College Audition Piece

March 12, 2015 at 01:41 PM · Hi, everybody! I'm a junior in high school, and I was wondering if anybody could help me about the college audition process and music school and such.

I've been playing the violin for about seven-eight years, and I've started thinking about entering college for a music degree. The only problem is, the college I want to enter (Rice University, Shepherd School of Music) is really well ranked among music schools, and I don't know how to go about it. I'm not necessarily a bad player or anything, it's just that I have never attempted to play something like a standard concerto. I'm worried about what I should play, and if I even have a chance of impressing them.

I prefer to play darker, more mellow pieces, in contrast to bright, cheerful pieces, though I'm not opposed to them.

Please, could someone give me a little insight?


March 12, 2015 at 02:16 PM · I find Brahms and Sibelius to be musically dark.

March 12, 2015 at 03:03 PM · If you have never played a standard concerto you have close to 0% chance of gaining admittance.

March 12, 2015 at 03:14 PM · I think you need to look at the admission requirements thoroughly. Many times what is written is the minimum required, and those who audition will be far beyond the minimum.

What is your background in playing, and what kind of training do you have?

March 12, 2015 at 03:39 PM · Dr. Berg is correct. Rice is as difficult to get into as Juilliard. Just this year I had a student (high school senior) who was playing the Saint-Saens Concerto #3 very well indeed, and his audition tape didn't even pass the prescreen. And I know he played well on the recording; I was there when he made it.

You need to have a straightforward conversation with your private teacher about your goals as a violinist, what is realistic, and what you need to do to get there.

March 12, 2015 at 11:09 PM · As a follow up on my previous post, this is the way you get your very talented student into the highest level conservatories. First, the student must be aiming for a career in music and practicing a minimum of 3 hours per day in the sophomore year. The teacher should arrange to have a "trial lesson" with a prospective teacher in their junior year. At that time there will be an indication as to whether the teacher might be willing to accept said student. Repertoire must be decided and learned at least 6 months before the formal audition. Students who have not been in touch and auditioned before possible teachers and go into an audition without this have very little chance of acceptance. A possible in is attending a summer music program in which the desired teacher teaches. And that's the way it is.

A career in music performance will rarely be lucrative, but can be tremendously rewarding. If you have the talent, the drive, the intelligence, and most of all the persistence to keep working to improve throughout your life, You can have a good life in music.

March 13, 2015 at 02:15 AM · Time to think not, "How can I get into Rice/Shepherd or a school of similar stature?" but "Is a career as a violinist realistic for me?"

You're a junior and you haven't yet begun the concerto repertoire. There are probably places where you could be accepted to get an music education degree, which might eventually lead to being able to teach in a public school. Maybe you end up doing a little bit of freelancing on the side, depending on where you live. But you're not on a track that leads to you performing for a living.

Time to have a really, really serious sit-down with your teacher over what your future is going to be, and then a sit-down with your parents to discuss the financial implications of the choices in front of you.

March 13, 2015 at 12:02 PM · I'm sort of confused now; when you refer to a "prospective teacher" are you referring to a private lesson teacher, or referring directly to the teacher of the school of music one wants to enter? If so, I already have a private lesson teacher. I've also preformed pieces for college professors before, and the most common response is that my tone, while passionate, isn't fully evolved yet.

Along repertoire lines, I've played Meditation, multiple Mozart Sonatas, multiple Handel Sonatas, the Bach Double Violin Concerto, the Seitz Pupil Concertos, and pieces with my orchestra, such as Troika and Swan Lake.

I don't necessarily want to be a performer, but more of a composer/conductor.

On a side note, would Paganini's La Campanella be a good concerto choice?

March 13, 2015 at 12:45 PM · Ece, They mean playing for a teacher at the school you are thinking of applying to. It sounds from your latest post that you are interested in music in general. A better fit for you would be to look for a college or university where you could study music literature and theory and take lessons for credit. Then you could see which branch of music study interests you most and best fits your capabilities. And La Campanella is a great piece but not for you right now.

March 13, 2015 at 12:58 PM · Because you will be granted entrance into a specific teacher's studio normally, the suggestion is that you go take a lesson from them so you can be mutually sure that it will be a good match. You want them already rooting for you on the entrance committee.

You are not going to go from your current playing level to playing La Campanella anytime soon. Also, it is the third movement of Paganini No. 2, and many schools will specify it must be the *first* movement of a major concerto.

You are not playing at a level that suggests that you should be seeking admission to any program that requires performing proficiency. Fortunately, composition and conducting normally have no performance audition, so you're in luck. I would suggest taking up piano if you aren't already a proficient pianist, though -- you will need that skill.

(By the way: "Troika" is not a piece of music. It is a type of Russian folk dance. Various musical works contain a troika.)

March 13, 2015 at 01:41 PM · Hi Lydia,

In many universities (including mine) performing proficiency is required on a major instrument in order to be considered for a composition or conducting major.

March 13, 2015 at 02:56 PM · That's interesting. What do the vocalists do? (The common case of singers who want to become choral conductors...)

March 13, 2015 at 03:22 PM · The voice is an instrument.

March 13, 2015 at 06:19 PM · "I've also preformed pieces for college professors before, and the most common response is that my tone, while passionate, isn't fully evolved yet."

But what was your question when you played for these professors? Was it "how can I improve?" or was it "do you think I could be admitted to your school as a violinist?" Because the response you are quoting is a perfectly valid response to the former question but not an answer to the latter.

I'm with Lydia. You aren't going to be playing Campanella anytime soon. If you were coming into my studio as a new private student with the repertoire you list, I'd most likely assign you one of the following based on how well you were playing your current repertoire and what problems needed addressing first: Bach a minor, Bach E major, Accolay, De Beriot #9, or Kabalevsky. None of those pieces would get you into any first, second, or third rate school as a performance major.

(I'd also give some consideration to who else I was already teaching a certain piece to and whether I thought I could stand hearing it more often in a week, but that's a topic for a different post.)

Edited to add that I'm guessing the Troika referred to is the one from Lieutenant Kije.

March 13, 2015 at 08:15 PM · I think Mary Ellen's post is on the mark here. Schools accepting performance majors at such a low technical level are simply in it for the money, and don't have a plan to get those to a level where they will be competent practitioners in their field. The point isn't to get the degree, but to acquire the skills that the degree represents!

The college students I've seen in the past decade or so have had it with composition and conducting students who aren't minimally competent on their primary instruments. How is any decent college orchestra going to take you seriously if you only play at Suzuki Book 6 level?

It's better off at that point to find a good teacher at a community college, wipe out those general ed requirements, and spend some intensive time working to get to an appropriate level and then transfer into a 4-year program. There, you can explore what your options are.

March 13, 2015 at 09:21 PM · Thanks, Gene.

"I have to disagree with this statement. There are some smaller liberal arts universities with a decent music program (as opposed to a conservatory) that will admit you at approximately your level--maybe a little higher, but nevertheless still admit you, especially if you are looking into composition and conducting. Granted, you would spend 4 years paying tuition, need to furiously improve your skills in those years, and still need to proceed to do a Master's to be marketable. I do agree that you owe it to yourself to make an honest assessment of your goals measured against the cost of tuition and how you would make a living later."

No, no, no, no, no. Yes, such a student could be a music (NOT performance) major at a liberal arts college. No, there is virtually no chance that such a student could possibly improve enough to be competitive in the marketplace as a performer. You have to remember that while this hypothetical weak player is practicing like crazy at Liberal Arts Undergrad in hopes of getting into a decent master's program, all the better players at conservatories and serious schools of music are also practicing and improving, and will be competing for places in the good graduate programs.

I'm sure there are colleges who are happy to take the tuition money and give someone a "music" degree. But at the end of the day, the graduate will be no more marketable than someone with a BA in philosophy--that is to say, you can check off the four-year degree box on a job application, but you're not really qualified for anything specialized in your field.

And at any rate, I would not include Random Liberal Arts College with an undistinguished music department even with the third-tier schools.

Edited to add that composition majors "audition" for schools by submitting compositions and I think those students are judged more on the quality of the composition than on their performance skills, though it's unlikely that someone who wasn't at a high level on at least one instrument would be very skilled at composing. If you want to be a conductor, you had (insert intensifying expletives here) well better be a VERY good musician on at least one instrument or symphony players will chew you up and spit you out, if you ever even get to stand up on the podium in the first place. Not because we would actually ever hear you perform, but because you would not have the musical depth of knowledge to be qualified to tell 80 - 100 people who DO have the musical depth of knowledge how we should play a piece of music.

March 13, 2015 at 10:38 PM · Mary Ellen, I commend your tireless efforts to combat the endless stream of misguided advice on the Internet.

Ece: why haven't you discussed this with your private teacher?

March 14, 2015 at 01:12 AM · Do you like to teach? What about a music education degree? If you land a job in a public school, it's one way of getting to conduct an ensemble. It's not for everyone though. You'll still need to work hard on getting your playing up to speed.

March 14, 2015 at 01:12 AM · double post - sorry

March 14, 2015 at 01:45 AM · Put another way:

Do you want to spend four hours a day in dedicated, serious practicing in college, in order to get your playing level up to where it needs to be -- recognizing that this will be to achieve the *minimum* level of proficiency?

If you think you'd like to be practicing four hours a day in the future, why aren't you practicing four hours a day now?

If you *are* practicing four hours a day now, why are you only at (as Gene puts it) only at a Suzuki Book 6 level now?

March 14, 2015 at 02:52 AM · Four hours a day of practicing in college will not get someone at the Meditation from Thais level as a junior in high school up to anything like a competitive level by college graduation. All those current 16-year-old violinists who are already playing Mendelssohn, Saint-Saens, Bruch (not to mention those who have moved on to Tchaikovsky or Brahms) at a high level will also be practicing four hours a day at a minimum all through college and will have left the student starting at Suzuki Book Six level in the dust.

I can think of only one student I have taught who was not at a particularly high level as a high school student but who might--as in it's possible but not a sure thing--*might* be able to make a career of it. (The jury is still out.) But he *started* on violin in high school after having played bass for a few years, and so by the time he had played for seven years, he was graduating from college and playing Brahms concerto rather well. His learning curve was steep from the beginning.

I think there is a widespread misunderstanding about what it takes to be competitive as a classical musician in today's world. The level is very, very high. For someone with the personal drive and charisma to put together a full studio of private students while successfully marketing oneself as a wedding musician, yes, you can eat and pay rent as a less-than-stellar violinist. It is a life that is more enjoyable at 25 than at 45, to be sure. But getting a job, even in a smaller orchestra, is extraordinarily competitive, and auditions are brutal.

Edited to add that I agree with Lydia's point relating practice habits to current achievement--either way (being a dedicated practicer with modest achievement or not being a practicer which explains the modest achievement) not being particularly suggestive of future success. Although, full disclosure, I was very far from a four-hours-a-day practicer as a high school student myself...but having reached the Bruch g minor level at 16 even with my dilatory habits, the stage was set to make very fast progress once I decided to start working.

March 14, 2015 at 02:07 PM · "Do you like to teach? What about a music education degree? If you land a job in a public school, it's one way of getting to conduct an ensemble."

Most schools that have good music education programs require a relatively high level of performance. The last thing we need in precollege music education is a teacher who has feeble performance skills.

March 14, 2015 at 02:47 PM · I will say that I am very proud of a few students I have worked with over the years who came into our undergraduate music education program with weak performance skills but who worked like demons and graduated with much better performance skills as well as excellent teaching skills. They are now making a real contribution to their music programs.

I would not necessarily write off someone at the OP's current level IF they enjoy and are good at teaching, and are willing to work very hard. I would rather say that the last thing any music education program needs is students who are in it as a second-best choice only because they could not make it in performance. Classroom teaching requires a different skill set, not a lesser one.

(Part of the teaching skill set is recognizing one's own limitations and being willing to hand off students to more highly qualified teachers/players when the time comes.)

March 14, 2015 at 02:50 PM · Thank you, Bruce! I'm weary of the old "those who can't do, teach" chestnut. It isn't true, and shouldn't be.

The audition requirements at IU, for example, are exactly the same for undergraduate performance and education majors. First movement of a standard concerto, with cadenza, and two movements of solo Bach. Seitz Concertos are not going to cut it for music education either.

March 14, 2015 at 03:03 PM · With all due respect, there are many many more strings programs in the public schools than can be supplied by schools like Indiana. Is it better for students to have no program or to have a program staffed by people who have at least been trained well and achieved a reasonable level of playing by hard work in college?

Most of my teaching at UTSA is music education students, and I can only think of one student over the years who might have gained admittance to Indiana. The others came in at more modest levels of playing. I am extremely proud of the contributions being made to music education in San Antonio by my former students. In our program they gained classroom skills, and instrumental skills. Along with teaching them correct technique, I also taught them to recognize their limitations and how to seek help in their areas of weakness.

I would much rather have a classroom orchestra teacher of modestly adequate skill* but a desire and ability to teach students, than to have a better player who is there only because they could not make it as a performer.

*say, Preludium and Allegro or Haydn concerto level, which the OP could reach from her current level in a four year program.

March 14, 2015 at 03:25 PM · I know that's true, of course. I just love teaching myself, so I hate to see it relegated to something that leftover performers do.

Teaching in the schools, though, is really a horse of a different color. It takes a lot of mettle and a gift for crowd control.

I will say, too, that I've known some truly gifted composers who were not especially proficient performers, so I suppose that could be an option. But again, they were usually heavily engaged in composing by this point. Generally, it's the same basic rule again of "if you're asking on the Internet, the answer is no." Of course there are always outliers, but obviously most people aren't outliers.

March 14, 2015 at 03:38 PM · Music education programs by their very nature produce teachers for the schools.

If we are talking about private lesson teachers, then I agree with Bruce 100%.

March 14, 2015 at 04:31 PM · I wanted to clarify my earlier point:

Practice habits in college are likely to be a carryover from high school practice habits. If you're not someone who loves practicing for hours a day (or puts nose to the grindstone to do it despite not loving it), you're not going to suddenly develop that discipline in college, in all likelihood.

The OP's situation is different than, say, someone who started at age 14 and has been spending the last two years of their life frantically catching up (especially if that student has had some background on another instrument), pouring hours of time into the violin -- arguably this level of playing combined with lots of hard work will get such a student to the point where they can make a living in music by the time they're through graduate school.

The OP, by contrast, has been playing eight years, making their level of accomplishment on the violin currently well below average for what you'd expect of a student with that number of years of playing -- even a relatively casual student of the violin. That's either poor teaching or inadequate practicing or both, because even without any aptitude, decent teaching combined with enough practice time should yield a higher playing level than this in 8 years.

So... OP, what have you been doing to prepare for this music career that you hope for? If it's not going into practice time, have you developed a composition portfolio? Listened to a lot of music with the scores and gotten to know a lot of orchestral repertoire such that a couple of bars will let you identify the work? Taken conducting classes?

March 14, 2015 at 04:37 PM · I don't disagree with you. He should only go into music ed if he wants to teach for a career. At this stage, he's not in a position to lead a high school orchestra in a competitive school district. However, depending on where he lives, there can be a lot of variation in playing abilities of strings teachers. In some places, the alternatives are having the trumpet teacher (with no string training) teach strings, or having no teacher. When I was in school, this was what happened. The string teachers could not play standard concertos. Unfortunately, no one of Indiana caliber was teaching in these schools.

I'm not saying that's the way it should be. If this student puts in 5-6 years of hard work and moves to a place where he is needed, he could turn out to be better as a public school music teacher than a trumpet player or no teacher. The statistics with this path are still tough.

It's fine to tell this student, you have 0% chance of making it in music, as a teacher, performer, composer, conductor, audio engineer, music therapist, or musicologist. It's also true that in many majors and careers outside of music, you will hear similar precautions: you aren't competitive, don't do it unless you're into it 100%, or the school is running a racket if they accept you.

So what are his options? I think it would be constructive to help this student consider educational paths that could still enable him to compose or even conduct. Maybe not as professions, but something to set him up well for doing it on the side.

March 14, 2015 at 04:58 PM · It's not so much that I think the OP has 0% chance of making any kind of living in music whatsoever. But, first she mentions that she'd like to go to Rice, which is a top flight music school, and indicates that she's never studied a major concerto. Of course people are going to responsibly say that's not realistic. She then says that she's actually wanting to be a conductor or composer, both of which are even more difficult than performance to make a go of as a career. Granted, we don't know much about the poster, but what little we do know paints a picture that says that these career tracks are almost certainly not within her reach. I agree that it's possible she could conduct a public school ensemble, but she didn't mention any interest in music education. Perhaps that was why I had a negative initial reaction to the suggestion, since I don't think it's something people should do because they can't do what they actually want to do. But it could be a valid option for her, if she's interested.

I'm less familiar with the requirements for recording technology, but I think it's possible to more or less begin ones training in college, so that would certainly be an option also.

March 14, 2015 at 05:29 PM · A teacher of mine once gently talked a high-school-age student of hers into understanding that he had no future as a violinist, but he could be an excellent audio engineer. (As far as I know, that's indeed what he went on to do.) As far as I know, there's normally no requirement that you be able to play to do such programs, especially the trade-school ones.

March 14, 2015 at 09:40 PM · I don't agree with "those who can't, teach" either. It's interesting how my first post was interpreted. I am new here. Maybe I shouldn't have brought up music ed when I did.

I suggested music ed and public school teaching because the OP said they were interested in conducting. I look around, and of the people I know whose job descriptions include conducting, many are public school music teachers. There are more statistically than professional symphony conductors. It's a completely different path with a different goal. (From what I understand, professional conductors do not typically teach in public schools if they fail to get gigs.) Some public school teachers started without much experience in elementary strings but over the years came to conduct youth orchestras or high school orchestras and were good at it.

Only if OP wants to pursue a career in teaching and works hard at bringing their skills up, it's an option and it's feasible. If none of the other music-related careers interest OP, there are opportunities to pursue music on the side, non-professionally. A lot of people do that, though I think it's logistically easier to get a start in college or before. OP could look into schools where they would be allowed to take composition or conducting classes as a non-major.

March 15, 2015 at 04:42 AM · There are certainly many career paths in music that don't involve having to go to the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, and able to play a major concerto, solo Bach, and Paganini caprice at the age of eighteen. For any student interested in looking at music as a career, there is a huge diversity of options out there.

While I am totally against dismissing any student's dreams out of hand without carefully evaluating their situation and options (I sometimes feel more like a counselor instead of a teacher), the issue that those of us who have taught for any amount of time run into is that many students don't get a reality check. They spend tons of time and resources pursuing a goal, and too many people along the way "don't want to hurt their feelings." One day, they arrive at the point where it is the only thing they have ever done, and they reach the point where they have to compete for a spot in a studio or a job...and they can't measure up. It's traumatizing, and totally unfair to the student.

I'm sure we would have the same kind of response for a student wanting to go to medical school (starting with pre-med) who only had a C average, poor SAT score, didn't take many science classes, and only took math up to Algebra. Sure, they might have dreams, but that level of performance isn't going to make that dream viable anytime in the near future. And to tell them otherwise in that situation is irresponsible.

> Four hours a day of practicing in college will not get

> someone at the Meditation from Thais level as a junior

> in high school up to anything like a competitive level

>by college graduation

I'd say by and large, this is true (and by competitive level, I assume this means winning an audition for a full-time orchestra job or having a solo career). Although we have seen exceptions, those are incredibly rare and should not be taken as evidence that everyone should attempt it. "Possible" does not equal "practical."

March 15, 2015 at 07:27 PM · By "competitive level," I actually meant being a viable candidate for an excellent graduate school program in performance, which is a slightly lower bar but not by much. At that stage, the difference between a student and a professional has more to do with experience that it has to do with technique. Not to say that you don't still acquire technique in graduate school of course! But if you're a college senior and you still can't play Don Juan or the first movement of Tchaikovsky concerto, you're not going to magically acquire that level of playing in another year or two.

I really hate looking my students in the eye and telling them that performance is not in their future, but somebody has to do it.

March 15, 2015 at 08:08 PM · Is it fair to say the top music colleges are for future performers and the others are for someone enjoy or want to know more about music (who has no chance make a living as a performer)?

"II really hate looking my students in the eye and telling them that performance is not in their future"

I think teacher should do it before it is too late. I had been in couple of Master of Music in Violin Performance Recitals. The performers were struggling through the recitals. The last recital I went to, the performer finished the Mendelssohn Concerto with three major memory slips. I honestly felt sorry for them. I don't know how much time and money they invested in violin playing. For performer, it doesn't matter how well you play in your bedroom, only in public count. Although, they have a Master degree (I guess the school still grant it), they have no chance to make a living as a classic performer. They might to able to teach beginners, but not even intermediates.

By a bedroom violinist.

March 15, 2015 at 08:57 PM · Greetings,

I think I would be rather cautious about the idea that second tier institute safe for people to enjoy music but not make a worthwhile career of it. The world where one could afford such a possibility has long since gone as far as I can see.



March 15, 2015 at 09:01 PM · For what it's worth, I typically have the "this is not in your future" conversation with a student who is at about the same stage as the OP, Junior year of high school. I always ask my students if they've thought about their college plans, not specifically in the context of music but just as a general topic, and that's when I find out if one is nursing ambitions to do what I do. But they have no clue, so I am morally obligated to give them one.

I am aware of one or two local private teachers who encourage all of their talented students to major in music in college because "they should," which I think is reprehensible.

March 15, 2015 at 09:07 PM · I'd be less concerned with a player's ability to do a program by memory than their ability to execute it with technical competence and compelling musicality, since the vast majority of performers are going to play in orchestras and maybe do some chamber-group-size gigs -- and even your typical local solo performer is going to play concerts with music. You can chalk up memory slips to nerves and hope that the player will never need their memory to be reliable.

But there's no reason for someone to get a music degree for, as you put it, "for someone enjoy or want to know more about music (who has no chance make a living as a performer)". If you're going to do it for the enjoyment or mind-broadening experience, be an amateur. Don't waste your time and money going to school for it. Choose a university with a credible music history and theory department and take some music classes as an elective (or as a minor), take private lessons, keep playing, make money doing something else, enjoy your life.

March 16, 2015 at 01:00 AM · Ditto Lydia about memory slips.

Completely irrelevant unless the violinist wants to make a solo career, in which case he/she would have moved well past the multiple memory slip stage in childhood.

Intonation and rhythm, now....

March 16, 2015 at 04:41 AM · Amongst the many experienced teachers and performers here, etc. I can't tell what will happen. I can offer my opinion -- personally, I believe that if you REALLY WANTS to become a composer or conductor, you need to start working HARD. As someone kind of in the same shoes, (sophomore, working on Bruch after starting late in violin :(((( ), I can say that if you want to succeed, you need to drop everything else. And as you are a junior, even more so because there's such a big workload.

If I practice 3 hours a day, I'm already behind on my homework on a lot. And I'm still only a sophomore.

So for success in the conductor/composer field, everything not musical is second priority, you have no life but music for this period of time -- listen nonstop to music to improve musicality, and analyze it (as in, just like effective practicing, think about why the piece you are listening to is so good. Which parts give you chills and why? How can you replicate it? etc...).

Ive been under my fair share of really GREATTT conductors -- my middle school choral conductor was amazing -- inspirational, scary, don't be put off by the "middle school" we would win 1st place against high schools and colleges at Washington DC and at the World Choir competition, we got 2nd place to a college choir (behind by 0.something point!!! Dx ) etc.

At ACDA Honor Choir there are AMAZING CONDUCTORS and etc. And then there are some conductors elsewhere that just make you want to >:-{ (precisely for the reasons mentioned before. "chewed up and spit out by symphony players"). I've also tried my hand at conducting a choir before hahaha it was fun. But to be a great conductor, you not only need to be good at the instrument, you have to have really great musical taste and understand the music (lines, style, phrasing, texture, chord, tonality, etc.), creativity, and most importantly, you have to be able to motivate, connect with your people (and much more! you have to also be able to multitask and have really good hearing so you can pinpoint that one player who keeps playing an Ab instead of an A, pitch discrimination, understand ALL INSTRUMENTS, precise conducting skills/communication skills by gesture skills, musical theory, good judge of skill level of others, good musical teacher, and SO MUCH MORE). And to be a composer you have to have good taste, creativity, and understand how music works (I don't know much about the composer side).

The thing is, you can probably do it (against the advice of everybody else here) but you have to really really really want to do music. And that means being a sponge and soaking up everything that you can in this short amount of time and not wasting any.

I sympathize, that's why this post is so long (actually its not that long...). What everybody has been saying is harsh, but true --- except that they've been assuming that those outliers are only luck and talent -- with 10x the amount of hard work, you can become an outlier as well.

Good luck!

March 16, 2015 at 05:07 AM · Greetings,

it's an impassioned post but the terrible flaw in the position Iis the assumption you make that the pros here are only talking about luck and talent. In fact they are talking about luck talent and bloody hard work. And even having all three doesn't guarantee anything be aus ethe market is swamped anyway. The OP doesn't demonstrably have two of the three factors in the first place. Let's keep the truth right out there in front of us.



March 16, 2015 at 05:32 AM · For the majority of people who earn a living in any field, it never will be about luck and talent, at least as it relates to the things they can control.

Hard work, commitment, and the ability to self-criticize and adapt/change to reach long-term goals are far more important factors.

March 16, 2015 at 05:38 AM · Exactly -- my point being that those are factors you can control -- how hard you work and how dedicated you are. My belief (i don't want to offend anyone more knowledgeable than me in this aspect, so this according to my own belief) is that you can ALWAYS work harder and concentrate more, absorb more, and be that much better because of that. I assumed that those above meant luck and talent (even though I just looked back and they did say hard work) because it seemed as if they knew he wasn't going to work hard. There's no limit to how much you can try (although the harder you try the more you lose. But it's worth it in my opinion if you care that much.)

So all you have to do is work harder than everybody else, and also work harder by enough so that you make up for any difference in talent and time etc.

It might be a moot point anyway because it doesn't sound like he REALLY wants to become a composer/conductor that bad.

March 16, 2015 at 06:25 AM · Katherine,

your point about hard work is true in the sense that oe really can improve oneself at something at any stage in one`s life. But working harder than anyone else at this stage, in this business is not only somewhat improbable but a recipe for a wasted youth. The history of violin playing is a road paved with people who believe dthey could work harder than anyone to compensate for their shortcomings. They never make it unless they had the talent in the first place and that is actually quite easy to spot, as is the opposite.

Of all three professions, the college graduate full time pro is really not on. A compser is a massivley gifted individual capable of hearing a whole canvas of sound, symphony inside their head and producing composition in some form or another from an early age. It is no less an art than violin playing. A professional conducter is almost invariably incredibly skilled on one instrument, ver often a string instrument or the piano/organ. On top of the huge range of skills needed the fundamental is passion . That is largely absent from the OP. People who go into the music profession have a buring desire which cant be put down by anyone. It drives them to understand from a young age (mor eoften than not) to seek out everything they can in terms of knwledge and ability in orde rto set goals for which they often give up childhood, play, lots of money, in order to achieve.

Being a happy amateur is almost always the best option for everyne else.



March 16, 2015 at 12:54 PM · I definitely can't agree with the advice to blow off homework for practice. My teacher wanted me to do that in high school, and I'm very glad I didn't. While I'd probably be a better violinist now if I had, I have solid academic credentials that would allow me to do something else if I need or want to in the future. If you're winning competitions, homeschooling in order to practice and perform more or attending an arts high school like Interlochen, and your parents are extremely invested in your music career to the degree that they are willing to take you to teachers in other cities who will look good on your resume or even move there to support your studies, as well as buy you an instrument of the caliber that would be expected at that level (or you win one in a competition), then sure, go ahead and blow off school for violin practice. Otherwise, you're skating on thin ice doing that. You're much better off to practice and do your school work and see how far you can get doing both.

March 16, 2015 at 02:05 PM ·

Deleted double post, sorry

March 16, 2015 at 02:06 PM · Katherine, you are very young. I think you mean well, but you are quite wrong about a sudden spurt of hard work being sufficient to overtake everyone else. If the OP had the passion to do that in the first place combined with the talent, she would be far past Meditation from Thais.

Please listen to those of us who have decades of experience combined with the observation of hundreds if not thousands of students who are very much like you and the OP. We have heard this story many times before and we know how it ends.

It is a very great lie that all anyone needs to succeed is to follow their passion.

March 16, 2015 at 05:15 PM · I agree with the fact that it doesn't seem like the OP has enough drive to make it work. I definitely agree with what Buri said about the burning desire and so on. But I don't agree with the fact that it is failure is inevitable, even for the OP. Going off of what Sarah said, what I meant about the blowing off homework is that if you know that you definitely want to go into the field of music, as in, NOTHING else appeals to you, what is the point of studying anything else? I understand that in the future, it could provide a backup or foundation to go off of in case things go badly, but won't the chance that things go badly be higher if the student doesn't pull out all the stops? What I meant was in an all-or-nothing situation, where that person (probably not the OP) really does not want to do anything else with their life except play the violin, then they might as well try as hard as they can on that aspect (this is probably a bad concept in terms of investing and so on).

I mean putting all your money onto this one area, since nothing else is for you anyways. Those outliers that were mentioned, by outliers, I'm assuming you mean people in this situation but are very rare, and happen to succeed. The difference between those outliers and rest of the sample space must have been how passionate they were, since there's no limit to that. That's my reasoning anyway.

But that doesn't seem like the case (although I would hate to mischaracterize the OP, it doesn't seem, like many of you said, that he has that much drive for this profession).

But honestly, this is only my personal philosophy, so I guess whoever is in this position, like the OP, should take my words with a grain of salt. I concede the point and the advice to those more experienced, but my own opinion doesn't change. It may seem crazy, but this is based off my own (much lesser) experience...

It was nice to hear the different perspectives though.

March 16, 2015 at 05:34 PM · Katherine, I travelled the path you are outlining. I did not listed to advice of my teachers and went to a highly regarded music school. I went in as a mediocre player, worked like a beaver trying to make up for lost time and graduated as a mediocre player playing more advanced literature. Needless to say I did not have a career in performing or teaching. I am not saying this will happen to you or Ece (who has already told us that she is not necessarily thinking of a performing career, so I don't know why people keep beating this dead horse). I have never regretted my choice because I love music and the training I received has benefited me in myriad ways. I think it is better to study what you are interested in rather than what you are not interested in. It is a dangerous stance to say something "Has" to happen. Sometimes it just doesn't but that does not mean you are doomed to a life of unhappiness, you find another route to be engaged in what you love.

March 16, 2015 at 05:34 PM ·

March 16, 2015 at 05:42 PM · It makes sense to do that if your chances of succeeding are high enough to make the risk worth it. If they aren't, it doesn't make sense, no matter how passionate you may be. That's why it's prudent to consult with professionals in the industry to get a realistic assessment of your chances before mortgaging your future. None of us can stop anyone from doing anything, but we can do them the favor of being honest.

Here's an analogy: a high schooler comes to me telling me he wants to run up $50,000 worth of credit card debt to take a life-changing trip around the world. Is this a good idea, he asks me? Well, let's think about it. Are you a trust fund kid, guaranteed by law to receive a million dollars on your eighteenth birthday? Are you one of the best students in the country who has just been accepted to the fast track to becoming a neurosurgeon at the finest medical school in the world who will almost certainly be able to pay this off in the future even though it's an extremely risky investment? (If you were that person, you probably would make better choices, but bear with me for the sake of argument.) Are you an average student majoring in philosophy? These circumstances will change my answer. They may all have an equally burning desire to travel around the world, but they're in different positions to do that whether they like it or not.

March 16, 2015 at 06:57 PM · Ms. Trimmer has a point. For some people, it's not about having a lucrative career. Indeed, even for a great violinist, being well off is not a given. And often, even people with a good job in a "money" career have to pay student loans, etc. Sometimes common sense doesn't apply. Which doesn't mean one should embark haphazardly in whatever whimsical quest we may think of-the point is, not every player driven to study a violin degree must do so because he/she knows it will be "worth it" monetarily, but more because that's what he/she wants to do.

All a teacher can do is outline realistic opportunities to their students, and of course not give them false expectations. That said, as long as they realize the requirements and consequences of their choices, teachers should in my strong opinion be supportive, especially if the commitment is there.

I know it's not "practical", but for a few people, such things do not matter. I also believe it's a matter of rare personality types vs societal expectations, but that's for another discussion. Some people are destined to go against the grain-as long as they are aware of what they are getting into, I would respect them and leave them alone.

No offense intended. Practical types will most likely disagree, and that's fine too. We do not have to share the same views, nor am I pretending to have the "right" idea-that said, please do not try to "convince" me that somehow I must be wrong, and please agree to disagree if you must.

March 16, 2015 at 07:08 PM · As a teacher, I cannot stop my students from making any decisions they care to make. That is between them and their parents, if their parents will be paying any part of their educations.

If they are not top-drawer players but want to study music for the joy of it, understanding that they will likely find their life's work elsewhere, *and they can afford this,* I will be supportive to the extent of helping them prepare for realistic auditions (i.e. not Rice).

I am morally obligated to tell them the realities of the professional musical world if they have unrealistic aspirations. I cannot in good conscience be supportive of anyone going tens of thousands of dollars into debt to pursue a fantasy that will never come to fruition. There are other ways to make music a part of one's life.

For what it's worth, I don't see myself as primarily a teacher of future professional performers, although I do have former students who are pursuing professional careers. The bulk of my teaching is future school music teachers, future amateurs, future audiences, future parents. And I am very supportive of any way in which my students can keep music as an important part of their lives while preparing for other productive careers.

March 16, 2015 at 07:20 PM · Mary Ellen wrote, "You are quite wrong about a sudden spurt of hard work being sufficient to overtake everyone else."

On a strictly local level this can be true. If you've been a violin-slacker for years, and you get into high school and you sudden get bitten by the violin-bug and start practicing four hours a day, chances are that you're going to eventually overtake the people who are more advanced but are putting in a casual hour or two a day.

However, if you're going up against everyone else also practicing four hours (or more) a day, you're in trouble. When the baseline default assumption of the profession is that you work your tail off when you're young, it's darn near impossible to outwork everyone else.

March 16, 2015 at 07:31 PM · For the OP and any other lurking young people: this is the 2015 Texas All-State Symphony, the top orchestra of the three Texas All-State orchestras, performing Don Juan. The first concertmaster solo is at 2'26"--she is a *sophomore* in high school. There are forty violins (20 1sts, 20 2nds) chosen as the best by competitive audition from all participating Texas high school students. The vast majority of these students WOULD NOT gain admittance to Rice. Listen and watch, and think about that. Like it or not, this is the competitive level we are discussing.

(Parental brag, my son is the principal oboe in this performance.) I believe this video was taken by the parent of a cellist which explains the camera work; the official DVD hasn't come out yet.

March 16, 2015 at 07:41 PM · I'm somewhat fascinated by the fact that in Texas, where less than 4% of the population is Asian, the string sections in that video are utterly dominated by Asians.

March 16, 2015 at 08:00 PM · Um. Yes, you are not the first person to make that observation.

The 3rd chair second violin was one of my students, and (according to him) one of four non-Asian violinists out of forty. The percentage goes down slightly with the Philharmonic (2nd orchestra) and then again with String (3rd) but not by much.

When one of my non-Asian students makes the same observation, I tell them that there is nothing magic about being Asian, and that success comes to those who do the work.

March 16, 2015 at 08:02 PM · Don't many of the top international violin competitions have many Asians at the top as well?

March 16, 2015 at 08:06 PM · Of course.

Talent is pretty evenly spread among populations, but competitions also reflect work ethic, priorities, and resources to have excellent teachers and fine instruments from the very beginning.

There are excellent non-Asian violinists and terrible Asian violinists as well.

March 16, 2015 at 08:26 PM · If you considering attending college or university, you could minor in music and major in a complementary field (e.g. history, business, etc.), or if possible, create an interdisciplinary concentration (arts administration, music and recording technology, etc.) During and after college, I took violin lessons with graduate performance students in Amherst and Boston, which were relatively inexpensive and very beneficial. You could certainly progress greatly with the violin during college, while taking advantage of performance opportunities, and keeping your career options open for the future.

March 16, 2015 at 08:42 PM · If someone is in the position not to be concerned with practicalities like time, money and potential future success, I'm not sure why that person would even be asking for advice. Sure, if you're independently wealthy, go to music school in spite of anything anyone might say. You can probably even buy your way in! Almost no one is in that position, however.

March 17, 2015 at 02:16 AM · My suggestion is to study the violin as thoroughly as you possibly can within the context of a college degree program in something that will give you a career with some spare time to continue enjoying it. For example chemical engineering. You don't have to minor in music. You don't even have to take lessons at the college, very often college towns will have good private teachers who are not college-affiliated.

March 17, 2015 at 03:46 AM · "...and terrible Asian violinists as well."

Haha yes. Me :)

But one thing I think we're missing is that the OP said he was interested in composing/conducting, not necessarily violin playing.

March 17, 2015 at 09:16 AM · Some contributors think OP is a boy, some think OP is a girl and some have hedged their bets. I have just looked up OP's first name in my Turkish dictionary (I didn't need to look up the surname) and think OP very unlikely to be anything but a girl.

March 17, 2015 at 10:13 AM · The point has already been made that one needs to be an excellent musician on one's instrument of choice in order to get into a good music school as a conducting or composition major.

I actually had taken the trouble to look up the OP's first name before I selected which pronoun to use.

March 17, 2015 at 10:13 AM · Double post again, sorry.

March 17, 2015 at 10:34 AM · I did too, Mary Ellen!

We didn't ignore what Ece said. However, making a living in conducting or composing is even more difficult than performance. Think of how many violinists there are in an orchestra versus how many conductors, and think how many conducting jobs are available every year (the answer is virtually none). As far as composition, that may be the worst of all. It's next to impossible to make a living only in composition. I literally don't know anyone who does it. Even Philip Glass worked for years as a plumber before getting to the point where he could stop doing work outside the industry, into his 40s and well past the point where he was recognized on the scene.

March 17, 2015 at 05:07 PM · I imagine the vast majority of conducting positions are actually music-education positions in the public schools, especially at the high school level. Virtually all such jobs include conducting the band, orchestra, and/or chorus. You pretty much get a "Mr. Holland's Opus" story there for the composer/conductor.

As far as I can tell, the most common origin story for a community orchestra is that a conductor decided to start an orchestra so that he'd have something to conduct. But such conductors usually have some other kind of full-time job (often a university professorship).

March 17, 2015 at 05:09 PM · That's true, Lydia. If we're talking about conducting in the schools, the story changes drastically. I was thinking of conductors of professional orchestras. But to conduct in the schools you don't major in conducting; you major in music education, as you said.

March 19, 2015 at 01:11 AM · Hi, everybody!

First off, I definitely was not expecting so much of a response to my initial inquiry. To be honest, it was only meant to be a simple question, so, to see it expanded to the level it has was a surprise to me when I logged on.

Secondly, my decision to pursue music is not something that I see as a passing phase, as people seem to think it to be. I have talked to my private lesson teacher, and asked other adults for their insight into my situation. Some agree with people on here, and some believe in my devotion. Music, like I am sure is true for others, has always been a way for me to become free and weightless, and I have always been able to forget when I play. Though there have been many, many, people on this website who have expresses their distaste with the concept of people like me, who have no talent, and no basis for their love of music, I personally still believe in my dream. (Though, more likely, I'll end up more like Charles Ives, than anything else.)

I want to thank everybody for their opinions and advice and overall commentary on the situation.

March 19, 2015 at 01:44 AM · Dear Ece, nobody has any distaste for people who study music at any level. What we have is a deep level of concern about students who express ambitions that do not line up with their accomplishments. The fact that every single experienced professional who has commented on this thread is in agreement that Rice is not in your future should give you some serious food for thought.

PS Charles Ives is actually a very good role model to consider; he made his money in life insurance and funded his own passion.

March 19, 2015 at 03:48 AM · Hi Ece!

By "pursue music" you mean spending most of your time on that right?

The worst case scenario if you follow your dream is just that you end up homeless on the street playing for dollar bills (which is probably enough to pay for meals, at the very least) or something. But then again, that would mean you have all the time in the world to get even better on violin. Eventually, persistence pays off and with all that extra time and practice that was available to you during that period of homelessness, you could (theoretically speaking) get into a good orchestra and become successful. There's always a way...


March 19, 2015 at 09:53 AM · Hi Ece,

I hope over time you'll see a lot of the passion in many of these well-intentioned advice are not written out of malice but to save another fellow music-lover from perhaps a lot of disappointment.

I have some thoughts on Rice, it's one of the best conservatories in the US now in preparing one for an orchestra career. There's also teachers like Paul Kantor and Kathleen Winkler there now, it's a school that's on everyone's radar. Often many incoming students would have studied with the teachers they're interested at festivals or privately. And many had the fortune of having excellent study at a very young age and started playing concertos before their teens - if none of this describes you, it just means you're at a huge disadvantage already.

I believe this post got such a big reaction because it is somewhat like asking how to get into Harvard when one just learned there's this thing called the SAT...the whole post just doesn't make sense at a worrying level. That said, you should certainly continue pursuing music - I suspect later in life you'll be much happier than many professional musicians, many of whom yearn for better financial prospects!

March 19, 2015 at 10:33 AM · Ece, have you no other interests, like ones connected with medicine? You seem to find music extremely therapeutic. You could look up Paul Robertson's website - mind you, the only REALLY authoritative source for me is the Bible.

March 19, 2015 at 04:06 PM · Dear Ece,

You remind me so much of myself when I was your age. Let me assure you that there is a place in life for people with a high degree of musical sensibilities and modest talent. At the heart of this discussion is the same discussion that is going on in homes across America at this time of year, "Why should I major in accounting when my true passion is medieval literature?" People have strong feelings about that and no discussion on the internet is going to change their minds. For music the stakes are raised because of the enormous cost, high standards, and limited opportunities to make your living in performance. When I graduated from high school in 1958, music school was expensive but it was not as wildly disproportionate to an average family's income as it is now. No one had to go into debt to pay for my education, and we were far from jillionaires. And within a few months after I finished school I was gainfully employed. My way out was through an interest and gift for music theory and history that I did not uncover until I was about a junior in college. I parlayed this into a career in music publishing and eventually book publishing. The jobs that I had are almost non-existent now, but others have taken their place in the world of work. For years I managed a large music education project--when we were in our busy cycle we hired a large number of freelance musicians to get the project out. Most of these were very talented musicians, graduates of elite music schools, who could not get enough playing jobs to make ends meet. Music school did not render them unfit to operate in the real world, in fact they had many skills and experiences that enabled them to jump in and excel. They were arguably not any worse off in that highly structured corporate setting than a liberal arts major. What I'm trying to convey is that a career does not have to be an all or nothing situation. The good news also is that because of all the intense competition for jobs there are a lot of wonderful teachers out there teaching in other colleges and universities, so even if you don't get into Rice or comparable, you can get fine musical training elsewhere if you decide to pursue that course. Look within yourself, to your whole range of talents and qualities, to make your decision.

March 19, 2015 at 04:21 PM · "The good news also is that because of all the intense competition for jobs there are a lot of wonderful teachers out there teaching in other colleges and universities, so even if you don't get into Rice or comparable, you can get fine musical training elsewhere if you decide to pursue that course."

She will not get into Rice, or anything comparable. Not a chance.

The rest of your post is useful advice. An academic music major leading to a BA is certainly not less than an art history or a philosophy BA. But I don't think it does the OP any favors to keep stringing along this idea that she isn't as far away from a Rice admission as those of us in the trenches know her to be.

I do not mean to be hurtful. I have had to look a student in the eye--a hard-working student, someone I liked very much and who incidentally was playing much more difficult literature than the OP has listed--and say, "You will not get into Oberlin." But it would have been cruel to encourage him in the idea until he had invested time and money that he couldn't get back, all because it would be less painful to me to let some anonymous person at Oberlin be the one to tell him "no."

March 19, 2015 at 04:31 PM · Well I was assuming that she would not get into Rice because she would probably not apply, sorry if that was not clear!

March 19, 2015 at 05:14 PM · What Mary Ellen said. Ece, I know that our comments sound harsh, but please understand that they come from a place of concern. We don't have distaste for you at all. We just know what's out there in a way that you can't, because we're older and more experienced.

There's an important difference between a degree in medieval literature and an academic degree in music: no one really has pre-conceived ideas about what they'll do with the medieval literature degree, except perhap go into academia. Although finding a job is difficult, that path is perfectly possible for a highly intelligent student who has never studied medieval literature before entering college. Music doesn't work that way. Your level has to already be very high by the time you get to college for you to be remotely competitive in the job market.

Most people who choose to study music do have some kind of preconceived idea of what they'll do with it. They imagine they will work as musicians once they get out of college. A lot of teachers and even colleges will let them keep believing that's a reality when it clearly is not. There's nothing wrong with a liberal arts degree in music *if* the student understands that s/he will not be competitive in the music industry. In that case, s/he will be in the same pool as other liberal arts majors.

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