Curious about age.

March 22, 2016 at 03:04 AM · I have some very strong opinions with this post but the issue is not about me.

What do you think ?

A young lady in my town will soon perform at a Carnegie Hall recital.

She almost decided not to take up the violin because of her age. 10 years old. Her friends started at age 3. How can you beat that?

At least, if she has problems with the recital it can be said that she started too late. (?)

Replies (45)

March 22, 2016 at 04:29 AM · Who is she ( to look up ) and how is it that she is there? Is she playing in an orchestra? Solo? Chamber music? If it were her own recital, that would be one thing, but something completely different if it were a school or youth orchestra. I would say the activity and organization( aside from some sort of side-by-side outreach ) defines accomplishment more than the venue, so it is important to know. Let's, say, if she is very accomplished and perhaps giving a solo recital or concerto performance, I don't think the more critical listeners have age in the front of their minds whilst listening. They are probably thinking about intonation, style, etc. If this person happened to bomb, there are many factors involved in that, and starting age, especially if one is accomplished, has little if anything to do with nerves and even most early starters have to overcome stage fright. I am also not sure about what you mean by "How can you beat that?". How can one beat starting at 3? Playing at Carnegie Hall after a late start?

March 22, 2016 at 05:42 AM · I don't think 10 is that late. It's never too late to learn the violin, but it depends on how ambitious you are.

March 22, 2016 at 07:45 AM · This might come out as a bit of a rant, but it amazes me how much importance people give to age on what comes to playing the violin!

I know plenty of people who started when they were 3 and never amounted to anything as far as violinists go. I also know 2 specifically who are good players.

I know plenty of people who started at 10 and never amounted to anything on the violin as well. I know one who is a great player.

I know people who tried it at their mid teens, 2 of them are still playing and are quite good.

I know 3 who started at their early 20's and are now in their 30's and are good players also!

I know one lady who started at 45 and now at 50 she's quite good. No, she won't be winning auditions at Julliard or playing the Caprices anytime soon, but she plays well and has the time of her life while doing so!

And last, I know of another lady, starting at 75, she plays it with such sweetness and precision you'd hardly say she's just beginning.

Paganini himself started at 7 on the violin; an advanced age when you think about those kids who are given a fiddle right out of the womb!

Having an early start /can/ help, but if one doesn't have the talent and passion required for it (and luck), it doesn't matter how early or how late you start.

March 22, 2016 at 08:07 AM · Girl can be surfed at " Deborah Kim violin Cary ".

Here's a question ......

How does a 10 year old reach a possible conclusion not to play? Who told her that?

Her friends?

A teacher?

Her parents (family)

Someone who found it all too demanding and gave it up stating age as the cause?

Influence of YouTube ?

( I think YouTube does a lot of damage to the violin playing /learning image.)

What do you think? Who is responsible ? Anyone ? No one?

March 22, 2016 at 03:08 PM · I was guessing she was an American Protege competition winner, checked, and yup.

American Protege is an interesting competition. They're a commercial organization that rents Carnegie Hall for their winner's recital, allowing them to offer winners the prestige of playing there.

If any of you want to try it, they have an adult amateur division. :-)

March 22, 2016 at 06:10 PM · The starting age is only one data point. To draw a line and thereby estimate a trajectory, however crudely, you need, at minimum, a second point. With the student we're discussing, we have that second point. After 5-6 years she is playing P&A pretty well but with a few issues (see YouTube video linked in News and Observer article) and Lalo (also quite well but a few minor issues). Does that trajectory point to top conservatory auditions in two years? Maybe so, but I hope this student keeps her other academic options open too. You can also find a YouTube of Leila Josefowicz playing P&A at the age of 13, and it's qualitatively different playing.

Interesting, I looked at last year's list of competitors and winners (2015) and I was struck by the number of times Amy Beth Horman appeared in that list as the student's teacher (perhaps ten). She is a regular contributor on

March 22, 2016 at 06:18 PM · I accutally wonder why age is important when playing the violion !!

March 22, 2016 at 08:44 PM · I think that the serious issue here is not the musician or the music. Rather it is the fact that it almost all didn't happen due to a popular, but dangerous, mind-set.

I did not try the violin until I was 60 but that made no difference. I could identify some of the same musical problems as when I was 20 and in the church choir ! I lost nothing by starting violin late !

March 23, 2016 at 12:29 AM · Many people have answered the original post, but I'm not exactly sure WHAT they were answering. The original post was incomprehensible.

March 23, 2016 at 01:14 AM · Darlene, the usual question is not whether one can start playing the violin at any age; of course one can. The usual question is whether there is an age beyond which it is unreasonable to expect sufficiently rapid development to follow a conventional pathway to a performing career (via conservatory admission within a few years of completing high school). The don't yet know about the person to whom you referred, because she is only 16. Let's see if she places in the competition. The girl claims to have practiced *eight hours a day* the entire previous summer. It's hard to imagine that being fun.

March 23, 2016 at 02:46 AM · Assuming that there is a declining ability with age, why not also for any other skill?

My original observation was not a focus on a performer but on the fact that she almost missed the boat due to gossip.

March 23, 2016 at 03:32 AM · Wow, that is one stiff bow hand.

Edited to add that my comment was based on the P & A, which was from last year. This year's Lalo shows some improvement in the right hand but there is still quite a ways to go.

March 23, 2016 at 03:38 AM · Also, this is the first I have heard of the American Protege competition. Given the sheer number of "winners" and assuming that more students enter than are designated some form of winner (although I wonder about that), at $160 an entry, they must be turning a profit.

March 23, 2016 at 04:14 AM · Popular, dangerous mindset ... gossip ...

Or maybe younger brains actually learn better.

March 23, 2016 at 12:01 PM · At least around here, American Protege seems to be an oft-listed competition, but from DC to NYC isn't far to travel for the recital, and the competition itself is via video. They also sell tickets to the winner's recital, which no doubt family purchases, so I'm guessing they turn a decent profit. Great business idea, leveraging the notion that everyone wants to say their kid has played at Carnegie Hall. Also one of the few competitions open to amateur adults.

It is a fact that a late start is a disadvantage. One might not care if the goal is to enjoy the hobby, but children and parents can and should care if the goal is to pursue the violin as a profession, or even to simply play at a highly competitive level in order to burnish a resume for Ivy League admissions or the like. Also, this girl is Asian, and Asian parents in particular often place a high value on competitive-level achievement, often with an eye to college admissions and a non-musical career -- they have to feel that the investment of practice time on the violin outweighs investing that time in something that might yield better college admissions results, and care very little (or not at all) if the kid enjoys music or intends to ever touch a violin again once they get their coveted acceptance letter.

March 24, 2016 at 03:27 AM · I was just reading this article about her: Link.

Choice quotes: "[S]he’s holding a bow for about half her waking hours. [...] Despite Kim’s skills, she hasn’t considered a career in music, and she’s unsure about how violin fits into her future. [...] Kim said she has only recently begun enjoying violin on its own terms instead of as something she does because her parents want her to."

Imagine spending eight hours a day practicing just because your parents want you to do it. That doesn't sound like "she almost didn't decide to take up the violin". That sounds like "her parents decided she was going to take up the violin, and almost decided that she shouldn't enter this insane path because she was a comparably late starter". One might almost argue she would have been better off and happier doing something else with her time.

March 24, 2016 at 06:47 AM · Also, with 8 hours a day, the practice can't be that efficient. How would she be able to focus that long and not cement bad habits when unfocused? It does seem that despite her work, she has a bow arm stiffer than a statue. It would be beneficial her to cut her practice time in half and aim for more efficiency I suppose.

March 24, 2016 at 01:21 PM · "Imagine spending eight hours a day practicing just because your parents want you to do it. That doesn't sound like "she almost didn't decide to take up the violin". That sounds like "her parents decided she was going to take up the violin, and almost decided that she shouldn't enter this insane path because she was a comparably late starter". One might almost argue she would have been better off and happier doing something else with her time."

That sounds horrible and I would absolutely argue that she would have been better off (possibly) and happier (certainly) doing something else with her time.

From the article (referencing her private teacher): "She’s considering a minor in music performance in college, although Livingston said she’s hoping to talk her student into a double major."

NO NO NO NO NO NO. A student who has to be "talked into" majoring in music is a student who should be majoring in something else. I really hate the attitude some private teachers seem to have that if you're talented, you should necessarily major in music in college. Absolutely a disservice to the student.

March 24, 2016 at 03:18 PM · The article mentions that she spends half her waking hours with the violin in hand, on normal days, so that's not just a Meadowmount experience. That includes orchestra and such, but it's an enormous amount of time to have spent on the instrument for someone who self-admits that she's been playing this long and until recently was only doing it because her parents wanted her to.

I see this as being somewhat emblematic of the Asian-kid music experience, in which parents force children to achieve a high level and pour hours into the violin, but explicitly do NOT want them to love it -- because then they might decide to be a musician instead of becoming a doctor (in this girl's case, a "pharmacist or engineer", two careers that Asian parents often choose for their kids). Those kids generally drop the violin the minute that they graduate high school, and they never play again, and often want nothing to do with classical music ever again.

This is kind of a waste. Half of a kid's life sucked into an activity that they didn't want to be doing, in order to achieve what is a moderate level of competence for a teenager (and arguably isn't a fantastic outcome for the time spent), and have a resume that looks like every other ambitious Asian kid applying to Harvard.

March 25, 2016 at 01:26 AM · "She's still a kid and she's not doing any harm (as long as she backs off from 8 hour practice sessions)."

Time spent with the violin is time not available for her to discover other interests that might be closer to her heart.

March 25, 2016 at 03:13 AM · If a student is playing Lalo and professional teachers are noticing something seriously wrong with their bow arm, well, that would be consistent with a hot-house situation. More than one violin teacher has told me that it's usually the parents who are doing the pushing, always trying to get the teacher to move them up to more advanced pieces, which they identify by looking online at graded repertoire lists (and conservatory entrance requirements).

March 25, 2016 at 03:21 AM · Her bow arm is stiff (more specifically, her fingers seemed locked on the bow in a spread-fingered grip that radiates tension up through the rest of her arm), but not so stiff that she's not able to play that repertoire. Lalo might even be a good choice for trying to help her to relax it; it's got a lot of mixed bowing techniques and retakes requiring a relaxed circular motion.

March 25, 2016 at 11:38 AM ·

March 25, 2016 at 02:37 PM · In any area of teaching the question of assessment of progress is an important one. Generally parents cannot evaluate their kids' playing to anywhere near the level of depth that an experienced teacher can, so one can understand why they gravitate toward graded repertoire lists and a binary evaluation: They either played it or they didn't.

The risk of the slow-and-steady approach is that kids get bored working on something too long or just doing scales and studies. From my own childhood I preferred to practice studies rather than repertoire pieces because my teacher assigned me repertoire that was too hard for me and I didn't know how to break it down. With studies it's already broken down for you.

March 25, 2016 at 04:07 PM · I thought her Lalo sounded okay too.

March 26, 2016 at 02:03 PM · Reviewing this thread confirms for me that parents can be a major influence about violin attitudes.

(I once knew a Mother who was a very talented piano player and she supervised the string practice sessions of two sons. She was a monster but the boys were fantastic!

The last time I saw them in a group performance, they played one trombone and the other, trumpet.

I would love to know what happened! )

If someone began violin 3 years before me, will that be obvious 10 years from now?

March 26, 2016 at 03:15 PM · As with every discipline or situation, especially now with the growing helicopter-parent culture, it all boils down to the fact that many think, to differing degrees, of children all the way up to the age of majority as objects to be controlled, who are incapable of thinking for themselves. Laws the world over support this view. Many parents try to live vicariously through their children. As for your last question, I would say likely not, because over a period of 10-13 years, there is so much time for the learning trajectory to be influenced by a variety of factors, which is would make it impossible to predict who began earlier. Even if one compared two players with 1 and 4 years of experience, it may be difficult to tell. Just imagine comparing Heifetz after 1 year to a student learning for 4 years in a public school program with no lessons. Then imagine the situation 9 years later.

March 26, 2016 at 04:20 PM · Anne-Sophie Mutter and I are roughly the same age. We started violin lessons at roughly the same time. Can you tell?

March 26, 2016 at 04:40 PM · Nothing personal but she probably paid more for her bow.

March 26, 2016 at 05:30 PM · I would further what Mary Ellen is saying -- a student that is thinking about majoring in music should be challenged by the teacher and presented with other options. Only if they must major in music should they consider it.

A carrer in music is hard if you're not talked into it -- I'm sure it's even harder if you're doing it because someone else wants you too. I've had students who picked a different major, but went to a school that they could be active in the orchestra and music community.

As far as the discussion on age, everyone has their own trajectory. I've seen students that start at 3 and 13 end up at a similar level by the time they were 15. There is no predictor -- only your personal best!

I also don't like parents forcing a kid to play. I often ask the student why they play the violin. Usually they have a really good reason -- they heard a piece they enjoyed or thought it would be challenging. If they say parents are behind the whole thing, we have a discussion with the parents.

March 26, 2016 at 07:03 PM · Douglas all that's true but students are driven into various careers by their parents and other elders along diverse lines -- into medicine or law or business administration or engineering, typically, and not usually into the arts or humanities. Trust me: Chemistry is also hard if you don't want to be there.

March 26, 2016 at 08:59 PM · Paul -- of course you're right, but that's not really the topic at hand. I can't really advise people being forced into those other careers.

Parents / elders are there to guide kids. If a kid has equal aptitude in music and math, I can see the logic in the parent guiding them toward math (or related disciplines like engineering). If a kid is terrible at math and hates it, that's another situation.

I have a friend who is a surgeon who told me "the doctor / surgeon career looks so magnificent from the outside, but when you are one it isn't so". I'd imagine this is true for many professions -- they look much more glorious from the outside!

March 26, 2016 at 09:20 PM · Asian parents tend to think that only a handful of professions are acceptable. Majoring in anything else is usually Right Out if the kid is capable of slotting into one of the acceptable professions.

Double majors are often sought for prestige reasons, though. It's a bragging point to claim that your kid is handling a demanding engineering program AND is also practicing hours a day as a violin performance major.

Anyway, I agree that the trajectory of individual players is not time-dependent after a while. Ongoing instruction can also make a big difference. People who continue to take lessons in adulthood will continue to get better, and may eventually surpass other players who were better before but haven't improved or are slowly declining with age and lack of practice

March 27, 2016 at 01:00 AM ·

March 27, 2016 at 03:43 AM · As Lydia implies, the operative word is "and." Since there are plenty of kids these days who can get all A's in high school, how should the poor admissions officer at Brown decide among them? By choosing the one who got all A's AND sat concertmaster in the orchestra AND tended to the needy (preferably in Haiti or sub-Saharan Africa) AND edited the yearbook AND published a first-author article in Cell while lettering in tennis.

March 27, 2016 at 03:56 PM · If I recall correctly, the typical Ivy League expectation is now 9 extracurriculars, done to a very high level, demonstrating leadership in most of them. So all that and more, yes.

March 27, 2016 at 04:09 PM · And of course the Nobel Prize, Heisman Trophy, and a Purple Heart :p

March 27, 2016 at 07:04 PM · I know a lot of people of various races with parents with that mindset, I think it's increasing more and more. Although I agree most people I've known with parents from Eastern Asia (let's remember Asia stretches all the way from the Middle East up to Sibera and down to Indonesia...) had particularly strict parents when it came to these things. Having to have 9 extracurricular activities (the whole idea of a hobby being mandatory, ew) sounds terrible and makes me never want to set foot in an Ivy League school haha.

Anyway, what I was going to say is I started when I was 10 and I'm 20 now. I didn't have private lessons very regularly over the last 10 years and didn't have time to play as much when I started working while still going to school and lived in situations where I couldn't play at night. So I've been playing for 10 years and sound like a lot of people who have been playing for half that time. But I also have met people who used to be in the school orchestra with me and were really good and their parents were really pushing them, but guess what, they don't play anymore because they never actually liked playing very much. I looove to pick my fiddle up and play a few hours a day now that I finally can, I carry it around with me and jam with random musicians on the street, in stores, etc. All I'm saying is there's a lot more to your identity as a musician than how long you've been playing.

March 27, 2016 at 09:05 PM · State schools are very different from Ivy League schools in many ways, but you can still get a damned good education at a comprehensive state university.

The whole "extracurricular activities" thing is at least partly a proxy for wealth. Not only does the admissions officer at Brown see plenty of kids with all A's, he sees plenty of applications from families who can write a check for four years' fees without blinking. How do all these extracurricular activities get done? Someone's got to drive the kids around, so the only folks who can do that are the ones where either mom or dad is a doctor or a lawyer making $400,000 a year and the other parent can tend to all of those other needs. To some extent the same thing for home-schooling. You don't often see home-schooling in families where both parents are capable of working but only for labor or service-industry wages. Of course, there are exceptions, and kudos to them for assigning lower priority to material wealth.

Emily wrote, "there's a lot more to your identity as a musician than how long you've been playing." "Amen" to that! I would add that there's more to your identity than how well you can play. When you're relatively unskilled, as I was as a high schooler (and I still only have intermediate skill on both the piano and violin), you find niches where the rest of your musicianship can compensate, whether that be listening, improvisation and adaptability, composing and arranging, etc.

March 27, 2016 at 09:44 PM · "There's more to your identity than how well you can play."

Maybe that is a reasonable generalization but I think that audiences expect to hear music.

I might hope to get by with the legendary romance of the violin but that doesn't work either.

Do I really want to play or just strike a pose ?

Time will tell as will performance.

March 28, 2016 at 12:10 AM · Well, if she's playing violin in Carnegie hall clearly starting 'late' didn't make that much of a difference. Not many who have started at 3 can boast of that (myself included!) Honestly I think the age you start doesn't play that much of a role...what matters most is natural talent( to some degree)love of the instrument, and dedication.

March 28, 2016 at 05:27 AM · Paying some for-profit company that rents out Carnegie Hall to feature musicians from a "competition" where practically everyone is a winner speaks nothing of musical merit whatsoever.

March 28, 2016 at 05:35 AM · ^^^^exactly.

March 28, 2016 at 05:50 AM · Yes, education and the prestige (and thus job quality and availability to you based on your education) are very classist here. As is what professions come out of the most prestigious schools. I'm studying carpentry, which would be impossible to study at Yale so why would I try to go to Yale. But my woodworking school will never have the prestige that Yale has, because it produces carpenters, not lawyers and buisiness people. I think we see that in music too a lot of times. Classical music today is upper class, not because Iit's a musical genre that is inherently classist, but because let's face it to be a performing classical player you're going to need lessons that cost money and the support of someone who can buy things, transport you, etc. Even getting a ticket and "approriate clothing" to go to a classical concert is expensive. Not everyone has the opportunity or natural talent to work their way up to "something" from "nothing". As a player from the lower class, I naturally gravitated to fiddling because it's a lot easier to get the hang of a fiddle tune alone at home on a rare day I don't have work and easier to go to a jam session in my neighborhood with locals and learn off them. I still love classical music and play it, but it's not the musical culture I'm immersed in.

This also ties into the issue of what I said earlier, that there's more to being a musician than how long you've played. "...audiences expect to hear music" - yes, and different audiences expect to hear different music. An audience at Carnegie Hall wants to hear music that is a well mastered version of the original piece. An audience at a barn dance wants music that is on beat and easy to dance to. An audience at a jazz jam is interested in the spontanious creativity of a violinist improvising a solo. An audience at a middle school orchestra recital is valueing the progress and courage they see in their child on stage. All I'm saying is we can't judge all players based on how well they could satisfy an audience at Carnegie Hall. It's great that she had the resources and talent and direction of interest with her instrument to have this opportunity, but there's a lot to judge aside from how long she's played.

March 28, 2016 at 04:28 PM · I went to hear pianist Emmanuel Ax play an all-Beethoven recital here in Blacksburg. Ax is a wonderful pianist who gave a brilliant recital and spent quality time with Virginia Tech music students. A true professional. What was really sad was knowing that his concert was sold out and then seeing so many empty seats. These are probably seats held by season ticket holders. Season tickets are expensive. I had orchestra-level seating for Ax, and those were $75 tickets. Had those people notified the box office in advance that they wouldn't be coming, the seats could have been given to those unable to afford them. Illnesses and the like, yeah, stuff happens, but I think there ought to be penalties for people who do this routinely. If you want to donate money to the Center for the Arts, that's just fine, but don't do it by buying seats you don't intend to use (it's not tax-deductable anyway). Maybe they should have a thing like the airlines where you check-in online 24 hours before your flight.

@Emily I love woodworking, and I have made a lot of my own furniture at home and even for my office at work. I also framed and wired my entire basement remodel. Carpentry is great!

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