one case study on money management for music training

May 12, 2007 at 05:16 AM · money magazine article that details a family's journey in supporting 2 talented kids' music education,,, some of you may find it educational and eye-opening.

Replies (22)

May 12, 2007 at 12:13 PM · I have several students that are being raised by their Mom, with no financial help from the Dad. These Moms never whine about the cost about anything, but then again, these Moms have a J-O-B.

They also don't own six (SIX!!) horses.

May 12, 2007 at 12:46 PM · anne, how about some goldfish instead?:)

at least to me this article is eye opening in that even with that father's decent income, they still have to make the ends meet because of the escalating costs associated with the pursuit of music.

what i find puzzling is that they would count on winning competition as potential income.

anyway, i think the sacrifice by the family team admirable. i hope fate will reward the kids in time.

May 12, 2007 at 01:17 PM · Mr. Ku, we as a society have an obligation to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. The mentally retarded, the injured military veterans, hurricane victims, folks like that.

If this college-degreed, able-bodied Mom doesn't want to get a J-O-B, well, fine. But then she shouldn't complain about what she can and cannot afford.

As I stated, I never had a Single Mom (with no child support coming in, I might add), complain about $$$. Certainly not about the lesson fees I charge. Those Moms I know have J-O-B-S.

As for the competition the article refers to, the Blount-Slawson Young Artists Competition, run by the Montgomery Symphony League, is one of the top-paying competitions in this country, for the teen age range. I sub with that orchestra, and therefore I have heard all the prizewinners in recent years, and the level of contestants is sky-high. If this Mom wants to count on various competitions to pay the bills, maybe she should realize that The House odds in Vegas are a bit more in her favor.

I guess I was brought up Old School. Four good words to remember, that my parents taught me: "I Can't Afford It".

May 12, 2007 at 06:02 PM · It is a little hard to say if it is sacrifice or indulgence. So far, they seem to refuse to make hard choices. Won't real sacrifice be letting go some of good things to be financially independent in their retirement so that their kids pursue their career without the burden of taking care of their parents? Also wonder if it wouldn't have been a better career move for the older one to wait and go to a renowned conservatory in a couple years even if it meant she keeps $18,000 violin instead of $115,000 one.

Anne, I agree. If there is one bargain in my life, it's the violin lesson for my daughter. They work so hard and so accomodating.

When a welfare mom buys a $150 pair sneakers for her boy, do we admire, What sacrifice?


May 12, 2007 at 05:40 PM · Can it be necessary to have a $115000 violin to carry on with this program? I've heard of a number of players who can function professionally with instruments costing in the low 5 figures (10-25000).

May 12, 2007 at 06:10 PM · The guy needs to vanish without a trace.

May 12, 2007 at 06:44 PM · spoiled...

May 12, 2007 at 08:11 PM · Money, money, money!

The more you have the more you spend, and when all fails, there’s always the media. Why not beg the world to help? And by the way, since the girls will not be paying any attention to this so if the money is there, all will be happy ever after!

It’s bizarre and sad. Indeed, the parents should vanish without a trace.

May 12, 2007 at 07:53 PM · I hope for the daughters' sake that the whole house of cards doesn't come crashing down around their ears, but the situation sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. I don't think it has very much to do with music, though. The parents, especially the mother, sound globally out of touch and irresponsible. And if it hadn't been music it could have been tennis, or acting, or whatever.

"Encouraged by teachers . . . they didn't question the costs." Um, isn't that their job as parents, to question? $115K on a violin--on anything except something like a life-saving bone marrow transplant--when you have no savings, no life insurance, and you're living beyond your means?

I also thought that idea of the mother's, to accelerate their daughters' homeschooling in order to get them into college faster, wasn't very good. So one of them is now going to the College of Saint Rose, a school that recently made the news for the antics of one if its alumnae, Marilee Jones--the disgraced former Dean of Admissions at MIT--who didn't even think enough of her degree from there to put it on her resume. Shouldn't they really be trying to go to Juilliard or Curtis or Eastman or somewhere like that if they want a musical career?


May 12, 2007 at 08:34 PM · I believe it was Einstein said that only human stupidity and the universe are infinite, although he wasn’t sure about the later. These are well educated parents... words are beyond me.

May 12, 2007 at 09:52 PM · I can so easily see how this happens. My son, the lapsed violinist, is a horserider. The worlds between horseriding and violin are surprising analagous.

He has 8 and 9 year old friends who have had $25,000 spent on their horses and gear. Regardless of the parents' income (something around $100,000), that's an extraordinary amount to fork out on a child. Considering that he and his mates have great fun and great results on an itsy-bitsy fraction of that amount.

What I see, is that in fact those kids don't have the inner confidence in their abilities, because the parents are making such an effort to equip them with the best, instruct them by the best, dress them in the best. So there is a lingering doubt that of their own making, they cannot BE the best. And the all consuming nature of attending competitions, instruction, preparation, etc, and the reliance that these kids have on their parents for their participation, means that the parents and the child become unhealthily intertwined. I think it becomes as much the parents' goal as the child's, the child has only one choice if they want to still reap the benefits of parental favour and attention, and the parent goes on and on making decisions about how to get the child up the next rung of the ladder but they are so overinvolved that they can't look at it objectively as to whether it really is necessary or whether they are just responding to their own inner fear that their child won't make it.

What gets interesting is how intact families and pathological families each deal with the explosiion when the child doesn't reach that ultimate bar of success, or quits, or absconds, or finds more interest in mating activities.

May 12, 2007 at 10:23 PM · this is just absurd. being a good musician does NOT require a violin in excess of $100,000 before you're even a professional. getting your kid some good lessons from a reputable teacher is one thing, but shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars that you don't have for your kids is ridiculous, especially when it comes at the cost of your basic necessities.

also, most successful college musicians buy their instruments on their own, via student loans and grants, and these are students who win competitions and jobs with orchestras and stuff.

it's also ridiculous that the teenage violinist "outgrew" her $18k instrument. not to say that there aren't fine young violinists out there, but i think the parents are getting duped by a combination of what the teachers want/think the parents can afford and the kids wanting better and better instruments.

also, why aren't these kids at curtis?

i think i'm going to go vomit now.

May 13, 2007 at 01:24 AM · Sharelle - Just curious, what happens to these families when their kids don't "make"? Disappointed obviously but beyond that what could possibly happen?

I read a lot about unhealthy tight families, and I certainly believe it is not ideal. And yet if I look at the statistics, their kids don't have external problems like drugs, drop out, etc. So why is it so wrong?


May 13, 2007 at 02:56 AM · Wow-- I just read this article and my eyes almost fell out. I have to admire the bravery of this family for being willing to put their finances out for all to see-- but the amount they've spent on their kids' instruments instead of paying taxes baffles me.

Reading later into the article I note that they were recording for a big chamber music competition in May. I'm in a hotel room at that competition now, and that group did not make the cut-- they aren't here. My daughter, with her four thousand dollar Chinese viola and a carbon fiber bow, did. I'm not suggesting that my way is better, but only pointing out that you can get away with spending less.

I don't think it's realistic to count on fees from competitions to support precollege musicians, but my two music daughters and their quartet have earned over six thousand dollars in performance fees, both from gig money and from staging a benefit concert, and this has gone directly to cover their own costs.

The article makes a good point, that it's very expensive to raise classical musicians, but by picking a family with such extreme finances and unusual indulgences (six horses?) they distort the original question.

May 13, 2007 at 07:25 AM · That's insanity. Whoever advised them to spend 200k should be fired. Two questions for the parents A) Did you consult modern makers B) How much commission did this teacher get; because clearly that can be the only logical explaination for them advising a middle class family to spend a small fortune on instruments.

A fool and his money are easily parted...

May 13, 2007 at 07:42 AM · I just... don't feel sorry for them.

I wanted a pony and I never got one.

May 13, 2007 at 11:31 AM · wow, a lot of interesting points raised. man, it is quite amazing how people look at a glass half full.

i will respond to some points made thus far.

1. 100k violin: given their asset level, it is indeed a big splurge. but wait! isn't there a school in existence that considers good violin a good investment? no, i am not being facetious. if the kid is dead serious about playing violin as a career, is there really a time that can be considered too early to purchase a great violin knowing full well she is already doing high level competitions and that to each and every one of you, the tone is what really matters? what if, that the family got the violin at 100k now appraised at 150k? personally, i know of one family that sold an apartment in ny area to get the kid a very expensive violin. the finance was tight, but the kid's playing was truely outstanding. back in the good ole days when joshua bell swapped his strad for a better sounding one, he did not really have the money ready for it. if his career did not take off, how do we assess his 4m gambit?

2. mom not working: some very serious musician-producing families will have one full time parent stay back to support the kid's needs. i have seen it done often. in fact, i have seen one-parent working families in the general population quite often these days, when both parents have been highly trained professionally. it is a personal choice, a family decision, when taking into consideration of many factors.

3. feeling sorry, disgusted, etc by the family: since the article is in Money, not Psychology Today, how about the money mag's financial advice going forward?

4. sacrifice vs indulgence: a good one..tough to answer. i think the whole classical music thingy is an indulgence,,,in pursuit of beauty, in pursuit of happiness (burp), or something that is enjoyable. of course, there is no way to tell how the parents would have allocated their time and resources had they have no kids at all, or have kids with very simple interests like backyard vegie growing or backyard bird watching. still, i find the family's total dedication to a cause that they believe in (debatable to some of you) admirable.

May 13, 2007 at 12:11 PM · Aren't there charitable trusts in North America that can loan good quality instruments to talented young students?

May 13, 2007 at 01:01 PM · Al - I think sacrifice is when one lets go present comfort for a long term good. In this family, the parents' spending is actually hurting girls' chances even though the spending is done for their sake. Girls are already under enough pressure without the financial burden. Mom's indulgence in give them best now is preventing her to give the best in the future for her kids. This is a mom for whom $18K violin wasn't good enough. I don't see how the same mom thinks a college education in any music school is good enough for the older daughter before she has to make it on her own in a highly competitive music world. These kids worked hard to be what they are whether they made it in competitions or not. I think they deserve more responsible guidance for their future.


May 13, 2007 at 12:49 PM · Al, financially, I think the most worrisome quote is this one:

"And while the planner would love to see Marcel and Lea start saving in earnest for their own retirement, she understands that it's a hopeless cause. She says, "They are investing everything in the girls' future and possibly making themselves dependent upon the girls' success for their support later in life."

I think the planner's advice was good, that they start saving in earnest for retirement, and what can she do when they don't take it? You can lead a horse to water, etc. They are counting on not just having their kids become successful professional musicians, but having them become spectactularly financially successful professional musicians, on the level of Sarah Chang or Joshua Bell or someone like that--international stars. Yet they're already teenagers, and they don't have a Carnegie Hall debut or the like. They don't have international reputations. Do these expectations make any sense?

So let's say they become professors of music at conservatories, get jobs in good orchestras, make some recordings that sell well by classical music standards, or all of the above. Great! They'll make a decent living. But they still will be burdened with not only their own financial issues but their parents' debt as well, and given the ages of the parents, that day is not that far off. Software engineering is not the most secure field in the world, either--even now, the father could lose his job. And the mother, at 53, is already nearing retirement age. The planner was right on that it's going to be hard for her to find a job--any kind of job--to even retire from, if she starts looking at age 60, having been out of the work force for decades.

And what if the daughters want families of their own? In 10-15 years, the biological clock is going to start ticking for them too.

It doesn't sound like the kids have any idea what's on the horizon, and I don't think that's fair to them. With their parents' example, they will probably have no clue about finances as adults either and it's going to be all the harder for them to learn. It's hard enough to be members of the "sandwich" generation, taking care of both your own kids and your own parents when your parents have been financially responsible. This is one heck of a sandwich in the making.

And finally, if the parents end up destitute and look to the social safety net for help, this is not fair to the rest of us. It smacks of a really disturbing sense of elitist entitlement, almost Calvinist: that some people are just so talented, so chosen and blessed, that the normal rules of the human condition don't apply to them. I mean, puh-leez, they can't even pay their own taxes.

May 13, 2007 at 06:42 PM · Bravo, Karen!

This is a case that so much has gone fundamentally wrong with the family's approach that it is really hard to be charitable about. I fully appreciate the intellectual temptation in trying to defend a really bad case, but then we expect some knock-down or at least very cute arguments, otherwise it goes to the question of judgment, IMHO.

Elizabeth, congratulations! I hope the Money will one day write something on truly exceptional kids without exceptional costs so that we can all learn something sensible. Wishful thinking probably...

In an hour or so, I'll be doing my solo at a local conservatory as the end of school year student performence. I feel unprepared but reading this thread gives me some perspective, and I want to thank you all for that!

May 16, 2007 at 12:29 AM · You guys should check that out - what a difference! Sounds like this little girl's parents are much more responsible and not spoiling her like crazy...I'm wondering if they will have any success raising the money for the violin using this website though. I'd like to give them something but how can one be sure it's not a con...

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