Undergraduate performance degree - as a senior...

January 5, 2011 at 04:24 AM ·

Lets suppose you retired from a profession and were a serious amateur violinist - and you figured the ideal thing to do was to go back to school to get a degree in performance?

Is this even possible?  And if so how would one go about it?  Lets say you are 5 yrs from retirement, what would be your strategy?

Anyone have an example?

Replies (63)

January 5, 2011 at 05:53 AM ·

 There is a woman at my school who has 3 children and runs a veterinary clinic while working on her undergrad in performance!!! 

January 5, 2011 at 10:26 AM ·

@ Elise: that is my dream! I will apply this year for some undergrad education in music, although being 26 years old and having a home-made technique (that is off the standards) and a background in astronomy, I think they will never accept me. In Swedish academy it is said one needs to have the basic technique 150% correct, and the rest is not as important + they have an unofficial age deadline of around 22 years. Knowing also zero music theory, I am gonna apply anyway. Lets apply together and hope they will accept us!

I did actually apply last year, but I applied to a place called "Edsberg". Not knowing anything about it but liking that the exam was scheduled on the afternoon, I went there, played quite OK. I found out, I did not pass that exam. But what I also found out, is that this is The Most Prestigious music academy in Sweden, and that they only accept one student per year! (Max, some years they rejected all students.) So I think I applied totally to the wrong place :D

January 5, 2011 at 01:31 PM ·

Lena:  Well, can't be that great a school if they turned you down! :D

But you are a spring chicken - its dreadful if the schools are closed to mature students - is that the case for all degree courses or just music?

Here its common for older - even very old - people to go back to college, its just that I have not heard of this for classical music training.  I'm sure it must happen - and if it does I'm thinking of it as a goal.  But in my case it would be a post-retirement one.  That means planning now.... 

January 5, 2011 at 03:28 PM ·

Hi Elise,

no, its just the performance programmes of the music academies, which takes away some of my hopes. Otherewise, at our university we have lots of students of different ages. I am for instance the youngest at my department, while all the PhD-students are 5-15 years older :-)

January 5, 2011 at 04:44 PM ·

Elise, I wonder if it might make more sense for someone with your experience to get a Masters Degree rather than a BA.  Where I live, in the USA in the Boston area, local conservatories and music schools such as Longy and NEC have continuing ed programs, some of which are degree-granting and some of which are not.  I don't have any interest in a performance degree myself, but I have thought about a music ed degree in order to teach kids privately and/or part-time, and I believe I would be able to find a program to do that, and it would be at the masters level.

I also think it depends on what you want to do with the degree, whether you really need one or not.  I would need a degree in order to teach, because there is a lot about teaching in general and string teaching in particular that I still need to learn.  But if you want to practice a lot and get better as a violinist, yourself, under the guidance of a good teacher, you wouldn't need a degree, you could just take private lessons from one of the conservatory teachers.  That is what I have been doing, at least until the conservatory laid my teacher off last spring--now I just go to her home for lessons. 

January 5, 2011 at 04:57 PM ·

Several years ago a woman I know did this.  She was probably in her late 50's Another man I know who is still a practicing MD took a couple of years off to get a conducting degree recently.  He's always been a passionate musician as well.  It's not out of the question at all.

As Karen brought up, though, look into various degrees.  Also, look at whether or not you truly want the piece of paper, or just want the music education.  There might be better ways to get the latter without messing with the former.

January 5, 2011 at 05:21 PM ·

Karen and Lisa,

Great question 'why'.  Access to top teachers is a definite one.  A while back I tried to contact a number of them either directly or through the Conservatory matching system.  The former gave no replies at all and the latter led me to a teacher (who was not at the conservatory but was associated and, from what I could glean from the web, mostly taught children) teacher.  I talked with her on the phone and expressed my passion to learn - and her first reply was that I had to first of all 'lower my expectations'.  Sorry, I want a teacher who will at least aspire to me being a soloist at the met - and then we can seek my real limits.

If within the system I hope to at least have some time with teachers who will help me become as good as I can be.  I am/will of course pursue that outside too and perhaps as I improve the 'network' will kick in and allow me access.

The other reason I suppose is because I want to get an all-round education.  I have very little theory or training in music form and this would kinda force me to do so - besided introducing me to the world of music as apart from that of science that I am so familiar with.

I also looked at the master's programs - but don't they assume you have already reached the BM(performance) level?  So doesn't that set the ante rather higher?  Maybe there is a 'continuing education' music degree - if so I'd be very interested.

Of course I have not done the obvious yet - contact the University itself.  Might be a good idea while I can still use a title after my name (hey, finally, a real use for it!) :D

January 5, 2011 at 08:10 PM ·

Hi Elise,

Go!  I think besides access to excellent educators and a personal challenge, how about the experience of being around many people with similar passions – this has got to be an amazing education and life experience in itself.  From reading your posts it’s clear you are a highly capable person and with your love of violin how could this not be a great thing to at least look into.  Having worked at furthering my education as an adult, not music unfortunately, I could not figure out how to carry on with it, raising kids and keeping paycheques flowing with a single income at the time.  If you are in a position where you could do it, why not investigate?  And as Karen and others have brought up, I really hope there are various ways to have access to this kind of education for people over typical university age!….maybe continuing ed and or post graduate degrees/diplomas, or an excellent teacher to take you as a student, or a full degree.  In thinking of a move to near Halifax I’ve looked into what kinds of options there might be for some music education, continuing ed etc. at Dalhousie and others - although I don’t think a music degree is in my future, my background in violin is nowhere near yours, I still am a serious student and want to be able to study all that I can musically.  So rooting for you and very curious what you might find out.

Heather.

January 5, 2011 at 09:46 PM ·

Elise,

I have no idea how to go about it, or whether it is a good idea, but you're my HERO!!

January 5, 2011 at 09:56 PM ·

" ... and her first reply was that I had to first of all 'lower my expectations'."

This may be the stupidest thing I've heard all day.  O_<

The best thing is that you didn't let it stop you.  I remember getting that reaction from someone in college once (I later learned that he turned down all female students as a matter of course).  I wanted a double major in astronomy and needed the idiot in charge of the department to sign a paper to let me do it.  I still remember him smirking at me saying, "You don't love astronomy, you like astronomy."  My response was, "So are you going to sign the paper or what?"  He signed it.

Some people make themselves into obstacles.  And obstacles are made to be knocked down, circumvented, or ignored.

January 5, 2011 at 10:00 PM ·

 Elise,

It shouldn't be impossible to find a program. You probably will not get any scholarship, though, so be prepared to pay your own way.

Scott

January 5, 2011 at 10:07 PM ·

Yes, the "lower your expectations" comment was atrocious.  I was always told that, because I didn't take up violin until I was 12, I would never be as good as I could have been had I started earlier.  Until, that is, the man I studied with in college, who had been a year or so older than that when he began.  He did quite a bit of recording with the piano trio he was with, and is currently teaching at a name-brand music school.  Not too shabby.

January 5, 2011 at 11:58 PM ·

"?I have very little theory or training in music form and this would kinda force me to do so"

Wouldn't you need to learn piano to go beyond the basics in theory and analysis?  Don't most academic programs in music (even violin performance) require at least a basic competence in piano?

January 6, 2011 at 03:53 AM ·

From what I understand keyboard is required for a music major, auditions are required for admittance to any music degree program. I was allowed to have the lessons with no audition since I was not a music major, but there was space in the program, and the orchestra was hurting for string players. As far as teachers who discourage, perhaps just expressing your love of the violin and desire for as much improvement as possible and the willingness to commit to at least 20 hours a week of practice,  is all that needs to be said. I had one teacher (master degree in performance, in three orchestras, only one lesson with her) said I could get into a paid orchestra, another I never had the guts to ask for fear it would be insulting. She was a great teacher, and did tell kids starting at ten that is was late in the game to dream of a professional career, maybe partly to impress the work involved.

You might be able to check out, online, requirements for a music major at your school of choice.


January 6, 2011 at 09:18 PM ·

"lower your expectations"

A response to this could be along the lines of, "If you aim for the stars and miss, you may yet land on the Moon. If you don't aim for the stars you'll never get off the ground."

If this brings about an immediate termination of the initial meeting with the prospective teacher, then well and good; you haven't lost anything, and maybe will have caused someone to think things through.

January 6, 2011 at 10:01 PM ·

Or another response to "lower your expectations:"

"Why?  Are you not a very good teacher?"

January 7, 2011 at 01:01 AM ·

Janis, sometimes that could indeed justifiably be said, but I think one has to be very careful when and to whom it is said, and avoid it if at all possible (potential legal reasons, perhaps?).

There are good competent teachers who may not be able, or do not wish, for whatever reason, to teach beyond a particular level, or might prefer to teach beginners only, and then eventually pass the pupil to another teacher for more advanced study. (This process has gone on for centuries.) Such teachers would be wise to make this clear to the pupil (or parent) at the outset – I expect most do anyway – and should never under any circumstances suggest "lowering expectations", a faintly insulting phrase which makes the assumption that someone they do not really know is incapable of progressing beyond a certain level, as well as inadvertently shooting themselves in the foot by casting a shadow of doubt on their own competence to teach!

January 7, 2011 at 01:06 AM ·

I doubt there would be terribly serious legal repercussions.  The most pressing concern would be whether or not the adult student in question determined that that was a bridge she didn't mind burning.  Of course, careful consideration should be part of that determination.

January 7, 2011 at 06:52 AM ·

I think it is a great idea to return to college and pursue your dream.  We only stop learning when they put us 10 feet under. 

I don't think a master's program is an option as you would need to have taken the required undergrad theory and music history courses.  There could possibly be an option to test and see if your knowledge of theory is up to par so you could apply to a master's program but only the college can make that decision.  Most schools with a performance program will also offer a minor in music.  You may want to start out ticking off the credits for a minor and if all goes well continue on for the BA.

January 7, 2011 at 02:57 PM ·

Maybe you shouldn't be quite so hard on the teacher who, in a telephone conversation, without knowing you personally and without seeing you face to face, suggested you should lower your expectations.  I don't know exactly what you communicated to her about your goals, but if you told her you were aiming to be a concert soloist, it's hardly surprising that she made the "lower your expectations" remark. 

I'm not saying that it can't be done (though I doubt anyone can point to very many persons in your position who have become concert soloists), but I suspect that you know yourself that such a goal is highly unrealistic--even for a highly talented youngster who's prepared to practice six or eight hours a day, let alone for a self-described "returning senior."  I suspect that framing your goals in that way is just your way of expressing your enthusiasm for the violin, your eagerness to reach the highest level of playing within your capacity, and your willingness to work hard to achieve that wholly realistic end.

But just put yourself in the position of the teacher at the other end of the line.  She was hearing a complete stranger--evidently a mature person, not a budding child prodigy--telling her (if I'm correct about how you expressed your enthusiasm and willingness to work hard) that she wanted to become a concert soloist.  If she took you at your word, not being sure that you weren't wholly serious in this ambition, she wouldn't want to hold out promises that, as a seasoned professional (I assume) with an experienced and clear-eyed awareness of the opportunities and outcomes, she knew she couldn't possibly count on delivering, and that no other teacher can, for that matter.  Even Itzhak Perlman or Zakhar Bron can't promise their most talented young students careers as soloists!

So maybe the "lower your expectations" remark was based on an innocent misunderstanding of your intentions and a sincere and honest desire not to promise what she knew she couldn't deliver.  In fact, if she had encouraged you to think that she could transform you into a concert soloist, wouldn't you suspect her of being a charlatan?

The likelihood that most of her students are children isn't surprising, either, and doesn't necessarily mean you couldn't learn from her.  Think about it:  most people taking violin instruction are children.  I doubt there are enough adult amateur students in most communities to sustain more than a very few teachers specializing in adults.  And if you intend to progress to a more advanced program of study at an institution that trains professionals, you'll probably need to prepare yourself by studying for a year or so with a teacher at the high-school level.

Good luck with your studies.  May you become the best violinist you can possibly be!

January 7, 2011 at 07:45 PM ·

I wish I could agree Bill - but that is not how it happened (least from my perspective).  Sure I am enthusiastic about playing but I really have no presensions of being a violin star.  Besides, even if that was true the comment is destructive.  Why dampen anyone's dreams just for the sake of it?  Even if the chance of reaching a goal is 1/1,000,000,000,000 they are still entitled and be enthused by them.  Its not as if she was protecting me from some sure folly.  She introduced the limitations as part of her own teaching strategy for adult learners - without even having met me, let alone hear me play.   Indeed, for all she know I could have been some child prodigy that was returning to the instrument after a few years hiatus (wish that were true ;) ).

But who knows what other factors may have been at play - perhaps there was a cultural difference and my energy was misread as delusional arrogance!  Oh dear.... 

 

January 7, 2011 at 08:25 PM ·

Unfortunately, a lot of people read "energy" as childishness.  Ignore them.
 

January 7, 2011 at 09:43 PM ·

I have to agree with Bill. Had she encouraged your aspirations seriously, she would be suspect. We can't expect to attain in a few short years, what others have dedicated their lives to. That applies to any discipline. I think she was being kind and realistic.

January 7, 2011 at 09:50 PM ·

So what if her comment had led me to the realization that trying to play the violin at the level I wanted to achieve (since she made no attempt to provide 'realistic' goals) was hopeless?  I must admit the thought crossed my mind - but am happy to report that already I know it wasn't true. 

January 7, 2011 at 10:40 PM ·

Anyone who responds to enthusiasm with a bucket of cold water shouldn't be teaching.  If a student does seem to be too enthusiastic or have too high hopes, then those hopes will be realigned rapidly as the work begins, and they will either buckle down and get to work, or give up.  It's not up to the teacher to worry about that.  It's not a teacher's job to separate out the Worthy from the Unworthy.  The instrument itself will do that just fine.  It's up to the teacher to respond with, "I can help you get as good as you're willing and able to work at getting.  How far that goes is up to you -- the time and effort you have to invest and are willing to invest."

Anyone who had met my own decision to master this device to the best of my ability and resources with a "kindly" exhortation to lower my expectations would have been hung up on.  Why should I bother forking over my money and trusting my musical development to someone who clearly isn't willing to invest as much effort in teaching me as I am willing to invest in learning?

Besides, what "aspirations" was she so dreadfully at risk of encouraging?  Getting a four-year degree?  It's not like Elise said she wanted to take Itzhak Perlman out at the knees.  It sounds as if this person didn't even know what Elise's "aspirations" were before she decided it was time to take them down a peg.  If that is someone's first instinct, that's a bad sign.

January 7, 2011 at 11:06 PM ·

I was responding based on the "solo at the Met" comment, sorry if you were kidding about having said that to the teacher being discussed. Or sorry if you said it, were kidding, and she didn't understand that you were simply being enthusiastic.

January 8, 2011 at 02:38 AM ·

 Honestly I think this whole expectations thing is a bit of a red herring.  I didn't talk to my current teacher about "expectations" at all and I'm glad I didn't.  We talked about my past experience, what I was working on now, what kind of music I liked to play, what role I liked to play in ensembles, I played for her and she offered some comments.  We did talk about goals, but I think those are different than expectations, and more useful.  One of the most fun things about being an adult returner to violin, in my opinion, is that there are really no expectations.  You can make of it what you want to, and it might take you somewhere quite different than you would have expected.

January 8, 2011 at 09:06 AM ·

@Rebecca: ah I see.  But the quote was 'aspire to me being a soloist at the met'.  Its all in the word 'aspire' - perhaps we have a different meaning?  To me it means something I aim for to get me in the right direction.  Thus a high jumper might aspire to touch the moon  - he obviously knows that he can't jump that high ( ;o ) but it helps to get him to try to jump his highest.  Likewise, I can aspire to solo at the met as an image to help me learn to my limits.

@Karen I don't think the comment was entirely a red herring since it illustrated so well a major issue for the older student - an assumption of learning deficiency.  Its rather similar to the atitude - normal when I was a child - that men achieved while women supported (sadly that continues in too many regions and fields).  You are assumed to be a poor learner and hence, not worthy of intense teaching, opposite to a youngster who starts off with the assumption that s/he is eminently teachable. 

I once had someone comment, after a fairly successful attempt at a piece (a year or so after I returned to the violin), that 'well you must have been really good as a child then'.  It wasn't a bad comment, indeed it was a compliment, but it did leave the conversation as a 'fait-accompli' that I could not possibly have learned much as an adult!.

January 8, 2011 at 11:22 AM ·

@ Elise: i DO believe we as grown ups and restarters or late starters or everything CAN Become concert soloists. it is all about the dream, and how strong we will pursue it and tackle the greater barriers.

it is all abt the attitude of the teachers. dont waste time and money on those that dont share your dreams. i would not call a supportive teacher a charlatan, that i reserve for alternative medicine performers claiming to treat leukemia with voodoo.

i think the biggest hinder for you will be to get through a big bunch of close minded people that require you as an aspiring pro to look, behave and sound in a certain way, and have the naive childs adaptability.

January 8, 2011 at 01:12 PM ·

Lena: Perhaps we should form an association of violinist Valkyries - challenge our playing if you dare!!!

Actually its time someone actually looked at how people play at different ages, for those that do so all their lives, those that return and those that start late.  On the whole these comparisons are made mostly with respect to speed - but what about interpretation? tone? musicality?  It seems likely that speed is something favoured by early startersbut is that true for the other factors?  Its really another topic, but experience is surely a major factor in musical expression.  Does a 20 yr old vunderkind necessarily play Ave Maria better than a late bloomer?

Funny, I don't think other brances of music or arts have the same assumed bias. 

January 8, 2011 at 01:35 PM ·

 @Elise, I don't disagree with you that a bias against older and/or returning students is there, and that it's harmful.  I don't know how I would have responded to that particular teacher--I suspect negatively, just as you did.  I agree that it could be seen as an indicator of a less-than-helpful attitude.

But I guess I'd like to encourage you, and others, to just cast that whole issue aside, and move on from it.  Something like that is actually trivial in the overall scheme of why a particular teacher/student combination turns out to be a good fit (or not).  Don't waste your time and effort being mad at those people or trying to psychoanalyze what's wrong with them, or getting worked up about how you won't let them crush your dream.  If your dream is that easily crushed and needs that much defending to keep it alive (I don't think yours is like that), then it's really not of much value.

I personally despise that saying, "Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."  It strikes me as almost old-time Calvinist, aiming for perfection in this life, when it is unattainable, and then failing and having to live with the reality of the total depravity of mankind.

Modern beliefs tend to be more forgiving, viewing everyone as having unique contributions to creation, with the moon a benevolent and whimsical spirit, but also a dead rock that is somewhat sterile in its frightening beauty.

Most people, even non-astronomers, know that the moon is much, much closer than the stars--so that quote is not even a good metaphor at its most basic level.  It's not a truth that makes you free.  

January 8, 2011 at 01:38 PM ·

@ Elise: why not? that would be a very nice idea! and one that gives public concerts also, so that people see that IT IS possible...and that is free in the style of the player, advocting free technique, so that we can sound how we want on our concerts and be an inspiration to the artistic freedom :)

Personally, I think one has advantage starting later if developing a more individual musical personality. Less bias, and less influence from teachers also could increase the individuality. Yet, I wonder, how could one test things such as musicality in some objective way?

I think the biggest barrier when aspiring for professional career as older, is that one already has a developed personality and mind. I am absolutely sure, it is possible to learn to play very difficult pieces correctly, cleanly and musically satisfying as returner. But if I would pick the Brahms concerto and learn it more or less correct and quite well (but not wonderful without help, because its so difficult) etc, and go to a violin teacher, following might happen to me:

he/she would see that I hold the bow wrong, hold the violin wrong, move the left fingers too much (autodidact technique). And think "Hmm, that passage does not sound well. But its because she has all the basics wrong. Its useless to tell her some tricks how to improve it.." and probably simply discourage me from the piece or endure the lessons without giving me feedback on how to improve, and I will maybe not even know that he considered this passage sounding badly. Fact is, this has already happened to me, that some teachers see a different (what they consider wrong) way in the basics, and don't help you with a piece because they assume "wrong basics > you will never tackle that passage anyway, so I am not gonna help you unless you spend 3 years on relearning the basics" and one does not improve the piece. On the other hand, if he would choose to give the tricks anyway, at least try...maybe it would start sounding much better? (I am sure it would, because one needs somebody that shows you how-to, that you can mimick from.) The thing is, one needs to get past close-mindedness, the idea some have that "an older can never become concert soloist" or "with wrong basics you cannot play the violin because you don't sound like everybody else".

It is a bit like in science: if I would find proofs of that the Universe is not isotropic, I would have first difficulties to get past the referee processes, and when/if that would happen, I would have difficulties being taken seriously, because everybody would doubt a work that is so different from the standards...one would need someone more to confirm the finding, so that the citations would start supporting you.

 

January 8, 2011 at 02:58 PM ·

@Lena:

@ Elise: why not? that would be a very nice idea! and one that gives public concerts also, so that people see that IT IS possible...and that is free in the style of the player, advocting free technique, so that we can sound how we want on our concerts and be an inspiration to the artistic freedom :)

Right on!  I strongly suspect that given a choice audiences would be very happy to hear a variety of players and styles and not just the concerto elite - that will always be an epitome of sorts but there are many ways of listening that a concert hall does not satisfy. Imagine a virtuoso strutting their skills at a funeral.  it detracts from the purpose of the event.  An older pensive, thoughtful - and yes perhaps even grieving - player woulld surely fit the environment far better.

Personally, I think one has advantage starting later if developing a more individual musical personality. Less bias, and less influence from teachers also could increase the individuality. Yet, I wonder, how could one test things such as musicality in some objective way?

Actually, there is only one way to test ANY performance - by the reaction of listeners.  The concert-savy audience might very well shy away from an older, less technically adept performer - but would an audience in a church?  A bar or music hall?  I doubt it - impressed as they might be by pyrotechnics they might really prefer to listen to Mozart's Adagio played by you :D

I think the biggest barrier when aspiring for professional career as older, is that one already has a developed personality and mind. I am absolutely sure, it is possible to learn to play very difficult pieces correctly, cleanly and musically satisfying as returner. But if I would pick the Brahms concerto and learn it more or less correct and quite well (but not wonderful without help, because its so difficult) etc, and go to a violin teacher, following might happen to me:

he/she would see that I hold the bow wrong, hold the violin wrong, move the left fingers too much (autodidact technique). And think "Hmm, that passage does not sound well. But its because she has all the basics wrong. Its useless to tell her some tricks how to improve it.." and probably simply discourage me from the piece or endure the lessons without giving me feedback on how to improve, and I will maybe not even know that he considered this passage sounding badly. Fact is, this has already happened to me, that some teachers see a different (what they consider wrong) way in the basics, and don't help you with a piece because they assume "wrong basics > you will never tackle that passage anyway, so I am not gonna help you unless you spend 3 years on relearning the basics" and one does not improve the piece. On the other hand, if he would choose to give the tricks anyway, at least try...maybe it would start sounding much better? (I am sure it would, because one needs somebody that shows you how-to, that you can mimick from.) The thing is, one needs to get past close-mindedness, the idea some have that "an older can never become concert soloist" or "with wrong basics you cannot play the violin because you don't sound like everybody else".

 Absolutely - but if there is a market we may yet get high-quality teachers for whom the product and not the precise technique are prime - much as is the case in say Jazz.  A jazz teacher does not harp on how the instrument is played, just on what comes out.  Sure, none-idea technique will likely have performance detractions but for much music it is not essential - indeed, I would guess that idiosyncratic methods could even have their own benefits.

It is a bit like in science: if I would find proofs of that the Universe is not isotropic, I would have first difficulties to get past the referee processes, and when/if that would happen, I would have difficulties being taken seriously, because everybody would doubt a work that is so different from the standards...one would need someone more to confirm the finding, so that the citations would start supporting you.

Sounds awfully like Einstein - he was a clerk when he did much of his best work.  But you are a bit hard on science.  If you can get it published in a lowly location it will be ignored initially but eventually, when the field catches up, it will be lauded as ahead of its time.

January 8, 2011 at 03:21 PM ·

I think Karen Allendoerfer has exactly the right idea.  Forget about "dreams," "shooting for the moon and ending up in the stars," and all the other vapid slogans and catchphrases the advertising industry conjures up to part us from our money.  Focus instead on incremental steps to improve your playing, with the ultimate goal of becoming the best violinist you can--a goal that hopefully will constantly elude you as you constantly improve.  Find an experienced teacher, even if his or her other students are third-graders, who will help you do this.  And enjoy yourself.

Although even I, a plodding and talentless amateur with limited technical ability and musical imagination, who can't even be counted on to play three-octave scales in moderate tempo with wholly reliable intonation, from time to time indulge in flights of fantasy in which I dash off the Tchaikovsky concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic to thundering applause.  But I'm careful not to share these moments of delusion with anyone else.

January 8, 2011 at 03:50 PM ·

For me yes and no.  I am reminded of the adage that he that has no goal is likely to get there.  I think you have to set goals, short and long term ones, but never get too locked into them so that they can evolve as you progress.  Time will tell you what is possible - but without goals you are more likely to go down blind avenuess.

For example in my naive state I was drawn to solo performance and pursued this idea.  However, exposure to quartet playing has made me an addict!  Perhaps its a slippery slope and eventually I will end up trying to play in the virtual you tube symphony orchestra :D.  My current goal is to be as good a quartet player as possible - the beauty of it is that it is a combination of solo playing with the most amazing collaborative form. 

OTOH, wiht respect to practise I must admit to using the method you and Karen favor - just work on whatever ails and improve.  The benefits can only be high.

January 8, 2011 at 05:01 PM ·

Just to clarify, I'm not now and never was talking about having no goals, and I don't think Bill was either.  I was talking about having goals that are meaningful and helpful.  I agree with Bill that this pervasive jargon about "dreams" and "the moon" has become fluffy sloganeering that is neither of those.  But Bill, c'mon, referring to anyone (even yourself) as a "plodding, talentless amateur" isn't any better ;-) 

January 8, 2011 at 05:32 PM ·

I see.

But to also clarify, when I used the stars analogy, I had no thought about the moon/stars adage you used.  Besides, we are all different.  Also I would distinguish goals from aspirations (which is what I was referring to that sidetracked us a bit).  I can aspire to be better than Heifetz and yet have a goal of forming a respectable amateur quartet.  to my mind there are no inconsistencies.  Clearly that would not work for everyone...

January 8, 2011 at 05:40 PM ·

Why are people so afraid of dreaming? I think, it is not reaching the goals that is the most important, but to dream and strive for it! After all, internally without considering the time line or boolean logics , what is the internal difference between a memory and a dream in a persons' mind? For me, the difference is mainly in that while the memory is polluted by reality, the dream is pure and nurtures us. It is not reaching the goals that makes us develop, but to pursue the dream.  And the truth, is only limited by the imagination.

If Elise believes she can become a violinist of of concert level, SHE CAN. Maybe already the fact that she can dream and allows herself to do so, proofs that she has an enormous potential others only can wish to have.

January 8, 2011 at 06:17 PM ·

Lena where is teh {kiss] emoticon!! :D

I agree, if you don't dream you will achieve something, the chances of it happeneing are minescule because everyone else is dreaming its impossible (for them OR you...

January 8, 2011 at 06:26 PM ·

 Who said anything about being afraid of dreaming?

January 8, 2011 at 06:47 PM ·

All this is is a difference in communication style.  Some people may find a given saying or way of looking at something inspirational, another will not.  A teacher and student who have diametrically opposite views on it will probably not work well together.  That's about it.

I'm thinking of my own experience as a newbie who had had at the time about two months on the viola.  My teacher played a three-octave scale for me, just to play it and show me the sort of thing I'd be expected to do in a couple years time.  I asked him about the shifts, and he showed them to me.  I went home that week and proceeded to dent my shins on the 3-5th shift without success.  Obviously -- it was so far out of my reach that it was ridiculous.  But it would have frustrated me far, far more had he said, "I'm not showing you that because you're not ready."  I figured out on my own that I wasn't ready.

Another student might have benefited from being told they weren't ready and should attempt it.  They may have found a week of failure disheartening to the point where they might have given up.  That would be simply a matter of two students having different personalities and needing different approaches.  The "you're not ready so I won't show you" would be the best thing for a student with that personality, whereas for me I would have left a teacher who did that.

A great teacher will recognize that these two students need different approaches, and handle them differently.

A good teacher will recognize that these two students need different approaches, and maybe say, "You might benefit more from this other teacher over here who would work better with you."

A teacher who should probably find another way to earn a living would insist on using their approach and, when it produced a bad result, conclude that the student had no "talent" or  should "lower their expectations."

In any event, the words "lower," "your," and "expectations" should under no circumstances exit any teacher's mouth in that order, for any reason.

I think we're also saying two different things when we say "be a soloist at the Met."  Is it possible for a given learner to play that well?  Sure, if they're willing and able to climb the almost unbelievable mountain of hard labor and analytical thinking that it will take.  However, it is a mountain that takes a minimum of a decade of unrelenting labor to climb.

That said, is it possible for an adult learner to actually physically get to the Met as a soloist?  Probably not.  There is a mechanism in place to propel people onto that course, but those on-ramps are located about forty years in the past.  There isn't a single major orchestra who would know how to approach -- or be interested in -- an adult learner who can play Paganini after seven years, whereas they know exactly how to approach and more importantly market a 10 year old in the same situation.

Again, we're talking about two different things.  It's not possible for a 50 year old to successfully be a pop star, either -- and again, it's more a question of marketing than because a 50 year old would be unable to play the music.

January 8, 2011 at 06:56 PM ·

Elise, awhile back you brought up the question of just what IS possible for the adult beginner or rebeginner, and that's probably the crux of this whole discussion.

There seems to be a level of technical virtuosity that is close to impossible to develop later in life if the groundwork isn't firmly laid earlier.  That and only that, though.  As you point out, that isn't what Ave Maria is all about.

I have spent many lovely hours playing quartets with a friend who turned 85 a few months ago.  She started cello at about 50, with no childhood experience.  The lightning-fast showpiece stuff isn't within her grasp, but she plays with a lovely tone, good intonation, accurate rhythm, and strong musical feeling and intelligence.  What more could you ask for?  I'd rather listen to her than to a few of the so-called prodigies I've suffered whose only real skill is the pyrotechnics.

 

January 8, 2011 at 07:29 PM ·

Janis- 50-year-old pop star?

Susan Boyle

January 8, 2011 at 08:16 PM ·

I'm not sure she'd be pop -- and a large part of her appeal is the almost inconceivable strangeness of finding success at age 50.  There is, unfortunately, no similar starmaking show for talented adult-starter classical musicians.  It would be interesting to see what would happen if there were, actually.  That would be equivalent to building a new on-ramp.

January 8, 2011 at 08:29 PM ·

Communication issues might be the key. Goals, stated to the teacher, lofty aspirations shared with a few trusted people, dreams simply enjoyed for their motivating value.

It is not only the "older" student who is having their announced aspirations tempered by teachers. I believe the violin is the second most difficult instrument to master. Millions worldwide are studying it and there are just a select few that get to the concertizing level. Of them, as often discussed here and elsewhere, individuals have their favorites and some they can't stand to listen to. From what I understand, there are many talented young people with performance degrees, who had started at 4 or 5, who can't find a slot in a paid orchestra, let alone dream of being a soloist. So a statement about that aspiration might make one sound like an interloper.

I never stated any aspirations to the one teacher I valued. Instead, I worked and worked and worked. She noticed and mentioned it several times. When she announced she was overloaded and was planning on cutting students based on what she assessed their practice time and effort to be, I was told she could tell that I spent 20 hours a week and wouldn't think of cutting me.  When I was told by other students and their family members, (at a recital) that I sounded like the teacher, I was over the moon. When the teacher asked if I would be interested in subbing for her at a wedding, I was in heaven.

I mention these things to illustrate how the work and love of the violin simply for itself will bring things that surpass any type of encouragement that might come from a conversation about aspirations. Work, love, effort will bring what they bring.

Teachers are violinists, some had those dreams and aspirations and were crushed, some are all ego, some are all about making money and will tell you anything you want to hear, some are nuts (the violin attracts some high strung individuals :) . The best are blessings with a generosity of spirit that will be hard on you at times, and will occasionally make a comment that is so wonderful you can hold it in your heart for the rest of your life.

Lest you think I know nothing of shooting for the moon, I am currently back at school working on a degree (non music) and I am in my mid fifties. Do I dream of graduating and having multiple high salary job offers? YES, do I go around telling others this? NO (the internet doesn't count). Instead, when confronted with condescending students or a smirking instructor I just dig in, do my best, and shoot for that A. When it comes, when an instructor seems to adjust their attitude toward me from being tolerant to being impressed, it feels soooooo good.

The journey brings more real satisfaction. Go in low, work your butt off, surprise the hell out them. That will demonstrate what you have and what you can do so much more than making grand statements at the offset. Learning the violin isn't for the faint of heart you know!

January 8, 2011 at 09:14 PM ·

Rebecca - I admire your quiet resolve and its a great way to go.  I agree, discussing aspirations with a teacher is probably counter productive since you might come accross as a blowhard.  OTOH I think you would agree that discussing goals is a very different kettle of fish.  If you can't tell your teacher that you dearly want to play in a quartet how can s/he help you develop the necessary skills?

Janis: "That said, is it possible for an adult learner to actually physically get to the Met as a soloist?  Probably not.  There is a mechanism in place to propel people onto that course, but those on-ramps are located about forty years in the past.  There isn't a single major orchestra who would know how to approach -- or be interested in -- an adult learner who can play Paganini after seven years, whereas they know exactly how to approach and more importantly market a 10 year old in the same situation."

Well, if a multi-millionaire can pay for a joy ride to the space station then sooner or later they are going to hire a major orchestra to accompany them at the Met.  Now, if only I was that rich!!

But you are of course right - but it also need not be that way for ever.  As orchestras get more squeezed financially they are either going to have to evolve or die out - and one way to evolve is to recognize that there are a LOT of older instrumentalists that might just be interested in a more diverse musical fodder.  And, I have an idea.....

January 8, 2011 at 10:25 PM ·

Ok, I see what you mean. I suggest you read Buri's post on this thread:

http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=17221

I always find much insight and information in his posts.

January 8, 2011 at 11:24 PM ·

Elise, I'm wondering if it isn't a bit like the talent-show thing for adult learner classical musicians.  :-)  Like Britain's Got Talent or American Idol or something.  It would actually be quite neat -- not as multi-million dollar and not as many viewers, but something like that would be very cool.

I wonder if the BSO wouldn't do something like that.  They've already shown themselves to be open to members of the community and amateur musicians with things like the Rusty Musician business.  Auditions for a featured soloist, or even just someone they can spotlight a bit, who learned any orchestral instrument after the age of 30 or some such might be neat.  Or they could have different grades for people who learned after 30, 40, 50 ...  Might be neat!

January 8, 2011 at 11:26 PM ·

@ Elise

You reminded me of one idea I got earlier today. May I email you about it?

January 8, 2011 at 11:36 PM ·

Of course - but may not reply fast - packing panic here - flying to the states at 8 am

January 9, 2011 at 04:39 AM ·

People certainly have hired an accompanist and rented out the Met or Carnegie.  Florence Foster Jenkins comes to mind.

January 9, 2011 at 09:12 AM ·

The topic has been very interesting - but it has not really touched on the practicalities of my proposed venture.  

Lets suppose a senior had to compete their way into a performance course and they had 5-10 years to prepare.  What would be the priorities?  And would they be any different from those a young college student would have to take?

January 9, 2011 at 01:33 PM ·

Read Mendy Smith's blog from a year or two ago.  Start here, January 2009:

http://www.violinist.com/blog/mendys/20091/

At age ~39, she auditioned for and was accepted to a music degree program, with scholarship, when she was between jobs as an engineer.  She ended up getting another engineering job and not pursuing the music degree after all, but she is still an active blogger and violist.  It was a lovely story to watch unfold, and very inspirational.

January 9, 2011 at 08:57 PM ·

Yes, I know someone in her 40's who was working in another field and then went back and started a BM in Music Ed. from scratch.  She's just about to finish.

 

 

January 9, 2011 at 11:08 PM ·

Karen - thanks for the link!  I've read the first bit - that puts it very well - and will read more later. 

Essena (hi): what kind of a course did your friend enrol in?   Is she still liking it?  Would love to hear more...

January 10, 2011 at 11:55 PM ·

I think with 5-10 years (pre-retirement) to prepare you are in an ideal position. I've thought about this myself. What you want is the same thing that, say, a 10 year old kid would want, who is a potential music major...preparation.

The key I think would be to find a teacher who has *sucessfully prepared other students (of any age)* for applying/auditioning/being accepted into the level of school you're considering. You want someone who has been down this road with, ideally, multiple students. It doesn't matter that you're 50 instead of 10 (well, it matters only in whether the teacher in question believes it's possible and will accept an older student.

What you would want to say to the teachers when you are screening them is that you want to be prepared 'as if you would be auditioning for college music programs' in 5-10 years. **You are not asking the teacher to prepare you for a Carnegie recital...you are asking them to prepare you to apply to music school** that's a very different (and more realistic) level.

Search MTNA chapter websites, get names and phone numbers from the local college, talk to parents of students who are applying...find out who is teaching the current crop of university/conservatory applicants. There is where you will find your potential teachers.

January 11, 2011 at 02:57 AM ·

Thanks Liz - that is great and obvious advice.  And by obvious I mean advice one would not think of but would realize is obvious when some sage came up with it!!

Now, to find that teacher... Oh....

January 11, 2011 at 03:11 AM ·

 Elise, I'm coming at this from a different direction (and I apologize in advance if it steps on anyone's toes! I don't mean to).

Have you considered the age of your prospective fellow students?  Even serious conservatory students are going to be their age--young--and that can be difficult for more mature people to cope with (my basis for this comment:  25+ years as an English professor.  I attract 'mature' students to my classes because of the discussion format, and they nearly without exception complain [to me, not in public] about how hard it is to work with younger students, who, no matter how good, are rarely as committed on a day-to-day basis to their work.)  {See why I apologized?}  

You would be in classes with people whose whole outlook will be different--and this CAN be fantastic...it can also be hell-on-wheels.  

I think you should go for it...just be aware of some of the more hidden ramifications.

January 11, 2011 at 04:31 AM ·

I suppose one can never consider all the ramifications - and no I had not thought about their ages particulary.  But if they are less committeed that might make my life a little easier - it would be harder if they are all super smart and super competetive!  OTOH I've found students to be much more tollerant of diversity than they were when I was in college at least.  So thats a plus.

January 11, 2011 at 03:35 PM ·

 You're right about the tolerance--that's been a major tenet of school dogma for some time now, though it's more usually racial/ethnic than ageist.  And I'm sure your professors will LOVE you--a student who cares, with experience, I mean, it's a win-win.  

Just adding other colors to the palette, that's all!  I wish you great success!

January 11, 2011 at 07:46 PM ·

I can't help but be curious as to the reason for this thread. You stated you are a professor at the university you plan to attend, are currently taking lessons from a graduate of the violin performance program there, yet come here to ask how one should go about preparing. I would think as someone already acquainted with the university it would simply involve asking fellow professors. I would also think that as the information on this page indicates

http://www.physiology.utoronto.ca/res/list/stanley.htm you would certainly know more than most people on the planet about learning something new.

Are these posts some sort of research? 

January 11, 2011 at 08:43 PM ·

everybody but scientists love conspiration theories... :-)

January 12, 2011 at 04:22 AM ·

Rebecca.  Good grief.

I obtained a degree in biology umpteen years ago and now do full time research and teach grad students.  I have NO idea about humanities/arts programs let alone the demands of a performance degree.  And even less about how one would go about this as a senior.

And no, my research plate (synapses) is full.

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