Help fitting in a non-artistic high school

March 22, 2011 at 06:17 AM ·

I am about to start my Freshman year at high school. But I have a proplem. The people here think that the world revolves around football and the mall. I want to be accepted for who I am, an artist, but I have no idea on how to do this. I assume that I am not the only musician who has faced this issue, but I dont personally know of anyone who has. My dad says "defend yourself" but I don't like fighting. Does anyone have any experieneces that might help me get them to accept me for who I really am without resorting to violenece?

Replies (28)

March 22, 2011 at 11:36 AM ·


I too am in highschool and have dreams of going to a big school for viola. I am lucky to attend an enormous school (4,000+ students) and we are one of the best public schools of music in the nation, so I have no problem finding the artsy people, for they are all in the "a" (art) wing. However, I do encounter the other "jock/prep/"in"" people and I recommend that you just educate them on what music and art mean to not only you, but the entire artistic community. Also, I recommend joining a youth orchestra where you can be with people who share the same dreams as you do. Hope this helps



March 22, 2011 at 11:42 AM ·

Keep your eyes & ears open for other like minds & hearts in your school. Be positive & proactive about your artistic endeavors w/o being obnoxious or negative about those who are into a sport or other interest. Get lessons with the best professionals you can afford. Maybe that means 2 lessons a month for which you travel some hours. Join as good an orchestra as you can locate. Seek out the best summer programs you can find. You would be looking for intensive instruction with great teachers, not "camp with music". Practice & listen to great music faithfully every day. Good luck! Sue 

March 22, 2011 at 03:20 PM ·

Hunter-- You have tastes and skills that might be ahead of many of your peers. Tough position to deal with at this stage of growing up. I went through this myself when I was your age, and then I saw a lot more of it when I taught public school orchestra for eleven years. The benefits of your position will become apparent, but probably not until later on.

This is a difficult age when many around you are not really sure of themselves and are looking for a place to fit in, and it might appear to them that you already do. Don't be surprised if one day you find out that some of your peers secretly envied you. If all goes well, one day your music will bring great joy to you and to all of them, too.

March 22, 2011 at 03:41 PM ·

 if your dream is to become a classical musician outside your football crazed town,  i think you will use your time and energy more productively with developing skills that can take you out of that place than thinking of ways to get accepted by people with different lifestyles and outlooks in life from yours.

playing viola is not cool to many people, but if it is cool to you, that is what matters.  you have to draw the line somewhere and please yourself first.

ps.  i am curious how many on the football team can correctly identify the instrument you play...:)

a. banjo  (10%)

b. large fiddle. (30%)

c. guitar (10%)

d. one of the above (50%)

e. none of the above  (0%)

March 22, 2011 at 05:07 PM ·

A few random thoughts, based on my own experience -- things that helped me adjust:

I'd be among the last to belittle or brush off your feelings and concerns.  I know them firsthand -- I was there.  But since your high school experience is still future, keep in mind that some of your fears -- in fact, probably most of them -- may never materialize.

Echoing al ku's point -- BTW, I wrote this before I saw his reply: Don't spend time trying to get other kids to accept you.  That's futile.  Some will; others won't.

Respect others, but don't kowtow to them.  And don't put up any unnecessary barriers.  You're their equal -- not inferior, not superior.

Do the best you can with your music and academics.  The odds are that you'll have little or no time left over to worry about what others think of you.

Picking up on Robert's point: I don't know whether any of my non-musician peers envied me, but they definitely showed curiosity without hostility.  After hours, I often practiced in unused washrooms, unused gym areas, unused locker rooms -- to get the strong reverb.

A number of times, I would find out afterward that one of the kids, sometimes several of them, had been hanging around, just listening.  I'd get comments like "Hmmm -- that's cool" or "Oh, I was sitting out here for about ten minutes, just listening."

So keep up the good work -- it will probably do more good over the long term than you can foresee at this point.

March 22, 2011 at 05:11 PM ·

Hunter- everyone above has had good suggestions.  I have to say, it worries me to see phrases like "defend yourself"  and "resort to violence."  This implies that, rather than just not finding people with the same interests, you are actually being harassed or bullied.  If this is the case you have every legal and moral right to have it stop.  I don't know if you have a school teacher, administrator, or counselor who would be helpful, or if they share the mindset of the kids.

Is the high school you'll be at in the fall any larger and more diverse than the middle school?  You might find a few kids in the theatre, choir, or art departments who share some of your values, even if they can't read C clef.  I don't know how big your town is, or how far from a more cosmopolitan area.  Does anyone within reasonable distance organize chamber music ensembles for kids?

Don't believe the people who tell you that high school should be the best time of your life.  It's not; trust me on this one.  (I feel very sorry for people who feel this way.  If it's all downhill after 18, that's really depressing.  These are the 48-year-old guys still sitting around the small town coffee shop reliving the big football game from 1979.)  Focus on what you need to do to get out when your time comes. 

You may never get the jocks to really understand what it is about the viola that calls to you, but there are lots of people in the world who understand perfectly.  Camp, youth orchestras, etc., are a way to find kindred spirits, even if they aren't at the same school.  As the gay community so emphatically told LGBT youth last fall, it gets better.  Same is true for the musical kid surrounded by football worship.  It really, truly, absolutely does get better.

March 22, 2011 at 06:26 PM ·

 earlier a poster indicated that you are ahead of those footballers in skills and tastes.  that is part of the problem.

you are not superior or inferior as jim said.  you are simply different.

with that in mind, not all classical people are good necessarily and not all footballers are brainless jerks.  a true, great football student is one that treasures work ethics and respect, just like a good classical music student.

you just have to learn to explore and grow in a culture of different people.  you have issues, footballers have issues, everyone has issues.

with one person perhaps you can accept 10% of him, with another 50%.  that is life.   and school is a good place to learn to sort out the differences.

March 22, 2011 at 09:36 PM ·

Thank you for your input. I train with the football people and they acept me. I am planing ways to get  out, but South texas can be a hard place to find a great teacher. I was lucky and found my curretnt teacher, one of the true professionals in the symphony. He is great. My dad was Air Force for 22 years, so I guess I might be a little more mature than some of them. But anyways...... And if needbe, my family has a werid ability to have contacts around the world. If I felt like it, I could get training at Eastman or Juilliard over the summer due to people my family has known. Maybe they cant except me for who I am because I have a talent they might not, or I have dreams that might take me places that they cant. And I am in a pro Pops Orchestra only one of a few students!!:)

March 22, 2011 at 10:03 PM ·

Every public high school student body is "focused on football and the mall."  But that isn't automatically a bad thing for you. Being a football player or fan does not preclude being a viola fan or friend, too. I was in a big public high school in 9th and 10th grades. I played a viola without the C string (also known as 3rd violin). I had plenty of friends. We had a good orchestra. The members of the orchestra were very eclectic. To stereotype is to miss out on the fun. I was also an athlete, and not the only one in the orchestra.

I say don't worry about it. Play because you love it. Make all those family connections you can and shoot for your dreams. Texas is a big state and there are lots of opportunities there--even if they aren't immediately obvious on the 4-lane 1/2 mile grid Big-Box world map :-)

March 22, 2011 at 10:39 PM ·

Once again thank you. Just got done working on the 6th position stuff on the Prelude cello suite. I thought I wasn't alone on the issue.....and I do like football, I just dont play it and the people here look at me werid when I say that. Might as well let them look!!Now back to Bach..

March 23, 2011 at 01:52 AM ·

Speking of Bach, does anyone know if you can use a variation (i think that is what it is) of one of the cello suites for a college audition? I can play no.1 pretty good, but I fell in love with the Suite no.2 iv-Sarabande. Could I use that for lets say a Juillaiard auditon?

March 23, 2011 at 02:17 AM ·

As a fellow highschooler to another who is obessed about audition requirements to another, I have some advice:

I'm a sophomore and beginning sophomore and Freshie year, I was OBSSESED with what the audition would be. All I got to say it, don't plan your audition right from the very beginning. Set some goals, yes, like "One of the big 3 concertos" or so on so forth. I've learned that plans change... A LOT and your skill will too, so if you work for a certain track, you may be holding yourself back. Go with what your teacher has to say about you and your progress and just keep working hard.

example of how plans change. I've played violin for 8 years. I was just starting paganini and finishing Bruch and intro/rondo caprice. I had it ALL planned out, I would make this orch. and play this piece and do this blah blah blha. But one of the best things that happened to me, was that I DIDNT make an orchestra. months later I've picked up the viola, and I've made the honors allstate group in 3 months and can't put the instrument down. I'm planning on being more open minded with the instrument, and doing more of what I gave you in advice. It's a LOT less stress (I can see you like I saw me, hunched over computer screens with 100s of college websites up with the same page up...the audition requirements)

So don't fret or worry about it. Yes, keep it in mind, but don;t let it define you. :)


March 23, 2011 at 03:55 AM ·

My first piece of advice would be to find a really good teacher, but it sounds like you've already done that.  So here's my second:

Find a youth orchestra.  Being in one really saved my sanity during high school --- it was like being able to go to classical music geek camp once a week.  You can get a lot of inspiration from your peers, and start getting orchestral experience.  Find the best one you can get into... and make it to 100% of the time.  (In my youth symphony we had people who drove 2 or 3 hours to arrive for a 9:30 AM rehearsal.)  Maybe if it's a long drive you can find someone in your town to carpool with.

I didn't stay in touch with one single person from high school when I graduated; but I am still friends with several youth symphony mates.

March 23, 2011 at 04:33 AM ·

Yeah!  Another violist ! :) 

It has been a (cough cough) 'few' years since I was in HS, though it seems like yesterday somewhat to my dismay. 

Just be yourself and seek out other like-minded people.  They may be at school, or a community / youth orchestra, church, from your teacher's studio, wherever.  If you can, form your own quartet/quintet - the friendship bonds that form out of those are amazing. 

Though I'm not a professional violist, I would agree with the advice given already to not decide now what to play in an audition.  Instead, focus on your skills, style, interpretation, and comfort performing in public.  Take some time to explore the viola repertoire available over the next few years.  There is so much more than Bach that is appropriate for an audition and you may find a style/piece that really speaks to you that you haven't considered or even heard about yet.

March 23, 2011 at 04:58 AM ·


all of the above is wonderful and I may be repeating apoint already made butit`s actually more about you than `them.`  By mentally deciding in advance that you are differnet and that you wil automatically feel ostracized then becomes a self-fullfilling prophecy.  You are already operating under the stereotyped concept that poeple who do sports are not capable of udertsanding everything else.

Do you really need to deliberatly set out to define yourslef as a `viola player` and not anything else?  Of course it is difficult because a san artist you are pasisonate to the depths of your soul about music and the viola and so on.  But a football player is the same about football and a shopper baout shoes (especially in Japan).

There is a wonderful principle of life whihc has been around since time time immemorial that guides us in dealing with all kinds of people in any situation:  `do unto others as you would have done unto you.`   So, as far as you are respectful and non-judgemental and fimrly incontrol of your own identity you should be fine. 

Any othe rissues are othe rpeoples problems.

Incidentally,  take some time out at the mall and watching fottball games.  It wil help develop your art......Sort of.   Don`t forget,  in the future you wnat the footballers and mall psychotics to come to your cocnerts in their designer sweats.

Be positive.


March 23, 2011 at 07:15 AM ·

I would practice in the orchestra room during study hall and there would be a lot of kids hanging out down there.  They were definitely attracted, although sometimes it seemed to take the form of obnoxious pestering.  If they ask you to play "the beef song" for the twentieth time, grin and bear it -- it's your connection.

Speaking of violas and sports, our violas are apparently playing the national anthem at an upcoming baseball game.  Go team!

March 23, 2011 at 12:25 PM ·

"I want to be accepted for who I am, an artist, but I have no idea on how to do this."

Speaking as a former preacher's kid violin playing nerd in high school, who still managed to fit in a bit, let me ask you this: Why do you want to be accepted "as an artist", or define yourself that way? Instead, how about being a really interesting, or maybe even entertaining guy (even if you need to become a football fan, or learn the local teen dialect, or memorize some jokes), who happens to be really good at playing the viola?

Being an artist needn't preclude acting normal, or fitting in with non-artists.

March 23, 2011 at 04:26 PM ·

Buri and David gave you great advice- always better to look for bridges/things in common with people than differences.  Any athlete would respect the discipline, practice, and basic talent it takes to play a musical instrument well, especially if you give them the same respect for their talents and what they do with them.   When people pick up alienation from others, such as thinking musicians are somehow better than football players/jocks, they typically respond back with the same, so why alienate?     Besides, you might want some big football player friends when the violinists start up with the viola jokes....  haha... 

Being from military family (as I was, too) has pluses and minuses- and moving around a lot is very hard, especially if you've left someplace you enjoyed a lot and miss good friends left behind. If there's some specific reason you feel uncomfortable or defensive around these people, it'd be wise to talk to a parent or other trusted adult about it, and try to reason it through. 

March 23, 2011 at 09:47 PM ·


I was just wondering about what my options were for an audition. To everyone else, there is (sob, sob) no youth orchestra/ orchestra program. Literally I am flying solo. I didn't automaticaly decide that I was different. I did look for bridges. But when they heard me play they thought two things. 1. Dang he is good!! and 2. Why dosent he play football? The second question is sorta what led to the burning of the bridges I had tried to make. Now I just sorta hover around the fringes of their convesation. When I do try to be a part of it, they just say stuff like "Go away, nobody cares about you" and other hurtful stuff like that. It doesnt bother me to much, but it seems like they just want me to dissassapear and I just dont get it. Why would someone do that to another person? I know that bulling is an issue but I never thought it would be this bad. And Mr. Tom, what branch  did your family serve in? Just curious. My dad was in JSOC (joint special operations command).

March 23, 2011 at 10:16 PM ·


Do they have a theater class? Are there any clubs for the arts (any kind of arts)? You may find others that have been in the same situation, and have experience or ideas.

If there is an active theater group, possibly start an initiative to have some live music for their work; it will probably be a big hit with both sides!

If there is football, there is almost definitely a band; possibly get some of the band members into an ensemble, and form a music club. In the club, possibly select some more modern options instead of simply the classics; if the jocks are hearing cool tunes coming out of the room when they walk by, it could create a significant (and positive) impression.

There is no real limit to your options; if you get a pick-up to amplify your instrument (Barcus-Berry or Fishman pick-ups are available for around $100), you may even join a rock band!

I hope this gives you some options; I don't expect you to try them all; just pick the ones that seem like they will work for you.

March 23, 2011 at 10:18 PM ·


for a straight forward answer to your question (without the rant about school) any and All of Bach has been played at an audition. My friend made it to final rounds of Julliard on the 1st cello suite, and my other friend MADE it into Julliard with Bach Sonatas on viola. I've heard that 3 and 5 are the norm in auditions. But I've learned its more how you plan em rather which one (shocker?). So mostly find one that fits your playing style teh best and isn't over your head! :)


March 24, 2011 at 09:32 PM ·

You can pursue your life even if no one around you understands it or values what you do.  You can also participate in life around you.  Although I must point out that as a general pattern, most high school kids waste an unforgivable amount of time with so many trivial pursuits.  My advice, manage your time wisely, make a couple good friends and spend as much time practicing as possible.

When I was in high school I was one of the only people in the entire place who played the violin and many thought I was very nerdy for doing so.  I was also foreign and didn't manage to get rid of my accent until at least my senior year.  I didn't fit into any stereotype or clique which meant that I was mostly invisible. I still had a few friends and I turned out ok.

March 24, 2011 at 10:50 PM ·

Thank you for the advice once again. Just went to the doc and found out that I smashed a tendon and have a MASSIVE  bone spur! Joy.:( Good news is that they didnt put me on pain killers so I can still pratice without thnking werid. And Corey, I just wanted to find out what my options were. Id rather know the rules of the audition before I tried to auditon. Might go study at Eastman this summer. Thank the Lord for  family connections....

March 27, 2011 at 02:03 PM ·

 oh hunter, how i sympathize with you. my high school is all football, sports are the only thing people really care about. the only thing you can do is just go about your life. do what you do best. befriend your friends in the music department, but dont exclude anyone in the sports. be betterr than them. first year of highschool is rough trust me. but it gets better. im a violinist, and i can honestly say i have friends in every group in the school. soccer friends, swimmers, football players, band geeks, orch dorks, lax players, softballers, honestly it doesnt matter what you do, just be yourself and all will fall into place. now on the music side of things, in my school we have coffee houses. they are pretty much student run, and its a place where students can come watch and support other students who wish to perform songs. they can be classical pieces, hard rock and roll, jazzy, what ever you heart desires. give that a try :D..hope i helped. dont forget to not give up on ur dreams, keep practicing..stay away from drugs lmao! :P and just be you...everything will fall into place..dont worry

March 28, 2011 at 02:05 AM ·

 I am bigger than most of the football people. I coulda played a tightend or fullback if I wanted to. There isn't really a music program. You have theatre and band. And band would take too much out of viola playing. Soo....back to square 1 with a whole lot of helpful advice.

March 28, 2011 at 03:52 AM ·

Hunter, I would recommend that you talk to the band teacher at your school and discuss what instrument you could play so you can participate and make some new friends.  One of my kids is a string player in a school that does not have orchestra, she plays percussion in band.  She is a member of the drum team on bells and she loves that.  She also plays piano for Jazz band.   These musical experiences are combing to make her an even better string player and yes, she does have time to practice.  You need to seek out opportunities for yourself in your school.

Join some of the groups at your school.  This will help you in college too so you learn how to make new friends and not be intimidated by your peers.  Every school has Student Council, Yearbook, Speech, Drama, Band, Chorus, Pep club, etc. etc.  Join one of these groups next week, and next year join two.  If you decide one club isn't a good fit for you, then join a different one.  Once you take that first step, the rest will be easy.

March 28, 2011 at 02:09 PM ·

Hunter-- I've recently returned from Kansas City where I attended the ASTA (American String Teachers Association) national convention as an exhibitor. While I was there, I talked with several ladies from Texas who were active in the state's string programs. They mentioned that Texas has remarkable strength in string education. Others with whom I spoke afterward confirmed that TODA (Texas Orchestra Directors Association) is huge, and that the Texas music educators association (TMEA) convention was five times as large as the ASTA national convention. They're on the web. You might want to lift your views and see what's around you. Your particular school might seem like a pocket of football education, but as the little green men in spaceships would say, "You are not alone!"

March 28, 2011 at 03:53 PM ·

Hunter, Your message touches on two things that seem to lie at opposite ends of a continuum.  On one end, music, a world where people peaceably seek beauty and harmony.  On the other end, fighting.  The fact that you mention them both strikes me as perfectly reasonable.  It is not easy for a man (I'll assume from your name that you're not a young woman) to know how much to yield in life, how much to insist on, when to be prudent and when to be firm.  You may well be an artist, as you say, but you are not only an artist.  Almost every man wants to think of himself as brave, as a hero or potential hero.  No one want to think of himself as a coward.    Most people lead rather non-bold lives, and then they read thriller novels or go to the movies to watch other people do the heroic stuff they don't do.  In short, most people use a very large amount of prudence in their lives; if they didn't a lot more of them would die young or live crippled.  Prudence is not a very highly prized virtue among teenage boys.  How much place should you give it?  If you really do nothing but music, how will you feel about yourself?  If you were to fight, how would you feel?  If you fought because some idiot said something insulting to you and you broke your hand, how would you feel?  About all I can say to you is that finding the right balance between prudence and honor is never an easy thing, but there are ways to parry bullying -- in many cases -- without just "taking it". And keep in mind that those people who dominate things at your age are very unlikely to be dominating it ten years from now.   I wish you the best.     

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