Can this be turned into a profession?

April 2, 2007 at 03:46 PM · I have a question. What opportunities exist for a 37 year-old husband and father of two who has just recently discovered his love of the violin and joy in playing it? Currently, I work as an engineer, and have always felt as though I were a stranger in a strange land working this profession which has led to a "square peg in the round hole" sort of existence for me in my 8:00-5:00 life as an engineer. Even the strict 8:00-5:00 routine is not something I fall into naturally. I get by and manage to do alright, but I certainly do not love this line of work.

However, now I have begun violin lessons and find I am deeply in love with this instrument. And, my instructor also tells me that she has been amazed by how well I have done in such a short period of time. So, it appears as though I might have a knack for it as well. Most important to me however, is that it follows my heart. So, what can I as an adult and as one who supports a family do with this desire? With sincere effort can I honestly turn this into a profession some day? My goodness, such would be a blessing the likes of which one seldom encounters in life. I am one who belives in the impossible, and have always been the eternal optimist. But, for those of you who know more of this line of work, what can I realistically expect?

Thank you,


Replies (100)

April 2, 2007 at 03:49 PM · There have been previous threads on this. Please consult them. The bottom line is that with a great deal of work, you may be able to support yourself in some fashion by the violin. However, this will not be easy, and you are highly unlikely to be able to support your family by becoming an international superstar or member of a top-tier orchestra. The previous threads will give you some sense of individual experiences. Do not give up your day job yet.

April 2, 2007 at 04:30 PM · If you work very diligently and advance quickly you may be capable of entering a small regional orchestra, which would not be entirely sufficient to support a family unless you were concertmaster. You might also think about going back to school to learn about music education and consider teaching either a school orchestra, or atleast individual students.

April 2, 2007 at 05:18 PM · Thanks guys. I will look for previous threads once again, but the last search brought up little. Maybe I need to be more specific when I enter the search???

I am not necessarily looking for a spot in an orchestra, one that would realize a large enough income to support a family, as I have some idea of the preparation required and I know I am a good 30 years behind on that one. Likewise, I certainly do not expect to become an international superstar (I seriously doubt this particular opportunity would present itself, for obvious reasons). Also, I cherish time with my family far, far too much to pawn it away living life as a traveling soloist. However, this is my heart speaking and for some such opportunity must be an incredible experience, and maybe the time away from home is in reality no more than I experience now in my present occupation. But, like I said, this is an opportunity only a miracle could create.

What I am really curious about is the creative ways in which others in a similar situation have found to reap a livelihood from playing (and, of course, teaching) the violin. The violin is not by and large a solo instrument, so the ubiquitous "classical guitar player" model does not really apply.

Thanks again for your input.

April 2, 2007 at 06:17 PM · Essentially, you probably would end up, if you are good enough, teaching and/or gigging in small groups, probably doing a certain amount of non-classical stuff in group. There may be other ways to make money (e.g., busking), but the two I mention are probably the primary ones.

April 2, 2007 at 07:43 PM · Tom, thanks for the feed-back. As one of the un-informed newbies, I have a question...what is "busking"?

April 2, 2007 at 08:13 PM · Street playing.

By the way, you might want to read in Emily Grossman's blog her story about how she got started and makes a living. She had the advantage of starting younger, but her story will give you some sense of what it is like. The blog entry was a month or two ago.

April 2, 2007 at 09:30 PM · Honestly, think about who you'd be competing with for any sort of violin-playing 'job'...people who started in childhood, and had the luxury of studying and practicing throughout childhood, and possibly their college and grad school careers, while their parents or perhaps sponsors or scholarships paid their expenses.

Now, all of you don't jump at me and bite my head off for saying this - I know plenty of people who had to work their way thru college and take student loans, and whatever, but surely a good portion of those who were talented and hard-working enough to expect a *career* as a musician were able to get some sort of scholarships, etc. at least part of the time.

Realistically, several years of serious study (hours a day of practice, lessons, instrument costs, etc) would probably be required before a person is of a calibre to be a professional musician...especially on any of the strings. How is this going to be funded? How are the family's expenses going to be paid in the meantime?

Then, once some sort of professional level of playing was reached...assuming the adult student had been able to advance far enough to get the job over the dozens of kids half his age who'd been playing longer than he many music jobs pay a living wage and *benefits* for self and family?

Sorry to be a wet blanket, but if you want to *enjoy* music the way to do it is be an amateur musician, in my opinion. Work at a job that will support your family and enable your hobby.

April 2, 2007 at 10:43 PM · Liz,

You are indeed a brave woman for conveying what I was hesitant to write!

In retrospect, I believe it is harmful for college level students to continue blind pursuit of a professional career as a performer without sober, and sometimes harsh advisement. I recall the cello instructor taking one of her students aside to tell them that they should not pursue a performance degree or realistically expect a career. At the time I thought that was terrible. The truth is, it was sound advice.

I would never venture to demotivate a passion or rupture a dream. Everyone has different standards of living and different financial requirements. Without a major orchestral contract or collegiate position, it is very challenging to raise a family.

April 2, 2007 at 11:38 PM · Thanks again to all. As as adult who has lived a bit I know that realism is never to be ignored. Despite the fact that history is replete with examples of individuals defeating all odds, examples the likes of which leave one in awe, these situations are obviously extraordinary and quite rare. Also, some are from some time ago which leaves one to wonder how much of it can be attributed to a growing legend. Age leads to wisdom (or at least it should).

All I want, all I ask of this, is to be able to live my life following my heart. I believe in the saying "God will grant you the desires of your heart". Of course there is much, much more to this than the simple meaning I am conveying here, but at the same time I believe such desires have been placed for a purpose, to serve others being one of them. What shape or form it takes is anyone's guess, but you have to follow your heart to find out. Ah...there's the kicker! If I ever were to wind up in an orchestra of any sort as a well-paid professional, I would be more shocked than anyone. I am most curious, however, to know what else one can do with this skill, once the requisite skill is in hand (or once a sufficient level of skill has been obtained). And, I guess the answer to that question depends somewhat upon the level of skill acquired. I tell you what, I would really like to teach this to others some day as I feel this is a tremendous vehicle in helping children to realize what it is to be a feeling grow and to love. I would not want to teach nor raise up the next Jascha Heifetz, I would leave that to others far more qualified, but would rather like to be the one to help a small child (or an adult such as myself) discover life through the singing voice of a violin. When life is viewed in such a context, and when one looks inside as well by virtue of broodings developed because of their time spent violin in hand, as well as in the company of great compositions brought to life by the gifts of others, a moving and life-altering experience awaits. It is a wonderful gift indeed. What a way to live life, am I not right in saying so?

April 3, 2007 at 12:38 AM · i think one thing chris you need to come up with is your idea of being a prof violinist. what are your specific goals?

i am not a musician, but each musician here can give you a version what that means, but is that what you are looking for,,,others' suggestions, or you have already your own idea? do pros and cons here matter to you really?

i will be very blunt and say this: if you are a husband and father of two, a family man, what you are describing is not really much of a family man plan. is the family financially well off enough for you to put aside significant amt of time for practice and try to make it in a very very competitive field? from taking lessons to practice to making it as a paid pro is a long road of many years. can you afford it? of course you do not need to answer that here, but it is something you really need to think about and discuss with your family. to many others, it is a very obvious choice, or they simply don't have a choice. may be to you right now it is that fever, that consuming crush you feel for that first girl of your dream:)

if you truely love music, why not play for the love and not worry about getting paid? isn't that more satisfying and liberating?

in summary, it is doable but with a very high opportunity cost.

good luck.

April 3, 2007 at 02:05 AM · I believe like you that you can basically achieve anything you want. This is different though. The difference is that it's a competitive thing. If it wasn't for that, you'd do fine. I think of this kind of thing as a seductive woman who isn't going to love you back.

But, if you don't enjoy your work, maybe you could drift toward an engineering job related to music? There's hall design, equipment design, instrument development of some kinds. All of it every bit as essential and significant to that world as playing the violin, and there you have a big head start.

April 3, 2007 at 02:00 AM · What on Earth is wrong with being an amateur player, who simply plays for the enjoyment of it? We've talked about this before, but it bears mention again. For some reason, "amateur" has been made into a dirty word. The word used to convey something more along the lines of a person who loves the music so, they'd never dream of doing it for the money. And what a wonderful thing to do in one's spare time, play music.

I really do wish there were more options for amateurs, so that adults who are competent can enjoy playing.

For my part, I hope people can find each other through this website. You just need to find others who want to play with you. Forming a quartet can be quite rewarding, or being in a community orchestra.

April 3, 2007 at 02:21 AM · It's interesting he hopes to turn it into a profession. It's like if you aren't doing it for a living, it's not legit:) Maybe it's the sense of integration with a thing that comes from getting paid to do it.

April 3, 2007 at 04:56 AM · I did have a student who started (not with me, she took with me some years later) at age 28, and the violin completely changed her life. Trained as a mathematician, after about 10 years of playing the violin she started teaching violin, played in a community orchestra and church orchestra, and eventually she got into lutherie.

So yes, it can be made into a profession, and it definitely can be woven into the fabric of your life. Just be patient, and see where it takes you.

April 3, 2007 at 05:11 AM · Most people who report happiness at an advanced age had vocations and advocations, and in many cases many of them, Mark Twain being a good example. Mary Martin a famous actress is another example--at 90 she was way high kicking with a schedule that would make many feel very lazy.

So to begin with, don't think either/or, but both. The engineering will come into play so many times that even beyond the obvious you may not be able to imagine. I would use myself as an example but it would sound like I'm bragging. Oh what the heck.

I've played piano for 40 years, competed to world wide level in Air Force Tops in Blue as a self-trained classical pianist, played guitar for 30, banjo, flute, clarinet a little, indian flute, other instruments along the way, I'm a master gardener, love to write, research and advocate for rural mountainous cultures, love science, physics, astronomy, relative physics, I'm an engineer too, I can put on a roof, or a world class meal on the table, or change the rear end on a truck.....

Point: just don't limit yourself, add layers. Time will take care of the questions. I've been playing for a little over two years, and even with all my insterests, fell nearly violently in love with violin. IOW: do not disrupt or interrupt my practice--ever! ;)... And please send strings ;)...

Finding something that incites and invokes one's passion is as rare as finding true love=="William, follow your heart". (Braveheart).

April 3, 2007 at 05:37 AM · Laurie, the original question was whether it's possible to turn a late start into a profession, though. Not into amateur love and enjoyment. I, for one, heartily wish for a return of the fine old tradition of well-educated and accomplished amateurs playing both alone and in groups. But though it's politically incorrect, and though it may seem discouraging, I think it essential to state the harsh facts for someone who's even idly considering leaving a paying job and profession to try making a living in music.

My take on it is that you can't. There are some caveats and exceptions, to be sure. But community orchestras don't pay what regular jobs pay. In communities with conservatory-trained violinists, do you think it likely (or fair, frankly) to have someone with incomplete skills and knowledge seeking to support an entire family by passing along those incomplete skills through teaching?

I know that there are some truths that are unpleasant. But sugar-coating them - like seeking to prove gravity doesn't exist - only makes the Quixotic effort seem ridiculous, not noble.


April 3, 2007 at 06:37 AM · Chris,

You asked some very important questions and you’ve got very good advices here.

I have a feeling that the real issue is much more complex than whether you’ll be able to play violin professionally or spread the joy among others. Things are never what they appear to be, do you agree? You’ll probably need some time to let the whole picture reveal itself to you. Meanwhile the good news is that you love violin and Bach. How wonderful! Why not set a long term goal to achieve Bach's Chaconne? The journey will offer you ample opportunities to find out (more or less) who you are and why you play the violin, no, why you get up every day and do everything you do.

April 3, 2007 at 10:42 AM · You also might want to check out Pauline Lerner's blog and website on I believe she became a violin teacher as an adult after a career working at NIH as a scientist. I found her story very inspiring.

I think Yixi is right that this is probably about more than just will you be able to earn a living as a professional violinist. It might be about your having outgrown your current paid job in other ways. You don't have just those two choices: keep working at a job where you feel like a square peg in a round hole or try to become a professional violinist. You want to listen to your heart, but it's not always clear immediately what your heart is saying. Spend some more time listening first.

April 3, 2007 at 11:13 AM · There was a really great discussion on this very same topic about a month or two ago. It went to 100 posts; Al Ku finished it off with aplomb and style. It is worth finding and reading! It had a lot of encouraging truth in it. It was all about following what you love (while, as a general principle, keeping your day job).

Keep your chin up!

April 3, 2007 at 01:31 PM · watch out!

i would like to throw a curve ball into the crowd by stating that it is OK to not to love your paying job. in fact, it is realistic and livable. but, at your paying job, you'd be better off if you have a good reason to do a good job. simply loving your job is only one reason. that helps, but there are many others.

you drive around and see those stickers on other people's cars: i'd rather be fishing, golfing, what have you... yes, they love fishing and golfing. but may be that is the reason that keeps their dayjob going, to have that balance, that lure.

if you really subject them to fishing and golfing all day long with gusto for the rest of the their lives, they will probably burn out pretty soon. love will turn into hate because there is no real foundation under the dream. you cannot truely love something unless you have labored, pained and suffered. otherwise, just call it an erection.

all over the world there are probably 100 lottery winners per day for a loooooong time. ever read a report about a new breed of beings that have the resouces to plug themselves into happiness and actually have stayed there? no. in fact, 99.99% f up royally after they go through their "happiness" in a year.

which brings me to a street corner in new york chinatown as featured in a NY Times piece a while back about a little immigrant lady making pancake balls. for some reason, it was a hit. people just lined up the street to get a bag of that crunchy outside soft inside pancake ball, from tourists to me to may be you to wall street hunchos to just about anyone who has a dollar. her whole day, in fact her whole life, is about pouring the batter into the pan, cook, flip, open, get money, give the stuff, bye, next.

HAPPINESS factor? nupe.


just a job, our masters and mistresses!

with that meager income in that alley, she put all her 4 kids through ivy league schools and they go on becoming main stream successes. to her, that is beyond happiness. it is simply doing what you have to do and do a good job.

April 3, 2007 at 12:42 PM · Ouch. Did I just get hit on the head with your curve ball Al?

Peace, brother.

PS Thats it from me for a while. I'm off to bed (as you know, this is down under time here). I have to go to sleep so I can get up in the morning and make those dollars.

....those dollars........

April 3, 2007 at 12:42 PM · peace, mate:)

April 3, 2007 at 12:58 PM · I can't resist one more post. I should be in bed. I'm tired!

You are so right. I've been thinking about it. Love without pain and sacrifice is just waffle and bubbles.

April 3, 2007 at 01:37 PM · Al, I don't think that's really a curveball. I couldn't agree more. Sometimes I love my day job, sometimes I don't. In my previous biotech job, I started out loving it, and then after a few years, I stopped. Things changed. I got a new day job. I love playing music as an amateur, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't love it anymore if I felt pressured to support my family with it. All that said, I think Chris' heart *is* trying to tell him something. He must be pretty unhappy in his day job if trying to make a life as a professional musician starting as an adult looks better.

April 3, 2007 at 01:55 PM · There was a really great discussion on this very same topic about a month or two ago. It went to 100 posts; Al Ku finished it off with aplomb and style. It is worth finding and reading! It had a lot of encouraging truth in it. It was all about following what you love (while, as a general principle, keeping your day job).

I think, this is the thread, that has been mentioned quite often yet, though there're lots of discussions, where Al managed to get the last word. :)

April 3, 2007 at 02:03 PM · Chris, my brother is an engineer, actually, an aerospace engineer that works for NASA (the family Rocket Scientist). He has kids, a wife that gets to stay at home with those kids and not have to work, a very nice salary, a great health insurance plan, a lovely home, and a very nice life.

I am assuming you have a similar comfortable middle class lifestyle. Enjoy it while it lasts! Very few musicians get to have those comforts without at least two working adults in the household.

Also, for those who Work For The Man, I don't always love my job either. Three hours of playing 2nd violin on Strauss waltzes at a private party come to mind...

April 3, 2007 at 02:32 PM · Anne - I second your comment on Strauss Waltzes as a violin 2. Plus, when I play them, my thoughts turn to what a wonderful place turn-of-the-20th-century Vienna was with Mayor Karl Luger, and rampant anti-semitism!

April 3, 2007 at 10:30 PM · Chris,

I get the opinion you're talking $$--you want to find a way to make money doing what you love (the proverbial search). Creativity and ingenuity could give you the funds you need doing what you want. If it were me, I'd use my brains to come up with a way to serve the violin community at large. At your stage, I wouldn't look to performing to provide you steady work (unless you're better than I think you are--do you play unaccompanied Bach?). That would keep you in touch with your love and put bread on the table too. Take a look at all the ads on this website! That might give you ideas. Strings, Cases, Bows . . . Shar had a position available recently in Michagan for a Retail Store Manager . . . Or, teaching . . . Suzuki teacher training . . . hmmmm . . . Here in Boise, even beginning teachers make $30-$40 (before taxes) an hour teaching.

Actually, I bet if you think enough about it, there's probably something a person with your engineering talents could offer to the string community . . . entrepreneur. That would be cool. Invent the perfect rosin or string or something.

April 3, 2007 at 04:05 PM · Hi there,

I think I can sympathize with another element of your desire to make music your career--you love playing, but with an 8 to 5 job, it sure is hard to find the time, isn't it? You need the money, you want to be spending time with your family/friends, but you also want to spend more and more time with your instrument. That's another reason that the "music as career" option sounds so appealing.

What I experienced myself, though, is that a professional playing career was not, in fact, what I wanted. So I looked for ways that I could combine my interest in music with a more steady position. In my case, I found a position at a music retail store which has suited. Others I know have explored teaching, music therapy, music management/business, etc. One idea that comes to mind that's more related to the engineering field would be acoustics.

In other words, there are lots of ways other than being a full-time performer that you can spend your life surrounded by music. That may be something you want to explore.

Hope this helps!


April 3, 2007 at 04:52 PM · Hi,

For those of you how are encouraging, thanks a billion, you do not know how much it is reconforting to know that there are people somewhere in this world that do understand something that I feel. Well, my dreams may not be the same as Chris, but all my life have been told I could not do this and that, I achieve many of my goals, but if people had been more supportive I thing I would have achieved them faster and without loosing my health in the process. For those of you who think that you are the only one that can do it, tell me why? am I so stupid? I really do not mean to be nasty, but I really thing that with effort and passion you can do a lot, of course none of us will be Mehunin, but who wants to be someone else? I think we want to achieve our best, and sometimes being scream at works but sometimes you also need a helping hand, aren't we all here to make this world better? I can teach maths, French, french pastry, neurology and I really thing you can all learn and eventually teach me something in those area why can you teach me violin. Isn't the goal of a teacher that the student be better than him?

April 3, 2007 at 07:46 PM · Great ideas, Katherine.

April 3, 2007 at 08:34 PM · I've played in community orchestras where I was the youngest (16 and 17 at that point), and the oldest people there were well into their 80s and I know there are those out there!

( ...go there to get an idea of what one might be like...and the constitution and what not)

There's a website...Sheila's corner, that lists a lot of orchestras.

If you don't have a community orchestra near by to play with, I'd suggest starting one! It may not be recording any monumental works at that point, but it can be more personally rewarding and fun.

Finding others who want to make music is important. I play with a guitar player...chamber groups like quartets, fiddle players, jazz players...all good options.

If you get a small group (even a duo) together and feeling pretty tight, you'd be surprised the community events that are always looking for music... restaurants, weddings, small business parties. You can get some business cards from and do something like that eventually. Gigging is fun (I've had some experiences with weddings and dinner parties and what not), but I can't see it replacing a job as an engineer.

By the way, I've met about as many engineers as doctors who used to play violin or came to love the violin. :)

Good luck with everything!

April 3, 2007 at 08:29 PM · P. Brabant,

I don't believe anyone here claimed that they are the only people suited for professional musicianship. Most everyone is fully supportive of anyone following interested in pursuing their passion to it's fullest extent. It would be remiss to advise someone asking advice from this forum to pursue a career as a perfomer with such a late start. I believe it is the best practice to inform rather than mislead.

Congratulations to both of you for following what is important to you.

April 3, 2007 at 11:33 PM · Well, what can I say, except that I very much appreciate all of the responses. I appreciate that you all took the time to respond and the honesty of all who responded. I have felt a deep stirring within for some time, and I know that I am ever so gently (but all the while with greater pressure) being led out of my current existence and into something new of which I know little, if any at all. But, thank you to all. Your suggestions and shared experience has been a great asset.

Laurie, you are right in that the term amateur has been given a negative connotation in today's world, however my understanding of the word is that it is derived from French and may be translated as "lover of". So, to all of you out there in cyberspace who may think of yourselves as amateurs, consider it a compliment to be an amateur.

Not to pick on you again, Laurie, but the thought of becoming a luthier had crossed my mind on more than one occasion. Thanks for the suggestion. My career as an engineer has led to the development of an intensely analytical mind, and the solving of problems is a part of my everyday existence. When it comes to this, the more creative and elegant the solution (the more simple the solution), the better. So, luthiery has crossed my mind, not for reason mentioned, but the skills would add to my ability. Also, I do love working with natural materials (wood in particular, of course) and I do love working with my hands and the creating of something tangible in the process.

The more I think about it, the more I come to realize what I am feeling (my “square peg in a round hole” sort of existence) is more a case of not meshing with the world within which I work, as opposed to that which I specifically do. Does that make sense? I love music, desperately I do, and I love serving others. All I am trying to do is find a way to integrate the two into my everyday existence. Will I survive should I not be able to do so? Of course I will. My family comes first, and I would never do something irresponsible such as leave a solid occupation to chase “after” a dream lacking direction. Will I chase “down” this dream? Of course I will. Life is to be lived in the threading together of those little moments that make for a life.

As for myself, I find my heart fed by two desires. One is being in the company of beautiful music, which is most fulfilling when I am the one performing the music because it is then that I am able to express what stirs within. This I only ever do for myself, and very seldom in the company of others as I am really doing it for my own sake. Boy, I guess when one thinks of it, lack of acquired skill aside, maybe a performing career is not for me. But, such was never a specific goal of mine anyway.

The other thing I love is simply serving others. So, it is up to me to figure out how to bring these two into one. Well, at the bottom of it all it may not really be my job to figure out how to bring the two into one. My job may be to simply follow the compass needle planted in my heart. I’ll let the one who put it there figure out how I am to get home.

Thanks again,


April 3, 2007 at 11:35 PM · One more thing...As far as playing the violin is concerned, my ultimate goal must be Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for violin. And, of these, the Chaconne is my Everest. I look forward to the day I can add the Chaconne to my list of accomplished works. After that, I'll spend the rest of my life working at mastering it.

April 4, 2007 at 02:18 AM · Regardless of the issue of whether or not an adult can become a professional level player, there are lots of things that an experienced adult can do to create a career in music if he chooses.

Music based day-care of after school care;

Music based summer all-day camp for kids who need somewhere constructive to be while parents are at work;

A good online referral service for would-be students to find music teachers;

An online auction/consignment page for sale of student level instruments -- kind of ebay with standards.

There are tons of ideas for someone with maturity, experience, a business background and real want to make a living with music without being a professional quality musician.


Oklahoma City, OK

April 4, 2007 at 03:37 AM · " kind of ebay with standards."

Out of curiosity, what would the standards be?

April 4, 2007 at 04:48 AM · Chris,

Some parts of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas are quite doable after a couple of years of very hard work with good teacher(s), IMHO. For instance, I don't see why you can't work with your teacher to aim at playing the first page of the Presto of Sonata 1 g minor in 2 years or after you have worked through Kayser?

April 4, 2007 at 04:43 AM · "For those of you who think that you are the only one that can do it, tell me why?"

If you are including my response above among those which you think were unfairly lacking in support and encouragement, I guess I should point out I'm *NOT* a professional musician, and I never have been.

I was a music student as a child and a music ed major...but not a professional musician. I've seen what it takes to be a pro - usually it means starting very young with parents or other support system who understand what's involved with the serious study of music.

I was a piano student, I didn't even start violin until I was in college. I'm a huge proponent of adult beginners on any instrument. I'm a huge proponent of serious amateur musicians. But I'm not a proponent of encouraging people to risk their and their family's financial future when there is so little chance of success in finding a professional position.

April 4, 2007 at 04:40 AM · I think still, that multi-tasking is the answer. Professional on an orchestra level, of course not--well maybe--I've seen some pretty cheezy things go on including antics, politics and etc. Nonetheless, there's a world of opportunities for any talented musician, especially a violinist--I would start shopping for a good accompaniest immediately. Without listing all the opportunities, there are also on the high-end, some things one can do if they 'truly' excel, over time, consistently.

The main point however here, is the love for playing the violin first, and the music that is produced second. These two, are the one and only requirement for excelling at violin. Too often, we confuse other things one can do with the music with what the gift of music presents us I think. The little lady who played organ down at the Baptist church for 40 years comes to mind for some reason.

The reason, the half-mythical cliche: 'let the music lead the way' is true, is because in the spirit of the myth, music itself is a gift from the abstract layers of life--some call God. For this reason, though we often are overwhelmed when something so passionate presents itself at a later stage in life, beginning adult violinist would be well advised to benefit from their maturity that is in some ways no different than a kid sleeping with their baseball glove or football.

Still, passion is passion, and it is equally as important as maturity. So, I would advise a couple very simple things. First, remember the passion that was prsented. Next, practice as if you 'were' going to play Paganini with the London Symphony; and, finally let the chips fall where they may.

April 4, 2007 at 06:06 AM · Al, I sent you an email yesterday. Did you get it?

April 4, 2007 at 08:58 AM · Al, (Albert)

Your last paragraph: That has pretty much been my approach and so far it seems to have served me well. I play and I practice as if I WILL one day make it. I never doubt it, in the actual playing and the practice. As to whether I actually do, let the road take me where it will. I have already taken that diverging path in the woods.

April 4, 2007 at 11:46 AM · from chris' writing last night, i assume he is talking about getting so good at violin that it will be prof level. i think that is more reachable than attaining a certain job by certain time frame.

i am not a musician, but even i know of couple teenagers who can play really well and have turned down offers to go to prof music school for further training. and their trick is to work so hard.

so now the short cut is get hooked up with a great teacher and practice very very very very hard.

to play bach is not that difficult, doable after couple years of serious playing. it is probably not too hard to sound good to oneself and derive great satisfaction from it after couple more years.

but the issue here is to sound great to others as well, which, unfortunately, carries a very high standard.

and another more profound issue, if you will, is that when you are ready to sound great, do you have an audience?

April 4, 2007 at 02:18 PM · You will find, if you delve seriously into this instrument, that to achieve a deep level of artistry is rather elusive. Getting over all the considerable technical hurdles, then being well-versed in style, genre, etc. does take quite a lot of time and careful effort. And patience, and humility. And the intuition that leads you to the right teachers.

It's a wonderful goal, though.

April 4, 2007 at 08:47 PM · again I think it is a question of priorities. An I have to agree with many people, that leaving your day time job may not be the best option for now. But if you have the passion and you can be good enough to be a teacher, well a teacher that can transmit it's passion is great. some music teacher in there do not seems to have any passion, also maybe you can teach adults, at least you could understand well there expectancy and there feeling. Chris I really wish you the best. And like says the Great Al diversity is a great think

Best wishes


April 5, 2007 at 04:27 AM · I agree Laurie, that it takes a lot (a whole lot) of time to get really competent, but that is true for a child as well as and adult. A highly motivated adult can expect the same time-investment as a child, with the added benefit of having some sense of why they are doing what they are doing--a point for adult students sometimes very under-rated and unappreciated I think.

No Yixi, I did not get your email.

Jon, that is how I approach it too. I've been zapped by spring fever the past couple weeks and getting ready for Easter though, and have had a couple nights I only got to play about an hour and a half--very frustrating--I usually go at least, 3 often much more. One of my other obsessions is gardens, and I'm really learning to juggle now.

But setting limits, though healthy in the big picture, too often turn out to be limitations and stumbling blocks rather than just good sense. 'I can't because....' is why can't never could. And when a professional world is so enculturated as to not have enough flexibility, knowledge and it often feels just basic information to help motivate anyone who does not conform to a very narrow view of that world, well, that's another topic.

April 5, 2007 at 11:56 AM · " takes a lot (a whole lot) of time to get really competent, but that is true for a child as well as and adult. A highly motivated adult can expect the same time-investment as a child, with the added benefit of having some sense of why they are doing what they are doing--a point for adult students sometimes very under-rated and unappreciated I think"

in my opinion, the fact some adults feel underappreciated is because they are simply not comparable with other adults who have started much earlier. and they expect too much. and the audience is picky, expecting a freak show, that either you are bad but very young and cute, or old enough to be very good. it sucks that we cannot legislate others' taste or the lack of. they have no interest to know how much heart and soul have gone into the piece. they just want to critique and compare.

even though adult beginners have the advantage of knowing what they want, some may have missed the window of opportunity that have benefited early starters. the early introduction of music training may help stimulate the neural and cognitive growth in kids, which in turn help promote an easier and possibly more efficient development down the road. physiologically speaking, after 40, it is downhill in terms of memory, flexibility, metabolism and wrinkles, thus an uphill battle for adult beginners to try to master a skill that requires far more than just to catch up the lost time.

does this rhetoric dismiss the approach interested adult beginners take? of course not. a person should be honest and true to one's interest. if one fancies violin, do the best one can. to me, you are your biggest fan and critic. at least should be. if others appreciate what you do, and even want to pay to hear you, it is a bonus, not a given, no matter how hard you try.

April 5, 2007 at 01:18 PM · Great, thought-provoking thread. Loved reading what ppl have written.

Chris - congratulations on arriving at that wonderful juncture in life where you realize you've found what nourishes your soul. Some people live their entire lives w/o finding this. Sad to think that. My .02 worth. With the violin, it's the journey and not the destination that will nourish you. Particularly for adult beginners (of which I am one, as well). It's a challenging journey, but enormously nourishing, which you've discovered. And the journey is what you can control (which, IMHO, translates into practice every evening, month after month, year after year, no matter how tired the day job has made you feel). The destination? In truth? You've arrived at where you're supposed to be. You're there, baby! It's fine to have goals, lofty ones at that, but just remember it's a journey-related endeavor.

April 5, 2007 at 03:34 PM · Terez, thanks for the insight, and you are correct. I have to tell you, I feel as one whose sailing vessel has just run ashore, my feet at long last and once again upon solid ground after a very long foray into the unknown. But, I now find myself home. I think many of us wander early in life, and when we tire we find our way back home. Sometimes you have to loose yourself before you can find out who you really are...your true calling in life.

And now that my tiny sailing vessel has returned my middle-aged soul (one not quite so young as when I left) to dry land, all that remains is to expore this new home and learn all it has to offer. I feel as though I sit on the shores of the eastern seaboard, and the violin is the whole of the North American continent, as yet untapped and unknown. Imagine the possibilities to do good and make it right.

April 5, 2007 at 04:43 PM · Amen, Terez.

April 5, 2007 at 04:44 PM · Chris, ever consider that your calling is poetry, as well? : )

Terez (who is on a very similar journey)

April 5, 2007 at 07:28 PM · Kinda fun reading what all you adult beginners have to say. It helps me appreciate the years my parents made me keep playing when I was young. I left it for a while and now I've come back. For what it's worth--I want everyone to know that AS AN ADULT, I've FAR FAR FAR surpassed my college days as a violin performance major. I'm improving by leaps and bounds. I played for my parents last weekend for the first time in years. They were shocked. They couldn't believe the progress. I chalk that up to putting cotton balls in my ears whenever anyone started in on some "if you haven't done it while you're young. . ." hogwash. (I always wanted to know the conclusion of that line of reasoning--then what? Give up? Glad Churchill didn't have that view). Hey, I just realized--maybe that's what my folks were teaching me as a youngster--Never give up!

April 5, 2007 at 07:24 PM · Mrs Dray,

It was nice to read you, and made me feel better as a parent to push my son to continue is learning of cello (though he never mensionned he wanted to quit). As a parent sometimes you wonder, and your comment was nice for me. I do not beleive in pushing a child to do something he really does not like, but there is time where it is nice to know that it is ok to just tell them to keep at it, because they will not regret. Even if they will not do that as a living (which in his case, I'm shure he will not).

so again thanks, for sharing that with us.

April 5, 2007 at 07:34 PM · Thanks Mr. Brabant.

Oh . . . and some more food for thought. My son's cello teacher is the head of the cello faculty at a University near hear (he flies to Boise every Friday and Saturday to give lessons), and he was mentioning to me at a recent recital that even though he's in his 70's, he's not anywhere near done learning. He listed off four or five concertos he wants to learn. I was really impressed because I thought he must know everything by now. He's given countless performances all over the place. He's one of my musical heroes. See? Never give up!

April 6, 2007 at 07:18 AM · "even though adult beginners have the advantage of knowing what they want, some may have missed the window of opportunity that have benefited early starters. the early introduction of music training may help stimulate the neural and cognitive growth in kids, which in turn help promote an easier and possibly more efficient development down the road. physiologically speaking, after 40, it is downhill in terms of memory, flexibility, metabolism and wrinkles, thus an uphill battle for adult beginners to try to master a skill that requires far more than just to catch up the lost time.

does this rhetoric dismiss the approach interested adult beginners take? of course not. a person should be honest and true to one's interest."

Thank goodness it is rhetoric--sterotypically a pretty good model of the rhetoric. More fortunately though, is that 40 was a pretty long life in 1700. We've only begun to understand how to benefit from the extended life people in the west are now experiencing--a first time scenario for humanity.

It's not that I can't accept limitations for adult beginners--it's just that the information out there as it exists is slanted, stereotype entwined, poorly understood, not really thoroughly researched, and nearly completely absent of precedence in today's contexts.

Being a caretaker for my elderly parents, I simply shudder at the thought that people are living longer and other than AARP commercials, the reality for the average elderly person is way-far from the images being projected at present.

That is why today's adult beginners in any field are trend setters, barrier levelers and in smaller ways telling the Pope that indeed, the world is round. We do not know what adults really can do, nor will we for another hundred years. Or in other words, I certainly hope that's the case and sooner rather than later. I want to environmental start law school at 60.

April 6, 2007 at 10:47 AM · I believe that it is possible for an adult to begin violin, and one day (in 20 years, or 30 years) be a great violinist on anyone's terms. It has never happened, or if it has, we don't know of it. But, I do think one day it will happen, and once it does, it will become an accepted thing. This talk one hears of muscles and bones and joints and neurons developing and getting 'set' for top-level violin playing before a certain age is dodgy science. Where is the neurological or physiological proof? If there is evidence for this belief, then it is a given that the particular scientific paper or papers upon which this belief is based will sooner or later be pushed aside by newer and different observations. Humanity can only observe what it can see in front of its nose ( and then as through a glass, dimly).

An appeal to fairness, as sometimes alluded to by those who feel that upstart johnny-come-lately adult learners with big plans do not deserve to aspire to anything beyond amateurism (which is a fine goal in principle, but not much of a goal in reality as amateurism does indeed imply lower standards), does not hold water as an argument to me. Anyone who has the talent and who has made the sacrifices, and walked the hard road necessary to make it in art, deserves to eat of the pie that they have strived so hard to make. Adult learners in music have it as hard as anyone, no matter what age. If they can hold up all the way through the learning curve, and still be standing happily at the end of it, then they deserve to be honoured (with jobs, and/or kudos) for what they have achieved, too, the same as someone who started at 3, or 5, or 2.

Competitiveness be damned. Let he stand up and be heard who will.

April 6, 2007 at 12:42 PM · al, but in 1700 no one plays violin 10 hours a day as practice in order to make it as a high level prof:) and jon, my opinion is based on the treatment that adult beginners receive now, not what they should or deserve to receive. when we talk about entitlement, it is more of an ideal than reality. to me personally, it is much more satisfying to listen to a beginner that i can relate to, young or old, to give her/his best than to listen to say,, heifetz. opps, did i say that?

the reality imo is that there is an ocean of knowledge and skills to be acquired in order to be a high level prof musician (no, i am not talking about being good enough so that one's teacher is proud of, which is a different topic and there is not much to say there except be the best you can and be happy about your effort and achievement, as with anything else in life)

but being a top level prof musician is not your average anything else in life. it is a very very demanding discipline. you first of all need the LUCK to be right person in the right place at the right time.

you need right parents, right environment, right teacher, right personality/temperament, right interest, right direction, right physique and ability to handle physical stress, right ability to handle emotional stress. all in all, even in the words of perlman, to be a good violinist that lasts is very rare. is it not? besides, you need the right neck height in your decision making on shoulder rest or not. it is complicated, man.

give or take a bit, i would put an arbitrary figure, that it takes about 20 years to reach a level of musicianship that can be considered "almost" there. if you start at 40, we are looking at 60.

can someone do it--be ready by then and be able to draw a paying audience? if this is an investment option, i will say: no. because for every opportunity i miss, i will come ahead in the other 999999. am i overlooking that one person that can make it? no, just putting it in perspective. am i hurting that one person's feelings? well... what can i say?0

there is an obligation to look at things from all sides, particular when short of cookbooks, precedents (which actually mean nothing because they are not YOUR own precedents), scientific or not. it is not about setting limits, it is about setting realistic goals and achieving them.

we set new year resolutions often enough and you finish the sentence for me. when we see people good at violin we even dream for them that they play in carnegie hall. that is the feel-good wagon with no steering wheel and motor.

my kids at their young age get praises all the time. even they by now realize others' overzealousness has no bearing on what the future holds for them. thank you but no thank you. i dunno, may be they have seen often enough how i laugh out loud rolling on the floor.

stop dreaming. just enjoy the process. and dont react when others say something about you, positive or negative, because if you truely love what you do and if you truely have a strong conviction, it does not matter. be like mr rosand and let your path speaks for you.

and don't tell me you are going to be good until you get there:) just show me later; never too late.

April 8, 2007 at 04:24 AM · Al, I agree with everything you said. It isn't a feelings thing so much, it's not a me against the world thing either, nor is it a need for just a cause encountered thing though closely related to me against the world thinking.

Just the stamina and focus to perform at 20's-30's level at 60 make it obvious that by the time one reaches that age they are not likely to care about doing Paganini even if they maybe could. The thing I keep trying to express is focusing on the religion of violin, a set of accepted mythical precepts that have not really been challenged by a hungry world in an increasing democratic environment partly; and, at the same time a persistent lack of clearly expressing positively what an adult even in general terms can hope to accomplish if the right set of circumstances present themselves in a motivated inspired passionate environment.

This oversight in beginning answers with what one can do, rather than the surprisingly really rather bland ideal of what they can't do--who'd really want to honestly--even people starting in their 20's for instance can truly achieve remarkable things if things happen correctly, with graduating expectations of similar excellence based on older ages and abilities. I've never really focused on the exception you gave room for, but simply on trying to explore and find what later beginners 'can do' in general terms.

Twice now for example the narrow view of the actual few brain surgeon/pro violinists--and there really aren't that many anyway really, formed the context of adults wanting to keep pushing forward, in ways that still really didn't get to the heart of what one 'really can do' if they work really really hard after discovering violin later in life--this was specifically the spirit of Chris's inquiry it feels; and, even after sharing the more sobering realities of the brain surgeon /pro violinist the discussion really didn't get very deeply on what Chris should do with all that excellent purpose driven sense of discovery.

It felt appropriate for instance to give Chris the message to get ahold of the areneline, but only if it were joined equally with the message of 'shoot for the stars'. For someone who really works very very hard, the world of violin is not relegated to the context of reality checks of the 10 hour practice session. Somewhere between the world of fiddle playing and more formal technique is a huge world of opportunities that when tempored with reality are available. And especially for one who finds a true love affair with violin if passion intersects abilitiy, those opportunities are even more objective.

Even among those who do start early, train 'apparently' hard, and have the wherewithal for all the pressures you outlined, there also is a lot more variability, imperfections, and flaws present that oddly hasn't really entered the discussion as well. This is true of all musicians, and was a much better accepted part of the world of music period in 1700, 1800 as well as 1900. Some have even poignantly explored this area in terms of what the arts have become versus what they really were in the past in these ways, sometimes cynically sometimes optimistically. So I see even the premise of professional violinist to be a slippery slope when giving it form by standard.

I agree just enjoy--and Chris, be encouraged.

April 17, 2007 at 05:49 AM · Chris,

Your chances at making it in music are akin to this scenario:

Imagine you're 37 and you suddenly decided to (pick one):

-Be a professional baseball player (never held a bat)

-Ride in the Tour de France (never ridden a bike)

-Skate pairs in the Beijing Olympics (not with Will Ferrell) (never been on skates)

-Be a physics professor (never had calculus)

Go for it. But don't quit your day job.


April 17, 2007 at 11:22 AM · Jon, while you're at it - attempting to master the violin when well into adulthood and in the teeth of three centuries of evidence to the contrary - are you also playing without a chinrest or shoulder rest? You're right. It's never been done. Just keep at it. I'm sure that sooner or later the very laws of physics will stand aside in the face of your adamantine will. And people like me, who thought we knew firsthand what is involved in actually playing the violin, will stand abashed and humbled as you, chinrest-less, shoulder-restless and 80 years old, soar gloriously through the Sibelius Concerto with Vienna Phil.

Such prattle depresses me, and rather makes me lose hope for the very future of classical music performance. It makes me want to quit this site, and quit the profession. Not out of jealousy, nor concern that you may one day surpass Heifetz, though you started at 40. No. I become so despondent from the terrifying thought that it's people like you - people who don't know the difference between good and bad, sensible and senseless - whom I'm supposed to reach out and touch. With the level of imperviousness to outside stimuli (information, in this case) that you constantly display, even if I COULD affect you with my playing, I'd know it wasn't me doing the affecting but the little record player in your head.

And when the quality of the performer is so irrelevant and incomprehensible to the intended audience, what point is there in publicly performing?

(And, incidentally, the unfairness of which I complained and to which you allude is NOT unfairness to the professionals. It is unfairness to the audience. To the student of the amateurish teacher who, through ignorance, chooses a teacher who can't play and doesn't know how to teach. A possibly talented but musically clueless beginner will find his or her options for a musical future ruined thereby. Unfairness to the newbie listener who hears the desperate scratchings of the dilettante and imagines that those mewlings are actually "violin music". And who then goes off thinking that this "violin music" is a painful experience indeed.)

April 18, 2007 at 05:55 PM · OMG this last post (Emil) is so pedantic and presomptuous. I'm just shocked and angry. Seriously, even though I agree that it's almost impossible to embrace a successful musical career as an adult beginner, what's the point of being so mean, bitter and cantakerous. I will definitely not attend any of your concerts if you ever give one in my area. What a despicable way to treat someone whose only 'mistake' was to confess he had a silly dream and would probably have bought a ticket to your performances! Shame on you. Chris, don't let people like this guy give you such a bad impression of the classical world. Most of the musicians I know (and surprisingly, especially the more successful professionals) are really nice and open minded. Cheers.

April 18, 2007 at 05:58 PM · i am really shocked and appalled by emil's response. i also agree that it is close to impossible to turn it into a profession at a late age, but that point could also be made with some elegance and consideration.

"good" music has survived for centuries and will always be there.

i don't see why the naivety and excitement of an amateur should be answered with such aggression!

and emil's note made me want to quit this site too! but luckily i do not make my decisions according to such "prattles".

April 18, 2007 at 06:09 PM · Hi, Sevi! I'm glad to see I was not the only one horrified by that despicable post!

April 18, 2007 at 07:27 PM · Hi Chris, You have a right to exist musically, no matter when you start. There is a good book about an older man who played professionally on the cello, and how hard he had to work. I can't remember the name of it, but he had no children depending on dear old dad to pay for college or braces. When I see people with an urge to "chuck the day job", I always wonder if the reason is not unfullfilled dreams? I believe dreams unfullfilled, lost opportunity and such, are the source of wanting to make dramatic shifts in life. This is just a personal observation and not based upon any studies. Now that you are playing violin, why not just enjoy yourself? Why need to achieve anything specific as you learn? Some friends and I plan to set up a chamber music group and are very serious about our adult beginner/intermediate music. We plan to have a potluck at someones home every once and a while to give a recital for our family and friends and push each other musically. Chamber music is intellectually stimulating, and you sound like a smart engineer, and beautiful to participate in even if it is with your close friends. You do have a right to exist musically so why make it so mutually exclusive to your current job and responsibilities? Although I understand your sense of urgency, consider evolution not revolution if you have people who depend on you materially.

Good luck and find some people like yourself to hang with.

April 18, 2007 at 07:21 PM · Hey,

Yeah, Emil. Your profile page says you are very patient, but...

1. I think anybody can make it if they have good business skills, solid connections, and some money.

Do I like the idea of that? No because basically ones who have been work hard for their whole lives will be ran over by rich, brats. But it still requires hard work to break those doors even with those talents... So...

2. I think anyone can make it if they have talent, can play well (does not have to be great), and can touch or change the world through their personality in ways that other perfomers, no matter how extraordinary they are, can't.

I know some very mediocre players who get a lot of publicity throughout town. Not because they are the next Jascha Heifetz, but because their main goal is to make people laugh, smile, cry or whatever... They get tons of gigs because people like their personality.

Do I agree with this? Yes. Why? Because usually these people who work hard and still do not play so well, but have great personalities, are the ones who play for a very unselfish reason. These are the ones you see playing at the nursing homes, the children's hospitals, the hospices, and so on... They are strictly playing to make a change in someone's life. I think that is an admirable dream no matter whether you start young or later. And guess what...anyone can do this. Well, those with a caring personality can. And not only does your audience benefit from the joy you bring them, but you benefit because people call you and pay you for different events if they liked you.

The goal to become an international soloist, making big bucks, is a out a little out there. And not just for late-starters.

Do I agree with this? A dream is a dream. And if someone is just playing an instrument to make money and sit on some pedestal where people worship them then that is their business. No, I do not agree with this mentality, but hey...

If only this idea of competition were not in the world then anyone can please or not please our ears with their music...

But since we do live in the competitive society...we, I mean late-starters and other unfortunate souls who missed out on the rich opportunities that life has to offer, need to maneuver and twist through the cracks of the system in order to get what we want.

And I will not elaborate on that...


April 19, 2007 at 01:16 AM · Emil--I'm that talented kid whose career was "ruined" by an ameteurish teacher. Without her, I wouldn't have my violin at all. I kiss the ground she walks on. Luckily I survived it and I'm playing the pieces I've always wanted to play anyway. I guess I could look back and wonder "what if?" but that seems like such a waste of time.

April 18, 2007 at 09:07 PM · Hi Chris,

I think it's great that you love the violin! It's essential to be very passionate. It's also wonderful that you are so ambitious. Keep your dreams. That's a good thing. And stay focused and keep practicing. Practice like a dog. If you love it, which you do, then it's not work. It's fun! Keep studying. That's wonderful that your teacher is so pleased with your progress. I absolutely believe that there are possibilities for you to make some money if you are talented and you play well enough. Good luck! Keep up the good work!! I'm certain that there must be some other musicians out there who started late and are now playing professionally. There are also plenty of musicians who, for one reason or another, stopped for a number of years and came back to it and have resumed their professional careers. One of the most inspiring stories for any musician is Leon Fleischer. And although he's a pianist, his story is amazing. He came back to two-handed playing again after a 30-year break.

April 18, 2007 at 11:39 PM · Emil said..."are you also playing without a chinrest or shoulder rest?"...

You know, there are quite a few respected Baroque violinists out there who do just that. There are many avenues to successful careers and not just one style of playing.

April 19, 2007 at 03:35 AM · EMIL! Shame shame shame on you.... If you weren't so darn talented, I'd wrap wet noodles 'round your bowing hand!. ;). Then, I'd make you spend at least 6 months playing twinkle variations--then, ....

Had I not read your blogs and know your ability to free associate, I'd have taken you more seriously. I know an old man who started piano at about 60, and can now play light classical, is more than qualified to do most things like weddings and so forth, and though he probably shouldn't bother with heavy Chopin, Liszt or maybe more taxing Mozart, he can jam!.

Now, and uh 1, and uh two: A-A-E-E-F#-F#-E....

April 19, 2007 at 05:25 AM · I'm kind of mystified as to how anyone knew what Emil was actually saying....was it good or bad? Does someone have a decoder ring?

April 19, 2007 at 05:49 AM · I agree with Scott. I'm not sure if we have read Emil correctly.

Personally, I feel that we armatures need sober thoughts like that. It’s bitter medicine for some for sure, nevertheless, I think it was uttered sincerely and well-intended.

We all want to be supportive here, but being supportive doesn’t mean giving good news only. Balance is the key, and I think Emil’s post at least offers this.

April 19, 2007 at 05:39 AM · "...chinrest-less, shoulder-restless...soar gloriously through the Sibelius Concerto..."

Actually the U.S. premier of the Sibelius concerto was chinrest-less, shoulder-restless :)

Now that's tradition!

April 19, 2007 at 05:39 AM · Emil was being realistic, not ill-intentioned.

April 19, 2007 at 05:32 AM · Ah Chris, forget about the violin. Go get a nice sportscar, a new wife and join a gym. This is a much better way to enjoy your midlife crisis, don't you think?

Seriously, you should play all you want, if you want, but starting a career on the violin is for folks who have literally thousands of hours of free time and access to the best teachers. You realistically probably have neither of these luxuries. Also, keep in mind that it's hard to get even low paying jobs in music, even with great connections and youth on your side. By "hard", I mean that even folks who go to great music schools, study for literally years, play for years in "training" orchestras of various types, or do small solo gigs, even these folks more often than not are unable to find a good job. So yes, you DO have a small but finite chance of having a career in music. My 78 year old father might climb Mt. Everest without oxygen too. After all, he was a ranger in the US army!

That's the bad news... but the good news is why bother with all of that? Just enjoy the process of learing violin as you take each step with your teacher AND with a chinrest! Play lots of chamber music with your friends and know that at least you'll recognize Josh Bell in the metro if you see him. And if you're ever in DC, look me up and I'll happily play duets at any level with you.

April 19, 2007 at 06:16 AM · Kimberlee, I always love your posts, as they are always so thoughtful, helpful and gracious. Like you, I also learned to play the violin when I was young and was taught by an amateur teacher that I just adore and am grateful to this day. I didn't major in music and picked up the violin again after 20 years gap. Now 8 months later, I’m playing better than I ever could. So I completely agree with you that one can progress fast as an adult, but I also think that those of us learned the violin at a tender age do have the advantage (or the foundation) that the beginners in their 30 or older don’t have. And I'm not sure, given they lack of this foundation, they can progress as fast as we like to hope.

That’s been said, I completely agree with you that we must never give up our dreams and we must fight for them, because

"Life is a game of inches; ... Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small... Half a step too late or too early, and you don't quite make it. Half a second too slow or too fast, you don't quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They're in every break of the game. Every minute, every second, on this team, we fight for that inch."

~*~ Yixi's favorite Sandy’s Quote~*~

April 19, 2007 at 06:25 AM · I was going to write a lengthy explanation of why Bernardo, Sevi, and even Albert were off base, including a tangent about the proper use of words like "pedantic" and "presumptuous". And about the inadvisability of trying to use words whose meaning you don't know and whose spelling you can't be bothered to double-check. But then Scott's post checked me. After all, if even he can't understand what I'm talking about, any thorough train of reasoning is just going to confuse people. So here's the nub of it:


Chris is the engineer thinking about turning his violin lessons begun at 37 into a profession. Hardly a parallel to Fleisher, yes? Or to Kimberlee, who DID have lessons as a kid. Here's what I wrote to Chris:

From Emil Chudnovsky

Posted on April 2, 2007 at 10:37 PM (MST)

"I, for one, heartily wish for a return of the fine old tradition of well-educated and accomplished amateurs playing both alone and in groups. But though it's politically incorrect, and though it may seem discouraging, I think it essential to state the harsh facts for someone who's even idly considering leaving a paying job and profession to try making a living in music.

My take on it is that you can't. There are some caveats and exceptions, to be sure..."

In short, I was going for the realistic approach without being harsh. And while offering a laudable alternative (namely, devoted amateurism a la mid-19th century European middle class).

My harsh post was directed at Jon. Now, Jon is the gent who feels that because he enjoys playing the violin without a chin-rest all arguments to the contrary are a stifling of his freedom of speech. We've had our spats before, on other threads. So why'd I pick on poor li'l Jon in this thread? Here's why:

(Summary of the original post to Chris): From Emil Chudnovsky

Posted on April 2, 2007 at 10:37 PM (MST)

"...But community orchestras don't pay what regular jobs pay. In communities with conservatory-trained violinists, do you think it likely (or fair, frankly) to have someone with incomplete skills and knowledge seeking to support an entire family by passing along those incomplete skills through teaching?

I know that there are some truths that are unpleasant. But sugar-coating them - like seeking to prove gravity doesn't exist - only makes the Quixotic effort seem ridiculous, not noble.


Jon's reply: From Jon O'Brien

Posted on April 6, 2007 at 3:47 AM (MST)

"An appeal to fairness, as sometimes alluded to by those who feel that upstart johnny-come-lately adult learners with big plans do not deserve to aspire to anything beyond amateurism...If they [adult learners] can hold up all the way through the learning curve...they deserve to be honoured (with jobs, and/or kudos) for what they have achieved, too, the same as someone who started at 3, or 5, or 2."

Now, is it just me or is that a reference to yours truly? My sarcastic, exasperated and despondent post was then referring back to Jon's earlier, chinrest-less quest as well as a final, parenthetical paragraph correcting his having put inaccurate or misunderstood words into my mouth about what fairness was implied. The sarcasm of the first paragraph was a carry-over from previous discussions and a recognition that this was turning into another one of those.

And finally, Patricia, if you search for a thread called "Snuggle Up To A Naked Violin" on the discussion board, you'll see Jon's original chin-rest-less question. Which SPECIFIED that he wanted to play "modern", not baroque violin. I won't argue the pros and cons of chin-rest-less baroque playing as A) I don't play baroque violin and B) I well recall the picture in L. Mozart's "Violinschule" with him holding the violin - allegedly in an approved-of manner - against his shoulder. Sort of like a country fiddler. However, try playing Nel Cor Piu like that, or without a shoulder rest (or, for that matter, a Brahms sonata) and you'll rapidly find yourself wondering why it sounds awful and hurts worse. And if the player making that experiment ISN'T wondering that, I'd be wondering about his or her hearing and self-perception.

April 19, 2007 at 05:27 AM · I'm tempted to say something, but I'm not sure what.

Keep striving, keep dreaming, yes.

But maybe I can shed some light on Emil's rather un-embroidered diatribe.

I'll just tell a story from my last week, and maybe it will illustrate something about being a professional musician:

I tanked an audition. Practiced extremely hard. Second time I tried out for this orchestra; I'm a sub. How long had I been playing the concerto? Nine years. Nine of the 30 years that I've played the violin. How long had I been playing the 12-some orchestral excerpts? Longer. But I brushed them up, as if I were playing them in some concerto competition. Put my family through a lot, practicing three hours a day for the month before the audition.

Then when I was walking on stage to play, I got really nervous, as in, panic-attack kind of nervousness. Would have completely fallen apart into a pile if I'd prepared less; as such, I just made it through my 10 minutes in front of a screen, behind which was the committee of musicians whom I know and deeply respect. Walked off the stage bitterly, bitterly disappointed in myself.

Sometimes it sounds like you guys are saying this is easy, and that anyone can do it. It really involves quite a lot. It involves doing the next audition, after an experience like that.

April 19, 2007 at 06:29 AM · Brava Laurie...

April 19, 2007 at 06:22 AM · And by the way, I have NO COMMENT on shoulder rests! ;) (Please people, don't get started, I beg you!)

April 19, 2007 at 07:08 AM · It’s awfully hard!! Laurie, you probably did a lot better than you thought.

I’m having my solo in three weeks in front of some violin teachers, young students and their parents. I’m working hard on the piece everyday before and after work, but I don’t think I’ll be prepared for the performance. Now here is the difference, being an amateur, I don’t have the pressure the professionals do. My teacher appears to be more nervous than I am. I’m going to have fun, and if I play badly, I’ll learn from the experience and I’m sure it’ll be one of the many such lessons that I’ll be learning. If I feel bad about my performance during the weekend, I'll go back the next day to my day job (which also requires hard work) and got completely absorbed by that. Well, who says anything should be easy if we are to push our limits and fight for that inch...

April 19, 2007 at 07:54 PM · Ahh..

And they all lived Happily Ever After....

April 19, 2007 at 09:29 PM · Chris,

I feel compelled to respond to your posting, after a more careful reading, because:

1) I am a civil engineer who feels like a round peg in a square hole.

2) I wrestled with the prospect of becoming a professional violinist while in engineering school.

3) I have a small child and am happily married.

4) I ended up getting an MBA (where I also felt like a round peg in a square hole)

Learning the violin, playing the violin for fun is a whole lot different than doing it as a profession. I learned this in a variety of ways - while studying at the Menuhin Academy Summer Course in Switzerland and in Lenk, Switzerland with Sandor Vegh. I met a lot of professional violinists - not all the happiest people I've ever met. I also considered studying in Philadelphia - and Joseph DePasquale offered me a full scholarship to study viola with him at PCPA (Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts) which I turned down.

The MBA has been a tremendous thing for me. I got it for a variety of reasons, not all particularly noble.

1)It allowed my wife's family to more readily accept me.

2) Regardless of what I did afterwards, even if it was the violin, the MBA would always be useful. No matter what you do for a living, understanding how business is undertaken in a variety of industries is very eye opening, mind expanding, and increases your comfort level for decisionmaking in an office, or in other arenas.

When one has some understanding of management principles and finance to back up your decisions, it lends a lot of support to whatever argument you're trying to pose.

It has enabled me to understand the inner workings of an office.

The violin has proven to be a wonderful hobby, and engineering has become much more interesting now that I know the business side.

When one finds out what being a professional musician is really like, it's not so bad being an amateur, IMHO.

Can you make your engineering job fit you better? One thing about most jobs is that they are constantly changing - you might not like it today, but maybe you'll like it tomorrow. Unless you're in government - which I was for 12 years. The focus of most government jobs is to get votes for the politicians. If you're a politician, or a very political person, then they're the place for you. If you're an engineer, it's hard to be particularly gratified in government. Now that I'm on the private side, I find engineering much more rewarding.

The other thing is that, as a business, music is not a "high margin business". It's really really tough to make a lot of money in music. This is not the software industry, google, youtube, manufacturing in China, or some other expanding new market. You'll be as successful at getting rich by opening a dry cleaner, a latte stand, a video rental store, or a pet store. Obviously, playing the violin, for all of us on this website, is vastly superior to the options above. But you have to really love it to do it as a profession.


April 19, 2007 at 09:29 PM · Terri...

What a moving, insightful, honest post. Kudos to you for preserving your integrity while sustaining your love for the violin.

Was it Fritz Kreisler who said that amateurs were the true, knowledgable musicians?

April 19, 2007 at 09:42 PM · Andrew,

Yes, I've heard that Kreisler quote before too.

It seems like being an amateur gives one a lot of "fodder" for expression. The problem is having or acquiring the technique and knowledge to be able to express all that "fodder" ;)

April 19, 2007 at 11:25 PM · I think Emil is right that it's almost impossible to make a paying career of it when starting so late. However, I believe that there are some people who have a talent, of the remarkable kind, who could defy the laws of this business. Of course, with the conservatory and university system, it's kind of been determined that if you aren't proficient by your 20s, that it's pretty much useless. This is compacted by the age fetshisim in classical music, and the fact that it actually falls neatly in line with the rest of society. The average age of medical, law, and engineering students is all mid to late 20s, so it's not like music is any different. The whole way the world is set up prevents someone older from succeeding, purely because by the age of 40, you'd definately need to be supporting yourself, and that means not enough time to become a virtuoso.

However, if you yourself are a reasonable person with a moderately healthy mental constitution, and you are convinced of your abilities, I'm sure that at some point you could convince other people that you are good enough (regardless of your age). However, that's never happened to my knowledge.

April 20, 2007 at 01:11 AM · I still think it's a midlife crisis thing...

April 20, 2007 at 05:03 AM · Chris,

I was in your situation, though 180 degrees reversed: last year, at the age of 41, I had gotten into law school. Even had a small scholarship and did an internship at the DA. I wanted to dump music for so many reasons: the pay is low. It's difficult. Frustrating. etc. I figured being a lawyer would solve all my problems: I'd have a fascinating career and make a pile of money and prove to the world how smart I was. Like you, I romaticized it: I imagined myself defending the downtrodden, putting away child molesters and cleverly shredding my opponents in court.

However, there is one thing you must understand about human nature: we are notoriously bad judges of what may or may not make us happy. We think if only we had that husband, that child, that big-screen tv we'll be happy. If only we had that violin, or one of those bows, if only we got into that orchestra. If only we made a little more, were a little taller, we'd finally be happy.

In the end, I realized that going to law school wouldn't solve any of my problems--it would just introduce new ones. And another

$1000 a month in load payments till I died. I simply had no way of knowing if I wanted it, and would pay a huge price for this adventure, and so would my wife and child. So I decided to make the most of what I already know: music.

I would suggest that the heart is notoriously fickle, and that it not necessarily be used for decision-making of this sort.


April 20, 2007 at 02:28 PM · Terry, it’s amazing how different skills, talents and trainings we have can work together, instead creating a torn heart, the combination gives us a fuller life. It takes a bit of perspective, not compromise.

And Scott, I just saw your post. How interesting! I went to law school in later part of my life too, but I didn't go in there for the glory or money. I simply wasn't happy about institutionalized philosophy that I was doing and thought there must be more to life than armchair theory-making. Although I hated law school, it did give me the chances to learn how the society is formally ordered and how things work in this part of the world. As soon as I finished articling, I decided that's enough of lawyering and I'm move on. Now I'm working for the government as a policy maker, with a lot of mobility from ministries to ministries, working and learning all sorts of interesting areas of law and practice while getting well-paid. I don't utilize all my other skills and talents all the time but they come handy from time to time, and having them just makes my everyday experience easier, as I can appreciate layers and dimensions of things better now.

I guess, Scott, I'm echoing your point that we can be very misled by our dreams, or mislead by the carrots that other people strategically put in front of us such as the way law schools and the law firms often do to the law students. However, I don't believe we need to blame the dream or our heart when things don’t turn out the way we dreamed. Maybe if we look at things differently and we work with the result creatively, we may find the end is nothing like what we originally planed, but only much better and more interesting.

When things don't go the way I want, a helpful question I like to ask myself is, am I answering to the possibilities the world offers?

April 20, 2007 at 12:50 PM · I think Pieter has put his finger on the difficulty of this idea well. It is unusual, but I think there are some people of truly exceptional talent who do not fit the accepted pattern, and the world would be a lesser place to say that such people do not, or cannot, exist. Yes, it is difficult and unreasonable to expect to make a place for such people. The world is not like that. I accept that.

Though it draws ire I still believe what I believe. Someone oneday will make it. Unreasonableness and all.

April 20, 2007 at 08:01 AM · I am with Howard on this. It's like falling in love with a girl half your age, no one wants to listen to the advice of well-meaning friends.

April 20, 2007 at 08:19 AM · That worked for Art Bell, who's now my idol.

April 20, 2007 at 01:59 PM · Interesting debate all around - but it is worth mentioning (in support of Emil) that the original poster did ask: 'what can I realistically expect?'

Then there are the whole questions of what a career and what success are. Emil's concept of a musical career proably doesn't agree with what many people (especially Americans) think, because of how he's been educated, raised, and what he does - the circles he moves in. Obviously the viewpoint of an international concert artist will be somewhat different from that of a small-town music teacher. Note, I haven't said anything about validity. And I think that's where the problem comes in.

Jon wrote:

"An appeal to fairness, as sometimes alluded to by those who feel that upstart johnny-come-lately adult learners with big plans do not deserve to aspire to anything beyond amateurism...If they [adult learners] can hold up all the way through the learning curve...they deserve to be honoured (with jobs, and/or kudos) for what they have achieved, too, the same as someone who started at 3, or 5, or 2."

A lot of people deserve things in music that they don't get. Music is a tough world. I deserve a better instrument, but I'm broke and too old to get a loaner from a foundation. That's life. Like Laurie, I had an audition yesterday where I was petrified. I was the best one who played, and several members of the orchestra came backstage to encourage me to apply again. I didn't get the job - in fact, they broke off the audition because the general level was too low. Did I deserve the job - or to play another round? Probably. But this is the way it works in the music world. Things are pretty cutthroat when you start looking for full-time, regular work that pays well. Upwards of 150 people apply for orchestra positions, and less than a fifth of them even get the chance to audition. The Juilliard school accepts 6% of its applicants - and they don't necessarily get jobs afterwards. German music schools educate 5 times the number of students needed to fill jobs at music schools, in schools, and in orchestras. That's 80% un- or underemployment. Orchestra positions are being cut - in Europe, in Canada - things will be getting worse.

This, unfortunately, is my reality as a professional violinist with two degrees and several years of experience. And Emil's reality is similar to, or even more cutthroat than, this.

Now there's nothing to say this is the only reality, and that we don't need people to spread interest in and love of music, regardless of their years of experience, technical/musical skills, and when they started. And your 'soft-skills' - networking, attitude, communication, working with kids - will often get you places, even if there are others who may be 'more qualified' on paper. And you may be able to make a living - and you may be happy and fulfilled. And you as a late starter may beat out dozens of players who started at two at a professional audition. Good on you! It's a great goal, and may sometimes be achieved - but the odds are slim and it's a damn tough world out there.

And that's my reality - and probably Emil's and Andrew's as well. In music, you can only stay starry-eyed for so long if you want to make a living working full-time and successfully in your field. And whatever you deserve, there will always be others who deserve it too. You can't have a feeling of entitlement - otherwise you'll be disappointed.

April 20, 2007 at 10:29 AM · It's nice to work in a field where being scared out of your wits isn't the normal condition.

April 20, 2007 at 05:56 PM · Another good question is what kind of professional job do you want to start? (Teacher, chamber musician, orchestral musician, soloist, jazz, bluegrass, latin jazz, classical, etc. etc.) Then, talk to people who have that job, find out what it might take to get those skills, and see if it really is what you want.

Taking lessons, having some aptitude, and enjoying learning is one thing. Making it a career is another. It doesn't matter what the profession.

My experience is that school is almost always more fun and exciting than work. But in one you're paying tuition, in the other you are getting paid, or receiving tuition. The dynamic is obviously very very different.

April 20, 2007 at 09:53 PM · Chris -

Well, you've seen the reactions from all sorts of people - professional and amateur, performing and teaching, musicians and music lovers. Some may have been a bit strong on their points (Emil), while still absolutely right.

Megan - you nailed it on the head. Chris DID ask for a realistic answer, and well, I think with Emil's post, it should have definitely delivered the point across.

To those of you who have criticized Emil for being so blunt, well....:

Unfortunately, we live in a world where sugar coating things has almost become an expectation. Emil and I were both raised in a world and culture where you were told black or white. There was no sugar coating... in fact, most of the time we didn't have sugar to coat thing with! (;-) I have noticed this with some of my students, and some of the teachers I have encountered in my years. There is a sense of trying to tip-toe around an issue. Some students need that, either because their self-esteem is not strong enough to take the full bluntness, or for whatever reason.

I, for one, am not able to do that... I just can't say "...Well, that's very nice, how about trying this?" after a student butchers a piece. I will say it how it is, and if they can't take it, then they are not cut out for this line of work.

Perhaps some people are disillusioned about the music world... Perhaps it seems to the outsiders that we simply show up to a concert, smile some, and play some music together. Well... at a certain point in your life, that's exactly what happens. BUT! To get to that point - it's simply survival of the fittest. I speak from experience since I've gone through that. Luckily for me, I ended up with a great job.

So, back to Chris:

Look - if you love music and violin so much that you were seriously considering giving up your day job - great. But - If you are planning on supporting your family with violin at THIS point, I would strongly suggest against that.

You, know - there are plenty other fields within music that you could apply yourself to - probably a hundred different jobs within management alone. And with your passion and love for music - you could do great things for those of us who are performing it every day.

Megan - Bravo on a beautiful post.

April 21, 2007 at 12:36 AM · Igor wrote:

You, know - there are plenty other fields within music that you could apply yourself to - probably a hundred different jobs within management alone.

Actually, as I went back thru the thread, I see that this is the answer Chris wanted, but he wanted details. Does anyone want to start the list of "a hundred different jobs..."?

April 21, 2007 at 04:39 AM · Igor,

Good honest and sincere post, Bravo!

I can relate to your comment regarding being black and white and received a lot of “tough love” because that was how I was brought up in Communist China. Personally, to this day I still prefer sticks than carrots when it comes to teachers and mentors, as I get no nonsense solid advice this way and don’t get self-deceived into believing I am somebody while I’m not. I don’t know what Chris’ teacher is like, but when I was first reading his post, the thought did occur to me that his teacher should give him a realistic picture about the profession and his potentials. Maybe his did but Chris didn’t hear. Who knows?

There are times it irks me that, instead of offering the bloody truth that obvious to any sane observers, people only say things what other people want to hear. I used to spend a lot of time listening to my friends’ stories and giving them the kind of honest advice that I would like to receive myself for the similar situation. And you know what, most people in North America aren’t used to this and I got burnt again and again, even lost dear friends in some most heartbreaking manners. I used to blame these people for not being able to handle truth, but later I realize that it’s really hard to be at the receiving end if they aren’t used to this type of treatment.

As for the reactions we got on this thread, are you surprised? Which v-commie doesn’t know, when it comes to emails, people can’t hear the tone of your voice and your body language so things can come across a lot harsher than they really are? And yet, again and again, people (include myself probably) write things offend others. In fact, I won’t be surprised that if you are offended by this message, even though I meant everything I wrote out of utter respect of you. So “sugarcoating” may be a necessary requirement if we want to have a constructive online discussion.

Anyway, sugarcoating or not, I just want to say that your last post touched me and I feel like I know you as a person a lot more and hope you’ll post more.



April 21, 2007 at 05:15 AM · Chris, you feel the love. It doesn't get any better. It's sort of a weird world. You wouldn't get this reaction if you were trying out for the NFL but the situation is kind of similar, maybe. So, better and easier to become an NFL manager or something. There was a point where I had a glimpse into the business side of music. My immediate reaction was I want that; not performing; these guys are the bosses. Anyway...

P.S. Yes, the Chi-coms did seem to have more sticks than carrots :)

April 21, 2007 at 05:21 AM · Yixi!

I'm with you 100% percent... :-)

April 22, 2007 at 06:41 AM · From Igor: "Look - if you love music and violin so much that you were seriously considering giving up your day job - great"

Why is this great? His wife will divorce him and he'll be living in a trailer without health insurance.

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