Trouble convincing my parents to go to music school.

January 26, 2009 at 06:17 PM ·

Well, I'm Michael Chang, and I'm a junior in high school. It's that time where I have to decide where to apply. I really love my violin, and I desire greatly to pursue violin performance. However, my parents are strictly against my passion for music; the first time i told my father I wanted to continue playing violin, he kept lecturing me for a week about "being a doctor, lawyer, or pharmacist." He emphasized law especially since I was in debate my freshman year, but I lack the assertion to be a lawyer. I also asked for a new violin as an upgrade from the $2000 one purchased when i was in 6th grade, and I received an emphatic no with the reasoning being I will shove it under the bed after i graduate high school. The main issue my parents seem to accentuate is pay, and yes, I am asian -_-. I really have no care for making the big bucks as long as I am content with my life, and 100 grand a year is perfectly fine to me.

I can understand why my parents want me to pursue big dollars; after all I am scoring 2100+ on the SAT, 215 on the PSAT, making 5s on AP Exams, and in the top 10th percentile. I have to potential, but I just don't have any interest in working in an office building, managing a business, or working in a hospital.

Well, about my musical life, I have been playing violin since I was 6. I am a member of the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra. I make the All-District and All-Region Orchestra every year in the top 10 chairs. I ranked number 50 in the Texas All-State this year. I have learned pieces in the standard repertoire including the Saint-Saens Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Paganini Concerto #1 1st Movement, Bruch Concerto, Vitali Chaconne, Mozart Concerto #5, Lalo Symphonie Espagnole, several Bach Sonatas and Partitas, Beethovan 5th Sonata, and others. I plan to learn the Tzigane or Vieuxtemps 5th Concerto next. I have received the "outstanding performance" award several times for Solo and Ensemble. I don't know if this is enough to create a solid stance, but I need a way to convince my parents to let me pursue music.

Please help me! :O



Replies (56)

January 26, 2009 at 06:40 PM ·

January 26, 2009 at 06:51 PM ·

A friend of mine back in London had to finish a degree in economics first to get his parents to allow him to go enter the conservatory. The idea was that he'd have a bread and butter trade he can fall back on in case things didn't work out. Of course this means the double education will take longer and cost more, but anyway, I thought I mention it just in case you can make some kind of deal like my friend did with his parents back then ;-)

Oh, BTW, law school isn't such a bad thing even if you don't want to be a lawyer. Many people study law and then do something else. A law background can be helpful in many areas. You could perhaps specialise in intellectual property law with a focus on copyrights of music.

January 26, 2009 at 06:51 PM ·

Roberto Diaz, arguably one of the greatest violists in the world and the head of the Curtis Institute, has a degree in industrial design from, I think Georgia Tech. But, anyway, what about a place like the University of Michigan where you can double-major? Or maybe the dual degree programs offered by places like Juilliard/Columbia? I see Bill erased his post, but he's right; if you feel that you need $100K/year to be happy, you should have a fall back plan.

January 26, 2009 at 07:14 PM ·

I was in a similar position to yours when I was ending my high school career - I had really strong academic scores, lots of 5's on AP courses, etc, but I was also becoming a serious musician. My parents never pushed me or tried to coerce me into choosing a particular field of study, and for that I'm really happy.

I ended up attending music school and going on to do a master's in violin performance. The beauty of having really strong academic scores is that if you attend a school that also has an academic component to the university (i.e. not just a conservatory) you are usually eligible for all of the academic based scholarships as well as the talent based ones. Play your cards right, and you'll be able to go to college for free and then your parents won't have a say in what you do with your life.

The life of a musician, particularly a performing one, is NOT easy - if you don't have a full-time orchestra job, you're going to be freelancing (an assortment of playing in part-time orchestras, playing side jobs like weddings, teaching private students, and continually preparing for the next audition). And you're probably not going to be making a lot of money unless you can land a really great orchestra or teaching job (while the best orchestras in the country can command upper 5-figure/low 6-figure salaries, the VAST majority of full-time orchestras pay less than half of that). You're probably realistically looking at around $40,000 a year if you're teaching full-time in a public school or if you're freelancing (and have a booked schedule) or if you have a second-tier orchestra job and teach privately.

Incidentally, I have friends who did a music degree for their undergraduate studies and decided that they wanted to go to law school, and are now pursuing JD degrees. I also know a few people who decided to go into medicine after doing a music degree (usually, this just requires taking some extra undergraduate-level sciences and maths). The moral of the story is that it almost doesn't matter what you do your Bachelor's degree in - you still have a world of opportunities in front of you.

And if your parents are really set against you going to music school, look at some double degree programs - Peabody/JHU, Oberlin, Harvard/NEC, Juilliard/Columbia, or almost any state flagship university where you could conceivably major in anything and music. When I was at UMD, I knew quite a few undergrads who were double majoring in music and something science-y.

Best of luck!

January 26, 2009 at 07:21 PM ·

I think that all careers you choose are frought with risk. A musician can loose an arm, or their hearing. A surgeon can go blind.  One never knows so you have magnetize money to you and not chase after it too much. If you fear not having money, you wont' make any, or will never have enough. I tell my sons, if you make a million but spend a million and one...your broke. And a degree in anything doesn't guarantee you much. You have to take risks or you will always be worrying about loosing what you have. If you take a job as a doctor for fear of disappointing parents or not making big bucks, then you are not living your destiny and will never have enough money to fill the empty places in your mind. Life is about being happy in my opinion.  My old boss told me once that the reason many people live unhappy lives is because of their unfullfilled dreams. Thye are not patient and want the money without the wait. Don't be one of them. You can always go back for another degree. How about CIM. They are close to Case Western. Take an extra two years and get the double degree if it makes you feel better, but it won't guaranteed much. If you want financial success work with people, money or both. In music, it's people. You have to play well, but people also need to want you around. If you are a jerk, no one will hire you no matter what you go into in college. That is an issue of temperment more than talent. Doctor is definitely a people focused job as well. These are two big careers. How about a music major, with an engineering minor or something more on that line. That way music won't be consumed by your real career. Medicine is all consuming but other fields are not.

January 26, 2009 at 09:29 PM ·

I agree with those who have suggested going to some place that is big enough and good enough for you to double major in music and something that will look to your parents as if you could use it to get into law/med/pharm school.  However, what your parents need to understand is that a major in music will get you into any of the schools you want so long as you do the required pre-med or pre-pharm courses.  There is nothing particularly required for law school, and I know a number of Julliard-trained lawyers.  

I wonder, based on some experiences I have had as a parent with other parents, if your parents may be immigrants to this country and not understand the American system very well.  In many countries, you choose before going to college whether you will go into music, law, medicine or pharmacy, and you are pretty much stuck with that choice.  In this country, almost anything you choose does not tie you in, so long as, if you have any interest in medicine, you take the pre-med courses.


January 26, 2009 at 09:21 PM ·


If that is what you want to do, follow your dreams and hopes...but perhaps don't expect any pats on the back or "bucks" in the pocket from Mom & Dad...if you can accept those terms, what seems to be the problem?

January 26, 2009 at 10:04 PM ·

Michael--I am an Asian parent of a violinist who doesn't know if she wants to be a music professional or a dermatologist! So I understand where you are coming from and where your parents are coming from. I also happen to be a medical oncologist, so I know something about the preparation and focus necessary for the health profession.

Several of the posts are correct that pre-medical(and pre-pharmacy) training in college really isn't that extensive; 2 years of chemistry(including organic chemistry which is a "killer" and causes many collegians to abandon their medical dreams), 1 year of biology, physics, English and calculus, that's it! But you have to do well in those courses to be competitive. Typically a overall GPA of 3.7-3.8 and MCAT(or PCATs) in the top 15-25%ile are necessary these days. The requirements for pharmacy school are very similar.(I have a son who is a pharmacy school sophomore).

The posts are also correct about making a living as a professional musician. It can be tougher than the NBA to earn a seat in a major orchestra where one can earn a wage you aspire to(~$100,000).

My advice: (1)Work extra hard in your violin studies. Do you wisely practice 2-3 hours daily? To have a chance for a music career, you will have to continue significantly grow your music identity and technical skills. These technical skills are primarily neuro-muscular; and that requires "wise" repetition/practice supervised by an experienced teacher. Aspire to be the top 10 in Texas, not the top 50.

(2)I think you're probably smart enough to advance beyond college in a health/law profession based on your SAT, APs, etc. But the work necessary to get into a health profession starts in college. So consider re-focusing enough time in HS to give you a fighting opportunity to be a professional musician. That has to start now, not in a music school later. I am not saying stop studying your academic  subjects.

(3)My "two cents" as a parent is that I think you should consider a dual-track like at the schools mentioned by the posts. Other possibilities include: Rice(in your state), Northwestern, Indiana, Eastman/U Rochester. It may take you 5 years(and your parents 20% more money) so you have to respect their opinions if they are footing the bill.

Finally, you're young enough that it is great to dream and devote yourself to admirable goal as a professional musician. If you put your all into your music preparation and in the meantime continue your academic success, the lessons you learn along the way will help you no matter where you end up one day. Focus, hard work, overcoming obstacles, humility and equanimity are traits successful adults in all professions need in everyday liviing. Good luck!

January 26, 2009 at 10:33 PM ·


I think all of the above answers are good ones. I'll give you my point of view as a parent and professional musician: let's say my son or daughter wanted to go into music and I was against it. Being a professional musician and knowing what it's like out there, I'd propose this: if you get a full scholarship to a top conservatory, then I will consider it. But I won't pay for it, and I won't sign to let you borrow for it. A scholarship to a top school is an early acknowledgment of your potential, and perhaps your parents would think twice about it. But if you have to pay your way, even to the better schools, you're just one of the (very large) crowd, and in that case you will likely struggle to make a living and I'd just say go to medical school and find a specialty you enjoy.


January 26, 2009 at 11:21 PM ·

Hi, if you are very bright at school, please use it in the best way possible. Some will not agree with me but the musical world is so hard I think (generally speaking because I know some succed in music despite the tough conditions) the happiests are those who have a great job like medecine or dentistry but take the easy version (after they graduate of course) to a 4 days a week job and play violin like crazy in their free time + can almost buy a strad if they want.  In some countries the mentality is to work 70 hours a week in your job and to make overtime but in other contries like Scandinavia, you are seen badly if you quit your job after 4:pm. They really want the workers to have free time in their evening seen as "family" time.  In many other countries, it is acceptable if you are willing to have a little less income (for a doctor, this lesser income, steel means a very good pay :)) to work 4 days a week.  Don't say to your parents that you want to work only 4 days a week to do more violin but honestly, there is nothing wrong with this. If you have a job that pay much and can live with 4 days a week, why not?  You would deserve it and it is not because you are lazy. You always have to make choices in life. Do you want to have a better quality of life and plenty of violin or do you want to work 70 hours a week (when you can survive perfectly with 4 days a week) only to please your parents? 

I am not a super talented person in anything despite much work, but if I was, I would certainly choose dentistry. I am not saying this to influence you but I am surrounded by many persons in my science program (me included) that really work hard but are not that bright... Many go in science to have a better job (often in healthcare) after but only those who work hard + have very high natural talent succed...  It's a minority. So, just consider twice before any desicion if you think you can shine in college and go in these great jobs that can give you what you deserve...  College is really different from high school and you really have to be very smart naturally.  Not many persons have this gift. Do what you want, your level in music is excellent but if ever you are one of these really smart people that can possibly succed in medecine or dentistry (you will see this after a few exams in college), seriously consider the option of the "take it easy 4 days a week job" (don't take it easy at college or university because it is competitive but after...) to have plenty of time and money to do violin.  Not many musicians are able to earn 100 000 $ us a year. Even in symphonies, this is a minority.  Your parents are just telling you that they are afraid for you that you don't succed in making a living to your standards.  Not many jobs in general give 100 000 $ us a year so they surely know this.  Do never quit totally your instrument during your years of studies (just try to maintain your skills) but think of the quality of life you could have (and the great violin you could play) if you would be a doctor or dentist only 4 days a week.  It is surely very hard to get there but if you have super talent in science and maths, there is only one time to chose it to have good grades and go in healthcare and it is now (these elite jobs don't especially like to accept older people even if they do sometimes). 

But you have talent in music and at school so no one has the right to decide for you and really good luck! The two roads have pros and cons.


January 26, 2009 at 11:53 PM ·

This is really depressing.:( I am seeing here that many people agree that paying for a musician is generally not great- or , well , it seems , that it may be less than enough..


But how about being a conservatory teacher? And what if you would teach something like music history ,or music theory in a conservatory, or university  , and in the same time teach violin too(in the university)? Please , I need some sincere opinions.For me I was really considering to take a teaching path , if possible in a good music school , with playing on the side .Financially , does this seem rewarding ?

I should be writing here to give the original poster of this thread an advice-sorry , Michael- but the answers seen here made me in need of advice. I would really not like to work hard all these years and than make just about 40000 /year..

January 27, 2009 at 12:17 AM ·


I'm sorry to tell you that jobs teaching music in a conservatory are both scarce and very low-paying.

I have a doctorate, something which took a huge investment in time and money. I'd say that the average starting salaries for the jobs I looked at were in the mid $30s. In fact, according to published figures, music is at the very bottom of the pay scale, with english instructors just below. Forget getting a job at a conservatory--those go to soloists and concertmasters. Most of the teaching jobs out there are at piddly little schools in the middle of nowhere with no talent or resources, and often religious schools where you have to declare your faith. These jobs turn over every year--for good reason.

I'm glad I got my doctorate, but I don't consider it worth the time and money for the goal of teaching in a college.



January 27, 2009 at 12:42 AM ·

Thank you all for your responses. I will take into consideration doing a double-major with all of the advice. I am aiming for the top 10 in my state next year, and I practice 1-2 hours daily with the time I am allotted for the person who asked. I am on the same level (if not better) of many of the top "non-prodigy" violinists in the Dallas area, and I wonder if this would be enough to allow me to enter orchestras such as the Dallas Symphony. I would also like to ask what the pay range would be for being involved in an orchestra and also running a teaching studio: I didn't think it would be around 30,000-40,000 considering my teacher, concertmaster of the Las Colinas Symphony, is not making nearly that low .

January 27, 2009 at 01:14 AM ·

Michael, You seem like a very bright and talented young man. Really talented people have bandwidth. For example, if you want to be at the top level of music you should be able to say I play the violin and piano at nearly the same level. Perhaps you didn't take up the piano.

You could also say I do engineering at the same level of my violin playing. That would be remarkable. Same for medicine, the Law etc. If you can get an income of over $100k per year you can hire some musicians at a very nominal rate and have them play chamber music with you probably once a month. If you get a music degree you may get to play chamber music  once a year. 

What I am trying to say is that this recession signals the end of classical music as a career. It will not come back. Expect many conservatories to close, many marginal symphony orchestras to fold and a huge retrenchment in the arts. The government isn't going to finance the advancement of western classical culture. It isn't going to die completely but young people should avoid it like the plague. We can get all the replacement players we need from Russia, Eastern Europe and China for the next generation. 

January 27, 2009 at 01:29 AM ·

Winning an audition for a major orchestra such as Dallas is a long-shot at best - even for a fantastic violinist. That's not to say it can't be done. Someone has to win the audition, but usually when someone wins that audition, a few hundred fellow applicants do not win.

If you're interested in specific pay scales for orchestras, click on this link:

As you can see from that list, the pay scales in orchestras vary widely. If you want to figure out how much you could reasonably make from having a private studio and an orchestra job, you might be able to get a reasonably good idea from doing a little bit of math.

Let's say you teach private students after school for a couple of hours - say 3pm-6:30pm daily, and you have a full schedule of students. So that's 18.5 hours of teaching a week on average. Let's also say you charge around $40 an hour (probably a safe rate for a beginning teacher, esp if you have 30 minute students who pay $20 for a half hour. Again, this depends on your credentials and location.) So from private teaching, you could make $740 per week if you're completely booked up. If you teach all of your students every single week of the year without taking a vacation, that amounts to $38,480. Of course, that won't happen - there's end of December, Spring break, summer vacations (for you and for your students). So let's say you lose 4 weeks of teaching total throughout the year - so about $35,000 total. Remember that private teaching does not provide you with things like medical insurance, paid sick days/vacation days, matching retirement funds, etc. If you can land an orchestra job, you could supplement that by a few thousand dollars a year up to $100000 a year if you land a job with a big orchestra like Boston, NY Phil, Dallas, Baltimore, Atlanta, etc..

It's hard to say for sure - there are so many factors that determine these things, but that's a place to start.

January 27, 2009 at 01:39 AM ·

Getting a seat in a full-time professional orchestra is getting harder and harder.  There are few full-time orchestras every year, but hundreds of applicants for each seat remains true. 

If you want to pursue music -- then do it.  You might want to also pursue the business side of things so that you are better prepared to effectively market and run your private studio.  That will help to insure a decent living.  By the way, I agree that even though you might do better; you can't really count on more than $30 - $40,000 for a career in music for at least a number of years.  Oh, and just $100,000 puts you in the top 5% nationally for all people in all professions. 

You can satisfy yourself and your parents by looking at schools that have good music schools and good entrepeneurial business schools -- because most professional musicians are entrepeneurs.  Far too many come out of school with no knowledge of marketing, business accounting and finance or the basics of putting together a business plan.  Cover both bases and you will be far better off.

Oh, now for the kicker.  If you really want it -- then, do it.  Don't expect help, don't expect your parents to pay for it.  If you want it -- you do it.  You will be an adult by the time you start college.  You don't need your parents agreement -- unless you want their money.  Is it worth it?


January 27, 2009 at 01:56 AM ·

Hi Michael,

If you want to pursue a career in music then put 100% of your mind, heart, sould and energy into it.  I will tell you right now - do NOT go into medicine if you do not love it.  I am a medical student and like many professions out there I think it is more of a calling than a job.

No matter what field of medicine you go into you will deal with a lot of human suffering.  You will tell an old man his wife of 50 years did not make it through the operation, you will tell a woman she has HIV, children will die in your arms.  It doesn't happen every day, but it is a reality of our profession that you will deal with the highest highs and the lowest lows.  You will be miserably unhappy if you go to medical school to please your parents or to make money.


Follow your heart - not the money.

January 27, 2009 at 02:02 AM ·

Larisa, for the salaries, yes they are good at the conservatories but many teachers at good conservatories were members of high rated symphonies or sometimes soloists. Maybe you fit this description since I do not know you and am really not the good person to judge you... They have a background in the musical field.  If the teacher doesn't have this, he or she can be good but when you pay the high price related to take lessons in a conservatory, for sure, you hope to have one of these super teachers.  I asked questions and here in Québec 95 % of musicians (may include pop too) are paid under 20 000.   In the Us, the cost of life is higher so maybe 30 000 40 000 is a good estimation.  You can have 50 pupils if you want but are they so many kids who want to learn violin?   If you can teach in a good public school, it would be great, just be careful to not become like those board music techers towards depression because of nuty kids...   When I was in high school (public), we past so many music teachers... and the kids were awful but I believe it can be better elswhere.  Not only music is unpaid for the job though...  for now, i would like to become an occupational therapist and all these jobs are a little unpaid if you consider that you must have more than just a baccelar, the type of things they do have increased in the past decades etc. It is always a little more scientific...  Is music much worst than anything else that is not med law dent accounting? Maybe not, I don't know.  I really wish you good luck!


January 27, 2009 at 03:00 AM ·

       But I think I can do it! I think I could make it to be a concertmaister  , or a  teacher at a conservatory. I think that , if I would have practiced constantly since I started playing violin ,at 6 , I could have been a soloist . I have the talent - which makes it even worse to think of, because I didn't practice almost at all for a lot of time , and all the evolving that has produced in me as a violinist during those years is due only to that  talent , that I didn't value  . Without it , I could not have resisted in the arts school that I studied at (specific for Eastern-Europe).Now I do value it ,  and I hope that , if I can't dream to be  a great soloist , at least I can dream to be a great teacher and  a respectable player. I hope I can produce great players and be an example to my students , and make them take full advantage of their talent. I just really hope that this would give me a small financial satisfaction too, not to be rich , but to have a decent life...If not , indeed , it would be a problem.

        Now , for Michael , I think that if you love music , you should go for it. I think that , by your description, you would have what it takes for a double major , too. That may be your best solution , and it would probably make your parents happy too, while somehow securing your financial future. Good luck!

January 27, 2009 at 03:50 AM ·

Go to a school where you can get a first-rate education that will allow you to get into a good law, medical or business school and at the same time study music either at the same school or at a major conservatory in the same city (Harvard, for example).  Then decide after you graduate whether you want to go into law, medicine, business or music.  It used to be true that if you went to work in Wall Street right out of school you could retire after a few years and spend your time playing chamber music at a nearly professional level on your del Gesu at your house in the Hamptons.  I'm not sure that's quite as true today, but maybe when you're ready to get out of school, happy days will be here again.

By the way, you're not alone and the syndrome is by no means limited to Asian Americans.  The list of composers and performers whose families made them go to law school is endless, starting with Machaut and Ockeghem, and going through Heinrich Schutz, Handel, Leopold Mozart, Schumann, Stravinsky . . .

January 27, 2009 at 03:56 AM ·

After thinking about it, I am inclined to agree with Corwin. Many areas of society will be redefined based upon whatever emerges from this economy including colleges and the recording and entertainment industries. I have noticed over the past decade a real shift away from college the way grew up with it, and more interest in alternative systems such as the international bacheloriate degrees for example and other hybrid programs. Traditional college at the undergraduate level is big business for schools. Your 101-201 (non graduate) classes are real money makers for the universities. Big classes taught by doctoral students. At 400- 500 bucks a credit hour (or more) x 100 students in some lecture, means serious money for colleges and they often don't allow transfer credits because the are hooked on this easy money. Make sure you get into a situation where you have some flexibility in this regard for the required undergraduate classes. Don't let too the desire for too much academic prestige box you in too tight if music is your main goal.

You must pursue yyour own definitions of succes and always be ready to move on alone as a creative individual. Waiting for orchestra slots to open up is a pretty passive approach to building a career . As an entrepenuer, I do not suffer from anxiety about the economy because I have always worked outside of the employer/employee system. When you work for yourself, if you don't produce, you don't get paid. You are never blind sided by a down turn. It forces you to be creative. When you work for others, you can be unemployed on someones whim. You might consider ways to define yourself within the music world. I know that sounds idealistic, but when there is great confusion there are often great opportunities for creative people who are preapred to move quickly. So maybe you can start your own chamber group, and discover yourself and not wait for approval from on high.

January 27, 2009 at 04:06 AM ·

"What I am trying to say is that this recession signals the end of classical music as a career. It will not come back."

Yes, the world economy is in a recession but there is no reason for doomsday talk. In fact, spreading such negativist views only exacerbates the situation because the current crisis is not a crisis of resources, it is a crisis of confidence. Any talk that is aimed at downgrading confidence any further will only make things worse. Economists predict that the recession will last into Q1/2010 and we'll be back to growth in Q2/2010, that's just a little more than a year from now. There have been worse crises and people have survived those, classical music survived those, too. No need for negativism.

Yet, to those who say "go for music and nothing but music", I say this not necessarily the best advice either. Having an education outside of music is a good thing for a musician to have. Not only for risk management purposes but also to be a more rounded human being in the very same way that making music makes a non-musician a more rounded human being.

January 27, 2009 at 04:20 AM ·

you said that you really or only want to be a prof violinist.    if that is the case, i find it hard to believe that you will have the heart to pursue a second major as a front.  you won't bother with that, i hope.  putting up the facade of double majoring just to fool your parents may lead to more misery.   if you double major, it is because there is something else you are equally interested.   in fact, yoyo ma described his liberal art education as enriching for his musicianship. 

be genuine and honest with your parents and yourself.  forget about your 100k, only plumbers make that.  look at the worst case scenario:  do you still want to be a violinist if you can barely make ends meet or do you aspire to be a fair weather musician?  as a high school junior, don't look at the price tags too close just yet.   keep talking to your parents, learn how to deal with them. get a job and get a sense what it is like working in the real world.  your parents want you to be happy and successful through steady and respectable careers.  if you intend to show them differently, that playing violin can also lead to happiness and success, you need to kick up quite a few notches. your hand currently is rather weak.  top 50 in texas and 2 hour per day may not cut it.

January 27, 2009 at 04:05 AM ·

Wow, as an undergraduate non virtuoso violin student, I have to say I've never been so afraid of the future before. I'm probably going to grow old working at a Walgreens or something...

January 27, 2009 at 04:09 AM ·

if you do work there, i hope you will remember us and put on some background classical music:)

January 27, 2009 at 07:38 AM ·

Hello Michael,

I am a violinist, and the sister of an aspiring cellist who completed two years of a Bachelor of Science before quitting in favour of pursuing a B.Mus in Performance. As someone mentioned earlier, it is important to know that you can enter into law or medical studies with a music undergraduate degree; you may have to take some undergraduate science and math courses that you might not have opted for otherwise, but it's been done more often than you may think. Interrupting your development as a violinist would be more damaging (in my opinion) than interrupting or delaying your study of a discipline such as law. You can get your law degree any time, but it is better to acquire your musical skills earlier on, in my opinion. If you wait, life tends to get in the way. And in the process of auditioning and being exposed to a larger and wider pool of musicians, you might form a clearer idea of your own possibilities.

I have to say, I don't buy the argument that if you can't get full scholarship from a school, you shouldn't pursue music because you're doomed to mediocrity. Nobody should take responsibility for deciding another person's limitations. None of us really know what you are capable of...the most important thing is to keep your brain as flexible as possible, and recognize that the limitations are mostly self-imposed. People can make great strides in their playing in as little as a month if they have access to the right training. Yes, people may compare the the odds of winning a top orchestra job to those of a lottery, but they forget to mention an important difference; you can control your odds of winning an audition to a much finer degree than trying to win the lottery! Don't misunderstand me...auditions ARE unbelievably difficult to win. I recently heard a violist in the NY Phil speak about her audition experiences; She played 40 auditions over a 10-year period before getting her job. It is worth asking yourself if you would be willing to be that persistent. 

But...if you don't win the lottery, you will still have options; there are orchestras (eg.Syracuse Symphony in USA, Windsor Symphony and Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony in Canada) that are of a certain standard, but less of a gamble to get into than, say, the Toronto Symphony. These orchestras are in cities with a lower cost of living than large urban centres. It is possible to live modestly but comfortably if you build up a teaching practice in addition to your orchestra job. And in response to a previous comment, violin lessons are always in demand, especially for young children. Many teachers, especially in the suburbs and more out-of-the-way areas, have long waiting lists. 

Ultimately, if you choose to do music, it must be without the expectation of earning 100 grand a year, and you must feel that you would be terribly unhappy doing anything else, and be willing to make certain sacrifices in your lifestyle. If you could be happy with another profession, than definitely choose that, but if you have to, then go for it. Collect information from universities regarding the entrance requirements for med school, law school, etc. Be familiar with every aspect of the application process, and do all your research before starting a discussion with your parents. Have a definite plan of action for what you hope to accomplish during your undergraduate degree. You could bring up the fact that many medical programs value candidates' involvement in extracurricular activities, music in particular. 

By the way, I noticed many remarkable lifestyle changes in my brother after he left his science degree. His health improved, and I'm convinced that his allergies disappeared because he's content and less stressed. Not very scientific, I know, but as you know, I'm not a doctor.

Good luck to you!









January 27, 2009 at 08:47 AM ·


Double major.  If you can't manage a double, pursue a minor in music.  I just recently blogged on going back for a MusEd degree.  I've been working Tech for decades, and frankly I do not see any career other than education (not necessarily music) and health care professionals having any hope for long-term career stability.  I did a quick search for both orchestral and teaching positions, and they are far and few between, and the competition is fierce.  The salaries aren't as attractive as those in other professions, and from speaking with friends that are either in the music field or retired from it, and it isn't an easy one to pursue and gain financial stability in.

If music is your one and true desire, do the research first.  There may be other avenues to hold a career in a different venue while still maintaining your passion for music.  For me, I am mid-way to retirement and already developed a "nest egg" financially (as it is for the time being).  So I have a little bit of luxury in time so to speak to pursue a dream.  If I had started in music, I don't think that I would be in the position that I'm at today to even hope of surviving this economic down-turn.

January 27, 2009 at 03:21 PM ·

 Wow, this is such a great thread - I wish it could be permanently posted somewhere. Great replies to read; I'm fascinated. Good luck to you, Michael, and all the students out there. These are tough times, and these responses are a good dose of reality to be aware of. Don't get too freaked out, though, any of you, and crush your hopes/plans because of what is said here. (I have to agree that Doomsday prophesies are a bit excessive.) If you NEED to play the violin to nourish your soul, well, do it, and life will work itself out (not without compromises and consequences, of course). I think the point is good, though, not to equate $$$ with that need. (But if your hopes/plans included $$$ as a prerequisite, um, maybe you SHOULD go ahead and crush that dream.) I think the moderate, open-minded path is a good way to go, which pretty much applies to everything in life.

Really, great comments. This is a great group; a lot of collective wisdom here.



January 27, 2009 at 04:06 PM ·

BTW, the headline of this thread is a little funny. The way it is worded it means that you are trying to get your parents to attend music school but they don't want to enroll. :-D

January 27, 2009 at 04:42 PM ·

A number of years ago a fairly well-known violin teacher advised me that I should allow my son to pursue his music dreams (he was probably about 10 at the time) because the music training was easier and better to accomplish sooner than later.  He was gifted in school but was obsessed with violin.  When he was 13 I pulled him out of school and home-schooled him through high school giving him as much time as he needed to pursue his music.  One of his teachers during that period and later on at conservatory indicated to me that he could take academic courses, but that to be one of the best, he needed to singlemindedly pursue violin without a lot of added distractions.  His school required the usual theory and music history classes along with chamber, orchestra and lessons.  I don't think that he would have had time to do much more academically and end up competitive with the best.  He is now in graduate school and the violin advisor told the graduate students that his advice was to not take any more than the minimum credits.  To spend as much time practicing, perfecting skills.  He is doing that and is happier I think than I have ever seen him.  Will he be able to make six figures when he graduates?  I'm not sure.  But at least he has given it everything he has.  He has had that opportunity and will have no regrets later.  He has learned dedication and discipline which will stand him in good stead in anything he decides to do.  If he changes course, he can always go back to school and get a degree in law, business, or whatever.  But I'm not sure that if he had done things the other way around -- putting academics first and music second or alongside, that he would have been able to develop his talent to the extent he has today.  My husband and I have fortunately been in a position to help him do this along with his scholarships, but I suspect he would have found a way even if we had not been able to help him. 

My advice to you is to go for it with everything you have if you want to be successful.  If you want a top career, think carefully about adding too much to the mix, diluting the amount of time available to you to perfect your skills.  In preparation now, if you want to get into a good school, you need to start having lessons with teachers at schools your are interested in.  Practicing 1-2 hours a day may be enough for you, but for most it isn't .  The students my son has been in contact with practiced at least 3-4 hours a day to get into top schools.  They also made connections before auditioning because a lot of the teachers like to know a little about a student they accept -- more than they can glean from an audition.


January 27, 2009 at 04:57 PM ·

Congratulations on having so many accomplishments at such a young age. 

I just want to add that if you are going to be in a position where you have to swing college costs yourself, you can think about joining the military. 

Also, you can always work your way through school. 

(And for the Love of Milstein, please re-frame that 100K a year).

Good luck!

January 27, 2009 at 05:37 PM ·

Wow! 2100! Anyways I undersetand your concern. My parents are a little apprehensive about me going to college for music. So are LOTS of my friends, who's opinions matter. I say go for it. If it's what you love you'll regret it if you don't do it.

If you want parents approal have you considered minoring in music. Although looking at what your parents want I'm not sure if you would have time. I think in the end the choice is yours. 

What I'm doing is minoring in Accounting. A fall back if you will, that way while I try to get my music going I will still have a job.

Gook luck. I hope it works it.

January 27, 2009 at 06:58 PM ·

But what jobs DO make 100k a year , and still give you the time to do music?

January 27, 2009 at 08:02 PM ·

Examples of outstanding musicians who pursued college degrees in fields other than music performance:  Yo Yo Ma (he may have majored in music at Harvard, but he certainly didn't study performance there), Midori (she has a masters in psychology), Corey Cervosek (a masters in math), James Oliver Buswell, Eugene Drucker of the Emerson Quartet, Jennifer Frautschi.  So don't say it can't be done. 

January 27, 2009 at 08:30 PM ·

not saying double major cannot be done or  should not be suggested to michael.  i am not sure if there is enough signal from michael, or more importantly, from his parents,  that double major is an option.  clearly, it is THE option for many people.

unfortunately, this asian parent syndrome, though prevalent,  is not that straight forward.  one can argue that so far all the great advices have been centered around michael, what he can/should do, but none really has touched on a better understanding of his parents.  this may sound absurd, it is like counseling a chronically  abused wife how to behave tomorrow to avoid another beating.

to me, it seems that violin was started in childhood to build up another skill that will look attractive to harvard, yale and princeton,,,for that application process.   then the game got out of hand,,,michael got to love the violin.

even though we see a very high proportion of asians in classical music, MOST asian parents advice their kids against going into classical music as pros.  as michael said, one word, money.   or 3 words: lack of money.

the info provided so far is excellent; whether it is pertinent to the situation remains to be seen.  in asian families, logic often does not work very well:)  there is this one chinese line that more or less goes like this: marrying the wrong guy is not as bad as going into a wrong line of work.  :)    do you know what you are dealing with, people???

michael indicated that he feels that he is not assertive enough.  well,  dealing with his parents on this issue is a good place to start.   practice, practice and practice.

January 29, 2009 at 01:44 AM ·

your original post sounded like you are not hoping to make 100k, but rather, could settle for 100k.
it's gonna be mighty tricky to do if you practice 1-2 hours a day..

i played in a quartet in canada for three years, and for the third year we decided to go full-time. It was the most work we had put in for anything- regularly rehearsing 6-8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and performances on top of that. we made no where close to 100k that year. not even all four of our incomes combined (from quartet alone) was 100k. we were WAY below the poverty line- which is where the term 'starving artist' must've come from..

sorry for being a downer, but that's the reality. i have some spectacularly talented friends who were at the top of their schools who are now doing countless auditions for orchestras that pay 30-70k- and not winning them.

to sum up, i agree with the posters above- the only good reason for going into music is if you can't live without it. only if nothing else will satisfy you, and you can't imagine your life without doing a full day's work on your violin everyday, should you do music. walk into any music school in the world and be pretty sure that 90% of the performance majors will not have a career in performing music.

January 29, 2009 at 09:04 AM ·

I still can't believe you were sincere when you said you'd settle for making $100k a year as a musician.

Gee, I'd settle for being rich off my rocker, too.

January 29, 2009 at 09:25 AM ·

Maybe he meant 100.000 HK$ :-)

January 29, 2009 at 09:56 AM ·

Maybe he's cleverly accounting for future inflation.

January 29, 2009 at 10:02 AM ·


Note that any reasonably skilled musician should not have any trouble getting the equivalent of several times 100.000 Zimbabwean dollars in a single busking session.

January 29, 2009 at 12:53 PM ·

m's parents may flip if they read this.  the plumber i used this past summer told me he is doing ok.  he has one little helper, from somewhere in south america, doing the "dirty work".   he just gets the job and chats up the client while watching his helper doing the work.  between 3-4 jobs a day, he easily takes home around $500 (us dollars that is :).  500 times 300 days is not too bad for someone who did not bother finishing his hs. 

he is smooth, never offers an opinion...just do exactly what the clients ask.   a guru on market economy and human psychology.

January 30, 2009 at 01:12 AM ·

January 29, 2009 at 04:58 PM ·


I was not exactly in your position in high school, but there are some parallels.  In particular, I had academic credentials similar to yours but I wasn't nearly as good a violinist.  So my decision was relatively easy.   I did not seriously consider a professional career in music; I went to Princeton as an undergraduate, where I majored in Biology, and got a PhD in Neuroscience from Stanford. 

While I did play the violin in college for a couple of years as a wholly undistinguished member of the back of the first violin section of the University orchestra and a slightly more valuable contributor to a contemporary music ensemble, I did indeed stuff my instrument under the bed for ~7 years while I got a PhD. and started a postdoc.

I think my parents were glad about this decision.  

I also had several experiences in high school that influenced the decision.  One was that David Kim went to my high school.  He was concertmaster of my high school orchestra in Williamsville New York back then, and he commuted to Juilliard on weekends to take lessons with Dorothy DeLay.  He was clearly headed to a career in music, and I could see, up-close, what it took to have those ambitions and make them a reality.  In contrast, going to Princeton and getting a Neuroscience PhD seemed much more do-able (by me).  Also, my best friend and stand partner for a couple of those years may have come from a similar cultural background to you.  She was Korean-American and it was difficult for her to communicate with and find common ground with her parents, who were immigrants and who wanted the best for their children, which included (to them) particular definitions of success.  Playing the violin on those terms became an unpleasant chore for her, rather than a joy.  She quit the violin before she graduated from high school.

I feel that I have a rich life in music now, as a middle-aged mother of two and relatively advanced amateur.  Right now I am concertmaster of a community orchestra that is celebrating its 75th anniversary.  I also took up the viola as an adult and I am starting to play in a quartet.  I have small, local performance venues in church and at a Farmers' Market.  I have a wonderful violin/viola teacher from whom I learn a great deal.  I also help my 9-yo daughter with violin practice.  I could play more if I had the time.  

I am very glad that I don't have to depend on my instrument to pay the rent or feed my children, and that, if I'm tired and burned out and the ice on the roads is an inch thick, I can skip practicing for a night.

Music has also been there for me during a couple of tough transition times in my life.  The first was when, as a postdoc at Caltech, I ended an engagement.  I moved into my own apartment and I started playing the violin again after 7 years.  It was a big part of the healing process getting over the end of that relationship.  More recently I took up the violin and viola again after another break to have kids.  This time, it corresponded to making a career change from a struggling biotech company to being a project manager in an academic lab.   In both cases, having music there to feed the soul (rather than make a living) was very enriching and healing.

Of course you have to make your own decision.  Clearly you are a better violinist already than I will ever be and that does change the equation.  But I thought it wouldn't hurt to hear and consider a story from someone further along the road who faced some of the same choices.

Karen Allendoerfer

January 29, 2009 at 05:07 PM ·

Larisa, your question is really interesting.  As I said the best thing in a non musical field that would make you have time to practice and money would be something like doctor or dentist 4 days a week. I know such people but it is very rare.  Probably, for the majority like me, a job that is less paying is the only option to have a lot of free time to practice. Often, a paying job requires many responsibilities and the necessitiy of doing over time. (It's like running a business, not a good thing for amateur violinist who want much time to practice...)   Al, what you said about asian parents is interesting.  I think jewish too are like this (when music was the cool and paying thing, they pushed their children towards this and I am sure they don't push their children as much (to go in music) nowadays!). Correct me if I am wrong. 


January 29, 2009 at 10:06 PM ·


Read my posting in the following thread regarding the difficulty of getting a job with a major orchestra.  And the sad thing is, that may be one of the easiest ways for a musician to earn a 6 figure income.

By the way, my current teacher plays with the National Opera.  He started violin at a very young age, and by second grade he was practicing 3 hours a day and his practice time increased progressively as he matured.  He also performed solo with major orchestras starting at the age of 12.  These are the types of people you have to compete with when you audition for a major orchestra.


January 30, 2009 at 12:17 AM ·

Michael:  Have you considered working towards a career in arts management?  Perhaps do the law degree your parents are so keen on then a Masters specifically in arts management or similar?  Or even a bachelor's degree in music then the Masters in arts management/entertainment law etc.   Working in management could take you alongside some of the finest musicians there are, working closely on their careers and being heavily involved in the music world without the stress of having to be a performer yourself.

Karen makes some GREAT points in her excellent post, I too had two contemporaries at grammar school in the years above me who were super fantastic violinists and even at that stage 3 or 4 years before university, obviously destined for a professional career - reality does set in when confronted with people like that.  I think that's probably a good reason to attend the highest level summer school you possibly can before making any major career decision,  just to get a clear-headed view of the competition out there.

I once played in an amateur orchestra and there were lots of high ranking professionals such as doctors, scientists, university profs etc and several of them had instruments which your average professional would KILL to own, but almost certainly not be able to afford unless they were in a top 10 orchestra or blessed with a wealthy violin donor.   These people had good stable careers and still made plenty time for their music - excellent musicians too, who had studied and in some cases still made time for study with the best local professionals and if I say this was in Vienna, then you can imagine how good the teachers were.

But if you'd rather cut your hands off than not be a violinist - then yeah, I understand that feeling too, but it really is a harsh world out there and you need a second string to your bow, these days more than ever. 


January 30, 2009 at 02:26 AM ·

Many, many great posts here. As a person who wanted to pursue medicine, agronomy and violin when I was in high school, I followed the advice of my adviser (who was also my Biology teacher) and went into music. Regrets? Not in the least, as long as I am rehearsing and performing with musicians I respect. but still, I sometimes wonder what-if...

Ultimately, if you want to be top in your field, you have to lay the groundwork NOW, and never, never stop learning, listening, exploring or growing. Humans are infinately adaptable, and your satisfaction and happiness level will always trump your bank account.

Teaching is not a prerequisite for being a musician. It involves a different head, and a whole lots of skills and talents. I have known great (like, the best) violinists who could not teach, and I have known superior teachers whose playing was far less than inspiring. Teaching will help you suppliment your income, and if you are a thinker, explore different ways of helping your students (and yourself) to attain musical goals. I learn as much from my best students as they learn from me, plus I augment their education by including many other life experiences into their knowledge base, all through the portal of the violin and bow.

July 20, 2009 at 03:11 PM ·

 Hello all,

This thread is both interesting and depressing as it confirms all that we music students joke darkly about. Especially in this economic situation, it's impossible to make any life changing decisions and unfortunately for us college students, we have to make them now. It's not even  a question of "Am I willing to live poor as a violinist" it's become a question of "Can I survive as a violinist?" Horrible stuff to hear.

My question to pose is this; if a music student pursues violin as an undergraduate, say, attaining a B.A. or B.M., is he doomed to only performance related jobs? Surely there are careers that a trained musician can resort to if he cannot get a stable job (an orchestra job, for example). And I mean a career, not waiting tables. 


July 20, 2009 at 08:22 PM ·

I'm confused by your wording?  They go to music school or you?

July 21, 2009 at 04:24 AM ·

I'm backing a ways up but I utterly and simply must reply to Corwin Slack's earlier assertion that this current economic recession spells "the end of classical music as a career" in the US.

Corwin, Western classical music has, in the past century alone, survived two catastrophic world wars and an economic depression even more severe than our current one. Some would even say it was strengthened in those times as people, confronted with the inhumanity all around, turned to art to remind them of the greatness humankind can create. The current economic situation is a mess, to be sure, but I have immense skepticism for those who declare the imminent end of life/art as we know it, based both on my knowledge of history and my familiarity with the human race.

Also, a side-comment: I hope your remark about "replacement players" from Russia, China and Eastern Europe simply came out wrong. I know both personally and professionally Russian and European violinists who play circles around many American violinists I know, and the Chinese are steadily gaining my admiration as well. I think they can be regarded as a bit more than mere "replacements" for missing American artists--and classical music would certainly survive into the future even if, as will not happen, every single American conservatory closed in the next four years.

July 22, 2009 at 02:02 PM ·

I'm double degree in physics and music and honestly the employment prospects for a physicist aren't necessarily much better than those for a musician (though engineering is fairly good).  In fact, I've known unemployed PhDs in physics and one of the physics professors at WU in Saint Louis recently wrote an article that basically said "don't major in the pure sciences if you want to be employed in the future"

Every profession has risks and many people do things that have nothing to do whatsoever with their major.  Law is actually not a stable profession to enter at all and like the unemployed physicists I also know some unemployed and very poor lawyers.  There was an article in the Oberlin newspaper recently about one of last year's graduates who had one of the highest starting salaries of his class.

He was a music THEORY major, talk about employment opportunities with that one! never know.  Talk to your parents and try to convince them that music is really what you want to do with your life. 


also 100k a year salary is very good.  Look up the average income for a family in the US (before the recession) online and you'll see -___-

Actually, one of the economics professors here told me about the starting salaries of various classes of professor there...and while doctors in a successful private practice make good money they also have to get into medical school, finish medical school, and then do their residency to get there...and a seat in one of the top orchestras in the US makes a great salary but....

basically 100k a year is a lot.  I don't want to discourage you from majoring in music (or any other subject), but if you're saying big bucks don't matter I hope you're prepared to live on much less than that. 

May 26, 2010 at 05:23 AM ·

Hello Mike!!

it seems that my situation is completely parallel to yours at the moment haha...which is extremely freaky in my opinion. are you ready are you ready?? lolol. alright here we go.

I am a junior in high school right now and have a passion for violin as well as a $2000 violin that I have had since 6th grade and want an upgrade as well as pursue music. But, like you, my parents wont let me and want me to pursue a better career (in my case, engineering), and they also think i will shove my violin under my bed when i get to college. I am in the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, was in district orchestra in south jersey in top chairs, and was in all state before I quit district and states because of my parents. Like you, I play some intense repertoires such as Bruch Concerto No.1 , Lalo Symphonie Espagnole, Vitale Ciaccona, Bach Sonatas & Partitias, Mozart Concertos, Beethoven Violin Concerto, Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen and Introduction & Tarantelle, Currently working on the Saint Saens Violin Concerto no. 3 in B minor, andddd....yeah! :) freaky huh? im pretty sure our only differences are gender, job demand from parent, different states (therefore different orchestras, but still same level), and you're one year older !

I know I'm a year late, so you're probably a senior now? I was just wondering what happened with you? :] where are you going in the fall, and how is your violin life?

May 26, 2010 at 06:25 AM ·

Well I can comment about law school.  Contrary to what a lot of people think, law is not even a sure road to financial stability, much less wealth.  It is technically possible to become wealthy as a lawyer but that is NOT a solid plan.  I almost became a lawyer myself and I know many people who are in law school and I can make several informed statements about it.  

I did a similar thing as you.  I studied violin in high school, loved it, majored in it etc.  A law degree is called a Juris Doctor degree and it is a grad school degree.  After I got my bachelor's degree in music I felt pressured by family to get a master's degree in something more lucrative.  I scored very high on my LSAT test so I tried to be a lawyer.  Part way through my first year in law school I realized I hadn't played my violin for the longest time since I first began and I felt like I was letting a part of my soul die.  I left law school, I'll never know how well my grades for my first year would have been and I don't care.  I chose violin study instead and I may not be wealthy but I'm not destitute either and I don't regret my decision.

If you go into law school without a true passion for law I think that will be a huge mistake.  There are people in there who really really LOVE law.  It's their whole life and those people are intense and crazy.  They read negligence tort cases for fun, even if they don't know what half of it even means, they like it anyway. Also law school is very expensive.  I got a student loan for my first year and no one's helping me with any part of my education costs.  That combined with my loans from undergrad mean that I will be in debt for a long time.  The one year of law is more expensive than all four years of undergrad.  

Generations of parents forcing their kids into professions for financial gain has produced a multitude of unemployed lawyers and the country just doesn't need that many.  

May 26, 2010 at 06:28 AM ·

 oops...Jen I didn't realize this thread was old.  You tricked me :P

May 26, 2010 at 06:34 AM ·

SOO glad she did!  You put it so well.  There are no guaranteed professions any more.  The luxury of our society is that you have the opportunity to follow your passion - and with my son I encouraged him to do just that (in his case acting).  It did not work out but rather that than live with the bitterness of not having pursued your dream.  The thing about NA, even now, is that if your passion does not work out you can either follow a related career or change into a new one.

Funny, I just saw a lovely (subtitled japanese) movie in which that was a sub-plot - 'the Departing'.  What happens (worst case senario) when the dream does not work out for a musician.

May 26, 2010 at 07:44 PM ·

:] sorry sorryy!! LOL

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