, 2007 at 04:58 AM · er, I'm not sure the causal connection has been quite established... because or despite of? :)

March 6, 2007 at 05:02 AM · from an employer's perspective, i think there are 2 main types of recruits:

1. good worker, good team player, good follower, not a trouble maker. i think many fit into this mold.

2. innovator, rule breaker, pioneer, trouble maker. if the employer can recognize the talent and focus on the merits of the disruption, often amazing things can be accomplished. unfortunately, most bosses have too big an ego to let good things happen.

March 6, 2007 at 11:46 AM · Being good-natured and genuine are wonderful assets. But we sometimes find (if we have those assets) that there are some souls out there in the workforce who think that such assets are weaknesses, and who actively single out 'weak' individuals for the most unpleasant treatment (Bullying). Be kind, but be wise, also.

"Love your enemies,

Trust but few,

And always

Paddle your own canoe".

March 6, 2007 at 05:57 AM · This can also come from an employer's point of view:

‘Behaving yourself’ = being thoughtful, kind, flexible (including being able to think outside of box), rational, communicative, tolerant, emotionally intelligent, and just generally fun to work with. Many employers these days don't want someone just blindly follows. They want you to tell them if they are wrong (these are the employers that I choose to work with any way.) Many good leaders (non-followers by definition;o)) are perfectly well-behaved and many well-behaved mediators and academics that I’ve known for years, for instance, are perfect examples of innovators, rule breakers and pioneers.

March 6, 2007 at 06:06 AM · Alex,

What a bleak life you lead in 'merica. Too bad really. This isn't called the land of opportunity for no reason.

Oh... I've been at my job for 16 years and love it.

March 6, 2007 at 06:31 AM · Jon O'Brien,

Being kind is being wise in my dictionary:)

I’ve got different theory about bullying. I don’t think people bully you in work place because you are good-natured, but rather, they target you as their victim either because they are threatened by you, or unhappy about where they are and taking it out on whoever is in their way, or both. Being good-natured and being assertive are not incompatible treats. Though the last thing I would do is to treat the bully same in kind. You play your game but not theirs. Check to see if there’s any workplaces policy or code of professional conduct regarding bully or similar misconduct. Of course rules and policies are formal recourse for people to back up on, but in most cases, it’s a matter of sending out clear message to the perpetrator that you know what he is doing while getting as much support from your employer and coworkers you can to monitor and manage his behaviour. Never, never suffer in silence! If the bully is your boss, network like crazy and leave as quickly as you can. It’s just not worth any amount of money on earth to spend good chunk of one’s life in such hideous environment.

March 6, 2007 at 12:23 PM · Hi Yixi,

Very good advice. I agree with you.

I also think to be kind is to be wise. It is the best wisdom there is. I was a bit sloppy with my writing in my post above.

It is interesting that you say "him" when discussing bullying. I had some trouble with a woman in one job. She was a genius. But I have seen bullies of both sexes. I agree with what you say about them. You know what I have learned over the years? The bully is the weak one. He/She is the one who can't cut it.

This thread has turned into a general philosophy of life type of thing!

March 6, 2007 at 11:55 AM · yixi, i guess the difference in our views, if any, if not for the fun of it, is at the definition of "behaving" which, at one level, can mean being selfish or unhelpful or lazy or untrustworthy, or what have you. or, what i have meant is about principles and believes: going against the trend in thinking and action, to be able to insist that the earth is not flat and pay for it.

i think we both agree that our most important asset in our respective environment is our reputation, thus your saying, "always behave", to provide that consistent impression pretty much within our own control. unfortunately, it takes one small jesture to change the course, seemingly forever, or it seems to take forever to undo the first impression.

something happened in golf yesterday that i find to be noteworthy. i know i know, who cares about golf... during the Honda Classic yesterday, wilson, a nobody who has tried and failed to qualify for the pga for the past 10 years, made it to the final this time. (it is like investing and losing money and time and effort 10 yrs in a roll and finally has a chance to reverse the trend).

during the tournament, his caddy was talking to his opponent's caddy, and inadventently shared with the other caddy a piece of the course info, which is againist the rule in golf, that is, you cannot give or receive advice during play. hey, many people would have walked on and turned a blind ear. after all, his caddy was being helpful, if anything.

the "if anything" is enough for wilson to call a penalty on himself. he told the officials and incurred a 2 shot penalty. in the final round, because of that penalty, he tied with 3 others with the same score (he could have won his first ever tournament if he had kept his mouth shut). he had to endure a sudden death format playoff with the 3 others and thank budha, he won. what he has won is way more than the 900k prize money.

i do not know if there is a moral here, but at least it warmed my heart.

March 6, 2007 at 01:34 PM · The gist of all of this seems to be:

Be honest with yourself and others; follow what you love (or at least try to walk toward it). Somehow, you will end up the richer for it.

P.S. Where's Maura? She's usually good at finishing off threads.

March 6, 2007 at 01:48 PM · the 4 most difficult things to do in this world, in combination:

be honest to self, be honest to others, follow what you love and be richer for it:)

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