Where can a minor in music get me?

April 22, 2013 at 08:02 PM · Do higher tier orchestras scrutinize your resume that meticulously as consideration for acceptance? I.e., will the New York Phil reject you if you're a physicist who just happens to be a violin master?

Also, same scenario, if you were a physicist who minored in music but still wanted a seat in the New York Phil----are minors frowned upon? Do orchestras generally take minors?

I know lower tier orchestras might...but just in general, what kinds of musical jobs are available to music minors?

Replies (23)

April 22, 2013 at 08:28 PM · Your mention of physics brought to mind hornist Charles Kavalovsky, who had a PhD in physics, and decided he wanted to try playing professionally. First audition he won was principal horn with the Denver Symphony (he lived across the street from my DSO teacher at the time). He stayed in Denver for a year, when he got the principal job at Boston. He could play, and no one cared what his degrees were in--in fact, they made for good copy in the programs.

That was the '70's, and nothing has changed.

April 22, 2013 at 09:09 PM · Top orchestras like the New York Phil may invite you to audition based on several criteria:

1. tape preliminary--your major doesn't matter

2. you already have significant professional orchestral experience, maybe nationally-known orchestra--degree doesn't matter

3. You are a student at a major conservatory and studying with a well-known teacher.

4. you've won a major violin competition--major doesn't matter.

Whatever the case, you'll need to outplay everyone else to get the position.

April 22, 2013 at 09:19 PM · Nobody will care what your degrees are, as long as you can play. You are still going to need a resume and preferably contacts that will get you that audition, though.

A resume is a lot more than your degrees -- it's also your teachers studied with, orchestral positions held, camps and festivals attended, competitions won, and so forth. You don't have to be a music major to accomplish any of those things.

April 23, 2013 at 12:49 PM · One of my favorite examples, not exactly on point for you but relevant nonetheless, is jazz musician Joshua Redman. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard with a degree in Social Studies and had been accepted at Yale Law School. He decided to take a year off before law school to indulge his interest in jazz. He is now one of the greatest jazz musicians of his generation, and the legal world has never seen him except in jazz joints.

April 23, 2013 at 02:56 PM · Another example is Yo Yo Ma. He played with several orchestras as a youth, and attended Julliard, but left there. He graduated from Harvard with a music degree, but it is not a performance degree. Harvard does not have a music performance major.

April 23, 2013 at 03:21 PM · It's easier to think of soloists than orchestral players without music degrees, but that's probably because we know the names of the soloists much more than we know the orchestral players. From my own generation, I can think of Jennifer Koh (English major, Oberlin; silver medalist in the Tchaikovsky competition) and Christina Castelli (chemistry major, Harvard; laureate in the Queen Elizabeth). Both students of the Vamoses, and Castelli also studied with Delay.

April 23, 2013 at 05:46 PM ·

April 23, 2013 at 07:07 PM · Mike - Ma's major at Harvard was anthropology, according to what he said in an interview.

April 23, 2013 at 08:03 PM · Of course all of this is hypothetical, but regardless, I thank all of you for your full responses! I was just asking because I am thinking of practicing very hard right now and audition for schools early next year, but I may change my major to nursing or another degree that would serve as a backup bachelor's. With that in mind, yes, I would have to complete other applications to ensure my admittance into schools for degrees other than music. But anyways...do any of you happen to have degrees in the medical field? And then proceeded to pursue a masters, if not another bachelors in music?

April 23, 2013 at 08:34 PM · A minor can get you lots of places in music. It can lead you to A Major, or E major or even D major! If you're feeling adventurous you could even go to the Neapolitan and wind up on Bb! There are hundreds of possibilities!

I had to do it--sorry!

April 23, 2013 at 09:21 PM · Marty - I should flag your post (lol).

April 23, 2013 at 10:33 PM · Tom, I agree!

April 23, 2013 at 11:47 PM · I disagree with Eugenia. The important thing is not what degree you get, whether it's a music minor or major. The important thing is how you play, which is almost certainly going to be at least partially a function of who your teacher is, and to a significant degree, who your teacher is will also have a big impact on what contacts you can reach out to, and what other opportunities you'll have. How you play is certainly going to be impacted by how much you practice, but the minor has zero to do with how much you practice. You can even get a music minor without any sort of performance component.

The cold truth is that K R, and most of the teenagers on this site who wonder, "Can I make it in a performance career?", already pretty much know where they stand in the relative pecking order. The main question they should have is the degree to which a few more years of dedicated work will change their standing in that relative pecking order. If you think a late start might be a factor, think again -- if you were 9 or younger when you began, you should have the physiological brain/hand benefits, and by the end of high school you should be fully as good as any of your peers. (Kids who start super-young tend to progress slower in the early years, smoothing out some of the difference.)

So as a senior, are you in one of the first two chairs of your All-State orchestra (or principal second)? (Maybe first five chairs for a talent-heavy place like NY or Illinois or California.) Heck, are you there as a freshman? Can you imagine outplaying the people who are, in four year's time (remembering that they too will be improving)? How much work will it take to do so?

The degree isn't magically transformative. Majoring in performance means that you will have four years dedicated to practicing and an environment that nurtures performers. Do anything else and you will have a set of distractions from practicing, that you must decide how to manage. The minor isn't likely to make a significant difference one way or another; if anything, taking juries may be a distraction from making maximally efficient use of your limited practice time.

Also, all teachers are obviously not created equal. The kid who goes and studies with, say, Bron or Danchenko, is getting a fundamentally different education than the kid who goes and studies with any number of folks you haven't heard of. Some of those teachers may be superb violinists and pedagogues, but many of them will be mediocre. A good chunk of your thinking should be oriented towards how you get the very best teacher that you can for your college years -- which could very well involve studying privately with someone outside of the formal university/conservatory context, if you're not going to be a performance major.

April 24, 2013 at 02:12 AM · It's also worth noting that sometimes the regionals are actually more competitive than All-State. In the Chicago suburbs where I grew up, for instance, the Chicago region orchestra was far more competitive than the All-State, because nearly all the good players lived in the Chicago 'burbs. There were plenty of folks at All-State that wouldn't have even been able to make the regional if they'd lived in the 'burbs.

As another reality check: By the time you reach your senior year of high school, if you're hoping for a major orchestral career, you should already be playing at least as skillfully than many of the local freelance professionals (many of whom will have skills that have deteriorated over time).

April 24, 2013 at 02:23 AM · In the Pittsburgh Symphony we divided the resumes into two categories. Those who seemed to be likely candidates were invited to audition. The rest were invited to send a tape with rather detailed specifications (for example, Mozart Symphony #39 last movement, measures 1-40, Brahms Symphony #3 measures .... etc) Usually you would not play your solo piece on the audition tape.

Typically out of 150-200 resumes, 30-40 were invited to audition. The rest were invited to send tapes. Only a minority of those who were invited to send tapes actually did so. Out of those a few were invited to audition. Most were not.

April 24, 2013 at 02:47 AM ·

April 24, 2013 at 08:18 PM · Eugenia, Out of 30 or more tapes, 2 or 3 would typically be invited to audition.

April 25, 2013 at 12:12 AM · Science/math/engineering, including pre-med, is very different than nursing, though. Nursing is normally extremely intensive because of the clinical portion of the coursework; the schedule you would be running is likely going to make finding practice time highly challenging.

My impression is that it's rare to minor in music when your major is nursing; I attended a university with a big nursing school (Penn), and even without a performance requirement in the minor, I can't recall any nurses at all in the minor while I was there. It was probably related to the fact that a BSN tends to have very few free electives, which impacts the ability to minor in unrelated subjects.

April 28, 2013 at 02:09 PM · I think Jennifer Koh was a double-degree student at Oberlin; yes, she majored in English but she also has a degree in Violin Performance.

Winning an audition has nothing to do with your degrees or lack of; it's all in how you play. However, you have to be invited to the audition in the first place. When I am screening resumes, I look for degrees from well-known music schools or at least significant study (not just a master class) with well-known teachers, and professional experience. The less experience you have, the more important your credentials become. It's actually a kindness to applicants when orchestras screen heavily before the audition; we don't want to encourage someone to spend $500 or more and many, many hours of effort in pursuit of a job which they have absolutely no chance of winning.

It should be noted that minoring in music makes it very difficult (though not impossible) to invest as many practice hours as a performance major would.

April 28, 2013 at 04:56 PM · I'm not sure that Jennifer Koh was, actually -- but the important bit is that she'd already had years of functionally professional-level training before college, as she'd been a student of the Vamoses long before she followed them to Oberlin. I'd guess by the time she reached college-age, she'd already done a good chunk of the common repertoire a soloist needs. The music degree would have been near-irrelevant.

The situation for KR (the original poster), who has the problem of being possibly ill-prepared for conservatory and thus is considering other options, is hugely different than someone who is playing at a level that easily gets them into the top conservatories and needs to decide whether or not they can pursue some other field of study as well. The latter needs to maintain a high playing level and refine their skills, which is very different than KR's situation of needing to catch up and then surpass.

Another way of putting it: How quickly are you going to achieve your 10,000 hours of practice?

April 29, 2013 at 02:41 AM · She may not have finished both degrees, but the Oberlin website has numerous articles dating from her time as a student there that refer to her as "double-degree student Jennifer Koh."

Regarding the rest of your post, I agree with you 100%.

May 1, 2013 at 12:54 AM · Yeah, it's very difficult...I definitely have a passion for the violin, so I'm still going to go through with college auditions as planned. I am just so scared about job shortages! That is the only deterrent---well, I wouldn't even call it a deterrent because I know that I want to get a degree in music.

May 9, 2013 at 02:39 AM · A degree in music, in and of itself, makes you no more employable than a degree in philosophy or art history.

A Youtube search on "Juilliard pre college violin" will give you some idea of the competitive playing level of pre-conservatory violinists.

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