Need help to achieve greatness!

August 17, 2011 at 11:34 PM ·

I am agoing to be a junior in High School this year. I am in the running for concertmaster of the hs orchestra as well as hs chamber orchestra. I am a first violinist in the Oskaloosa Symphony Orchestra. I want to be a professonal Violinist. I am currently auditioning for Iowa All State Orchestra and feel very confident about the material. I am in the process of mastering all my 3 octave major scales at 60bpm=Quarter Note Last year for solo ensemble i was rushed to put together a solo(due to a orchestra trip to chicago) and my instructor handed me Suzuki Bk. 8 and said that we should be able to throw something together out of the book in a few weeks. I ended up getting  division one rating. I am currently working on Scene de Ballet  by De Beriot . I am using this for my all state solo excerpt as well as using it to audition for the young perfomers concert with the Oskaloosa Symphony. For what i am currently working on...Is it possible for me to get into a top level music school and/or pursue my dreams of being perlman and or a concertmaster of a prestigous symphony?

Thanks so much for your time and feedback


Replies (32)

August 18, 2011 at 04:41 AM ·

 Perlman and Bell were famous by the time they were your age. They were playing all the standard repertory to acclaim (with major orchestras).

Work hard, have fun and see where it takes you.

August 18, 2011 at 06:11 AM ·

 Oskaloosa--Isn't that down the road from Pella? I taught at the college there for a year.

It's difficult to predict someone's career trajectory. Some people take off early and then fizzle out. some people bust their butt in conservatory and do great things. Some people have great fingers but have no stomach for the stage. The best thing that someone can do now (someone who knows you well) is to compare you with others of your age. The other thing to do is to go to a summer program of national stature, like Meadowmount or Encore, and see what others your age are doing. The third indicator is to see what the market says about you: when you apply to conservatories, will you get a full ride? Will you have to pay full tuition? Will you get in at all? This is where the sorting process starts.

Either be fantastic or terrible. Try to avoid being a pretty good violinist. Then you're really doomed.

August 18, 2011 at 11:45 AM ·

Bob, I'm going to be blunt here and tell you not what you WANT to hear but what you NEED to hear, according to your dreams of greatness...

1. Repertoire. A quick glance at 10-12 yo violinists on YouTube will get you perhaps dozens of them that have quite clearly mastered all scales, (broken) arpeggios, double-stops and broken 3rds, at much faster speed and fluency than what you mention. Most have diligently practiced literally hundreds of etudes and caprices (Wohlfahrt, Sevcik, Alard, Beriot, Sitt, Dancla, Kayser, Rode, Fiorillo, Kreutzer and even some Paganini). Players that may stand a chance to achieve greatness would, by this age, know and have performed repeatedly, at least the junior "big" concertos: Mendelssohn, Mozart 3-5, Bruch, S-S 3, Lalo, etc., getting ready for Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaik, Sibelius.

2. As mentioned before, accomplished players have, by your age, been to reputable summer schools, master-classes, seminars, opening the door for Aspen, Meadowmount, etc. By going there they get a reality check and a tough skin, to say nothing of exposure to and first-hand knowledge of the common chamber music repertoire, etc. That's when you study with master-teachers, if you haven't been doing so already, at junior divisions of the great conservatories... That's also where, if you also play your cards right, you may register in the eyes and ears of dealers and shakers, agents, publicists, etc. - the "enablers".

There are A LOT of terrifyingly good players out there. Very few will make it to greatness, way beyond the required mastery of their instrument.

Last but not least, have you put in your 10k hours of practice?

Think smart, work hard - time is NOT on your side!

August 18, 2011 at 11:55 AM ·

 I'm assuming (hoping?) there was a touch of irony or bravado in your title.  "Greatness" is one of those immeasurables.  And I'd take exception to Mr. Cole's comment--mediocre is in the eye of the person living the life.  "Professional violinist" covers an enormous range--and there can be great satisfaction at every level, if you are wise enough to bloom where you find yourself, rather than wishing to be someplace/ somebody other than you are.

Really love what you are doing;  that's the important thing.  If you don't love playing, 'greatness' won't help.


August 18, 2011 at 12:30 PM ·

Bob I love your attitude.  Keep it up.

---Ann Marie

August 18, 2011 at 03:54 PM ·


The original poster expressed interest in"greatness," not simply being good. My contention is that, professionally speaking, just being "pretty good" is the purgatory of violin. People who are merely good get drawn into an educational system which has too many teachers and orchstras, and for whom a mediocre living awaits. If one simply loves playing and is content as an amateur, that's different and all power to you. But that's not his stated goal.

BTW--it's Dr. Cole

August 18, 2011 at 10:38 PM ·

It's also Dr. Lange. :)

August 19, 2011 at 02:27 AM · and Dr. Evil, Dr. Strangelove, and Dr. No

August 19, 2011 at 04:24 AM ·

the path to greatness is called Dr. Beat

August 19, 2011 at 01:48 PM ·

Thanks for the feedback so far. Keep it coming. I appreciate the advice and hard critques.I can promise you all this...especially the ones of little faith. Watch me...keep the name Bob Leonard in the back of your mind, because someday you are going to pay $90 for a mediocre seat at the Chicago or someother symphony to hear me play. You cant tell me no!

Thanks again  for all the great feedback...and yes Osky is just down the road from pella.


Bob Leonard (and no..i am not a doctor :P )

August 19, 2011 at 03:21 PM ·

 I would be delighted!

August 19, 2011 at 05:04 PM ·

And don't forget Dr. Who!

I have a question. Why do you want to be great? what will you personaly get out of it?

August 19, 2011 at 06:18 PM ·

To achieve what Perlman, Bell and the like have achieved, there are many factors involved: talent,  personality, hard work, good instructions, supports, connections, luck, etc.  Lacking any of them would make it extremely hard, if not impossible. So you have to appraise yourself and your situation honestly and objectively, and ask the people who know you to do the same (have you asked your teacher?), and see whether it's the right path for you. If the answer is yes, before thinking about greatness, you have to think about college auditions first.  As others have pointed out, you are behind, probably not just for the top level schools. You have only a little over a year to prepare, what's your plan?

August 19, 2011 at 06:45 PM ·

 I have a question. Why do you want to be great? what will you personaly get out of it?


Easy: mating opportunities. Violin greatness is the peacock's tail for humans. It shows good genes and virility. 

August 19, 2011 at 07:20 PM ·

I hear you state,

 be great for a mate.

Although it`s innate,

I just can`t relate.

August 19, 2011 at 07:23 PM ·

 There's nothing that's really impossible. But consider this:

"I am currently working on Scene de Ballet by De Beriot"

You are working on a intermediate composition in the same range of difficulty as things like the Accolay Concerto and Monti Czardas...I think Barbara Barber even has this work in Book 5 of her "Solos for Young Violinists" series. Not to say that it isn't good music!

Have you looked at the entrance requirements for top conservatories? Many of them expect you to put forth a movement of solo Bach (from the Six Unaccompanied Sonatas and Partitas), a Paganini Caprice, as well as the first movement of a major concerto, either Mozart 4/5 or one by Wieniawski, Vieuxtemps, Bruch, Kabalevsky, Glazunov, Mendelssohn, Lalo, Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, etc.

Besides tackling all the major and minor scales in three octaves, arpeggios, and intervals (thirds, sixths, octaves, tenths, etc.) a lot of the foundational work is in the etudes of Kreutzer, Rode, Dont, Gavinies, Fiorillo, Dounis, and others.

The question you need to answer for yourself is: can you can bridge the gap between your current ability level and that of all of the other players with the same goal in mind when you do auditions starting January of your senior year?

Hopefully, you have a dedicated private teacher who knows your playing well and can help you realize what potential you have. I won't say "good luck" because it isn't really about's about hard work! :)


August 19, 2011 at 08:04 PM ·

@  Scott~ True! And money, liquor (30 year old single malt) and a chanced to meet Lady Gaga doing a better violin version of po-po-po-poker face (perhaps applying what Buri posted about staccato)! And especially a reality show!

I am just curious of any deeper motives such as love for the instruments (let's not forget the bow) and the music.

August 19, 2011 at 11:21 PM ·

The de beriot is a supplement to my all state audition material..I know i can play at a higher level than this...i was originally going to use bach in e major but my instructor decided to go with this after we recieved the audition excerpts. The excerpts are from festive overture by shostakovich. Lets say that i have countelss hours everyday to practice. What piece would be a good peice to perform at solo contest in late feb early march. A piece that will help me out a lot and a piece that is at a level of wher i should be if i want to get into a very good music school


Thanks and keep the feedback coming!


August 19, 2011 at 11:43 PM ·

 I am just curious of any deeper motives such as love for the instruments (let's not forget the bow) and the music.

That's quite a love triangle.


Well, in addition to mating, I'd say that avoidance of real work or a cubicle are a pretty good motive. 

August 20, 2011 at 12:53 AM ·

Hi Bob,

You may be on your way to violin as a career. I have had students who had tremendous talent, but did not have the ability to follow through by hard work to being successful in music. I have had several students with moderate talent who have ended up as professional violinists.

I was very lucky to have Josef Gingold as my high school violin teacher. At one point he told my father, who was a professional violinist-teacher, that I had what it took to become a violinist. (My father told me  this quite a bit later, when I actually did become a professional.) Mr. Gingold honestly told my father that I was pretty talented, but what would make the difference in the long run was  a passion for music and more importantly my capacity for hard work.

I am pleased that I was able to fulfill Mr. Gingold's prediction. He urged me to go to Juilliard (and not continue with him) and through this experience I found that I would probably not have much of a chance becoming a soloist (something I had dreamed of doing). However, I found that my niche and passion in the music world was in chamber music and college teaching. I have never regretted being guided to the proper path for my pretty good talent.

Concerning the several students above, the one's with less talent, but good brains and an excellent work ethic succeeded. The ones with enormous talent but lacked the ability to work hard did not succeed.

The way you posted your question on Vcom makes me want to have you as a student. Chase your dream. Dr. Bruce Berg, Professor of Violin, Baylor University.

August 20, 2011 at 01:14 PM ·

I like what Dr. Berg posted. Sort of what I was fishing for.  If we never reach the fame and accolades of the greats and in our quest for perfection we settle with excellence will we say in the end, "I chased a dream, whoa! What a rush!" Or will we be deeply disappointed not having what we do not  and cannot have that we even lose what we have achieved? Never let any violinist forget the gems that we have accomplished putting in our dues with the violin.

August 20, 2011 at 01:51 PM ·

 i also applaud the enthusiasm of the op.  i think it is pretty clear to the op that he has a lot of work cut out for him if he is to pursue violin at the highest level.  at the same time, at his age-late perhaps for violin stardom- it is very important and precious to dream big.  the op still has a lot of year left to fail.

what happens if you try hard and fail?  you fail.  what happens if you don't try at all? you fail.  so follow you heart and bleed your parent's bank account for as long as you can.

i hope good schools and good teachers out there recognize young people like the op and give them a helping hand and a chance.  every year they should allow some special consideration for couple dark horses, or ponies as the case may be.

ps.  i have no experience in turning someone around musically overnight.  but if i have to choose a way to go, i would pursue getting the best mentor possible.  reciting a list of books and works under a mediocre teacher most likely will lead to nowhere.  you need to know how to take short cuts and learn efficiently and accurately.  and how to avoid injuries with insane practice routines..

August 20, 2011 at 02:06 PM ·

@ al ku~ You are a natural caoch, I hope that you recognize that. And you certainly have had a positive influence on your daughter's violin efforts.

A while back my mother was on base in San Diego watching the Navy SEaL candidates train. And from this and what I have seen & heard recently on the cable tv programs featuring them made think about the op here. If he has the same gumption & of course a bit of swagger & healthy competitive cockiness...... I think he'll go furter than most!

August 20, 2011 at 02:51 PM ·

 I like the turn this thread has taken; also, I think I see where I may have misread the original post.  "Excellence" is (to me) very different from "greatness."  Seeking the former makes every kind of good sense--it's what you DO and it's what the doing can give. others  Greatness, however, seems to be focused on what's in it for the do-er.  Probably just me, but I certainly admire someone seeking to be the best violinist s/he can be, but not so much if the applause is the main motive.  Thanks, Royce and Al, you have clarified things for me a lot!

August 20, 2011 at 04:38 PM ·

And that's what I hoped for... If the op can and does achieve fame & fortune... (I still day dream about this... for my own personal selfishness and more than likely it'll always be just a stick of bubble gum for the brain ;^))... he took his chances and reached it, but in the end what if he doesn't? Weather I become a celebrity or not I still win and the pay offs are still big! Gold is still gold regardless of its form!

August 20, 2011 at 04:44 PM ·


I agree with my fellow contributors that this thread has taken a good turn.  I agree that there is a difference between excellence, perfection and greatness.  Excellence is something that we should strive for in all that we do every day.  It is what keeps us going further.  Perfection is an illusionary goal that we cannot achieve and that in many cases can stifle many.  Greatness is something that we cannot control as most times it is determined by factors outside of us.

So, how do we deal with all of this.  I think that greatness is not the best of goals.  Someone once said that "success is a journey, not a destination," and I agree with that.  We can always keep striving for excellence, and we should.  Sometimes in life, even if you are the best and do the best, there are circumstances that can bring you down.

To the original poster, I think that you are admirable in your goals to seek a high level, but your are aiming for the wrong thing.  I would suggest that you aim for excellence, and the rest will take you where it will be best suited for you and life in general.

My own two cents on this subject...


August 20, 2011 at 04:48 PM ·

 This seems kind of like greatness to me but if greatness = fame then I would say it doesn't necessarily work that way. I don't think that this concert with a community orchestra cost ninety dollars for a ticket. So work for excellence.

August 20, 2011 at 05:25 PM ·

In my stamement Greatness=excellence and with exelence in my performance fame is possible. I never said that tickets to the community orchestra cst $90. I was laying out the facts of where i am at so that people could give the best advice they could. In order to give their best advice it woulld help to know what i am doing with my violin.

The cost of the tickets doesnt necessiallry reflect the level and performance of the orchestra....i asked for advice. Advice isnt tellling me that my orchestras tickets dont cost $90.



August 20, 2011 at 05:50 PM ·

@ Bob. L~ Drew Lecher has a book about the violin and how to master it. it is awesome! Go to his web page and seriously concider ordering it. He posts here from time to time.

August 20, 2011 at 05:53 PM ·

I will check out that book! Thanks you!

August 20, 2011 at 06:51 PM ·

 Bob, there's a (very) old joke about the violinist who asked the cabbie in NY, "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?"  The cabbie looked him in the eye, and said, "Practice, son, practice."

If you have a teacher you like and respect, speak to him/her about your ambition and ask to be put on the 'fast, intense' track. (Teachers don't assume all their students want to go all the way with their music).  If your teacher won't or can't get behind you on this, find another teacher, one who understands the professional music world and the paths that lead players there. (Often really fine teachers at local universities will take gifted, dedicated high-schoolers to help them along.)

You've had really good suggestions on this thread, but no one here can know your strengths, weaknesses, how you sound, or anything like that as well as your teacher, who thus is your best friend in your endeavor to achieve.

August 20, 2011 at 07:51 PM ·

This is a very interesting question you have posed and it may turn out that you will end up rethinking it or looking at things differently as everyone gets a chance to weigh in on this.

When you state that you want to be the Perlman and Bell that your grand kids grow up listening to, I would think of it this way. I would want to exude the kind of communicative musicianship and love of music that Perlman and Bell represent to me, because this is what I admire most about them, beyond their  technical command ( even if this goes hand in hand with their ability to be free to communicate so powerfully)  and it is what I feel truly endears them to their audiences.

Though I cannot guarantee that I will achieve either fame ( not the same as greatness), or be  great ( I think that is up to others to judge your "greatness" and not something you can state for yourself without appearing pompous or arrogant). I can, with the  the determination, perseverance, and the right teaching ( which often comes from how  you solve your own problems and not always because teachers know how to solve them for you) likely achieve excellence. 

You will still need to be in the right places at the right times- there is an element of luck in these things- and be in a place, psychologically,  where you can be happy or satisfied that  you have given it your all and love what you do regardless of what acknowledgment comes your way-whether you do or don't become  a concertmaster or a well known soloist.

I would like to believe that without having had to seek it,  you will  have achieved greatness because you worked as hard and as earnestly as you could,  held to your principles and personal integrity, and got to a place of peace and honor in yourself. Others, sensing this attitude and inner contentment in you, will admire you and think how wonderful and remarkable it is that you have achieved that. Is this not greatness too? 


Keep to your goals of learning the scales and improving your technique through etudes, and studying pieces that bring you new but reasonable challenges along the way. Ask lots of questions of your teacher(s) - get to know violinists and other musicians whom you admire and pick their brains. Go to music festivals/camps to meet others interested in a music career like yourself . Try to get lessons with potential future  college/conservatory teachers and ask them for their honest assessment of what you need to change, improve, and how. The more people you know the more chances and opportunities you are likely to get that may lead ultimately to a concertmaster position or a solo career.

I wish you luck and hope your desire for greatness is something that is not borne of a desire for fame and the need for recognition but borne of a need to be the deepest, most thoughtful, and honest servant, in the best sense of that word,  of the music.


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