Orchestra Musician: stress-free job?

February 17, 2011 at 10:53 PM ·


Who knew? Apparently being an "orchestra musician" is a high-paying, stress-free job. Read the description:

"Orchestra Musician
We all will sing in unison when it comes to support the fact that music is pure stress relief. Yes, all music lovers and musicians pour out their daily anxiety, stress and tension in the creative upsurge of music. As an orchestra musician, one is under no hurry of job timings or hectic work schedules. With peace in mind and heart, musicians create pulsating music, that is intellectually and spiritually satisfying for them. Stress is indeed, a creative process for them that inspires them to work better. Orchestra musicians enjoy stability, good salary and satisfaction of life in music. The orchestra musicians earn an annual salary of USD 50,000 TO USD 110,000 depending on the geographical location. This is one of the most stress free jobs that gives you job satisfaction."

It's from buzzle.com

Here's another stress-free job:

Writer at Buzzle.com

Make up complete fabrications about things about which you know nothing at all! 


Replies (24)

February 17, 2011 at 11:41 PM ·

 Hahahahahaha! Hahaha. Ha.

February 17, 2011 at 11:53 PM ·

Well there's a load of BS.

Whoever wrote the article is not an orchestral musician.

February 18, 2011 at 12:28 AM ·

Maybe he was talking about amature orchestras (oh, except for the great salary part)! ;o)

February 18, 2011 at 01:19 AM ·

Even amateurs like me know that professional performing jobs are stressful!   

If a player is late, stops or make a mistake, collegues, conductor and the audience (composed of many music conoisseurs) will notice it...

February 18, 2011 at 01:22 AM ·

I'm not an orchestra musician, but I know a couple. if the orchestra job alone isn't stressful enough, let's take into account the other jobs they must work in order to supplement their 'good' salary, such as teaching, private gigs, etc. One even has a small string shop and repairs instruments for students at the music school. Talk about a labor of love! These guys are going nonstop all day every day. Stress-free, ha!

February 18, 2011 at 01:40 AM ·

I may be completely off the mark here, but isn't an orchestra job one of the most coveted professions for classical musicians?  Compared to all the issues of teaching a full studio, or scratching a living from gig to gig, the pay and job security in an orchestra isn't bad.  I'm not saying that being a symphony musician is free of stress, but comparatively speaking, it seems to be a pretty good living compared to the alternatives.

February 18, 2011 at 03:32 AM ·

All depends on the capabilities of the player...lots of time demands, but playing music for a living is not like stressing about patients dying or people losing all their assets....

February 18, 2011 at 03:36 AM ·

 @ Smiley -

We're not saying that people don't covet these jobs. But this article says "there are certain jobs where stress rarely exists" and that "you can work in a stress free atmosphere and enjoy your work." That characterization is way off the mark. Between the years of auditions and competitions, the dedication and sacrifice required for the hours upon hours of solitary practice, the debt you're likely to be in when you graduate, the uncertainty of keeping and holding a job in the field, the difficulty of learning new music all the time at a high level...it may be a rewarding profession, but it's by no means one of the least stressful career tracks out there. They're not talking about musical jobs; they're talking about jobs in general. I think that's what we're all giggling at. :)

February 18, 2011 at 03:46 AM ·


Yes, it is coveted because it is one of the few ways one can earn a consistent paycheck performing.  This leads some people to do it who otherwise wouldn't, and maybe shouldn't (I see it all the time).  Many players are in a couple orchestras and still do all the other things you mentioned.  If you get a job in the top tier, I suppose you're much more financially set -- but then you have to keep it.

February 18, 2011 at 03:58 AM ·

I know several violinists in top tier orchestras.  They make over $100K per year and seem to have a really good lifestyle.  And let's face it, they are doing what they love right?  I'm not saying they didn't work hard, or that they earn as much as they deserve given the countless hours of practice they've put in, but you have to admit, as a musician, it's a pretty good gig if you can get it.  But I agree, life is not all roses, and in any profession, there are pluses and minuses.  Any time you paint a one-sided picture, you are bound to stir up strong opinions on the oposing side. 

BTW, I was just notified that I'll be playing with the Baltimore Symphony in April.  They are letting local amateurs join the pros.  I am pretty certain it will be a fun filled, stress free evening.  It would be pretty cool to get paid big bucks for doing that. :-)

February 18, 2011 at 04:06 AM ·

To be fair, the article did mention stress is a creative process that inspires orchestra musicians to work better; and for top performers, orchestral and non, isn't that true?  I wouldn't say it's stress-free at all; but then who wants a life with no "zip"?  Even medical studies show that some amount of stress is healthy.  I usually rather like the sense of mild emergency that comes with being on stage, solo or in orchestra, and frankly, play better under it than when non-stressed.  Plus, as mentioned before, at least our stresses aren't about patients dying on us!  I think earning a living full-time from music takes a lot of patient dedication (to get to a marketable level) and definitely has its stresses, non-normal schedule issues, etc.; but wouldn't we all agree that you can't beat it for being a job you truly love?  I often think I ought to have to pay to work, rather than the other way round, it's so much fun!

February 18, 2011 at 07:28 AM ·

No one has so far really answered the question.

As a retired professional player I did not suffer much stress in orchestras, exept when I first started in a symphony orchestra and had to sight read and learn all the repertoir, in the first year or so.

But I did notice in later years when I was relaxed that some people did suffer, such as my desk partner! Maybe that's because she was sitting with me, I hear you say! Stress levels went up if I was feeling off and maybe a bit pd off with the management (not very often) and I might not put so much in and play down a bit. Then it would be obvious. I was also told by a member of the woodwind section that my section was made up with the most neurotic members of the orchestra, and this surprised me, but maybe it was true.

I think section leaders and their desk partners were always the most stressed, except in certain cases. Of course disputes with otherplayers, dislikes of others, and difficult or useless conductors could add to the stress levels, especially again with section leaders.

So yes, there can be stress, but it varies with the individual. Some players did not give a you know what!

February 18, 2011 at 09:49 AM ·

Smily, "I may be completely off the mark here, but isn't an orchestra job one of the most coveted professions for classical musicians?"

I know what you mean! My Dad had a dream: To play the violin in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He was good enough to do it too. He came to Boston from Ohio after his studies. That is when he found out how much money a professional violinist made. He gave up his dream for a lucrative career in the Insurance industry. When I asked him why he told me that he realized he couldn't have the lifestyle for his future family that he wanted on that kind of salary. He would have had to take other jobs to make ends meet and then he wouldn't see his future wife and children often. I think this is the main reason I never wanted to be a pro (because my Dad changed his mind about it). When I was a kid he explained to me what their lifestyle was like and that wasn't what I wanted.

I could be wrong, but don't most professional violinists in pro orchestras play in the lesser known orchestras? There are only a few top orchestras and yet there are scads of violinists in other orchestras.

So I would say, yes it is coveted, but then reality steps in! Maybe the way it works is that only those who make it into pro orchestras are the ones that inspite of all the hardships are just that dedicated to doing it.

Congrats about Baltimore! That's great, wtg!


February 18, 2011 at 01:06 PM ·

As an orchestra musician, one is under no hurry of job timings or hectic work schedules.

I want whatever the staff at Buzzle.com is drinking.  I'm just an adult learner, and I stress over getting my assignments and auditions right.  I can't imagine getting the timing, bowings, and phrasing right under the tight restrictions that professional orchestras operate under.  Plus, the traveling, etc.

---Ann Marie

February 18, 2011 at 02:09 PM ·

I'm a professional freelance orchestral player as well as a soloist, etc. We have a lot of the same same stresses, minus the salary and job security of tenured members of major full-time orchestras.The degree of stress varies with the situation, such as the difficulty of the music, how little time you may have to practice and rehearse it, where you are sitting - concertmaster, prin. 2nd, and sometimes so seated with little notice - etc. Indeed, in a freelance situation, orchestral or otherwise, you're often called upon to sightread the material put in front of you - and sometimes do so from the first chair. Sightread and lead right under the conductor's nose. How's that for a stress-free environment?  But so much more stress is or isn't there in my experience, as a result of the conductor's attitude. On top of everyting else, all you need is a tyrant up there to make a perfect day!

At any rate, I read a long time ago that a test was made inside the pit of a major Opera house. It turned out that the stress levels there were equalled only in the towers of air traffic controllers!

Of course those of us who are professionals love music profoundly. And the intense satisfaction and deep joy that we sometimes - and if we're lucky, often - get from playing the violin and making music, is what makes us go through the years of struggle, incredibly hard work, frustration, disappointment, often major financial strain - and if we're finally somewhat successful, emormous stress. Those magic moments must be weighed against a good deal of blood sweat and tears. So don't you just love it when a non-musician says "do you know how lucky you are?" No, I don't. Why don't you tell me how lucky I am. Unless they've walked a mile in our shoes, they're just not in a position to really get just how lucky we are and are not.

Yet, to paraphrase Menhuin, while we're shackled to a treadmill of our own choosing, if we know that we'd be miserable doing almost anything else, we may finally count ourselves blessed.

February 18, 2011 at 02:49 PM ·

What is a buzzle, and why should I care?


And, what Raphael said.

February 18, 2011 at 04:59 PM ·

If a job doesn't generate a certain amount of stress then it's probably not worth doing, except financially perhaps, and then it becomes boring and that can generate the wrong sort of stress that can have long-term physical and psychological effects. If you're a performer then stress, aka "nerves", is an essential component of a performance in order to get it through to the audience.  A stress-free performance, on the other hand, is likely to be bland and uninspired, even if technically perfect (as it may well be), and an audience will quickly sense this and perhaps go away feeling dissatisfied, not knowing why.

February 18, 2011 at 07:45 PM ·

You do realise this article is solely opinon based, right?  The person who composed it not only failed to research the subject matter, but also possesses the writing skills of a fifth grader.  The only thing I concluded from reading it was that it must be really nice to have such a stress free job, getting paid to make up garbage on your laptop while downloading youtube videos and eating cheese puffs.  At least, that's what I imagine she was doing when she had those thoughts and wrote them down.

February 18, 2011 at 11:27 PM ·

Come to think of it, I know a family where both parents play violin in a major symphony.  They make good money and have enough leisure time to teach and play chamber music on the side.  Their son is an accomplished violinist in his own right, but they are discouraging him from becoming a pro musician.  I guess they might feel some of the things that Raphael is describing. 

February 19, 2011 at 12:42 AM ·

The huge issue I have with this discussion is that this "sweet life" is the cream of the cream of the crop.  It is not the majority by far.  Most of us take on other gigs to pay the bills, not because we have so much perceived free time.  Even at the top, you never really know somebody's financial situation unless you are them.  They're not immune to cutbacks either, and labor disputes are pretty much an ordeal as a rule.  Imagine when both spouses play and the group goes on strike and, like the DSO, the next season is in danger of cancellation.  That is not healthy stress but in fact the kind that will shorten your lifespan.

I believe the study Raphael cites came from Northwestern University.  There was another, apparently from the Harvard Business School, that ranked the job satisfaction of orchestra musicians lower than that of federal prison guards.*  I think a lot of this is because so many musicians love music and playing, but are incompatible with the rigidity of the orchestra structure, but need to eat at least once a month.  I enjoy orchestra playing uncommonly much, as it seems; I roll with the punches fairly well.  But it can actually make things more difficult when you are passionate, because it's harder to keep frustration in check when it happens.  Imagine a conductor convinced he's going to conduct the last movement of the Mendelssohn Concerto in a reasonable four with Mr. or Ms. Hotter-than-Heifetz as soloist!

What really drives me nuts is the idea that we get paid in our own enjoyment and that should suffice.  Now if you are content to play mainly for free, that's your own legitimate decision to make and I won't knock it.  But please understand why everyone does not feel the same way, and don't give outsiders ammunition for the notion that I don't have a serious job that earns its pay.  I've encountered that more often than I care to already, they do not need encouragement.  It's a very different thing when someone really can't afford, or if I volunteer, or if the learning benefit I get outweighs any service provided (most of the time this isn't the case).  But when it comes to highly skilled professions, including creative ones, I would still hope they'd at least be willing in spirit or principle.  A person who feels entitled to get something for nothing -- because it's "art," as if that made a difference, or because they think we have it pretty good, or deep down because of envy, whatever -- is just plain cheap.  Would they think it was justifiable to stiff the plumber if his facility made it appear easy, or heaven forbid he took a moment to be pleased with a job well done?  Reminds me of the joke about the invoice: "Part - $1.  Knowing what to do with it - $999." 

Whoo.  End of rant :)


February 19, 2011 at 12:47 PM ·


Shame on you for reading trashy stuff!  :-)

I have worked with lots of folks over the years who transitioned from musical careers to computer careers.  The reason they moved was mostly because of financial security, but stress was also a factor.  

So one gentleman I'm thinking of went from being a high school band director to being the computer guy that gets yelled at over the phone.  It was big improvement.


February 19, 2011 at 02:14 PM ·

Have to laugh - John, that's what I did. Now let's think back to the joys of an orchestra career compared with my current "normal" job.

Mistakes. I make them. Everyone does. I just go back and correct it. No problem. And in an orchestra?

Punctuality. Obviously I do turn up on time - old habits die hard. For most people - turn up a bit late. Apologise to the boss and make it up at the other end (or not). In an orchestra - first time, you'll probably stop a rocket and be fined. Second time - more so. Third time - are you still in the job?

Holidays. We have visitors coming on Friday. So I just book off one of my annual leave days. No problem. In an orchestra, you get the same few weeks that everyone else gets. If you absolutely need a working day off, you will probably have to pay the orchestra what it costs them to bring in a dep. And that could include air fares and hotel bills.

Clothing - I have to turn up looking smart. I don't have to buy white and normal dinner jackets, tails, bow ties etc. The musician can probably claim the cost against tax, but that's still leaving 70% of the cost as outlay. And dress shirts don't come in packets of 3 for £15 in a supermarket.

And that's not including putting up the megalomaniac out the front who's trying to prove how powerful he is etc.


February 19, 2011 at 07:26 PM ·

Nicole and Raphael are probably both referring to a study that came out a few years ago on job satisfaction.  Symphony musicians were about at the bottom.  The biggest reason was the almost total lack of autonomy and the number of evening and weekend hours.  You're expected to do as you're told, given no input into programming or touring schedules, and expected to perform flawlessly.  Always.

At McDonald's you can at least put in for the morning shift instead of the evening, you can decide if you would rather refill the salt before the ketchup or vice versa, and you can wear something other than black shoes once in a while.  The still-adolescent assistant manager standing over you probably isn't nearly as much of an autocrat as many conductors can be.

The money in the major orchestra is certainly liveable, but the smaller regional groups don't offer full-time work with a corresponding living wage.  Everyone knows too that if they quit, there will be 100 people auditioning to fill their chair, and odds that long for them to find a new gig.

All that said, I doubt I'd say "no" if New York or Chicago came knocking at my door . . .

February 20, 2011 at 01:30 AM ·

Probably better than being a research scientist where you're over the hill at age 45 and the bs of producing papers full of bs.  Or your research area becomes irrelevant.   And of course world competition.  And you can't really make any coin tutoring. 

At least the violinist with orchestra experience can tap into the ponzi of new students requiring instruction.

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