Advice for an aspiring concert violinist?

February 26, 2010 at 09:01 PM ·

Hello! I just want the opinion of other violinists. I started to play violin at the age of 10 (at the beginning of 6th grade), and fell in love with the violin/ became serious about music in the summer before 9th grade. I'm currently still in 9th grade and the 3rd chair 1st violin in my high school orchestra. When I became serious, I realised that I really, really want to be a concert violinist. I asked my private teacher and she seemed not completely sure. She said I could definitely be a chamber violinist but it would be very difficult to become a concert violinist starting out as late as I did. Though, I'm willing to be as dedicated as humanly possible if it means I can achieve such a feat. So, I just want to ask: Is it possible? And how much should I have to work? (I'm sorry, I don't have an accurate piece to describe my skill level, because the program with which I get lessons is based on performance, and so my teacher only gives me pieces that are below my level, for example, she admitted months ago that I'm an adequate level to play the Accolay, but I've yet to start it)

Replies (68)

February 26, 2010 at 10:23 PM ·


What do you mean by "concert" violinist? Someone who makes a living by playing concerti and solo recitals? No one here knows the level of your physical, emotional, or intellectual talents. If you're the top 1% of 1% in all 3, then yes, you have a chance. It's a question that will should be asked a little later. You'll definitely know by the age of 16 or so. If you aren't winning competitions or playing high-level repertoire like Prokofiev or Brahms concerto by then, it's unlikely you'll make a living as a concert violinist.


February 26, 2010 at 11:23 PM ·

In order to become a concert violinist you must have a burning passion.  At this stage of your life don't listen to people who say you can't make it.   Practice with intention.  You must have an excellent teacher from the beginning.  You need lots of foundation and the only way to get it is to play scales and studies.  It is wonderful to make music but you need to build the technique that is required as soon as possible.  Do something physical like dance or martial arts to improve mind body coordination.  Keep the goal in your mind but don't let the dream get in the way of the work.  To be a concert violinist you need to be practicing many hours a day of focused and intense work.  Remember it is aiming for the very top of the profession.  It will take a lot of luck but the hard work comes first.  And don't forget to listen to lots of music and keep the love of music strong in your heart.

February 26, 2010 at 11:24 PM ·

Well, I just attended a masterclass open to the public by the reknowned soloist Vadim Repin (and not reknowed for nothing... ). he gave advice to a few of the best students in Montreal. (I mean good students of our very best music school where the few soloists from Montreal came out) They were in their very young twenties (maybe less?) and played Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Glazunov.  And even there, many people play this level and they don't all become soloists or good orchestral players (just because the places are limited not because they lack abilities). They also have competition from the elite students of Toronto, New York, Boston etc etc etc when they apply for a job.

I don't know if this can give an idea of the very tough competition for such jobs...  But they could do any jobs under this with their fingers in their nose (french expression don't know if it's appropriate in english ; )...  So it depends what you mean by "concert violinist"

But I just repeat what I see and heard from better musicians around me because I'm not at all ok to give advice for this lol


February 26, 2010 at 11:33 PM · many people might there be in the world making a living as a "concert violinist", as Scott defined the term?  Hundreds?  A thousand? Tens?  Or maybe Malik's definition is a bit different from Scott's?.  

And how many classical violin performers of any kind are there?  I'm curious about the big picture of the violin performance profession, and having a sense of it might help others be realistic about their plans.

February 27, 2010 at 12:30 AM ·

Scott: Yes, by "concert violinist" I mean someone who earns a living playing concerti and sonatas and such. And I can't rightly say what percentile I would be, but I do believe that I have the innate talent level of a soloist, it's more that I took 5 years longer than I should have to realise that talent. My teacher (who is indeed a wonderful teacher) approximated that by my senior year I'll be playing the Tchaikovsky and possibly some of the Sibelius. And generally, every professional that I'm associated with has been very optimistic about my prospects and potential, but even if I can't be a soloist, I just want to be the best violinist I can be, one way or another.

February 27, 2010 at 02:03 PM ·

Isaac Stern was a sort of late starter.  He didn't waste much time in moving ahead, though, even if he was never a prodigy in the normal sense of the word.

February 27, 2010 at 11:16 PM ·

It's less common now, but a few generations ago I think 10 really wasn't that old to start.  Rose (Vienna Phil concertmaster) started at 7 if I remember right...

Besides hard work and "talent" you have to be lucky to have a solo carrier.  Starting at 10 is probably not so much of a disadvantage considering all the other factors involved, but nobody starts in a good position for that sort of ambition.  Many fantastic violinists have small solo carriers and also have "day jobs" performing or often teaching.  I would imagine the greatest disadvantage is mental and with regard to the training of the ear, not with any technical aspect of playing. 

The more important factor is how late you got "serious".  If you plan to go straight to music school you have three years to get to the level of playing major concertos and probably you want one Paganini caprice (though many people rush to get the caprice in any shape for their audition).  Some places are ok with other etudes, but many auditioners expect caprices for some reason.  It's hardly impossible, but you will have to WORK, especially if you actually want to play your rep well instead of scraping out Tchaikovsky like many people end up forcing themselves to do.   

February 27, 2010 at 11:24 PM ·

 I am going to give some suggestions which others have given in similar threads, and which I think are important.  If you are serious about a career in the violin, you need to know what the playing field looks like.  I'm not talking about the players in your school orchestra or city orchestra or even  your All-State orchestra, but rather the conservatory bound students, pre-conservatory program students and students in the pre-college programs at the conservatories.  This will give you an idea of the level expected.   One way to do this is to attend a good summer music festival which draws students nationally.  Meadowmount, Green Mountain, Summit, Interlochen Arts Camp are some examples of the sorts of camps you might try to attend.  The second piece of advice is to try to play for someone at one or more of the conservatories you aspire to attend.  These professors can evaluate your level and give you advice as to how to proceed with your instruction and practice plan so that you can meet their standards by the time you are applying.

Good luck!


February 28, 2010 at 12:33 AM ·

Go for it! If you have talent you can do it. I know of a couple very successful Juilliard students that started at the age of around 8. You may not make Juilliard because 10 is even later, but determination is the key =)

There are also a lot of kids that started at 3/4 years old that are horrible.

I agree with Jennifer. Check out and go to graded repitoire. You should apply to a conservatory (Manhattan School, New England Conservatory, Juilliard, Eastman, ect.) with Level 9 pieces at minimum. However, some of the Level 8 pieces listed may get you in.

Good luck!

December 6, 2010 at 02:27 AM ·

 Hey! I hate to bump this suddenly to the top, I don't know whether that's against the rules or not, but to update: Now I'm a sophomore and things are looking up! I'm currently playing the Viotti concerto and the Wieniawski Polonaise, and my teacher said I'll probably be starting the Bruch by the end of this school year. And my violin teacher at Interlochen seemed to agree with my private teacher that I have what it takes to be a soloist, even if not an ultra-famous one.

December 6, 2010 at 03:10 AM ·

Good for you!  Never let peoples opinions get in the way of what you want to do.  If you work hard enough and desire it enough, you will find a way and show those nay-sayers how wrong they were.

December 6, 2010 at 03:17 AM ·

 "Never let peoples opinions get in the way of what you want to do."


Unless of course they know what they're talking about and know the field and the marketplace. Then you better listen. 

December 6, 2010 at 05:39 AM ·

Malik--you should go to and watch the archived performances from this year's Indianapolis competition.  Read their bio's, look at their ages, realize that every one of them was probably far ahead of you at your age.  Then realize that most of them will have a tough struggle to find a concert career.  (And don't forget that for every player who made it into the competition, there are 100 that worked hard but didn't make it...)  Then you can ask yourself if you have what  it takes.

Probably you should work hard, enjoy music, try to be the best you can, be honest with yourself and see where that takes you .

December 6, 2010 at 06:43 AM ·

 I do understand that, but for instance, there are also violinists like Sibelius, who went from playing the piano without any real training to starting the violin at age 14, and being a rising star as a soloist in his native Finland by the time he was in university. I realise that now, fortunately or unfortunately, things are not the same as they are now, but I am being realistic with myself. In less than two years, I went from struggling from the little Bach pieces at the end of Suzuki 3 to playing Kreisler's Preludium and Allegro and Wieniawski's Polonaise in D major. Now, I don't men to sound overconfident or narcissistic, but the way I play simply is not suited to orchestras; I don't enjoy playing in them at all. At Interlochen last summer, I was in the intermediate division, and I met kids that were playing the Bruch concerto at the age that I began to play the violin and, amazingly enough, they told me that I was the amazing one. Now, I know that especially due to the popularity of the instrument the world of violin is stiffly competitive, but I have some faith that over the course of college and graduate school, if I make progress on the same level that I've made in the last one or two years, I will be able to compete on quite a high level. That said, I'm not opposed necessarily to settling for being a chamber violinist, but I feel disconnected from the results of my playing in an orchestra, and I want more than anything to be an artist that can be... well... I suppose I can summarise the attitude I have created toward my playing in the famous quote of Zino Francescatti: "When I speak, I want to be heard, or else, why bother?"

December 6, 2010 at 07:53 AM ·

Malik - you write terrifically, a healthy mix of reality, dreams and determination.  From what you write, I say go for it.  Most people get few  passions and dreams in their lives - yours took hold hard and has stayed the course up to now so IMO follow it to its destination. 

I look forward to watching your career develop.  Good luck!

December 6, 2010 at 11:26 AM ·

Really, all I have to say is, good for you Malik. Like Elise said, you're a great writer, and I think that that is true especially now as you're trying to convey to us your dreams, which are clearly very strong. Aim for the stars. The only one who can tell you what you can and can't do is yourself, and as long as you keep believing in you and your potential, you could do great things.

Of course, sometimes our initial dreams don't always come true, but keep an open mind, because often times, the door that opens after the closing of another will lead to a place that is so much greater. So keep opening those doors towards your dream and don't forget about the ones that you have already passed through. (And when you're all famous, don't forget us little people that hang around too much in these violinist forums. :D )

December 7, 2010 at 02:23 AM ·


I have to confess I find this thread slightly disturbing.  without intending any disrespect to any of the people who have so kindly written I have to respectfully suggest that I no longer agree with the way these kind of questions are asked or interpreted.  The original question posed was `can I do x?`   The poster may have simply wnated a lot of people to say `yes we can` but I am doing him the credit of treating it as a genuine question which can be answered on an objective  spectrum ranging from `yes, certainly`  to `sorry, you have it wrong.`   I use the word `objectve` because the answer has nothing to do with encouragement,  or trying to build people up -or do them down=.  It is an objective evaluation.  

Now, lots of people have written in encouragingly with expressions `like go for it` and either tacitly or directly expressed in these messages is a warning to people (such as Scott) not to be negative and discourage pople.  But who has decided that saying something objectively critical is wrong? Such opinions (politely worded) have as much right to exist as the postive evaluations (I am no longe rtalking about the blanket `go for your dreams ` remarks) and are vitally imporytnat.   It is vitally importnat because reaching for dreams that can`t be reached and then crashing is much mroe harmful than having objectivity thrust in one`s face so that one can dream dreams that are meaninful and -help= a perosn to lead a good life to the maximum of their potential.  

So my objective answer to the original question is `no,  I am absolutely sure you cannot be a full time soloist making a living from concertos and sonata recitals.   Absolutely.` The number of people doing this is incredibly small .  Even the greats mix things up.  A few tyears back one of the reat modern players (emil Chussodovky) wriote on this site that such careers are few and far between and he himself did a mixed bag of recording, teaching and chamber music.  So the original question wa sactually wrong.

None of this means that the player in quesion won`t oplay cocnertos with orchetsra every now and again .  major ones like the berlin. No.   Nor doe sit preclude giving a few recitals a yera. But have you any notion of how hard it is to prepare a recital?  Really?  Read Emily@s blog just for a taste.

I write this knowing it may upset some people because I have found over the years that young people who focus on these questions often fail to reach ytheir full potential because they are not asking the right thing of themselves.   The only path a musician has is to continually strive to develop their potentila to the absolute maximum with the help of their teacher and then see what happens.  The fact is most  soloists are already know and somwwhat established -by- age ten these these days.   Its a case of `if you have to ask the question you aren`t.` to a very large extent.

Work your butt off. Enjoy all aspects of music making and enjoy your deserved success.   In the meantime I will continue to pkug the case for objective honesty over fantasy .  



December 7, 2010 at 03:54 AM ·

For the most part, I am in Buri's camp.  But let's suppose that Buri is wrong, that the OP does have the chops to win competitions and become famous.  That is only one part of the battle.  There is an element of luck involved in achieving fame.  Some people are luckier than others.

I believe a similar question was asked some time ago, and I basically feel the same way now as I did back then.  Even if you do have the chops AND if you do get discovered AND become famous, think about the lifestyle of a touring artist -- spending many weeks, months each year flying from place to place, living in hotels, eating out all the time.  For me, it would get very old very quickly.  I know of at least one person who may have been able earn a living as a soloist, but he chose to accept a teaching position in a university, where he could for the most part, stay in one place and live a reasonably normal life.

Then you have to consider the other factors that could abrupty end a career, for example injuries.  I am currently struggling with pain in my fingertips.  And that was caused by playing just 2-3 hours a day.  Hilary Hahn plays about 6 hours a day on average.  Repetitive strain injuries are not uncommon for string players.  I am doing everything I can to figure out a solution to my achy fingers, but I am also thankful I do not have to earn a living playing violin.  If I were a pro, I would basically be screwed.

I don't mean to squash anyone's dreams, just throwing out a few other considerations.


December 7, 2010 at 04:09 AM ·

Wow, Buri made a very good point here...

When I look at all the responses on such treads, I see what he means about the rational/objective people beeing put down by some non objective posters telling unprecise things like "go for it" or "you never know". 

I am not qualified to give an opinion on the original question here so I certainly won't!

But, in science and life, one have to observe facts objectively.  Making career in music is a business and a job not just an art... Per example, the one who talked about the Indianopolis Competition talked about a fact, something observable and precise.  Sometimes there are exceptions to facts but most often they are a good point to compare with.   

The only advice I could give to anyone (because one doesn't need to be qualified for that one) is that if you don't accept all the job options of a risky field... quit.

If in your heart it’s "solo or nothing" (and don’t be afraid of the truth. Don’t lie to yourself) and that you wouldn't enjoy teaching to kids in a public school or at home (if the solo or major symphony job option doesn't work), it's better to quit than to be a frustrated worker all one's life no?  

You seem very stubburn to succeed and really bravo for that (every soloist and musician who wants to be good must attack their destiny as a lion with confidence but it has a downside...  it can make that everything that is not what you want will dissapoint you... and you might not accept it. Can you face a super/mega crisis and torture later on if it doesn't work... after all these invest hours? If yes...)  

Good luck in whatever you decide!  (sorry I can't give advice on specific things. I'll let the more qualify do this...)


December 7, 2010 at 04:29 AM ·

 Hmm, I suppose I understand that point of view, and I suppose it's just best to be the best that I can, but I'm definitely going to aim for the top- after all, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? And haha, I'm far, far, FAR too deeply in love with the violin to not be a violinist for the rest of my life, I dabble in theoretical physics and quantum mechanics but I've never felt anything I've had such an uncontrollable craving for doing, and I think if the yearning has remained this intense over this year, over paranoia, clinical depression, and severe confidence crises, I have no choice but to be a violinist, and I have no real aspirations toward fame so much as respect. I believe that music is a gift to all who listen to it, and I feel the desire to share my gift in the form of a medium that can be heard on its own. Once again, I am no narcissist, I know I am no Isaac Stern or Jan Sibelius, but hey, I am me. So uh.. thanks! I'm actually more grimly determined to be a soloist in some form. I mean, my teachers all seem to have faith in me, including ones in highly reputable institutions like Interlochen, and frankly, I'd say I'd like to have such a challenge. Oh, and to Buri- I think I shall learn how difficult it is to prepare a recital, because starting next year, I will be preparing completely independent recitals of the rest of my teacher's students; I'll be juggling concertos, sonatas, and solo sonatas all at once, and frankly (I almost wrote Franckly, xD) I'm quite looking forward to it. 

December 7, 2010 at 04:42 AM ·

 Buri has some good points. In America, our can-do philosophy has a dark underbelly. Look at all the books in the the self-help aisle at the bookstore insisting that you can do anything if just work hard and just desire it enough. Unfortunately, it's not true. But neither is the philosophy that you'll never be soloist. Neither extreme is very useful. I think the most useful advice for a young person is not necessarily to project far into the future, but rather to do what I had to do Saturday night while I was performing a concerto: think in real time, the here and now. Make convincing phrases, attempt to play everything the best you can. The future will, one way or the other, take care of itself.

December 7, 2010 at 06:21 AM ·

Malike, I understand your point too!

May I just allow myself to talk about the fact that you told that violin was such a big passion for you that you can't imagine not beeing a violinist after all... so you must go in music professionally. 

When I wanted to become a professionnal musician, I also though that when one entered in a university non-musical field, one had to quit music.  That was terrifying to me. 

But it's just not true in any field.  Maybe if you aim to be a top cardiac surgeon... (even so some very bright meds play violin very well during their studies...).  There are so much not too tough university fields that you can go in and still play lots of violin, take conservatory lessons and play in gigs.  Amonst these fields, I would recommand anything in physical therapy.  Not saying it's peice of pie but it is easier than med, dent, pharmacy, physics, chaemestry and such. If you choose wisely, you can go into a field that will lead you to a good average job with an average salary plenty ok to do music and not stop music during your studies.  So it's not as bad as one might think...  The progress is slower but just the fact to not quit music assures you won't loose abilities.  Maybe won't gain but won't lose.  And will be able to do more later on. 

I know it's maybe not that you want... 

Just to say that not going in music does not always mean "quit" ; ) or play twinckle little star for the rest of your life... 

Good luck!


December 7, 2010 at 09:51 PM ·

A major factor is who will market you.  I imagine few people would be interested in selling somebody who wasn't a child prodigy, even if they reach the top level later in life.

It seems that even the people who win the top competitions often go on to be concertmasters if they're lucky or to some other job (for example, teaching).   Of course, in their cases they do go on to make solo carriers often enough...

December 8, 2010 at 12:48 AM ·

Is there really nothing between 'concert violinist' and 'chamber music'?  Seems to me that there must be second tier concert performance opportunities - perhaps associated with an accademic (music) career.  Judging from the OPs post he is smart enough to pull this off - faculty position/concert performer without having to rely entirely on the latter for his career/income.

December 8, 2010 at 02:35 AM ·

First of all a carrier exclusively in chamber music, I would love that.  

I mean Steinhardt and Kopelman could probably have made solo carriers.  

December 8, 2010 at 04:24 AM ·


the `chamber` versus `soloist` idea should have been dead and buried years ago.   A quartet player is not a lesse rplayer than a soloist and the training route is the same:  playing to the maximum of ones potential.   perhaps the confusion arises from the fact that a virtuouso violinist who becomes a membe rof a regular group will have to adjust accoridngly and ove r along period of time find their approach to sound production etc less suitable for playing concertos. 

Actually I find it rather sad that no mention was made of playing in an orchestra.  That is where virtualy al aspiring soloists end up.   I am doubtful about claims to love the violin as a musicla instrument from any player who says they don@t like playing in an orchestra.

The chances of forming and keeping a regular group are extremely small. Anone familiar with the logistics and peronel problems in groups will know why.  Reading `Indivisible by Four` is a very helpful eye opener.



December 8, 2010 at 05:09 AM ·

Buri: "I am doubtful about claims to love the violin as a musicla instrument from any player who says they don@t like playing in an orchestra."

Thats a bit of a judgement isn't it?  I hated playing in an orchestra as a child.  I tried it again fairly recently and got the same feeling of claustrophobia.  Its not that I can't associate with outhers - I think I am set to focus on chamber music, ideally string quartet,  I just don't like that mass-instrument mentallity.  Does that mean I really don't like the violin as a musical instrument?   Surely not - and surely not for people who play jazz or any other musical form - whats so defining about orchestra playing anyway?

December 8, 2010 at 06:36 AM ·


it`s where most of will spend most of our performing life.  yes, I will stand by my belief that a person who doesn`t like playing in orchestra is unwilling to involve themselves with the violin to the utmost of their ability  and also bereft of fundamental knowledge about the instrument and it@s character.  Bascially,  playing a wide selection of every composers repertoire gives one tremendous insights into the solo repertopire. Also it is rather hard to really play concertos without an in depth knowledge of what the orchestra is doing and what it can`t do which cna only be learned in the trenches.  That`s why playing in an orchestra is not optional in music institutes.

Unfoirtunately,  many people do have ba dexperiences in badly run orchetsras for young people or nightmare experiences with l,ousy conducters or other less than salubrious situations.  This often pust people fof orchestras for life.

It is also true that most musicians feel chamber music is a wonderful thing that gives them a break from the feeling of `mass mentality` and a more perosnal shared experience while playing chamber music.  However, if one were to play chamber music all the time one would begin to see the differnet probolems associated with that genre and see that all is not roses their either.   That@swhy quartets have so much trouble retaining the same people for any lengthy period of time.

The ever present bad attitude towards playing in an orchestra is nutured from a young age by teachers who don`t stres sits value and significance or teach the repertoire (Gingold was an exception). Leaving the young player with a fantasy beleif they don`t need orchestra because they are going to be  a soloist. They either wake up with a bump when they get to college and find they are a small fish in a big pond or they are the cream of the institute and still don@t get a solo career because those are so rare.   Thus many orchestral players harbor this embedded frustration that what they are doing is second best.   Its a very old and intractible problem.



December 8, 2010 at 01:10 PM ·

I think it is important for an aspiring violinist to be grounded and have some humility.  It is a daunting task for someone at Malik's age and  level to become a professional orchestral musician.  I don't understand how he can talk about being amazing or having something special to say as a musician before he has the chops to play a romantic concerto. It may be laudable what Malik has done in the last two years but he is not a prodigy.  He has many years of playing catch up  and developing artistically before he should be should be defining himself exclusively as a soloist.

December 8, 2010 at 03:31 PM ·

C'mon Michael - give the guy a break.  He's young and full of his own potential.  Thats normal and healthy - indeed, I think thats currently a problem with education (in particular for young males); youngsters SHOULD feel like the world is theirs and all is possible. 

One thing is for sure, if you don't start with a goal of getting to the top you shure as heck are not going to... 

Besides, I'm approacing 60, took the violin up 3 years ago - and it my goal to be a soloist. 

So there. :)

December 8, 2010 at 06:22 PM ·

"I will stand by my belief that a person who doesn't like playing in orchestra is unwilling to involve themselves with the violin to the utmost of their ability and also bereft of fundamental knowledge about the instrument and its character. … Also it is rather hard to really play concertos without an in depth knowledge of what the orchestra is doing and what it can't do ….  That's why playing in an orchestra is not optional in music institutes."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Buri, I am mostly with you here.  I've touched on my experience more fully in the niche thread, but a few extra details here might help to shed further light on the matter.

I feel strongly that exposure to different kinds of playing is important for the student.  For me, it was a process of elimination over time, because the diverse exposure gave me the comparison I needed.  I actually liked orchestra playing from the time I first got into it in school -- that is, until I was 21 y/o.  I was a serious trainee for the symphonic profession by then and had more than fulfilled my degree requirements for orchestra.  But then I started to wonder: "Do I really want this the kind of professional life -- all these long rehearsals, all this long sitting, all these evening work hours?"

I didn't want it.  So I severed the connection.  Fortunately, there was always an in-depth queue of eager-beaver associate members waiting in the wings.  Whoever my replacement was, I'm sure this individual was delighted to get that call, saying that there was an opening.

Regarding a professional solo career -- well, that's something I never aspired to.

But solo playing is definitely one of my strong points.  It isn't so much that I disliked orchestra playing itself -- although the decibel level in some modern symphonic literature is well nigh intolerable for me -- but that I realized there were other playing avenues better suited to me.  True, I won't have the audiences and name-recognition that the Bells and Hahns and Changs of the field have -- but I'm happy.  I love this instrument, if anything, even more than I did as an orchestra player.

December 8, 2010 at 06:38 PM ·

I think thats currently a problem with education (in particular for young males); youngsters SHOULD feel like the world is theirs and all is possible.

Elise, I see what you mean but it can also be very harmless! The contrary too of course!

Just the good balance probably works find.

Someone, who I consider knowledgeable when I first started violin at 14 told me once that I would become great soloist.  Of course, I smiled (knowing in my head that it was impossible...) and continued my things. 

Also, a stranger, a man, once came and told wonderful predictions about me and my violin to my mom (I wasn't there).  She told he was able to kind of "read in her mind" because he told things about me she had never told him.  It was a stranger in another city.  It was kind of weird and frightening for her. He also said when it would happen.  I'm not that age yet...

I don't beleive it.  I would like to but it just would be too pretentious.  Realistically, rationnally, it is truely impossible!  That doesn't mean I have to quit violin but I'll always be an amateur... and not a famous professionnal.   Even those who are truely gifted now struggle to make it!

If my ego would be bigger and that I would have beleive it, what would happen after that age will be pass if it didn't work out the way this man told?   It would be ennough to commit suicide...

But I won't because I know it's not true!    

If teachers tell irrealistical things to their students and that their students happen to beleive it and are very stubburn, what will happen if it doesn't work?  Will that be too much of a ego hit? 

It is more painful to fall from a 30 story building than from a 2 story one but the one in the 2 story building can always try to build a higher one and will always be happy because it can't really be worst than the two story building he started with... 

The great masters themselves didn't describe themselves as potential "top soloist" at a young age.  (perhaps even not at a late age...)   

But I'm just telling this generally!  Not directed towards the poster.   It's a society new phenomenon to tell to kids they are stars too young...   and it probably has a lot to do with these irrealistical new violin pedagogies "everyone can if properly trained"  (sorry, not everyone can be Heifetzh even in a same context!) or "yes we can"  (sorry, no we can't do anything we want...)

Industry makes millions selling books about illusions of accessible greatness to all...

But we can aim to do the best we can and see where it will bring us!  And wether we are Hilary Hahn or a normal professionnal or an amateur, when we're onstage playing something, that moment truely is ours and we have the joy to communicate something to an audience so it can be just as fun! 



December 8, 2010 at 07:27 PM ·

WILL you be one?  I have no idea.  SHOULD you try?  Absolutely.  With everything you have.  You may not get where you think you want to be now, but you'll get somewhere.  Let's face it -- Mark Wood dropped out of Juilliard and his teachers probably felt like he was a failure and a disappointment at the time.  And I don't know many musicians who wouldn't kill to have his career -- mostly because he saw what he wanted and went for it with everything he had.

Will you be a Perlman or a Chang?  Probably not.  But in a world where the very definition of classical music is changing and the industry around it is radically rethinking how it interacts with an audience, who can say what a "concert soloist" will even look like in twenty years time?

Go for it.  100%.  But don't be surprised if you can't slot yourself into a pre-existing mold along the lines of playing in a tuxedo with Riccardo Muti waving a stick behind you.  You may have to change things up and make your own mold.  In 20 years time, that mold may be the perfect one for success.

Go for it.  You might not make it, but giving up on a dream before you even get one foot in front of the other will kill your soul.

December 8, 2010 at 07:55 PM ·

@Janis:  Go for it.  You might not make it, but giving up on a dream before you even get one foot in front of the other will kill your soul.

Thats it.  Thats exactly it.

I would only add - as you travel be sensitive for our dreams evolve, if we do but listen to ourselves...

December 8, 2010 at 08:24 PM ·

I can't help but be inspired by the attitudes of Janis and Elise et al, but if you were my son, I'd say no way.  Play all the violin you want, but in case your dreams don't pan out, get an education so you will at least have the option of earning a decent living down the road.  Life in the real world is not all roses.

December 8, 2010 at 08:44 PM ·

My attitude is not some pollyanna hallmark card.  You have no idea what your son -- or anyone else -- is capable of nor in what direction their lives can go.  Hamstringing oneself before one has even gotten out of the gate is a recipe for a nasty, bitter middle age of no achievement whatsoever, because no one can invest themselves in anything, no matter what it is, if they are nagged by a sensation of having not invested themselves in what they truly wanted to do.

And again, aiming for one thing and not hitting it often means hitting something else.  You can't change course unless you are moving.

I know quite well what it means to have very little and need an education to survive, because one must earn every penny one will ever spend on oneself in life.  I know many others who are in those shoes.  And every one of us is doing something else for a living other than what we studied in college.

December 8, 2010 at 08:44 PM ·

Fact: Classical music is dying.  Its practically off the radio completely here in Canada.  An explosion of soloists from the far east playing the same handful of world class VC's forever is a bubble.  Media formats and recording technology is in a state of diminishing returns.  I suspect world events (ex. resource shortages and conflicts, growing levels of poverty, etc) in the next 20 years will provide a less friendly atmosphere for touring soloists and large orchestras.   The problem is: Whats plan B for the classical violinist? 

December 8, 2010 at 09:02 PM ·

And there is always a plan B ... and plans C through Z as well.  It is absolutely unrealistic to imagine the following scenario:

1) Kid starts later than usual to train to be a soloist.

2) Kid doesn't make it.

3) Kid stands on a streetcorner and begs for the rest of his life.

Even if the kid trains like nuts to be a soloist and doesn't make it, said kid has obviously accumulated the training to make a living off of music in a myriad of other ways.  Arranging, writing, teaching, session work, section work ... It's ridiculous to imagine that the kid will have to step into a dematerialization booth and be atomized at 21 if they don't end up as the next Perlman.  This isn't Logan's Run, people.  If he shoots for being a soloist, one of two things will happen: he'll hit it, or he'll hit something else that will make him a living.  The concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra is a "failed" soloist, and he's not only brilliant but doing pretty good for himself, even granted that orchestra work is less stable than it once was.

There's always options in any career, and NO career no matter how hard-nosed is a guarantee of employment.  I know tons of out-of-work mechanical engineers at the moment.

December 8, 2010 at 09:38 PM ·

Some careers are more amenable to earning a comfortable living than others.  Music isn't one of them.  If the OP played Mendelssohn at age 7, I might have a different attitude, but given the limited information we have, I would advise pursue your dreams, but have a decent backup plan. 

December 8, 2010 at 10:22 PM ·

I have also saw the phenomenon around me of people who studied in music at the university (wanting to do a performing professionnal career) and when they saw it didn't work, found a new job in a totally different field than music unstead of taking the other music job possibilities (other than performing). 

I once asked a music university teacher about that and he said "you know, it has a lot to do with the "loss" process.  It's too painful for these students to still be in a musical field and realize that they don't do what they wanted to do.  Many who go in non-musical jobs even stop playing because it's too painful for them to see their high level declining because of other life concerns and occupations"

If people can react like this, I personally prefer to not take the risk because I can just look forward to becomming better as an amateur. Not to become worst... Perhaps the fact to live such a "loss" like these students is ennough to fade out one's interest in playing an instrument?   Why take the risk to have much fun in one's youth but to live all the rest of one's life in bitter feeling of not having made it?  I only see two ways to avoid this

- either open options for another musical job than a touring soloist (to not live a frustrated life if it doesn't work)


-quit now at one's high and play music at a high level of amateurism, make friends, gigs etc

Of course, this thread has as many different views and opinions as people posting them ; )

December 8, 2010 at 11:18 PM ·

 Buri, thanks for your comments.  I couldn't agree more, but you said it much better than I could.  Elise, I guess it might sound a little judgemental to say that if someone dismisses orchestral playing that they're lacking in understanding about the violin, but my experience as a non-soloist has been that the judgementalness usually runs much more the other way--people say that orchestral players lack originality and creativity and work ethic, that orchestral jobs are second-rate, that if you don't shoot for the soloist moon you might as well not bother at all, and so on.  Either of these attitudes, anti-soloist or anti-orchestra, in my opinion, go well beyond "finding your niche" into being genuinely unhelpful.

Advice can be problematic generally so I'd just like to put a couple of personal experiences out there, and the conclusions that I've drawn from them.  

I went to high school with David Kim, who is now a "concert violinist" and orchestral player.  This was a public school in Williamsville NY in the early 1980's.  He was a few years ahead of me, he commuted to NYC on weekends to study with Dorothy DeLay.  He played lots of solos, even as a teenager.  If you read his bio that I linked to you can read more about that. He was also the concertmaster of our regular high school orchestra, the one I was in, first period every morning off the school bus.  For one concert, we played the 4 Seasons with him on the solo part.  It was a privilege to play with him, and to know him.  He never put on airs, he had a great sense of humor, and was invariably generous and helpful to everyone, even in the orchestra.  Even to a journeywoman freshman 2nd violinist like me.

Years later, as an adult, I am the concertmaster of a volunteer community orchestra in the suburbs of Boston.  We run a Young Artists' Competition every year, and every year dozens of very talented teenagers audition to play a concerto with us.  I'll focus on the winner from a couple of years ago, because she was 11 at the time and may be one of the few real prodigies I've ever had the privilege of meeting in person.  She played Wienawski #1 with us (from memory).  She studies with a high-powered teacher at the New England Conservatory and has been written up in the local press.  She also plays with her town's public school middle school orchestra.  (She is, needless to say, the concertmaster of that group.)  She's a delightful young woman, and a joy to work with.  I've seen her since then, at a subsequent concert where she came just to hear us, a volunteer community orchestra, play.  She has always treated me, and the rest of the orchestra, with the utmost respect.  

If I had to give advice to someone who wanted to be a "concert violinist," it would be this.  Emulate musicians like these two I described.  They are "going places," and they have something to say that is worth listening to.

December 8, 2010 at 11:57 PM ·

I think there is a failure to recognize that society is in a huge entertainment bubble that is grossly misaligned with real world problems going forward.  Why is that?  Ans: Debt Monetary Mechanics is wonderful at distorting reality (eg. easy credit) for a while and that creates enormous complacency amongst the general public.  And there is the problem:  credit and the principal thing that makes credit work, oil and mineral deposits which is in decline or becoming very difficult to secure.  Those unemployed mechanical engineers are a canary in the coal mine in regards to the health of the credit machine.   Keeping the financial machine alive (student loans up the wazoo) at the expense of growing unemployment simply results in Plan B,C,D... going POOF (up in smoke)

December 9, 2010 at 01:06 AM ·

Malik has not said that he wants to be the next Joshua Bell, which as we all know is impossible, or even the next Emil Chudnovsky. He wants to be "some kind" of soloist-- meaning, actually, that he has not enjoyed his experiences in the intermediate orchestra at Interlochen. Give him a few years, more facility on his instrument, some experience with a higher level of coaches and ensembles, new mentors, and bigger pond to swim in. As he grow and develops he will discover heretofore in imaginable musical possibilities. Maybe he will lead his own ensemble; maybe he will cross genres; maybe he will learn to love orchestra playing after all. 

December 9, 2010 at 02:24 AM ·

Perhaps you're wright.  Just that when we hear the word soloist as a job, we just think Carnagie Hall, touring, Hahn, Bell, Chang etc.   Maybe that's wrong of us...

December 9, 2010 at 02:59 AM ·

Elise, I wish Malik the best and think we would be giving him a break by giving him realistic goals and advise.  I am sure he has accomplished some amazing things on the violin in the short time he has played it.  He be encouraged and should strive to be the best he can be.  It just seemed to me he is putting the cart before the horse and is setting himself up for disappointment.  It is one thing to tell a four year old that you can be a concert violinist, president, or princess; but I think an eleven or twelve year old deserves to be treated with more  honesty. Goals shouldn't be unreachable.  I also think orchestral musicians don't get enough respect.  Many musicians in orchestras are as creative and talented as soloists.  I have heard some concert masters and section players perform solos at a level equal or higher than many successful soloists.  Some of the most accomplished violinists would rather play in orchestras and teach than have solo careers. 

December 9, 2010 at 04:23 AM ·


what is all this weird talk of `training as a soloist,`  or `training to be a chamber music player,` or whatever?   It`s absolute twaddle and one of the reasons why this discussion is so confused and out of focus.   Let`s get some things straight folks:

Unless one is involved in other genres (Jazz etc) one trains as a `violinist.`   The best way to do this is pretty well established in terms of ordering techniques,  teaching techniques ,  materials used and so on.

A dedicate  violinist such as the poster will follow this course working as hard as possible  with the best possible teacher and ultimately find out what their musical niche in life is.

It`s rather sad that many people are still unwilling to actually look at the question being asked in an accurate way and put forward a measured response.  If you think , from actual experience and knowledge that this particluar case has a greeat chance of being a soloist then say so and offer some reasons why.   `not killing dreams` and other similar expressions are basically ill considered put downs to those of us who paid the poster the compliment of taking his question seriously and answering according to our experience and knowledge which is in many cases quite extensive.  It has nothing to do with negativeness,  putting down or `killing souls.`   It`s actually got quite a lot to do with respect.  Note that nobody has denied Malik`s talent or his ability to have a great career. 

What is the motivation ,  in my opinion, is a concern that Malik doesn`t continue to focus with all that intensity and passion on a compleatly unrealistic dream,  and it is not something one can run away from by manipulating the defintion of his dream.   What is,  in my opinion , and someothers from what I have read is that he focuses all that passion and dedication into getting on with the job of being the best violinist possible by focussing on the here and now.   That is both an excellent goal /dream and one far more likely to lead to success.



December 9, 2010 at 05:22 AM ·

 Forgive me, but I haven't read  all of the responses, it's a bit overwhelming, but uh, one thing I would like to clarify is that it's certainly not that I have a problem with or bias against orchestral players. My teacher is in the Louisiana Philharmonic, and I respect her more than almost anyone else I know. I don't think it's so much orchestras themselves, but being in a highschool orchestra is oppressive in some ways, most of the people in my orchestra resent me because I practice a lot, and am close with my orchestra, a "kiss up". I've just developped very bad experiences with being in orchestras full of people with no drive and no dedication, and so I've simply developed a negative aversion due to that. I very much appreciate how much skill it takes to be in an orchestra, much less be a soloist. But uh, in other news, there's been sort of a development: a composer friend dedicated a concerto to me, and I'll be premiering it on one of the most prestigious concert series' in my city. (Hey, it's a start) So, wish me luck! I oughtta go practice that right now!


Oh, and, um, who ever said I don't have a back up plan? I keep a pretty steady 3.85 GPA and before I was consumed by my passion for music, I was, perhaps, much more known as an up-and-coming scientific mind. I have the intellect necessary to be an academic if I can't be a musician, I just don't want to have to do that.


Right- editing one more time, I've basically just decided to trust my teacher. I mean, she's a great teacher, and she knows my potential better than I could explain, or probably even know, so, uh, yeah...

December 9, 2010 at 06:55 AM ·


Becoming an academic is a daunting task, in no way (I think) inferior to becoming a musician.  Where I come from there are Ph'Ds in physics who are unemployed and will take almost any job they can find.  (chemical engineering and the like seems safe, but you never know how things will be when we graduate)

And trusting your teacher sounds like a good idea.  I think trust is very important between teacher and student (incidentally, I think it works both ways...but somehow getting the teacher's trust seems to falls on the student's shoulders as well)

December 9, 2010 at 11:06 AM ·

If you love the music more than the violin, then you can make music the way you like, regardless of being a virtuoso or not, even a violinist or not. Whether the others love your music or not is not so important. You just make yourself happy at first.

If you love the violin more than the music, then you'll never be a great musician, regardless how good you could play the violin. Nobody'll listen to you after few minutes. (1)

If you love to show your Being more than the music and/or the violin, then you have better chances at writing, acting or doing physics. A great virtuoso in the past once said that in a decade only about 10 violinists could live as a soloist (without teaching or doing something else..). Now we have some new worlds for classical music as Venezuela, Argentina, East Asian and recently somewhat in Dubai, but the chance remains small: for example - at least there are 30 millions of chinese childen who're learning to play the violin and the number goes up and up.



(1): If one said that he loves the music equal to the violin, then in reality he actually loves the violin more than the music. So it's the same case.

December 9, 2010 at 12:13 PM ·

Malik:  Oh, and, um, who ever said I don't have a back up plan? I keep a pretty steady 3.85 GPA and before I was consumed by my passion for music, I was, perhaps, much more known as an up-and-coming scientific mind. I have the intellect necessary to be an academic if I can't be a musician, I just don't want to have to do that.

How interesting.  I went the opposite way (well I actually quit the violin earliear than when the decision was made) and am now a scientist who has returned to the violin.  I had some tallent as a child - I was certainly no prodigiy but was concertmaster (leader) of the school orchestra and played a concerto with it at age 12 (I started playing at age 6).  I have also had a reasonably successful scientific career - an independent scientist and professor at a major north american research institute and university.  I do, however, have thoughts about what might have happened if I had opted to stay with the violin.  Obviously its not resolvable but I tihnk I would have had to go into some form of modern music that permitted me creativity - I could not have been happy in an orchestra or even as a world famous soloist (which was definitely never in my cards anyway!.  

Science allowed me just the right combination of logic and creativity - but nothing lasts for ever (and as in all fields there are factors that you can never predict that can sour the experience) and find myslef craving a means for direct expression.  The violin 'reappeared' to fill that void - and will, I hope sustain me through retirement.

Not sure why I wrote this - perhaps to give you a glimpse on the other option that you might not otherwise get.  By all means write directly if you want any more info...


December 9, 2010 at 12:15 PM ·

Malik, I admire you´re passion for wanting to become a soloist. It´s obvious you are a very dedicated and serious violinist and willing to push yourself hard. But being a soloist is incredibly difficult. Even the most talented soloist of my country (some known worldwide) all have extra jobs in orchestra, teaching, chamber music and such. As has already been stated it´s incredibly hard to make a living as a soloist only. So I advise you to be realistic

But you shouldn´t let negative experience from youth orchestra influence you so much. Professional orchestra is so incredibly different from youth. In professional orchestra people feel driven to practise and do well and there´s real energy and enthusiasm for the music.

I wish you all the best but encourage you to keep your mind open :)

December 9, 2010 at 01:00 PM ·

"one thing I would like to clarify is that it's certainly not that I have a problem with or bias against orchestral players"

That's good to hear, but I think the reason that some people have gotten that impression anyway is this type of comment:  "I've just developed very bad experiences with being in orchestras full of people with no drive and no dedication"

It's certainly possible that you're in an exceptionally bad orchestra in your high school, and if so, you have my sympathy. But that comment, and others like it, overgeneralizes to the point of arrogance and insult.  You say you're a scientist, so be quantitative about it:  how many orchestras do you really think there are that are full of people with no drive and no dedication

 My point in describing the high school artists that I did, above, was to show that they were not resented by the orchestras they played with, rather the relationship was one of mutual respect.  It's possible for soloists and orchestras to have good relationships, even in high school.  

Those relationships are a two-way street.  If everyone in your orchestra resents you, maybe you would benefit from introspecting on what you might have contributed, yourself, to that unfortunate situation.  If you can honestly say, "nothing," then get over yourself, lose the attitude, and move on.  In your career as a soloist, you will always meet people you don't get along with, and people with lesser talent.  You won't be able to just arrogantly cast them aside without hurting yourself and your music in the process. 

December 10, 2010 at 12:36 PM ·

 I am going to give you the advice I would give my own son or daughter:  There is no harm in pursuing music as a career.  A college degree in music is a college degree.  From there one can go on to graduate school or medical school (after making up some math and science), or law school.  The vast majority of college graduates do not in fact stay in the field chosen at the undergraduate level.  What is important in music or any other field is resilience and flexibility and resourcefulness.  If you have these things, you will avoid the pitfall of getting "stuck" in a field where there are few jobs.  The market is unpredictable.

If you have determined this is what you most want to do, then you have a lot of work ahead to find the best possible college teacher/institution match for you and to prepare for auditions.  Make visits, take lessons from potential teachers, get feedback.  Figure out where you are likely to be accepted and where you are likely to be valued and also where you might get a scholarship.

December 11, 2010 at 07:47 PM ·


You are right that most people do not utilize their college education as much as they might expect.  I know many liberal arts majors that ended up in careers that had nothing to do with what they studied.  I personally studied engineering and am now an entrepeneur.

I think the reason so many people have responded in a discouraging way is that the goal of the OP is quite unrealistic.  With the state of the performing arts as it is, even the odds of the OP landing a decent orchestra job are slim.  The odds of becoming a successful soloist is 1000 times slimmer.

If the OP is aware of the challenges ahead and is willing to accept the more likely outcome of a career that might (or might not) involve violin or music in some way, as opposed to being a soloist, then he is moving forward with both eyes open.  But, if the only goal is to be a soloist, then I personally do not think it would be wise to pursue music without a solid backup plan. 

@Malik, take a look at the bio of fellow v.commie Caeli Smith.  Se is quite an exceptional violinist, but she is just one of many small fish in a very large pond.  If you want to become a soloist, you will be competing with the likes of her and many others that are equally as talented.  I would personally find it quite demoralizing to go to music school and find myself surrounded by people that are far better than I am.  I recently attended a masterclass at the Strathmore Music Center and was astounded to hear 4 different kids, aged 12-14 that were just amazing.  They all played with tremendous feeling and near perfect intonation.  Perhaps you do not have any high level musicians at your school, but there are many talented people out there.  You are doing the right thing by starting this thread and asking for opinions.  You are to be commended for your ambition and enthusiasm.  I wish you the best of luck, whatever you decide.


December 11, 2010 at 09:14 PM ·

I agree with Jeniffer, as long as you are rich... 

Who will pay for many universitary studies one after the other?  My parents are kind ennough to help but I don't want them to pay for more than one field training.  I don't think they would like it either... It's so expensive!  They make so big sacrifices for me and I don't want to abuse on them either in going in a risky path...

December 12, 2010 at 06:46 AM ·

A Canadian complaining about college cost? =P


When I was a freshman there was an article in the school newspaper about one of our very gainfully employed graduates...with a BA in Music Theory (useless degree?)

Performance degrees are a slightly different issue, but professional school is totally possible.  Law school is a popular choice (but again...employment prospects are better than music but it's entirely possible to have a JD and no job). 

December 12, 2010 at 07:14 PM ·

Yes, indeed I know it's even more expensive to get educated in some other countries although it's still not free in Canada.  (I was not complaining about me more than the others but generally telling that studies are not... free)

I wasn't telling either than one won't find a job in music or that music degrees are useless.  I value music as much and more than many many other things... It's my biggest passion!

I was just telling that it's possible that, if it's not you that pays all your university studies, that those who help you to pay would highly appreciate that you go in a not too risky field.  (I can understand my parents... They value very much music but they have 3 children and can't allow a "take all you can" in risky art university studies (it would not even be respectful that they pay more for me than my siblings because miss wanted to try university music...)!   They are already kind ennough to help with my music lessons and equipment as an amateur.  (I don't want them to spend more money on something that is not economically wise except that it makes me happy and is a wonderful hobby!)

If one is rich and can afford studies over studies, I see nothing wrong in making many degrees, masters, baccelars etc in many fields including risky ones! 

December 15, 2010 at 06:28 PM ·

 Hey, I didn't read all the comments, but from what I can gather, you are on a path similar to mine. I am a senior in highschool this year. I started when I was seven, but never practiced. My mom gave birth to twins a few months after I began my studies and two years later had another child. Of course, with all the work with infants, she didn't have much time to help me with my music, but I loved it enough that she kept payng for lessons. About the age of fourteen,  ninth grade like you, I knew in my heart that I wanted to be a violinist. However, I wasn't very good.....about suzuki book three/four, but I got to work. I switched teachers and was ON FIRE for the violin. I started getting up at five to practice and over the years have progressed quite rapidly. I am now concertmaster of my highschool orchestra, playing mendelssohn concerto.

 Now, I am going to music school next year, but my parents won't let me do violin performance because of job issues and I am on a tight budget because they must put five children through school. This limits my school choices, but I am going to do my best with what I get and try to get into a graduate performance program somewhere big.

 I don't think I will ever be famous, and the chances of anyone being the next Joshua Bell are slim. However, we don't play violin to be the next concert violinist, we play because we love it and never want to be seperated from music. My advice is this, be all that you can be, and you will be happy. In my opinion, and from what I read, I think you will go far. Best wishes.


December 15, 2010 at 06:39 PM ·

I heard an interview once with the principal first and second violins of the Phila orch, and the principal second said the same thing -- that she took violin lessons from her dad who was a professor starting at around 7 (I think), and it was just a lark until she turned 13 when she made the decision for herself to just buckle down and get serious.  And now she's principal second of one of the best orchs in the world.  Just effing do it.  You won't starve.  Like I said above, I know plenty of people with "sensible" degrees who are out of work right now.  It is indeed possible to pursue an ambition and keep your wits about you.

December 15, 2010 at 06:53 PM ·

"I don't think I will ever be famous, and the chances of anyone being the next Joshua Bell are slim. However, we don't play violin to be the next concert violinist, we play because we love it and never want to be seperated from music."

Of course, I wish much luck and suceess to both of you (Hannah and the Malik)

But I am just buged by the popular idea that one will be separated from music if one doesn't become a professionnal musician. 

It's probably more a matter of lifestyle choices.  Even as an amateur, one can chose to follow lessons, play gigs, play in little groups, have musical friends, try to find a 'music friendly" job and create himself a "music friendly context" and life.  Some professionnal musicians can also be separated from music if they are overloaded with too much work and not ennough time to practice as they wish to get connected with what they do.

But I do unserstand your general idea. At your age, I though the same...  (that music was finish at the minute you chose to not become a professionnal musician...) 

I later found out that it doesn't have to be the case if you scratch your head to find ways and plans to still keep music in your life and make place for it! 



January 11, 2012 at 11:32 PM · Dear Malik,

You catalyzed a very insightful conversation.

By now you are a year older. And perhaps have a clearer picture.

The only piece of advise I have seen to be useful to young aspiring soloists your age (starting late) and in your position is the following:

Based on your wish to be a "soloist" - only those that have walked-the-walk and achieved great success as concert soloists could possibly give you a clear eye-to-eye answer. All others in the industry, including other musicians, managers, conductors, administrators, fans - only have a third person perspective on the matter - regardless of how experienced or knowledgeble they may be.

So, if you have not done so, get to at last one, but ideally two of the world class violinists - biggest names - now on the concert stage. Most of them are very approachable. Convince them to give you a few minutes of their time and absolute direct honesty. Play for them. In one minute or less they will have a clear picture of you as a violinist. In 10 minutes of you as an interpreter and if you get to talk to them in 20 minutes a clear picture of your character and drive. These three things are the ingredients - plus stamina, but that you will only know if you have to perform 70+ concerts a year and carry a very large repertoire in your fingers/mind at all times and ready at a phone call notice.

Then you will have a clearer understanding.

Those that are highly successful in most highly competitive professions - achieve it not because they love what they do, but because they can do nothing else and are prepared for the alternative of absolute failure. Those that find alternatives usually go that direction and live much more balanced lives.

All that achieve sustained success, achieve it through extraordinarily hard work, intangible qualities, unyielding character combined with innate talent that no one can teach only shape - throughout the world, conservatories graduate thousands of violinists every year that could play every major concerto ever written at a soloist technical level, but perhaps there are only a couple of dozen violinists truly making a life as soloists with orchestras today.

Good luck.

January 13, 2012 at 01:26 AM · A lot of the truly great violinists have such a natural talent that it comes easily to them (or seems to). Look at the careers of Ricci, Menuhin - debuting with orchestras at 12 or so. Us ordinary mortals are never going to be in that league. When i was (a lot) younger, I had so many friends who went off to college determined to be soloists. A couple of years down the line, they realised that might be a bit beyond them - they might have to settle for leading the LSO. By the time they finish college, they're deperate to get a job at the back of a section somewhere - anywhere! And since then it's got a lot harder.

January 13, 2012 at 11:39 AM · Question to ask yourself is: Why do I want to be a concert/violinist? Is it to be famous, or play the violin? I was in your shoes many years back. I ended up with a bad teacher in college. That didn't help my cause at all. But my best advice would be: Don't limit yourself. Practice your tail off, listen to all the folks you can, pick up information all the places you can and decide if it is good information that you can apply, or good information to ignore. I have not regretted my decision to be a professional violinist. I have played some super interesting venues. No one can predict right now whether you can succeed in music or not. Don't limit yourself to just being a soloist in the way that Joshua Bell is a soloist. There are so many ways to use music to touch peoples lives.

January 13, 2012 at 01:59 PM · I'm surprised that I didn't originally contribute to this conversation, and glad that I just read a lot of what's already been said, or I would have repeated a lot of it.

There's one relatively new idea I wanted to contribute that I see has also been suggested very recently - by Rafael. [Leave it to someone with great name - however it's spelled! ;-)] But let me second the motion that Malik should try to play for any major soloist that blows into his town. Many of us can comment wisely about likelihoods of having a solo career, etc. But without hearing this young man, we're just shooting in the dark about whether he should even seriously try. He should also play for the concertmaster of the top orchestra in his town. I'd also suggest that at his age - what is he, about 14-15 now? - his more immediate goal should be to prepare to audtion for a number of good conservatories and colleges with strong performance programs. That's usually not a bad step before performing the Brahms or Sibelius with the Chicago Symphony! If and when he gets into one of those, a lot of reality will start to coalesce on a practical level.

Many full-time soloists will also admit, or hint between the lines, that it seems more glamorous than it is, being constantly on the road, living in planes, airports, hotels, repeating a limited amount of repertoire over and over in any given season, having an very hard time developing or maintaining a social or family life, etc. But to the very small percent who are qualified to be soloists - technically, stamina-wise, musically, charisma-wise, having a high tolerance for constant travel and a lot of solitude etc., to the much, much smaller percent whose luck, karma or whatever other name we want to give to the X-factor, actually gets them a solo career, and to the still smaller percent who truly thrive on such an itinerant, high-wire life personally - more power to them. They constitute a very small club.

August 9, 2013 at 07:49 AM · Thread from the grave...

But if you are still around consider this.

People have laughed and scoffed at my aspirations to do (not exclusively) solo performances throughout my life. People said dont waste your time, violists should do orchestra, chamber music if you've got the drive...

But I simply eat drink and breathe music- it's my life, and performing and communicating with an audience as a soloist has been a dream of mine since a young age. Where there's a will there's a way. If you've got the talent- and more importantly a deep understanding, longing, and ability to play a piece as if it were your own feelings and truly make it your own, you will be distinguished from the rest.

Don't take no for an answer. I refused to settle, and it's starting to blow up! You won't be famous until your famous, but you will be renowned and recognized as a soloist as long as you bring truly heartfelt unique, technically great and MUSICAL INTUITION COUPLED WITH CREATIVITY and a disregard for naysayers- and a conviction that how you play is the musical distillation of you. Break the mold, don't perform the piece well, make it your piece as much as it is the composers work. We are the primary instruments!

August 9, 2013 at 09:49 AM · Good on you Ryan - if you have the passion and the drive follow your own destiny, don't let anyone else set it. Since the journey truly is the destination, and no one can stop you leaving you can't really fail.

[And if they think you are crazy, I'm doing the same thing at the opposite end of the time line.... :) ]

August 10, 2013 at 04:09 AM · Whoa, THAT'S cool! Any performances coming up?

I'm not the original poster btw, just encouraging him/ others like us:)

I wonder what he's up to these days?

August 10, 2013 at 09:10 AM · Actually yes! I'm performing the Beethoven romance in F with our community orchestra in late November. Am I ready for it? No - but I've found the most amazing teacher who was prepared to not only tell me that but also to start to beat me into shape.

There is a wonderful phrase taught to me by a professional dancer: 'when the student is ready, the teacher will appear'. I guess I wasn't really sure - but it just happened to me.

Wish me luck!

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