Regretting My Decision to Leave Conservatory --- Very

October 27, 2015 at 01:10 PM · In high school, I made lots of sacrifices so I could TRY to get into a conservatory. The work paid off, I spent a year in conservatory, but ended up withdrawing for a number of reasons...

1) I felt like the main reason I was there was for the great friends I made.

I found wonderful friends who were also very dedicated musicians, and their work ethics inspired me to step up my game -- but I wasn't too thrilled at the teaching I was receiving from my professor -- this is what DEFINES a conservatory student's experience.

2) As expected of someone at my playing level, I barely received any money.

The teaching I received was definitely not worth the tuition I was paying. Parents were also constantly stressed about taking out loans for a "degree with no ROI."

3) Was not growing with my teacher/did not trust his judgment

At every lesson, he never failed to remind me that I was behind, and that all I had to do was practice all day --- which is fine, but the problem was that he never told me HOW to DO ANYTHING. I would ask him for exercises to strengthen my fingers and other technical aspects, and he would just look at me and say, "Just practice!" I tried to make it very clear that I needed help with technique, yet he would always postpone it and make me go through the motions of repertoire. As a result, I always felt like I was preparing rep without really knowing what I was doing....and when he would scold me for not doing something right, I would have to try so hard to hold back my tears. He's the one who saw the potential in my EXTREMELY raw audition and accepted me into his studio, yet I felt as if he was just taking his sweet time, holding the fact that I was technically behind against me. I felt like I wasn't improving at all!

I just kept dragging along until the end of the year, but I felt like I wasn't completely responsible for my lack of improvement. I considered switching studios, but I couldn't bring myself to do it and now I really regret it because that could've made a whole world of difference --- and might have prevented me from withdrawing from school!

Sure enough, before my jury, my professor echoed the same thoughts I was having: "To be honest, I'm not all that thrilled with the progress you've made this year." Again, like I said above, I was screaming inside because I didn't believe I was completely responsible for this lack of improvement!!! I decided to bite the bullet, practice even harder, and after my jury, my professor told me that my performance was really great and that I HAD to study with him over the summer to really work on technical catch-up. I was pleased, but again, at the back of my mind, I thought, why couldn't we have started reworking my technique at the beginning of the year?!??!!! I had friends whose teachers were working on that with them, and as a result, probably played better juries/had a better, more informed first year!!

Going back in time a little bit:

The first semester I spent in conservatory was total crap. I was depressed because I wasn't used to having ONLY music classes (coming from a rigorous high school background), I missed being the multifaceted, well-rounded student I was, I was bored to tears at the idea of sitting in a practice room for the next four years, and I was discouraged by the amount of apathy a lot of my classmates had --- i.e., they never practiced, yet managed to win the top seats in orchestra, etc., while I always had to put in so so so much more extra work because of my love for music and deep drive to improve despite my limited background. I barely practiced because I was so uninspired. For this lack of practicing, I take full responsibility.

Come second semester, I realized that I had to create my own inspiration --- I woke up early each morning and practiced my scales before breakfast and before my classes. I began to enjoy practicing more and more, consistently practiced 4-5 hours a day, and embraced the fact that I could always be practicing more. This was my turning point, and I felt that I did, in fact, NEED to pursue the violin degree while I had the chance to. The rest is history, and now I'm sitting at home wondering what to do with my life.


Fast forward, and I'm taking this fall semester of my sophomore year off to take engineering pre-requisite classes at my local community college that will transfer into a university this coming spring. I question what I'm doing every day. I'm not taking private lessons, but I am still practicing every day despite my school/work schedule. I joined a local university's orchestra as a visiting member, and I have been accepted to this school for the spring, but their music program cannot even compare to my previous school's level. However, they've recruited a couple of new and very commendable violin faculty members whom I might be interested in studying with, and could still improve a lot with, even if the overall music school level is low. This school is decent across the board in terms of academics, but I consider it a safety. I'm waiting on another school's decision; this school is one of the top public universities in the US, and they have a small but better music department than the aforementioned university.

Maybe it would be enough for me to major in something else and keep up the violin lessons on the side; I don't know. But my biggest fear is that I will not have played enough/learned enough about the violin and music in general while I had the chance to throw myself into it fully.

I'm afraid that I might be missing violin because I'm no longer in the conservatory environment, because I'm back in a purely academic environment. Maybe I miss it simply because I'm not taking lessons right now, not because I should actually be studying music full-time. I guess I should start taking lessons again as soon as possible so I know where to go come spring. If I do end up at the school whose orchestra I'm playing in, I wonder, given the high level of playing I was exposed to in conservatory, would it be worth it for me to "regress" and study music at a much lower level?

I know that even if I elect to study something else, as long as I keep up the practicing, I can do summer festivals, etc. But there will always be a part of me that will wonder what could have been if I stayed at my original school and perhaps just switched studios.

If you have read this far, know that I deeply appreciate your time. This has been an especially confusing time in my life and would appreciate any suggestions, personal stories, etc. Many thanks!

Replies (39)

October 27, 2015 at 02:12 PM · So, what was/is your goal with the violin?

As a career?

As something to enjoy?

October 27, 2015 at 04:02 PM · Don't be afraid to fail. Don't be afraid to take risks. Don't be afraid to get out there on a tightrope and teeter about for a while. You might get to the other side of your goal just fine, or you might fall and discover something more interesting on the ground that suits you even better.

You'll just never know until you try. As crappy as you might feel right now, I will argue that you're doing the right thing and not just blindly staying in conservatory, ignoring that "uh oh" voice.

If you can be okay living in the land of not-knowing for a while longer, I'll bet you money a year from now you'll be on solid ground and the decisions and choices will have sprung up from deep within you.

Easier said than done, though! (Sheesh - I should take this advice and tell it to the mirror.) Best of luck to you, and hang in there.

October 27, 2015 at 04:14 PM · KR,

Sorry to hear of your struggle this past couple of years.

Chin up, if it helps, I like to think of life as a marathon and not a race.

I was accepted to arguably the "top" conservatory for piano studies but decided to pursue a non-musical life.

I still play and it is really wonderful to be help my children with their violin and voice studies.

I am not saying you should move away from music, I am just pointing out there are many things that you can do with your music.

Also, there was a pianist (Simone Dinnerstein) who left Juilliard and later self financed her first debut CD.

You could also pursue an academic education and seek out a conservatory teacher to study with? You would just have to be dedicated to practicing.

October 27, 2015 at 06:48 PM · K R,

Your story is very familiar to me.

It took me over 20 years with almost no violin playing, immigration, endless hours of psychotherapy and lots of support from fellow musicians to reach the insight that I am a musician.

There are days when I am sorry for time lost, but most of the time I am very thankful for time left. I receive every new day with violin as a blessing.

I hope that you will spend less time than I did to figure out if that rings true for you.

Now, being a musician and making a living as one does not have to be the same!

If music is integral part of your life and has its place among 5 top most important values for you, you will keep playing or come back once the scars are healed.

You can also appreciate music as a listener, study on your own, share it with people you love, attend concerts etc.

If I were your older brother of father, I would dare to say: take a sabbatical from violin, live your life and give it another try later.

Since I am not, no advice from me, not today!

October 27, 2015 at 06:58 PM · KR, Your first year at conservatory sounds a lot like mine. I did some serious thinking over the summer and resolved my quandary by going back to the same school and changing studios. My new teacher emphasized technique more but it did not solve the basic issue of being way behind. I kept hoping I would make up the gap somehow but it never happened in spite of very hard work. Being at the bottom of the heap in a professional school is difficult, draining, and frustrating. On the other hand,I learned a tremendous amount--musically and otherwise--that has served me well in life. I think you have taken a responsible step and agree with the advice that has been given to try to be patient and think it over. I think it may help you to start taking lessons again. It is not an easy decision to make. Maybe it would help to think of it from a broader standpoint, i.e. what kind of musical life do I want? You already have a background of focused study and practice so it is not going to do you irreversible damage to take a little time off to think it over.

October 27, 2015 at 07:06 PM · What Rocky said! [Hi Rocky - I'm trying to catch up....]

Is it possible to minor in violin at your school? Perhaps this would allow you to grow and think while not baling on the instrument. What you need, as mentioned above, is to sort out your needs and also your goals. The latter is totally dependent on the former.

I played as a kid, gave it up, developed a high-profile and very satisfying career (scientist) and then came back to playing. Thus, stopping has little relevance to being able to play - but it does of course have infinite relevance to making a career. Seems to me that you need to stop and take a few breaths in a very quiet place...

October 27, 2015 at 07:17 PM · What do you picture your life as being in ten years? What would you like it to look like?

October 28, 2015 at 02:04 AM · I was just looking back at the OP's previous posts: [1] [2] [3]

It sounds like you had doubts the entire time, although congratulations on having achieved your goal of getting into conservatory. Did you end up going to Peabody?

And how did you get from your second-semester epiphany to leaving conservatory after the end of that semester?

October 28, 2015 at 08:23 AM · K.R., when I read your earlier post when you were still in high school, one thing I wondered then and now, is this. Were you trying to be something other than what you are, become arty instead of analytical / engineering whatever. Was there something about being able to SAY that you pursued arts vs science that somehow you coveted? (its ok, you don't have to answer. But the questions are not rhetorical).

I think all of us imagine that 'something else' is what we'd like others to see us as (Claire Allen's current blog is along this line). You strike me as clever and insightful, you can do a lot of stuff, so perhaps you have had an opportunity to explore something that wasn't so governed by what you were good at (so many others might not have a couple of choices open to them). And now, you have the understanding to question if it is really 'you' for a number of reasons.

I'd be listening to the voice in your head - would it be the end of the world if you were known as an engineer / biologist / architect who could play the violin exceptionally well? Sure, you might always wonder what might have been. Everybody does, because we can only take one track at a time. There are always going to be other tracks that you have to decide to leave altogether or leave for another time. Not the end of the world, so long as you don't become so overwhelmed by regret and anxiety that you fail to enjoy what you are doing now.

Best wishes to you in making the decision.

October 28, 2015 at 12:33 PM · The title of your post expresses extreme regret. But the body of your post seems more balanced. You sound like you're making progress toward realistic goals on a new trajectory, and that's something to celebrate. I think it's time to set aside the regret and be proud of what you actually did accomplish as a musician -- demonstrable skill and artistry on the violin as reflected in conservatory admission. Do I ever wish I could claim that!!

If you have relegated yourself to amateur status, you can still enjoy a lifetime of music and even continue to improve. There are a great many highly skilled amateurs out there whose pathways do not differ very much from your own.

October 29, 2015 at 01:59 AM · Thank you all so much for your thoughtful comments! Yikes, I went back and read those old posts I made back in 2013, and BOY, did I laugh at my naivete about this whole process!

Just to clarify: I will most likely be pursuing an engineering major on a pre-medical track while taking violin lessons, performing, etc. Right now, I don't think double majoring would be a good idea for my medical school GPA or my sanity, haha.

I wish there was a function on this website that would allow me to individually reply to each comment, but since there isn't one, I'll go ahead and reply to all of you in this post by name!

Seraphim - Your question is the one I am still trying and have been trying to answer ever since this whole college audition process started back in high school. Now, I suppose my goal is to improve on the violin over the course of a lifetime, i.e. I don't feel the need to "make it" and have a solo career. In a perfect world, I would want to spend three days a week working as a doctor, and the other two maintaining a violin studio at a music school or conservatory (although this job could be adjunct/part-time). I'd use my medical/musical background to bring music/healthcare to the inner cities and throughout the world. So in a sense, I still do want a career in music, but one centered on teaching (if this doesn't happen, I suppose I could establish my own private studio). That being said, that's why I'm stressing out about my playing level now -- because if I want to teach at the university level, I'd better be able to play above that level! There are also many medical orchestras -- amateur, of course, but probably some of the more high-level amateur groups -- such as the World Doctors Orchestra and closer to home, the Longwood Symphony Orchestra in Boston -- so that is one way I'd keep playing. I could play chamber music with my medical colleagues, my students, patients, whomever! That's the beauty of music. :)

Terez - Your words are very reassuring, thank you! You strengthen my belief that I'm doing the right thing. Wishing you all the best!

Chongwei - Thank you! I think I MIGHT be able to live with taking lessons with a great teacher while pursuing an academic education. We'll see. Did you ever regret your decision to choose the non-musical path, as opposed to, for example, doing your undergrad in piano and getting a graduate degree in something else?

Rocky - I am taking your advice anyway! :) Your post touched my heart, thank you for sharing part of your story! It is very comforting to know that my story is not uncommon. Reading your post helped me put my goals in a bigger context. I wish you all the best --- keep receiving every new day with the violin as a blessing!!!

Alice - I'm so glad that we *were* in similar boats. I'd never thought of it that way -- that even if one were to switch studios, the original problem might still persist. Thank you for sharing that perspective, that was an answer to a question I didn't even know I had! Did you end up staying at the conservatory/sticking with music?

Elise - Haha, yes, many deep breaths need to be had. It depends where I end up in the spring - one school has a minor and one doesn't. Both have majors; however, one school only offers a BA. I've come to the point where I don't really care if I have an undergrad degree in music, just as long as I have lessons, performance opportunities, and efficient practice time. I would like to go to graduate school for music, though, then proceed to medical school. Thanks!

Mary Ellen - Thanks for your post. In my response to Seraphim (the first person to comment), I've answered your question.

Lydia - Thanks for unearthing those old posts! I'd like to think that I've grown so much as a person since posting those threads two years ago. You bring to light an important point --- that it DOES seem that I've had doubts this entire time. I guess I've been so used to having the doubts that I just accepted them. As for my second-semester epiphany and decision to leave conservatory, I would say that the "honeymoon phase" of my newly inspired practicing wore off, and I found myself thinking some of the same negative thoughts I was thinking back in my first semester -- DESPITE the fact that I was practicing well and I had a newfound purpose in what I was doing. That was a warning sign. I thought, well, as long as I keep practicing and improving throughout my life, maybe I don't need to attend such a specialized school where I was surrounded by people who were REALLY wanting to "make it" in the music world. Seems like a no-brainer, I know. I will say that I was accepted to Peabody, but I will refrain from sharing which school I attended for privacy reasons.

Sharelle - Thank you for your post; what you said is what I've been trying to make myself believe! It is practical, sound advice, and I think my main issue is wanting to "do it all", so to speak. Admittedly, I don't want to be known as someone with a singular talent or occupation -- I guess that's my cross that I have to carry, but I'm trying harder to balance things out! You mentioned Claire Allen -- I'm familiar with her blog posts and relate to her very well.

Paul - Yes, I guess the post's title is a little misleading, and thank you for noticing! I suppose this disconnect just highlights my confusion and wishy-washiness! :) Thank you for the advice. I always seem to forget to be thankful for what HAS been accomplished!

October 29, 2015 at 03:26 AM · I think you should seriously consider the impact of pursuing a lot of different paths at once. In this case, I speak from experience; I was an engineering major at an Ivy League school, pursuing a pre-med path, and for my much of freshman year, I was also fairly serious about music (practicing 2 to 4 hours a day, the only time in my life when I've practiced a lot).

An engineering program combines reasonably well with pre-med because the science and math courses overlap, but in general, the science and math you need for the MCAT is going to be less difficult than those same courses on an engineering track. (Or at least that will be true at most larger universities. Small colleges are more likely to have just one first-year chemistry course, for example, rather than tracking by pre-meds, chem majors, and engineering majors.)

However, the various engineering majors are all their own rigorous programs. If you do not intend to be a professional engineer, and you are not pursuing an engineering path that has inherent synergy with medicine (for instance computer science for medical informatics, or biomedical engineering), you are going to spend four or five years of your life in really intense study that will take you away from a more well-rounded curriculum, time to practice the violin, and time to enjoy other activities.

Assuming that you finish an undergrad engineering degree at the age of 22 (and it's not unusual for people to take five years, especially if you load up on extra sciences for your pre-med), and then you go on to get a two-year master's degree in music, that means you will be 24 when you start medical school. You'll finish medical school at the age of 28, assuming you do not pursue any simultaneous graduate studies in engineering or the sciences. Then you'll be in for 3 to 8 years of residency depending on your specialty, finishing at the age of 31 to 36. Then you'd probably add a fellowship, which is 1 to 3 years in length. You'd be somewhere from 32 to 39 when you emerge from these student years. You will be burdened by 10 years of educational debt, and up until that point you will have been paid low wages.

You may be able to practice a bit during your first two years of medical school, but it is highly unlikely that you will be able to manage to practice during your residency years, and possibly not during your fellowship years. That means you'll emerge from your medical training with from 4 to 11 years of not playing, or barely playing, which will probably destroy a significant percentage of the technical mastery that you'll have spent a whole bunch of undergrad time and your music master's to achieve.

Consider another path.

You could pursue an undergrad degree in general music (i.e. a BA in music at a university or liberal arts college), take pre-med courses, and play the violin on the side. Assuming you have great pre-med grades, great MCAT scores, and healthcare-related volunteer work / research / other activities, you'll be a good, interesting candidate for medical school. Or combine your interests and find a school that offers a music therapy degree and then go onto medical school. You'll still have a big likely hiatus from playing during your medical training, unfortunately.

My guess is that your fantasy of splitting your career between violin-teaching and medicine is unrealistic. There are medical specialties that support part-time work -- for instance, emergency medicine where you work shifts part-time -- but given the level of debt you'll be taking on to finance your training, it's going to be extremely hard to give up the income from being a full-time physician. And you won't be as good of a violinist and teacher as you would be if you were devoting your full attention to it. You seem to have no idea how competitive it is to get even an adjunct position teaching the violin; you will be competing against people with PhDs and/or stellar performing credentials, and adjunct positions often pay beans.

October 29, 2015 at 05:08 AM · Thanks,Lydia. You bring up many important points, and yes, I probably don't have any idea how competitive it is to win even an adjunct position. However, posts and feedback of the same nature as yours are the ones that cripple my decision making process. Not pointing fingers; rather, I'm pointing my finger at where I myself am stuck in the decision making process. I just don't know where to commit myself, and that's why I said "in a perfect world", I could balance the teaching with medicine, and that's why I said that if the university teaching couldn't happen for me, I could teach on my own. I know of a physician in my area who does this, so please don't tell me that it cannot be done. I understand that there WILL be many sacrifices. I am also aware of the length and cost of medical training, but thank you for your input. It depends on the person --- if you're someone who needs to be the best at one thing, as opposed to someone who doesn't mind juggling multiple paths, great! I'm still figuring this out for myself.

My intended engineering major is biomedical engineering. I do not view it so black and white --- I know of many physicians who have engineering degrees. I may not ever work as an engineer, but learning to solve problems at such a high level would be a totally invaluable skill for ANY field. You mentioned doing a music degree and completing the pre-med requirements. This was what I was leaning towards while I was still at conservatory. The university would have provided me with more than exemplary pre-medical coursework while I could continue to hone my craft. Man, now I REALLY wish I could go back!! Thanks a lot, Lydia! :P kidding, of course.

October 29, 2015 at 05:45 AM · There's a nontrivial number of people who teach without having music degrees, but if you want to teach at the university level (whether students playing at that level on a private basis, or as actual adjunct faculty), I think the field is vastly more competitive. I know amateurs who teach a small number of students, either for pay or in volunteer community music schools or the like, but they are mostly teaching beginning to early intermediate students.

If you do biomedical engineering plus medicine, there's certainly synergy, although to maximize that synergy you might very well want to pursue the MD-PhD route. I agree that engineering degrees have a lot of value in terms of giving you a great grounding in practical skills and quantitative methods, but you also have to look at the opportunity cost that's associated. Don't underestimate the level of work required in high-quality engineering programs, especially in the last two years of the degrees.

I have physician friends who are only now, in their late thirties or even early forties, completed their training. They've paid a massive amount in tuition, are loaded down with debt unless they came from wealthy families, and they are only now getting started on their "real" careers, when their age-cohort peers have married, had children, bought houses, and are well into successful careers. Don't underestimate the impact of spending half your life in training. Some of them have undergrad engineering degrees, and wonder if they should have just stuck with that path.

You can afford to spend some time exploring your options while you're young -- assuming that your family can support you. But at some point in time you will need to commit if you want to be highly successful. Committing doesn't necessarily mean giving up the other things as long as you choose a path that offers you enough time-flexibility to do those other things.

October 29, 2015 at 05:48 AM · One of my violin major friends from Oberlin went to medical school and practiced medicine for fifteen or twenty years or so--she then walked away and now has a very successful private violin studio. I think she was doing a little teaching at least during the latter part of her medical career; she set herself up quite strategically to walk away when the time came.

If you want to be a doctor, be a doctor. If you want to be a musician, then go back to conservatory. If you want to be both, you probably can be but not at the same time and almost certainly not at as high a level for either as what you might have achieved with a more singleminded approach.

Incidentally, adjuncts at a university have no status and little pay. If you just love teaching for its own sake, there's no particular reason to aspire to an adjunct position.

One thing that doctors and musicians have in common is that both typically regard their careers as a calling, and both typically have aspired to that field since childhood. It might be worth digging deep into your childhood memories in an attempt to discern the stronger draw.

I suspect that you are a person of many talents and high intellectual achievement, which is a blessing and a curse. The blessing part is obvious. The curse is that no matter what field you eventually choose, you are going to feel as if you have left some of your talents on the table, because inevitably you will have to. This is where avocations come in. You can be a doctor and an amateur musician. You cannot be a musician and an amateur doctor; if you do end up choosing violin (and I think you will not), you will need to find some other way to use your other talents.

I recommend spending some time and thought in imagining your life in ten years if you go back to conservatory, imagining your life in ten years if you continue to pursue serious study while completing undergrad and MD degrees, and life in ten years if you step back to a less intense level of violin playing while aiming to be the best possible pre-med and medical student. Good luck.

October 29, 2015 at 01:18 PM · As a youngster my singing teacher encouraged me to consider studying at Conservatory. I was probably good enough to scrape into a decent school, but I knew in my heart of hearts that I didn't have the talent to have a viable career as a soloist. I really didn't fancy struggling on the fringes of the profession. So I decided to use my other talents to pursue a socially useful career, and have greatly enjoyed my music as an amateur fiddler and semi-pro singer.

I know many amateurs with much more talent that I ever had who made this choice and don't regret it. They still enjoy their music while pursuing a worthwhile career.

You say that "there will always be a part of me that will wonder what could have been if I stayed at my original school and perhaps just switched studios". But given the technical struggles you recount, I suspect rather strongly that you're not in danger of sacrificing a career as an international soloist.

Seems to me that this is the time for some clear thinking about what you could realistically achieve with the violin, and how satisfying you would really find it compared to a career in a life-saving profession that also offers status and security.

In violin, there are far too many good players chasing far too few decent positions. Do you really have what it takes to thrive in such a competitive setting? Not everyone is cut out for this. I once shared a flat with a relatively successful orchestral pro who found that the struggle and pressure had killed her love of the music. She eventually gave up playing entirely. Do you have a realistic view of what you would be facing as a professional violinist, given your level of attainment?

Or would you not be better to enjoy your music as an amateur or semi-pro, without all the pressures of making it your living as well?

Only you can decide - but do try to be honest with yourself...

October 29, 2015 at 02:45 PM · I agree with Lydia that an engineering major is questionable as a choice for a pre-med major. Oh, sure, you'll be competitive for medical school with straight A's in a mechanical engineering program (with all of the additional courses that you need on the side to satisfy the med school entrance requirements), because everyone knows the engineering majors are more demanding than life-sciences majors. But the stuff you learn in your upper division courses really isn't going to translate into clinical medical practice -- it might translate into a viable medical research career however. At this point could you move laterally into a chemistry, biology, biochemistry, or neuroscience major? At my university these are the kinds of programs that feed medical schools.

Medicine is extremely demanding as a career but if you want a musical life, there a few ways you can incorporate that with medicine as a career. One is to become a GP or an emergency-room or occupational-medicine physician and work in an HMO on a part-time basis as a clinician. You will earn far less than your full-time colleagues but you'll have time for the violin and enough money to enjoy your life. Another way is to take a step back from the MD track and consider becoming a physician's assistant or a physical therapist, these people make pretty good livings (not close to doctors though) but if what you want to do is help sick or injured people, you'll actually be doing more of that than doctors do. A third way is what Mary Ellen's acquaintance did -- practice medicine for ten years, eschew the 6000 square-foot house and yacht and the beach house and the Ferrari, and then basically retire. The great thing about these pathways is that you could still teach violin lessons, and you'd be sufficiently comfortable that you wouldn't have to turn away anyone who couldn't pay. Full disclosure is that I'm (perhaps obviously) not a medical doctor, so I'm kind of speculating here. It would be interesting to see a thread where those who ARE doctors tell us how they did it -- career AND violin.

Finally I have to suggest that you consider looking into the possibility that someone in your university's counseling area might be helpful to you. Some people just get stress-bound by big decisions, and a trained counselor can help you approach decision making in a more adaptive way.

October 29, 2015 at 03:04 PM · There's a way to stay close to health care as an "amateur". Go take EMT training, which you can do part-time. A lot of places have volunteer ambulance services and fire-departments, and other needs for part-time or volunteer EMTs.

I have friends who originally thought they'd be doctors, who ended up for various reasons in other fields instead, who scratch that itch by being EMTs (and a few have put in the training hours to become paramedics).

October 29, 2015 at 03:25 PM · Paul's suggestion to see a trained counselor at your university is perhaps the best one on this thread. We are all giving you advice and anecdotes based on our own experiences and perhaps those of a few acquaintances, but a good counselor will have seen much more and have a much broader knowledge base from which to advise you.

October 29, 2015 at 03:27 PM · Hi K R,

Yes I do regret it once in a while. I went to a small college and the school did not have much of music performance degree to speak of. I took lessons with a resident pianist but she kept telling me I should pursue a musical career or things like she never was able to play an entire opus of a Chopin Etude.

There are times when I feel sad.

Like when I hear talented or untalented musicians play.

Like when people who can't teach or play teach or play.

But there are good things too, like when I took my child to play violin for a teacher at our local conservatory last month. I felt somewhat sad but then I realize I should delight in the fact me being a pianist in my younger days helped my child progress at very good speed on the violin.

One of my daughters wanted to study the violin at 3 and I stopped her and didn't let her until she was 7. Now she is "torn" between pursuing music or being a normal child. My husband and I try not to laugh at her because she is just 11. We tell her, work on your Dont and your Bach Partita and there is no need for a "decision" now or even when she is in high school.

October 29, 2015 at 03:32 PM · Also, I heard a story from a former teacher. There is a MD at Harvard who performs during the season and sees patients off season. I should do some web research to see if this story is true.

Teacher told my child this when child said she wants to play for fun and then continue on to "regular college".

October 29, 2015 at 04:23 PM · I don't understand the concept devoting age 21 to 40 and all my economic resources to becoming a part time anything so that you can be an amateur something else. That's worse than expecting a 5 year plan to last more than one year. I do understand being a young adult and not knowing exactly what I want and changing "majors". At least I think I remember.

October 29, 2015 at 04:46 PM · I think you're thinking of this physician:

They're not a professional violinist despite their training, though, and their comments about how much time they had to play during their medical training are very relevant here.

October 29, 2015 at 05:33 PM · Thank you all!

Regarding the discussion about seeing a counselor, I did see one multiple times while I was in school, but truthfully, the advice I am getting on this forum has been infinitely more helpful than the advice I received from the counselor, probably because you all faced/knew others who faced similar decisions. Talking to a counselor was helpful in that I could voice my concerns, but at the end of the day, I know that no one will make this decision for me. I approach this forum with the same mindset, but I really am enjoying and benefiting from the thought-provoking feedback you all are providing.

One clarification I can maybe make for myself after pondering all of your comments is that I don't think I could do violin by itself. As in, I can't picture myself doing something in music without there being a medical component. I don't think I can be a good doctor without being a good, sensitive musician, and I don't think I could be a good, sensitive musician without being a doctor. As in, I think I would be willing to be the best physician I can be (whatever specialty I decide), even if I might have to sacrifice the level of my playing. Doesn't mean I have to stop playing; I think the most important thing is that I constantly improve throughout my life. The EMT suggestion rings very closely to what I almost did this semester (in lieu of the engineering classes).

Where I could change plans, however, is my undergrad. Instead of engineering, I could still be a performance major, but in a different environment than a conservatory's. The catch for me here is the significantly lower level of the school. Would anyone go so far as to say that I shouldn't worry too much about that, as long as my teacher is great?

Yes, I know of Dr. Buchmiller because she is a member of the Longwood Symphony. I also know of another Harvard physician, Dr. David E. Fisher, who somehow went to Curtis for cello performance in addition to Swarthmore for biology and chemistry. I don't know how often he performs now, but he is an extraordinary example of the music/medicine variety. We all have our limitations, of course, and in no way am I as talented or as intelligent as Dr. Fisher is.

Geoff - You hit the bullseye when you said, "...the struggle and pressure had killed her love of the music." This is exactly how I felt during my first semester at conservatory. I am trying very hard to listen to myself and be honest with myself -- so many competing voices!

Chongwei - Thanks for sharing. I hope those moments of happiness watching your children musically blossom will always outweigh the regrets!

David - I really needed that. Thanks for being straight and to the point!

October 29, 2015 at 06:05 PM · I think that you would benefit from a more well-rounded education than performance majors get.

I would look for a school that has a great reputation for pre-med, a good music department for a BA in music, and the ability to study with a top-notch violin teacher at that school.

Note that given your current level, you're not necessarily looking for the kind of person that trains future highly competitive musicians -- I think you may have already learned that lesson with your past conservatory prof. Instead, you need someone who can patiently and methodically deconstruct your old bad habits and give you a new technical foundation, and who won't feel like they are wasting their time by teaching you. That person is not necessarily teaching at a top-notch conservatory.

Pursuing a BA in music, where your pre-med courses will fulfill the general requirements for the degree that aren't music-specific, will give you time to practice, and vitally, time to pursue the extracurriculars, volunteer work, and leadership positions that are absolutely vital to getting into medical school. (Especially the leadership positions.)

October 29, 2015 at 06:10 PM · There is also Jessica Means, a current med student who was faced with the same choice: music or medicine? In the end, she didn't have to choose. Not that she doesn't have to make sacrifices --- she definitely did and still does! At the same time, though, I guess playing for shows of the variety she does is different from the classical variety. Still, her story resonates a lot with her words, "Music is like breathing to me." Yes. Absolutely. It is a necessity, not an option.

She is also an older student in her current med school class. That doesn't seem to be a deterrent to her in terms of pursuing both of her dreams!

October 29, 2015 at 06:21 PM · By the way, don't forget about dual enrollment and joint-cooperation programs between universities and conservatories.

My sister went to MIT, and was able to take classes and lessons at NEC. I have a childhood friend who went to CWRU, double-majored in music and engineering, taking his music classes and lessons at CIM (although he went on to get a master's in engineering, he then got a doctorate in performance and plays professionally at a very high level now). If you go to Columbia, you can take lessons with Juilliard faculty. And so on.

October 30, 2015 at 01:31 AM · David, lots of physicians who spent a long time on their training dial back their work hours so that they can spend more time with family, and often they do this pretty early in their medical careers because the end of reasonable and safe child-bearing age is not that far from the end of medical training depending on what you do. I don't see how that's different. Fulfillment is an individual thing, and furthermore what you do *during* all that training is not necessarily uninteresting or unfulfilling. From what I gather it's a pretty steep learning curve. I know someone who earned his PhD in chemistry (and he could well have gone on to become a faculty member someplace), but he turned right around the same year and entered medical school, and now he practices medicine (GP), and from what I gather he's a perfectly happy family man who lives on a farm and has no regrets.

October 30, 2015 at 01:49 AM · K R,

Thank you for your good wishes.

If it helps I know at least a couple of violin teachers at Curtis and Julliard also teach elsewhere with other schools that are not necessarily "first rank" and live in other cities other than NYC or Philadelphia.

Do some on-line research and you'll know who is where and what other states they live on the East Coast.

If your "regular" school is near MA, CONN, NY, PA, NJ, or MD, you have a good shot at studying with one of them assuming you can get pass the audition lessons.

I'd email them and ask nicely to see if they'd be willing to hear you play. If they see promise, they will find a way to be your teacher, assuming you can devote regular time to practicing. You'd only be able to see them every other week but that isn't a bad thing.

October 30, 2015 at 03:33 AM · K R,

You rock. That's all. : )

Your responses in this thread reassure me that you'll do GREAT at whatever you choose to pursue.

October 30, 2015 at 09:26 AM · I have been thinking the same thing, Terez.

October 30, 2015 at 12:17 PM · Ditto - I do hope you will keep us informed as to how you work it out.

By the way, I've read over and over (and you already have this experience) that its not the strength of the school that counts, but the strength of the teacher. That young prof - or even grad student (such as I am studying with) - that is making their mark at Minor School A may well be an international pedagogue at Juliard in years to come. I'm a late bloomer at violin, with all that implies, but I've become something of an expert on teachers!! Far more important than school status is teaching ability and 'fit' to your needs and style.

October 30, 2015 at 01:46 PM · Hi Paul. I think you are right. There is an example for just about every possible outcome. Many variables come into play along the journey and cause marvelous to catestrophic changes in direction, much of which is beyond planning and execution.

To the OP all the best in whatever you decide.

October 31, 2015 at 01:23 AM · Wasn't there a violin-playing medic called Fritz something-or-other?

October 31, 2015 at 06:50 AM · THANK YOU ALL!!! :)

It's really amazing how easily I bounce back and forth between these ideas --- I guess we can call it paralysis by analysis??? Haha.

Of course, there are a million more things running around my head right now in terms of what I should pursue, but to try and type it all down here would take an unnecessary amount of time. In the meantime, I will continue praying, practicing, studying, and waiting. Thank you all again! :)

October 31, 2015 at 02:53 PM · This is an interesting topic. I am sorry, that I will double some thoughts on this, because I didn't read everything above. I just want to add something, what I think is important.

First: If you have various interests and well spread practical and theoretical skills, being a musician will take you a different approach than the usual.

You have some benefits from being scientific but there can also be mental blockage from being too analytical.

Thankfully there is some very good literature on violin playing, wich can help you getting a picture of good technique and how to practice. It can be an enourmous substitute to the regular lessons. Books like Carl Fleschs "The art of violin playing" part one and two are a lifetime study for a violinist. Also the Books by Simon Fischer are so good in clearing up things and help you where to focus in practice. You can learn alot just by reading those books and stand in front of a mirror. For more general mental advice there is also the Book of Gerald Klickstein "the musicians way".

These books are very interesting to read and maybe will adress your scientific mind.

BUT... this alone will only get you so far and in a moderate tempo. There is no substitute for a good teacher. And having said that I must admit, that there are more teachers, wich hold you back in some way, than there are true masters in teaching. But sometimes life is not as generous to you as to others and you will get a teacher, who doesn't help you enough or has the wrong approach for you personally. This happens a lot on every level of playing and you can compare that with a love relationship: Sometimes its "on" and sometimes it isn't. But certainly there are some persons easier to fall in love with than others. Also there are some, who you fall in love with for some days and then you see their real self. Also the opposite can happen, that you will dislike it at first and then understand later, that the greater picture is very beautiful.

The best thing is, that you find a teacher who cares about you and who you like so much, that you want to please his or her demands. He or she should be active musically and demanding on him-/herself as a teacher too, he/ she should be able to really help you in a professional way. There is nothing more disgusting as arrogant teachers, who think, that you are a lower species. Usually those teachers are no good but got some luck in their early life with good teachers and students and therefore an good reputation. They are to find at conservatories sometimes... A good teacher will consider taking you as a pupil due to your motivation and dedication, because he knows how to help you technically anyways.

Changing teacher is very important for a musician. Because every teacher will have their benefits and because we are all human, also will have weaknesses. You have to look for someone to really fit you and then follow them until you think it is time to move on. You have to trust your teacher 100%. Because if you want to make fast progress, you cannot challenge everything a teacher sais in lesson. Time is too precious. Find someone, who you can look up to and trust his or her decisions.

Good luck for your decisions and your music in future!

November 1, 2015 at 02:19 AM · KR, I am coming back into this very interesting thread to answer a question you posed to me several days ago. You asked whether I stayed in the conservatory and later in music. I will be glad to share this with you but wanted to first point out two things: I am a 150% humanities person so did not have the options that are open to you, and secondly, the summer I was describing was in 1959. The field that I ended up working in for so many years was very small back then and is almost non-existent now. Also the standards of conservatory admission were almost ridiculously low back in those days; I'm guessing that your level of playing is currently well above mine when I graduated. Anyway, to cut to the chase, yes I stayed in the conservatory not three but five more years. I found that I had a deep interest in music history and theory and stayed on to get a masters in historical research. I did not get a teaching job so came to New York, got a job with a music publisher, learned to edit music, used that skill to get a job with a book publisher who was doing a big music education project, worked primarily in that field until retirement age,then worked for nine years at a small non-profit running programs for at-risk youth. Where was my violin all these publishing years? Largely in its case. I practiced for a while more or less out of inertia but had little taste for continuing an activity that had been so deeply disappointing. But I wanted to pursue some ideas that I had started to explore in my master's thesis, so I enrolled in further graduate work, eventually earning a doctorate in music, emphasis in musicology. That is a whole story in itself but I will just add here that doing this while working full-time as I did then would not be possible (at least for a person like me)in today's post-merger, technology-infused era. Back then, staffs were bigger and schedules more expansive--overnight mail was not even in widespread use. My attitude toward the violin, while never bitter or angry, is best summed up in my thought "That's the last thing I want to do" when my study-buddy exclaimed, after our doctoral orals "I just want to go and play my cello." So for a long time my life was more about music rather than the violin. But three weeks after I retired from publishing I was on the phone with a violin teacher, arranging lessons. Go figure. So now it is all about the violin again.

Just a few comments about other topics in your thread. The first has to do with teachers; already some excellent insights have been presented, but I just wanted to add that for someone in your situation it is very important to get a teacher who is a good psychological fit--in other words, a person who understands your goals and is interested in teaching you as you are. I did not realize how important this is (or even that it was possible) until I found one, my current teacher, who I have been with for over nine years. Second, I am not surprised at all about your experience with the career counselor, it closely parallels my own. Third, don't worry for a minute about having regrets about taking one path or the other. Wouldn't your situation be much worse if you had NO interests or talents? And just to close, I think your vision of combining music and medicine to promote healing is admirable and have no doubt that you will find some creative way of combining your interests and talents.

November 3, 2015 at 03:26 PM · John - I did a quick Google search on "Fritz violin medic" or something like that, and Google returned an article about a Dr. Kogan at Cornell who is a Juilliard-trained pianist and Harvard-educated psychiatrist who manages to pursue both music and medicine. Probably not who you had in mind, but still an inspiring search result nonetheless!

Simon - No worries, I'm thankful for your recap because I myself am too lazy to read the 30-something replies above! Thank you for your post! I'm fortunate to own Galamian's book on violin and teaching, as well as Klickstein's Musician's Way. I haven't read either of them in their entirety, but I should definitely keep them close...I agree with you 100000% about choice of teacher. I always knew the teacher was the most integral part of any musical education, but I sadly wasn't that aware of the fact that "bad" teachers could exist at good music schools --- which I found out could very well be the case at my previous school.

Alice - Thanks for sharing your story; no doubt it was a difficult experience at first. That's very interesting that you stayed in the conservatory! I guess it really helped you to have those interests in music theory/history. I think it's fantastic that even though your relationship with the violin has had its ups and downs, your relationship with music always stayed intact. That reminds me of something Leon Fleisher said in an interview about his focal dystonia --- "I realized my relationship was with music, not with the piano, so I figured that as long as I was still doing MUSIC..." etc. etc., so he started teaching and conducting. However, I'm happy to hear that the violin is back into the picture!

I guess the great thing about being in conservatory is that with practice and dedication, you can really feel (and hear) yourself getting very good at your craft; you feel very blessed to dedicate all of your time to one pursuit.

November 3, 2015 at 03:58 PM · I'm pretty sure John was referring to Fritz Kreisler. :-)

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