Advice for my pre-teen Concertmistress

August 30, 2008 at 08:25 PM · My 12 year old daughter just won the concertmistress position of her youth orchestra. Of course I am very proud of this musical accomplishment, but I am worried that she may some problems even before rehearsals begin... I want her to think of this experience as an opportunity to learn and grow as a musician rather than acting "I am the best violin player because I got this chair." Any advice from young players or parents dealing with similar problems?

Replies (31)

August 30, 2008 at 10:22 PM · I think this is fairly common in teenagers, whether it be music, or school studies, or anything. One way my dad stopped my head from growing too large was always reminding me that no matter how good i was at something, there will always be someone better than me at it. May seem a bit harsh, but it worked. Instead of thinking i was the best in school i always worked hard at everything, because i wanted to be better than the guy who was best in the world. Rather juvenile but oh well. Although, she may not be thinking that she is the best, she may see it as an opportunity to learn as you are hoping. I'm not sure whether this was useful or not but i hope i have given you some sort of idea of how to go about it?

Regards, Aysha

August 31, 2008 at 12:26 AM · Having been there and had that happen to me I would say: LET your daughter be proud of what she has achieved, let her feel positive about herself and feel good about her abilities. Yes - shock and horror - even let her boast about her success a bit. I'm sure she'll probably make some silly enough mistake during the first rehearsals which will bring her back to earth quickly and remind her that she has to keep practising and playing well to live up to expectations as the concertmistress etc. But I don't think it is a mother's job to "put her down" for want of a better term.

I just hate it when moms don't think it is good for a daughter to have a bit of pride and self-assurance when you've achieved something good. She probably worked really hard to win the audition and I know from personal experience that the most destroying thing is to have someone say "Oh you may have come top in the exam/won the audition/got straight As(delete as appropriate) but you aren't really tbe best, there's always someone better out there, don't make such a big deal of it, don't get big-headed..." and so on.

I believe as teens (and I'm now in my 40s!) we know that fact already deep inside but we want to savour the success we've attained and we want to feel that success is appreciated by those we love and respect.

My feeling is that the best possible thing you could do is to say something along the lines of "You're done really well to get the position, now we have to work out some extra practice time on the pieces so you can keep showing the orchestra and conductor that you were the best choice..."

August 31, 2008 at 01:47 AM · "delete as appropriate"


Tell her that when you get a good job you whoop it up, and maybe you, she, and father figure could go eat out to celebrate, but that rather than meaning mission over, it means mission beginning.

You know, it's her enjoying the successes like this one that'll motivate her to do what you seem to want her to do. So don't stifle the enjoyment, but rather direct it properly if you have to.

August 31, 2008 at 01:51 AM · I think you are rightly concerned. But the advice depends entirely upon your values.

I have gone through this, and now see my daughter on track too. I hope she can learn from my experience and mistakes.

True, your dtr accomplished, and this is recognized by her chair. But, to savour? No – not my values.

I think better to say: the chair brings a responsibility, an opportunity, and a test of leadership. Will she be the type of leader who gloats, or will she be hard working and inspiring to others? The former is natural, the latter must be nurtured.

Actually, your job as a parent has just been made all the more challenging. Good luck!

August 31, 2008 at 02:43 PM · Let her enjoy it for a while, but tell her she needs to work harder than ever to keep the chair. If she doesnt, it could get snapped up by someone else.

So make sure she knows she did good, but she still needs to keep up the hard work.

August 31, 2008 at 03:34 PM · Everyone so far has had valid & helpful points, IMO. I have taught this age-group for 38 years. Some other things may be going on: 1) she may be gloating a bit to bolster herself against fears of the responsibility, the exposure or the possibility of failure. 2) you may be reading more into what you hear than is actually there since you want to save your daughter from pain, frustration, failure or sticking her foot in her mouth. Both pretty natural. I'd suggest just let it all be. Time will tell if you need to build her up or hold her down. Sue

September 1, 2008 at 06:15 AM · I would advise a new concert mistress that her new position is to be section leader, not a soloist. The conductor will be interested in how good the section sounds, not just the concert mistress. This is a wounderful opportuity for your daughter to develope skills that will benifit her in many fields.

She can start her new position by waiting until her entire section plays a passage well and then letting the other players know how great they sound. Showing respect for her fellow players and encouraging them to higher and higher levels is a skill she should develope as soon as she can.

September 1, 2008 at 09:12 AM · If you believe that her pride is excessive and causing problems, you could always put that little fish in a bigger pond. ;-)

Send her to one of the better summer programs with some "prodigy" kids where she'll most likely be "average".

September 1, 2008 at 11:55 AM · i think one of the most precious moments, to a kid, is to feel that she is good or great or the best in something, true or not. it is a healthy component of a maturation process to go through and more kids should be able to enjoy such pride like your daughter. if she takes some falls because of this pride, all the better because those lessons are part of the process as well and those lessons will stick much better and longer than parental preaching.

no perfect kid, no perfect situation. just be proud of her achievement.

September 1, 2008 at 02:30 PM · I agree with Al-- twelve year old girls are fearless, but are on the cusp of a difficult time when many of them lose their self confidence and bravery. Let her be fantastic at what she does, and feel good about it. But if she is serious about music, you should also listen to David's advice and let her experience the next level.

September 1, 2008 at 03:28 PM · I might mention to her that in many orchestras there are people who share that position, or who are equally as strong and sit in other leadership positions (including hers). Also that this is an opportunity to be a leader and team player with her peers, and it's important to take on the responsibility (ie. practice better) I would celebrate, but I guess by not making a huge deal either way it could help her to mellow out about it.

Unless she starts losing friends in the orchestra from being cocky, I agree that it probably isn't necessary to say much. I didn't have the cocky attitude when I was concertmistress in elementary, middle, and high school...but I did put too much of a value on seating. Eventually I realized it wasn't THE only thing, and just worried about how I felt about my playing (when I was first chair at school...and then in second violins for the youth orchestra, then with most of those same players, third chair first violin in all-counties).

Also, when I think back to my 12 year old students, they just seemed really excited about it. It was fun to work with their raw energy.

September 1, 2008 at 08:24 PM · In my opinion, the biggest risk for your daughter is over confidence. We deal with this all the time at our house, and have an ongoing dialogue about hard work versus entitlement. As my guys win contests etc. it does not entitle them to anything and they need to slog it out with everyone else. Also, maybe next time some kid who didn't compete will enter and win. They must continually be their personal best and not rest on past laurels or comparisons to others. Maybe Chair 2 or 3 just had a bad audition that day. Because she is CM this time, does not entitle her to it next time without hard work, a great audition and a pinch of good luck. I explain how very often we make mistakes on the most simple things because we assume they are easy and become over confident in our abilities. It all takes effort and it is important to praise effort versus a particular accomplishment or talent. While it is helpful to acknowledge her accomplishments and hard work, remind her that next year kids may audition that did not audition this past year and she needs to keep her eye on the ball. The fact that she won this chair is also a challenge for her to rise to a leadership position and lead the orchestra. Her bowing must be exemplary. I would divert her self absorbed phase into a challenge to become who she strives to be.

September 1, 2008 at 07:45 PM · My advice is never belittle or fail to acknowledge an achievement, however small. Its what keeps us moving ahead! If one cannot enjoy and savor a win in life, even if only momentarily, where is the motivation to try? Unless it is personaly satisfying in some way there is no point to it.

There's a great line from the movie Star Wars when Luke shoots down his first enemy fighter. Hans says to him something like "great shooting kid! Don't get cocky!" This seems like a workable approach.

September 2, 2008 at 02:06 AM · David is 100% spot on.

She needs to enjoy the moment because they don't come as often as we like.

Note: You may want to read a book called Self Theories (I think), by Dweck. She writes about fixed theories of self versus flexible theories of self. Unknowingly, parents often praise children, often girls, to build confidence. Dweck suggests such praise based upon identity and talent versus praise for hard work can actually hurt confidence. The difference between, "You have great intonation", versus, "I can tell you have been working hard on intonation" is a subtle but important difference. Others on this post suggest girls need confidence but I suggest, like Dweck, they need confidence in their ability to work hard and create strategies to overcome obstacles and overcome challenges versus confidence in their innate talent or abilities.

September 1, 2008 at 10:42 PM · More power to her and her good feelings about herself. That's what I think.

Life eventually knocks virtually everyone, and the younger you are when you believe good things about yourself, the more power you have to live your own life.

Chances are that it won't be too long before she meets a violinist who plays as well as any recording (or live concert) it is possible to hear. She will then have already had her good feelings about herself, and have new goals to strive for and a possible changed perspective for the future. But it will not take away from the present experience.

I've been there. I worked really hard to become CM of my HS orchestra (and did). And 20 years later I worked even harder to become CM of my community orchestra, a post I held for about 15 years.

Being a big fish in a small pond still feels pretty good.


September 1, 2008 at 11:05 PM · Wonderful and sensitive comments.

If at any point in your entire life you can tread the thin line that runs through self-confidence, humility, striving for excellence, service to others, accepting criticism and the truth, and having the ambition to not allow yourself to plateau, you're doing great.

I know that years ago when the first book I co-authored was published, I said to my wife, "Honey, I just want you to continue to think of me as an ordinary person."

She replied, "Oh, don't worry about that."

:) Sandy

September 1, 2008 at 11:58 PM · Greetings,

>If at any point in your entire life you can tread the thin line that runs through self-confidence, humility, striving for excellence, service to others, accepting criticism and the truth, and having the ambition to not allow yourself to plateau, you're doing great.

Sensory overload. back under the covers with the potato chips,



September 2, 2008 at 02:07 AM · Well first of all, congrats to your daughter for her achievement! I can relate because this summer I was concertmistress of the Minnesota All-State Orchestra which was quite a learning experience for me. I am currently a sophomore in high school, so being concertmistress came as a little of a surprise. I know that during my two auditions, I never wanted the position so bad. But after the first few rehearsals as concermistress, I realized the great amount of responsibility and leadership involved. And I couldn't forget that the people around me probably wanted my position just as much as I. I noticed that most everyone looks up to you, and you've got to have an humble attitude that people will want to look up to. You need to realize that the job as concertmaster isn't being "the best", but realizing the responsiblitiy you now have. I would say that 10% of a musical experience is getting your positon, the next 90% is what you do with what you are given.

So instead of telling your daughter not to be too proud, I would suggest that you explain to her the responsiblility she now has, and the opportunity that she has to show leadership that people will want to follow.

I hope this is helpful!

September 2, 2008 at 02:44 AM · Nice post, Rebecca (and others).

Maybe it's less about success or failure, but about having the mindset to see success as a road to new opportunity.

This way of thinking has a pretty good track record.

It's not so easy to instill, I know. I've been a parent. :-)

September 2, 2008 at 02:45 AM · That is a marvelous achievement, and she should be proud. The trick will be not letting this "get to her head" so to speak. That does not mean that bursting her bubble is the right thing to do. With every achievement come responsibility and sensitivity. As a parent, it is your responsibility to teach those traits.

One experience I had as a child that is relevant to this was at the university orchestra back in the 80's. Somehow I made 2nd chair at the age of 12. That was the monumental achievement for my lifetime, and I haven't matched it since then. At that time my head became a little too large - until the first rehearsal. That was when I realized what I had gotten myself into. My head shrunk down to it's normal size, if not a little smaller, and I listened and learned.

September 3, 2008 at 12:39 AM · Congratulations. However, the term is "Concertmaster," regardless of the player's gender.

September 3, 2008 at 03:52 AM · Possibly note that although she is the best violin player, her attitude and disposition are important to make her the best person; also identify that being the best person is much more of an accomplishment that being the best violinist.

Possibly ask here who she looks up to and how they act around others? Is she emulating their behavior, and would she be someone that others would look up to? Being concertmaster is a leadership position, and one responsibility is to have others follow willingly; alienating them only makes her task harder.

On a different tack, maybe find why she needs the validation. Her playing should compare her against herself, not against others. Is she the best she can be? If she simply tries to stay ahead of others, it limits her to what she sees in them. If she plays to her best ability, there is no limit. So, for her to really be the best, she needs to start seeing herself as the drive for improvement, not others.

Hope this helps.

September 3, 2008 at 03:27 AM · These situations require a very light parental hand.

October 22, 2008 at 01:45 AM · She should consider concertmistress as a stepping stone into her next position: conductor.

She is young, so she has a long career path. Just be cool and stay focused and work hard. Learn from the conductor, and her teachers. Hey, it's just education and training.

My father told me when I was a teenager that if he were in my position, he would aim to be a conductor.

October 26, 2008 at 08:00 PM · Bring her to see prodigies just a few years older, the same age or even younger... That could make her very motivated to learn more things I think!

Good luck and it is a great opportunity for her!

October 26, 2008 at 08:12 PM · Concertmasters are generally chosen for their playing ability, but also for their ability to lead a section and coordinate with the conductor. He/she is effectively the orchestra's representative to the conductor, and the conductor's first lieutenant. For that reason, it is not always the best player, but generally the one with the best leadership potential who is tapped for the post.

It's a big responsibility. Perhaps taking her to see a rehearsal with a big-time orchestra and/or having a chat with a professional concertmaster might put some of this in perspective. She will realize the scope of her responsibilities, and also how far she has to go.

November 15, 2008 at 07:21 PM ·

I am a young player, aged 13, and i have recently got that seat in my orchestra. I know how she feels, because it is a huge acheivement for a younger player. I was delighted, but i still had to rememer that getting the seat is only the start of the battle. You cant be proud of the seat if you cannot cope or are not very good in it, but i think she will soon get over it and start focosing on being a good concertmistress

November 17, 2008 at 01:52 AM ·

My parents did everything they could to destroy my ego and damn near succeeded.  Give praise where praise is due.  You must be proud of your daughter, so let her know it.  You can temper your praise with realistic but positive statements about new challenges and learning experiences.

November 17, 2008 at 12:33 AM ·

My daughter is twelve also and got the concertmistress chair in her middle school orchestra.  She has been playing only a year and has made great strides.  It is good to let them feel the sense of pride but also remind them of the responisbility.  It is the entire orchestra not just her.  I let her know that the competition is good and to help the others also to be better that is good for the whole orchestra.  To keep her ego in check I have in a more advanced city youth orchestra where she is first violin but has to work to advance and keep improving since chair audtions are every month with each new set of music they learn.  Just keep encouraging and introducing new and more challenging pieces to keep her grounded.  Have fun.

August 17, 2009 at 11:35 AM ·

"chair audtions are every month" - what a horrible thought. This seems to almost like a violin competition. Maybe I can throw in my 2 pennorth as someone who's played for a number of leaders, some very good, some less so and also I've led a number of other ensembles.

The first responsibility is getting the bowings done so the strings know what they're doing. Now at age 12, I presume these are being done by a section coach, but she will have to make sure that she is doing the right bowings and in the right part of the bow consistently. In actual playing, she can make a huge difference to the section by giving them confidence. Make sure you count the rests accurately, pick up the violin maybe a bar earlier than usual so the section can follow, and the biggest thing - telegraph your intentions. Not with any wild gestures, but a little indication with the violin that we play "now". Make sure your bowing is confident, so your section can tell what you're doing almost before you do it. That way, they will grow in confidence, the section will sound better - and that's what your job is, and how you'll be measured. If the section aren't matching you, it's probably not your job at age 12 to sort it - that will be for the section coach - but maybe cultivate the glance round.

And the very best of luck. It's something I enjoy doing, and I like to think that people are happy to be led by me. That's important - if your section don't want you there, you won't succeed. Conversely, if they do want you there, you have succeeded.

August 17, 2009 at 07:21 PM ·

After I became the concertmaster of one of my school's orchestras, some of the violists thought it'd be fun to lock me into a double bass storage closet for a few minutes.

The good news: the bass wasn't in there.  The bad news: This was right before a concert, and I went out on stage covered in rosin and sawdust.

Perhaps this will work?

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