Career Reassessment

April 14, 2011 at 02:47 AM ·

When I first began violin, I had a naive goal. I wanted to be happy with how I sounded, and I wanted to be known as a good violinist. Money was the least of my concerns at the time, and over time I began adding other items to that list such as personal health, time, etc. Upon graduating I took auditions, each failure brought me to work harder than before. After a year of losing I finally won positions with two regional orchestras I was estatic and bewildered that I had finally made it.

Joining the orchestras showed me what kind of life I would be living with financially which I had expected and believed I would be ok with. Except it was not ok as my relationship with my girlfriend of 4 years started to deepen, I realized I would not be able to support a family. I knew I would not be able to give any prospective children (planning on having kids after 6 years), the same things my parents were able to provide for me(house, good education, food, my first car etc). I turned to teaching, but having an irregular schedule, I saw employers prefer hiring other violin teachers with more stable schedules, was even advised to leave the regional orchestras I had worked so hard to get into. 

Now as summer approaches and regional auditions begin again, I for the first time in my brief violin career hesitated. The regional orchestras are exciting, and fun to be part of, but fun won't put food on the table.  

And so I ask the violin community here how do you get by while having a family. Perhaps some here have come to the same conclusion and took the dreaded career change. For those who did take the change, do you ever regret it, and how were you able to wrench yourself out. What viable career options are there for someone like me with just a Bachelors of Violin Performance degree.

Replies (17)

April 14, 2011 at 03:28 AM ·


Sorry to hear about your situation.  You are not alone.  The cellist in my string quartet was a professional player and switched careers after playing a few years as a pro.  He still plays music as a hobby.  His primary reason for switching was financial.  He has managed to find positions related to music, as artistic director and executive director of symphonies and venues.  He spends his time organizing, planning and promoting classical music events.  Music is still a very big part of his life.  But he no longer performs professionally.

April 14, 2011 at 04:31 AM ·

I know someone who stoped symphony activities to become a nurse... 

Good luck,


April 14, 2011 at 04:44 AM ·

The difference between a musician and a pizza? The pizza can feed a family of four. We sympathize with your dilemma. The absolute very best of luck. Whatever you choose we're rooting for you.

April 14, 2011 at 12:35 PM ·

How does the woman you hope to marry feel about all of this? Her opinion & her idea of what she should do as a married woman & mother have everything to do w/your choice. One of the young music teachers I mentored married a man whose situation is very like yours, and they are now expecting. Just saying, it can be possible to "have both." Sue

April 14, 2011 at 12:52 PM ·

First let me say that I certainly applaud your accomplishments on violin. I know several people who play in regional orchestras, but have careers, too. Several are retired physicians. One is head of the music department at the local community college. Some are full-time string teachers (private studios). One, our community orchestra concertmaster finally landed a job as administrator/secretary for the community college music department, but before that she had a pretty tough time balancing teaching music, conducting youth orchestras, lots of freeway driving (this is the land of the Freeway Philharmonic - watch the DVD), and buying food. It probably helped that she got married a decade or so ago (no kids).

I am not one to give advice, but I think that if you are asking about ths, you know what to do.

Good luck.


April 14, 2011 at 05:12 PM ·

 i would have to say sue said it best. you need to talk about these fears with your partner, youd be surprised, sometimes you wont hear what you expect. the best of lguck to you. youve worked very hard to get where you are and what you have done isnt easy you got through it cause you were dedicated. im not saying you shouldnt give it up, just that you seem smart and motivated use that to your advantage in whatever path you take.

April 15, 2011 at 12:07 AM ·

Well, I would ask myself, how much money am I making now, and how much money do I need to make for the life that I want? Very few careers will allow you to provide for an entire family by yourself, I think these days it's more and more common that both of the parents have to work to provide for their children. If you want a career that pays enough so that only you will have to work, I guess nursing could be a good choice, or medicine, but that involves even more study.

Good luck with your decision!

April 15, 2011 at 07:35 PM ·

 Unfortunately, life as a freelance classical musician is becoming almost untenable due to the accelerating costs of health insurance, fuel, housing, food, and education. When I played in Cleveland area orchestras (all of them, in fact), my health insurance was about $25 a month. Now, it's $541, with double-digit yearly increases and no end in sight. Back then gas was $1, and now of course it's $4. Pay in most regional and per-service orchestras has lagged way behind inflation.

You have three paths available to you:

1. Muddle through as a "lifer" and try to just do the best you can. Maybe build a private studio, or try to branch out into more weddings, orchestras, and other gigs. Pray to your deity that Congress fixes the health care and social security systems. Don't get sick. Ever. Count yourself lucky to be able to get a used Civic or a good bike when your current ride bites the dust. Don't have kids. Don't have expensive hobbies or travel. Cut your own hair. Marry an anesthesiologist.

2. Bail on music, borrow a boatload of money, and take your chances in medicine or some other field. Do it sooner rather than later.

3. Re-commit to music and do whatever you can to make substantial improvement. That might mean 5 hours a day of practicing excerpts, getting an advanced degree, and seeking out good teachers who will kick your @ss. With a masters you can teach at a community college. Take every audition that comes along and try to get something full-time. 

April 15, 2011 at 07:56 PM ·

That's a tough one.  It depends on how you work together as a couple.

I gave up a career path to be home with the kids.  My husband had the better earning potential.   I'm back at work, but because I was away for 11 years I wasn't able to get to where my cohorts currently are...and am always lurking at the edges of my area of expertise, and somewhat dissatisfied.  It's hard on the ego, and on the pocketbook.  However, the kids came first, so it was the right decision, for them, if not necessarily for me.

If your wife can support the family - that's another option.  At the very least,  one of you needs to be able to provide an adequate income to support the basics of family life, while the other can bring in 'bonus' money.

April 15, 2011 at 09:32 PM ·

I sympathize. Before I landed a full-time job, I had a similar period relying on freelance work - very irregular, and was looking for some teaching work to pay the bills. Local schools etc. were not interested because I made it clear that gigs came first - they wanted someone on regular days each week. Even as a full-time job, it's not that well paid in a lot of orchestras, so most players supplement with private teaching. You're likely to get better pupils - the ones who value learning with a practising professional, rather than the teacher engaged by the local school board. That's not to knock the full-time teachers - some excellent players choose that job for the regular hours, but the quality can be variable! Private pupils are usually more flexible with regard to re-arrangement of lessons to fit round concerts. Also, you can probably get together with colleagues in the orchetra(s) for quartet work  etc. - weddings can play quite well, and again being orchestra members gives you that extra kudos.

If you have the chance, and don't go for it, I think you may always have that "if only" feeling. I went for it, and spent 12 years full-time, then found I wasn't enjoying it as much as I felt I should, and went into another job. But at least I know that I did make it, and that I made the choice to leave. I still play in an amateur (community) orchestra and do a few gigs and quartets, which I probably wouldn't get without that professional experience.

Finally, all the best with whatever you choose to do.


April 16, 2011 at 12:34 PM ·

 so i brought up this topic with my wife who is a career woman and a straight shooter. i never take her advice lightly or i pay-and have paid- dearly:)

after reading op's post, i asked:

me: what would you suggest?

her: be practical.

m: meaning?

h: he already had his time with his dream, now it is time to be practical.

m: doing what?

h: teaching.

m: he said he could not do it.

h:  that is because of his orchestra.  quit it, start teaching privately full time.

m: how about another career?

h:  well, don't violin teacher teach at night to fit in students' school time, so go back to school during day time.

m: like what?

h:  like radiology technologist.  ct, mri, pet, ultrasound,,,good money for the amt of work, good benefits/health coverage in hospital setting.

m: how much money?

h: depends on the region.  50k possibly.

m: how long is the training?

h: 2 years.

m: how about nursing, physical therapy?

h: that too, but training longer and pt is very competitive to get in


April 16, 2011 at 12:46 PM ·

Great points above, I think most options have been covered and ultimately its going to be your decision of whats best for you and your family.  However, its easy to underestimate the importance of a satisfying occupation - the alternatives look manageable but what you may not think obout is bitterness.

Consider: if being a professional pefrormance violinist is and was your dream what will happen when you give it up?  Sure you may earn more and have more time with family.  But the fact that you gave up a dream that was in your hands (litterally) may start to pray on you.  And that can lead to one of the most terminal of disorders: bitterness.  If this is a possibliity then giving up professional playing may not satisfy your other goal: raising a family at all because Dad will be eaten the core and not a day will go by where you don't think of 'what might have been'.

I'm going to say the opposite of Al's wife above.  And vehmently so.  If your life-partner does not want to take you as you are - and thats professional violinist with a low income included - maybe that is the wrong life partner.  IMO any partnership worth its salt will support the needs of the parnter AS LONG AS IT IS RECIPROCAL.  That is, you support your partner's needs.  This is obviously not the end of the story since support may require sacrifice - but you end up sacrificing things that are not so important to each of you and not important things that serve solely to make your partner happy.


April 16, 2011 at 02:15 PM ·

 graham, here is something i saw on the net.  take a look.  by all means we are not saying to stop playing the violin.  heck, if you can play at the level of vengerov, you won't be writing about this thread.  dream my azz.

with a 9 to 5 job that pays reasonably well and have the family taken care of, you can do anything you want with your violin after work.  find something to do that people need your presence, not something that you have to beg for a chair,,,,if you can help it.  

we are talking about if you can creatively put your plan A and a plan B together.  

the other thing that comes to mind is your personality.  not just your skills, or your interest, but in what environment you are most comfortable with and how others view you and in what capacity you enjoy interacting with others.  more like an emotional quotient thing when you evaluate the options that you may want to pursue.

i think it is an insult to you to tell you omg how much a loss not playing violin pro will be, that you are about to give up your dream.  

people in all walks of life retrain and reinvent themselves constantly.  not many people after a college degree end up having a career that is their college study related.  violinists should not regard themselves differently.  


April 16, 2011 at 03:02 PM ·

 It is a difficult situation and something that I, at only 16, can't really comment on properly. However, I do know of some people who have been in your situation. One of them decided to carry on with music but by becoming a music teacher in a high school. Another did something similar but was one of those visiting teachers who goes to schools to give lessons to children on particular instruments. This gave her the freedom of having a stable job and contract with a school, yet the freedom to carry on with orchestral work. 

And another person I know went off to college to train as a nurse. He played music as a hobby after that, but he still plays in local pubs etc. to get a bit of side-money. A great way of earning some money on the side is by busking. Or away from that, ebaying is good. At least it means you can sell things from the comfort of your own home. 

Good luck! 

April 17, 2011 at 02:52 AM ·

Graham, I see that you are in the Bay Area - one of the most expensive places to live in the country. Some of my engineer friends there pull in six-figure incomes, yet still feel stressed about finances due to the cost of housing. Perhaps if you move to a city where a decent house in a safe neighborhood costs less than $200K instead of $700K,  you can still have a career in music and raise a family.

January 11, 2012 at 10:43 PM · Graham

Oki, I will ask a different question than others.

Are you sure you want a family? It is not a "must", but something you should only do if you really want. Getting a family just out of obligation and later be upset that you changed your dream because of it, wont make you (or anybody in the family) happier.

January 12, 2012 at 08:33 AM · Where is Graham?

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