School and Violin Don't Mix

January 22, 2017 at 10:20 PM · While only just starting to play more advanced music, I love the violin and I want to be the best violinist I can one day, but I barely have any time to do so with all of the classes that I am required to take. I simply don't see the point of taking a course in geometry, which I loathe, when it will not benefit me in the future since I plan on being a musician and not an architect or engineer. Sure, reading Shakespeare is good, but taking tests and writing tedious assignments on it when I already understand the text by simply thinking as I read? No, that's a waste of my time. I know my history, so for some make me learn the same kinds of things every year. And sciences of all sorts literally put me to sleep. I'm quitting band. Orchestra class, although I have a variance for it to attend the school I am currently enrolled in, is a joke since it's comprised of mostly beginners and only three advanced students including myself. I also volunteer in a community college orchestra.

I waste my time while at school and I want to be over with it. I want to know if there is any sure-fire way for me to get out of school (at least somewhat) and simply study violin... I don't see why high school has to be required of me when I know what I want to do, and it's what I love. Surely someone else must share my views.

EDIT: I've just recently been looking at self-schooling, also, since my parents couldn't possibly home-school me because they're both very busy. I doubt they would ever let me though since I also have three younger siblings in the public school system and they would say things along the lines of: "but you never go outside, socialize, etc." or "but they are teaching you those things because they're important."

Replies (35)

January 22, 2017 at 10:53 PM · Take a breath. You have no idea what sorts of knowledge you will need in the future. Get as much education as you can now, while it's free and you're young.

Some of the people who were at conservatory with me changed directions fairly early on. Others either changed by their own choice later in life or had change forced upon them by orchestra bankruptcies. Some just were never able to win a steady job and eventually decided that stability with benefits was preferable to freeway philharmonics with no benefits.

Among my friends and acquaintances who have left music performance are: an RN, an attorney, a computer scientist, a financial planner, a high school teacher, and a doctor. And that's just off the top of my head.

I myself came very close to switching gears in midlife when my orchestra closed its doors for a year. Since I have a BA in mathematics in addition to my music degrees, I went back to school in order to get certified to teach math 8-12, and completed everything except the student teaching. Do I regret doing that since I didn't end up going that direction? Not at all; it was a psychological relief to know that I was not held prisoner by the failings of my orchestra's then board and management. I had options.

I would never advise any student, even the most talented and dedicated pre-professional, to skimp on or avoid academics. It is best to be qualified to choose as many fields as possible, especially in today's world with unstable economies and threats to fine arts funding.

Incidentally, it is no coincidence that my best students are also tops academically in their schools as well.

January 22, 2017 at 10:54 PM · Olivia,

In the violin you have found a place where you are successful. Right now you want to devote your life to the instrument and avoid all the other things that simply don't make sense to you right now.

The strange thing is that all of the subjects that you indicate you hate have a lot to do with music and the instrument that you love. There would be no violins without geometry to design them. There would be no music if not for the poetry of language. No notations without some very complicated math. Music is, underneath it all, based in science, engineering, chemistry, even politics and psychology.

I don't know how old you are but I do know about wanting to stay with our strengths and avoid what we consider weak. The fact is that your violin playing is steeped in all the arts and sciences as well as the politics and religion as well as psychology and medicine of the world you live in today. However, it is only part of the whole.

Unlike you, I came to the instrument late in life but the science math, engineering, psychology, language, and all the other stuff I've studied have made me a better musician, teacher and person.

Look closely at your instrument and see the thinking that went into it. How does a wooden box withstand hundreds of kilograms of force and not collapse? How does it make all those harmonic vibrations? Why does it make some people angry and others joyful? How has it changed history and society? How did the math of music notation come about?

Look at your violin skills as your door to the rest of the world and life. The violin isn't simply an instrument - it is a gateway to an understanding of the universe.

January 22, 2017 at 10:57 PM · ^^^^or I could have just said "ditto" to George.

January 23, 2017 at 12:06 AM · George Wells writes as well as George Orwell

January 23, 2017 at 01:08 AM · I agree with Mary. Even though you love playing the violin doesn't mean you're going to become a pro. Who knows? You could change your mind in no time, so I would learn as much as you can now and try to get good grades.

January 23, 2017 at 01:30 AM · The key wouldn't be to skimp on academics, but to find a way to make your schedule more flexible, and take the classes that interest you, but also help make you a versatile person. I agree with what others are saying, in that versatility is more important than ever, but a traditional K-12 education isn't always the way to go. Some form of homeschooling would be good, and you can find lots of articles online talking about ways for homeschoolers to socialize and manage with working parents. Build a strong case and present it to your parents. Public schools, while they perform a noble deed, are simply too "one-size-fits all" as you are probably seeing.

Another option, if you are a strong enough player, and good enough ( not necessarily passionate ) at academics to skip over what you are doing now, is to graduate early, and either take a gap year, or aim to start college as soon as you can ( might be tough if you want to study in the U.S. since the deadlines for most places have long passed ). I personally skipped two grades, and I highly recommend it if it is something you might want to do.

Some music schools accept very young students into BM programs. You might also consider a university with a good music department, and some have programs set up especially for early entrants. You will probably get a lot of backlash from all angles with this option, but the research unanimously suggests, that for the right people, skipping several grades is a much better option, both socially and academically than staying with age-peers. This way, you would have much more leeway to choose your academic classes.

You should also discuss this with your teacher, and see what he/she recommends for your situation. Try and keep your options open as much as you can.

January 23, 2017 at 01:35 AM · Listen to Mary Ellen and George.

However, all schools are not created equal (and within a given school, not all classes and teachers are equally valuable).

It's possible, for instance, that your English teacher is an ineffectual teacher of Shakespeare. It's even likely, because if they were effective, you would not be wondering why you can't get everything you need out of the text as you're reading it. There are levels of meaning to be found in Shakespeare that a good teacher can convey -- and ask provocative questions about as it gets related to modern life.

Similarly, history is not a collection of random facts, and your school has done you a terrible disservice if this is what you think it is. History is essentially the story of humanity -- a story of human decisions and human dreams and human foibles. The further you dive into history, the more fascinating it is likely to become, because you begin to see more and more of the way that individual human decisions impact the broad direction of history. What is music-making as an art but an exploration of the human and divine, after all?

In fact, history might be the single most important subject that a musician can study, because it provides you the context of the music you're playing. What was happening at the time? What were people doing and thinking? What were the cultural forces? What was the context for musical performance? What was happening in other arts? I recommend Charles Rosen's books as a great place to begin understanding this context, but you absolutely cannot be an informed and thoughtful performer without a knowledge of history.

I could go on about the relationship between math and music, for instance, but if you're keen to self-educate, I'll just point you to the book "Goedel Escher Bach" for starters.

The best musicians are intellectuals with broad-range curiosity, and are often well-read. Finding the rest of the world boring is not a good start on being a great performer.

January 23, 2017 at 01:38 AM · I agree with George and Mary Ellen. But I'll take a somewhat different angle.

Go to the following link and click through to p. 28 of the magazine issue.

You'll read therein about a violinist named Beverly Shin who is also a medical student (at least, she was when that article was written). She made her orchestral debut with the Houston Symphony at age 17. I have seen her perform here in Blacksburg ca. 3 times, and one of those concerts was actually this afternoon! It was an almost-all-Vivaldi concert and she was a featured soloist. She played beautifully and, to my ear, flawlessly. She's been practicing!

If you think you're busy now, wait until you get to college, or medical school, or professional life.

Studying is like practicing. You learn to do it efficiently.

January 23, 2017 at 07:50 AM · I forgot to comment specifically on your school orchestra complaint.

All the way through jr high and high school, I was by far the best violinist in my school orchestra. Our director was not a string player, so he would have me work with the weaker players instead. That was my first taste of teaching and I discovered I liked it and was good at it.

Of course most youth orchestras and all all-state orchestras require you to be enrolled in instrumental music at your school so there is that.

January 23, 2017 at 10:43 AM · To skip classes you have to be good enough and if you struggle now, then maybe you are not good enough. But if you are good enough, then skip one year, if you can.

To be a violin pro, you need good math skills to count your income, you need good people skills to teach. To name a few skills you need besides playing the violin.

I would never ever allow my child to skip school or come with low grades only to play violin. Even if i believed her to become the next Ms Mutter. Life almost always doesnt go as we plan it and one needs backup plans in order to stay out of poverty and despair. Good school grades are essential backup plans.

January 23, 2017 at 03:02 PM · No matter what field you go into, violin or otherwise, there will be aspects of your job that you don't necessarily enjoy but that are unavoidable and need to be done well. This could be playing a concert of music you're not crazy about, going through endless negotiations to get the best possible contract and health care for you and your colleagues, writing email after email and phone call after phone call as a freelancer, teaching your student who hasn't practiced for the third week in a row, whatever. Doing things you don't want to do efficiently, at a high level, and with minimum disruption to the things you do want to do is a valuable skill. Along those lines, I doubt that you are using your available time to its maximum efficiency - track your actions in chunks of 10-15 min for a day or a week or so and see if you can carve out more practice time, and get more out of the time you do have.

That said, musicians are people too. If you ever own a house and want to DIY a project (or even certain crafts), you may be very grateful for that geometry.

January 23, 2017 at 03:32 PM · Olivia, you have just got a dozen of more parents! Is that not a dream of every teenager? More advice?

Let me try to focus on the 2nd part of your post....

... I want to know if there is any sure-fire way for me to get out of school (at least somewhat) and simply study violin...

There have been a few very talented and successful school drop-outs. (Glen Gould was one of them, and so was Bill Gates) I am always fascinated with their awareness at such a young age and guts to follow their dreams outside the formal education system. However.... we never read anything about hundreds or even thousands of other drop-outs who never accomplished anything and had to settle with low paid jobs.

... I've just recently been looking at self-schooling, ...

That could be a workable solution if your parents can afford it. Many talented artists did the same; they created their own education path and focused on what mattered to them.

Current system of education is not well designed for students at extreme parts of the talent / IQ continuum. It is designed to provide solid education for an average student or about 66% of the population.

You sense of boredom might be result of many external and internal factors (as other people already stated), but you must be sure that you are indeed very intelligent or talented before opting out.

Reality check is therefore necessary; get an objective assessment of you IQ, personality and also music and violin skills. Here a psychologist and your violin teacher are your best friends. (A certified astrologer can also provide quite a fascinating insight in your talents, needs and challenges)

If you are in a minority of extremely gifted, then a special form & pace of education is what you really need.

If you are not, then stay put and do what is required of you.... trust the collective wisdom of this forum that solid education is always a good investment!

Lastly, keep in mind that in 10-20 years from now, there will be a completely new set of professions, which do not even exist today! The more versatile you are, the more chances for a good income and potential for good life there are.


January 23, 2017 at 05:34 PM · Also, since you're a high schooler and are only now beginning to play advanced music, ask someone appropriately qualified -- possibly your teacher if they are experienced in sending students on to professional careers, or some other teacher otherwise -- what your odds of making it in the profession are. The less fantastic of a player you are now, the more you need a backup plan that will require high-school success.

I note that you still write pretty awkwardly, which suggests that your English classes are not a waste of your time. Adeptness with the written word will serve you well in any career, and is important for most musicians.

January 23, 2017 at 06:37 PM · As someone who tested at the very far right side of the Bell curve (and forgive me for bragging but it is relevant), may I put in a plug for highly intelligent students to remain in public schools? Most schools these days have many GT/pre-AP/AP classes that are appropriate for even the brightest students, and one always learns more in a class discussion (say, of literature, or of a historic event) than one does reading on one's own. Additionally, we all live in the same world, one where not everyone shares our gifts or interests. Learning not just to get along with, but to value, those whose gifts differ from ours, is a life skill.

My two extremely bright sons lost absolutely no ground by attending K-12 public schools, and they weren't the elite schools either--our local high school is 85% minority and 69% low-income (we are neither). And although neither chose to pursue music at the college level, they were All-State musicians in Texas, which means something, and they achieved that with schedules loaded with AP math, science, English, and history.

Again, apologies for bragging. I just disagree with the knee-jerk reaction of encouraging the gifted or even semi-gifted to dump the public schools.

Also, Lydia makes a couple of excellent points in her post just above this one.

January 23, 2017 at 10:14 PM · I think it depends on what accommodations a public school is willing to make for you. If you fight hard enough for an IEP these days, a public school might actually be more flexible than a private school in meeting your needs.

I attend public middle and high schools, in a three-grade skip, adapted to allow me to take some classes from different grades so I didn't miss some content entirely. I also took some classes via correspondence, filling in some APs that my school didn't offer.

Depending on your state, you may also be able to take some classes at a community college, or online.

This is likely predicated upon your being academically outstanding, though. Furthermore, being dismissive of the value of academics is likely not going to be a good start with either your parents or the school system.

January 23, 2017 at 10:33 PM · I second the idea of seeing what the professionals in your life think. That said, I don't think IQ testing would be a good idea for her. There are lots of reasons a very bright person might score very low. Such a person might be poor with timed tests, be testing in a language they are not yet proficient in, have an underlying disability, or experience ceiling effects coupled with an uneven cognitive profile. Even if writing is not her strong suit, she might be exceptional in something else. Astrology is basically pseudoscience, so don't even bother.

If you don't believe me, just look up Richard Feynman, and look up the study done by Terman, and what happened to some of those who didn't quite meet his IQ criteria. As for GATE and AP, these programs are designed for mild to moderately gifted students, who are working at most one or two years ahead of their peers. Many schools won't even allow a student to participate in AP until 11th grade, and the courses often do not reflect their university-level counterparts (AP theory has simply got to go ).

For students who move faster than this, there is usually little the school can do that does not involve skipping years, or making the student into a teaching assistant. Federal funding does not exist for the gifted. When it comes to appropriate placement, public schools are a better bet ( though not great ), because there is a tendency for private schools to not allow skipping or concurrent enrollment, and make students repeat a grade, if anything, usually in an attempt to boost social skills. She needs to think honestly about where she might be at, and seek some guidance.

Then there is the separate issue of truancy policies conflicting with serious music students' concerts, competitions, and auditions. You can read about an unfortunate pianist's grapple with this here:

And do not forget that not white does NOT equal not smart.

January 23, 2017 at 10:52 PM · "And do not forget that not white does NOT equal not smart."

Who said that it did?

My kids got an excellent education next to some very smart kids. But there are people who would look at the demographics of our neighborhood high school and turn up their noses, pulling their kids out either to go to a more affluent public school or to a private school. I know this because some such people asked me why on earth we were sending our kids to [neighborhood] high school instead of [richer and whiter] high school.

BTW anyone who thinks that AP classes are geared only to the moderately bright has obviously never taken Calculus BC or the calculus-based physics classes/exams. And my 10th-grade daughter is taking AP Psychology and AP Euro History this year. I do agree about AP music theory though.

January 24, 2017 at 03:31 AM · Herr Muller,

Let me paraphrase Sir Isaac Newton: "I have studied the subject, you have not!"

... and I said certified astrologer for a good reason.

January 24, 2017 at 07:53 AM · Astrology is totally out of the question as this is a young one still trying to figure out her way in life. Astrology gives answers, whether right or wrong, and answers turn into thinking patterns that can harm the thinking of the person and guide her too much. My astrology map is pretty exact but the one made for my huspand is in fact exactly the opposite that he really is. So even if one believes in astrology in some amount, it really can go very wrong even though the maps were made with a certified and highly thought of astrologer. Imagine getting a map that it not accurate or just simply totally incorrect when your young? Its going to affect how you live your life.

I think taking iq tests is similar. IQ tests dont really guide you, if you are bright and able to hop over grades, you know it without testing. And if you are not bright enough then you are not bright enough whatever the tests say. I was tested with iq and other testings when at school, it was available and I went there for fun basically, it did not affect in any way what i was going to do, though after it I knew I had an of the scale special skill but did it affect my choises in any way? The answer is no, as we have to choose from what is socially available and what is possible in our society. And I learned early on that one needs to be sensible to carve the best life in the situations we have.

the school I went to from the age of 15-18 did help me get the high piano exam. (Im now the mother of a small violinist) They had a very small music room that I could use for practising in between classes, but I do have to admit that I skipped sports classes and they turned a blind eye to that and also they had just started a new program that let me skip 2 years of history, geography and religion, plus music and drawing lessons too. Did physics, long maths and 3 foreign languages though. And we only have public schools. So the OP should try to negotiate with the school if she really is good. Skipping is another thing and negotiating and pulling the limits is another.

January 24, 2017 at 02:20 PM · Fascinating!

January 24, 2017 at 03:18 PM · I would not disagree in principle with much of the advice here, but there are many aspects to this issue. If you are seriously considering 'home schooling' you (and your parents) might find 'The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education' by Grace Llewellyn helpful, an excellent guide to the pros, pitfalls and practicalities of education outside the school system. (You don't give your age, but much of the content is relevant to any age, not just teenagers.). At the end of it you may decide that staying at school is actually the best option for you - which is fine. As other posters have pointed out, schools are not all the same, and some can be more flexible than others. There's nothing to stop you trying to negotiate an arrangement which suits you better. And if you do decide to study independently it does not have to be music to the exclusion of other subjects which, as has been pointed out, are useful, necessary or interesting and can form part of a 'backup' plan.

My son parted company with the school system at age 14 because it was destroying him physically and mentally - he had some of the same problems as you are experiencing. As a result he found talents which he would never have discovered at school, including photography, film-making, drama, singing...., and is now studying photography at college. As well as studying independently, on his own and with private tutors, he attended two local schools part-time at his own request for specific subjects, as well as summer schools. With major institutions like Harvard and Stanford offering online courses and many colleges offering public classes, it is now possible to study almost anything, any time and anywhere. So if he finds that he has 'missed out' on anything,or his interests change, he will have plenty of opportunities when he has the need and motivation.

The subjects I have most interest in and most knowledge of are not subjects I studied at school. I learned about them because I had a genuine interest - including music - or a real necessity.

January 24, 2017 at 03:45 PM · The main reason the public school system requires you to attend until you are a certain age (which may vary state by state) is to keep you out of the labor pool.

Whoever said you "need to know math" to balance your checkbook and run your violin-teaching business is off base. That's arithmetic ... not calculus, not geometry, not statistics, and not trigonometry. There are two reasons to study those things. First of all they have immediate practical utility in many disciplines (violin-playing is not one of them). But secondly they sharpen your analytical cortex. And that is useful in EVERY career. Do you really want to be the parent who can't understand her seventh-grader's homework?

I know a wonderful professional cellist who is actually my younger daughter's teacher. She has an active performing career, mostly as a chamber musician, and she is a highly sought workshop leader. Her undergraduate degree is in math.

January 24, 2017 at 06:48 PM · I think part of the problem is a lack of other schooling tracks. The American system assumes everyone should try and go to college, when it really isn't for everyone. Algebra just doesn't click for some people. What is so wrong with becoming a construction worker? I think, ideally, that there should be at least two or three different tracks: a trade-school track, something in between ( perhaps something for office work), and a university track. At the bare minimum, home economics and shop should be offered. But everyone is too scared, for fear of political incorrectness.

January 24, 2017 at 07:34 PM · I agree, college is not for everyone.

That being said, however, the American system very much did use to have tracks. Oddly enough, the top (college-bound) track was full of people who looked a lot like me, while the lower (trades) track was full of people who, well, didn't. This was not good for anyone.

I actually think a strength of the American system is the ability for people to change their minds and/or reinvent themselves at any age. If, in your mid-30s, you decide that you can't face being a CPA for the rest of your life, you can go back to school and (eventually) become a doctor if you want to and are willing and able to do the work.

And now we are very, very far afield from the OP. Well--the ability to change direction later in life can be aided or hampered by a thorough education or lack of one in one's youth. There.

January 24, 2017 at 07:39 PM · Maybe the school has some flexibility. Like you could block some of your elective time out as independent study or something, and use that to play violin. I wouldn't recommend dropping out entirely unless you need the time to be playing concerts or are at that level, and even then, that kind of stuff can probably wait. If you work stuff right, you may be able to free up some time. My senior year of high school I only needed to take 5 classes, which were all in a row, so I would get out at noon. Of course, I was using that extra time to go to the gym and not towards anything immensely practical. Do your violin as much as you can, but don't neglect your intellect in other areas. There's no one more exhausting to talk to than someone who has only done one thing their whole life, but that's just my opinion. But I'm also speaking from my school experience, so you know more about your life.

January 25, 2017 at 06:30 AM · Geometry was my first exposure to real math -- to proofs. Everything before that was number crunching and symbol manipulation (which are groundwork). Mathematical proofs are not facts you have to memorise, or matters subject to the opinions or whims of your teachers' or others', but truths which you can see for yourself, and means to establish truth despite or contrary to what some in error might claim. To be able to correct a professor in a class, and for everyone including that professor to be able to know that one is right and not the other is something you can only do reliably in a subject founded on proofs. Computer science, among others, is also taught together with mathematics and significantly founded on proofs. I think that's a great thing, even though it might not tug the heart in the way music can. I also think it's a great thing to be able to understand Gödel's incompleteness theorems.

Sleep is a natural reaction to an overloaded mind -- one which cannot absorb or handle the material it's faced with. If it's associated with boredom, it may be because the bored person is not seeing what's interesting. Many feel the urge to sleep when listening to classical music, and it's often because they don't get it, and sometimes because the performers didn't get it either. I'll stop there because I don't know how I could prove that a composer didn't get it. But the evidence is there that there are many more would-be performers than there are customers willing to pay to support those performers.

Don't limit yourself by thinking of playing as everything and everything else as nothing. Even if you achieved some rare success with a single instrument, you might find that unsatisfying. And if success didn't appear, or vanished due to an injury, or became less appealing, what would be your fallback?

January 25, 2017 at 07:07 AM · Lydia raised this point earlier...The OP describes herself as only just beginning to play advanced music (no further details given so I don't know if this means Bach concertos or the Tchaikovsky, though I suspect the former), and since she is enrolled in Geometry, she is likely in 9th or 10th grade. I am concerned about how realistic the OP's dream of a life as a violinist is, and I hope she is getting honest and accurate advice from her teacher (if her teacher is familiar with the performance world) or from other professional musicians.

January 25, 2017 at 06:54 PM · Olivia, I can really empathize with your situation. When I was a teenager, I badly wanted to spend my life playing the violin and retreated to that comfortable fantasy whenever things got awkward–which, let's face it, was not infrequent, because that's what happens in adolescence.

Feeling left out by friends, or rejected by a boy I liked? My violin teacher still loves me!

Frustrated by my inability to grok chemistry, graph polynomials, or plan ahead to get my history papers done on time? Ah well, when I'm a violinist, none of this will matter.

Embarrassed by my inability to do cartwheels on the ground, let alone on the balance beam? (this in Germany, where the gym class was serious business) I should probably skip this class and go practice de Beriot, very fast, somewhere where people can hear and be impressed. Etc.

But in the times when I immersed myself in music and surrounded myself with people who were at least as serious as I, I found myself on shaky ground. I felt pretty good about my Kabalevsky, but it was nothing compared to the concerti that my cabin-mates at Brevard were ripping through. The next year, working with a new teacher, I was told that I lacked the technique to play concerti and needed to do a year of etudes, technical studies, and Handel sonatas. And on my exchange year in Germany, my violin teacher was unimpressed and told me my playing sounded "zickig" (look it up). Fortunately I was pretty good at school (especially this history/languages/lit parts) and my parents' expectations on that front were high, so taking my classes less seriously wasn't really an option.

Senior year, back home in North Carolina, my amazing violin teacher, who was right about the etudes and the Handel, sat me down and matter-of-factly told me that I shouldn't try to be a professional musician. It should have been devastating–but the doubt had been growing so it ended up being a relief. It set me free to choose the university without the conservatory, AKA the university with the orchestra and chamber programs that I could actually get into. It gave me license to enjoy my music for what it was: a hobby that would enrich my life.

It helped, too, to have a counterfactual. One of my compatriots at Brevard tried his hand at professional violin. He gave himself two years, post college, to take auditions and try to get an orchestra job. When his two years were up and he realized that teaching Suzuki and being the principal second violin for a handful of community orchestras wasn't going to make him happy, he went to business school with no regrets. (Again, it helped that he'd double-majored in math and done well in college.)

I can still say with a fair degree of certainty that playing the violin has shaped my life like nothing else. It was a passport to a musical community in Germany, where I played in a youth orchestra that rehearsed in a palace on the Elbe. It took me on college orchestra tours to Prague, Budapest, and London (playing Vaughan William in the Salisbury Cathedral and Shostakovich in the Rudolfinum were magical experiences). Through orchestras and chamber groups, I met some my closest companions, including, eventually, my husband. We are now in our 40s, with jobs and a kid and a house and other hobbies and responsibilities–but we still play. Last summer we got to play in a pit orchestra for La Boheme; last weekend we played the Schubert Cello Quintet.

Music has still been a retreat for me as well as a social activity. In business school, I ditched the chaotic, fratty social scene for university orchestra rehearsals. Last night, upset by the relentless news from DC, I escaped to our music room and the eternal comforts of solo Bach.

I read in another thread that you're working on the Bach A minor concerto right now. This would put you at an intermediate level, with a lot of technique to learn before you get to the big concerti. Unless you’re a unicorn, you probably aren't going to get into a top conservatory for college, even if you start practicing 5 hours a day and stop school altogether. This doesn’t mean you can’t be a professional musician but it probably puts a sustainably compensated performing career out of reach. And as others have pointed out, even if you are successful, things can go wrong. A friend of mine in high school was well on her way to being a concert pianist (soloing with orchestras) when she developed crippling tendonitis in her hands and had to quit. Today she's a German professor (which might be the one field as competitive as piano, but I digress.)

I think you should work hard at the violin and get as good as you can. College can be great for this, with subsidized lessons and chamber music coaching and good student orchestras. If you attain a certain level of proficiency (and I'm not talking Lydia-level proficiency!), you'll have an amazing hobby for life.

But you also need to find some other things that you are good at, and (while in school), commit to doing the best you can, even on the stuff that doesn't come naturally to you, so that you keep your options open down the road. Most of us are not wired to focus entirely on one thing to the exclusion of all else. It's best to develop multiple skill sets so that you can handle the vagaries of life without coming undone.

PS: I use geometry and algebra all the time.

January 25, 2017 at 08:21 PM · Thanks for the comparison to Orwell, but my comment was based on Asimov. He once noted that the key to education was to find where the passion was and use that as the door to all the other subjects. Of course large classes hold back a teacher from giving that kind of individual attention to a single student, but with the internet it is possible to use that door-of-passion to link the passion to the subjects.

Music, baseball, et cetera are all part of the human experience and therefore part of the dynamic that is being human and that means it involves all that we as a species have learned. The violin is not a disconnected pursuit that is isolated from the rest of the world. It has its place in history, math, science, politics, religion, medicine,.. in all human pursuits.

Perhaps Olivia should talk to her violin teacher about some of those links in the larger world that are connected to her violin and playing. After all who but a musician would be interested in how deriving the twelfth-root-of-two led to equal temperament, how western music has developed and how J. S. Bach (a professional musician) worked it all out while working as a prolific musician and teacher.

Walk through the door of passion and find that the universe reveals itself.

January 25, 2017 at 11:00 PM · Katie Behroozi's post is marvelous and I concur wholeheartedly. Music has opened the door to many marvelous life experiences I would not otherwise have had, and it's also led me to make many friends that I otherwise wouldn't have met or considered myself to have much in common with.

I hadn't previously noticed that the OP is the same person who posted about the Bach A minor. I concur -- that's intermediate repertoire, with a significant distance to go before advanced repertoire. For a 9th or 10th grader, it's not a competitive playing level for anyone who hopes to become a performer. The music-ed track is realistic, though, assuming that the OP makes solid progress over the next few years -- but for that, good grades are necessary.

January 26, 2017 at 02:34 AM · Somebody mentioned uni. If there is even a vague possibility that you might want to go to uni, even if only to study violin, you must have qualifications from your general education.

January 26, 2017 at 12:03 PM · Hi OP! I'm part of the same boat as you but in vastly different situations. While you chase after the violin, im chasing after oil paint and turpentine. I am currently studying Interior Architecture and Design in a polytechnic in Singapore.

Before in middle school, we had to study 8 subjects (i dropped 2 due to me pursuing fine arts, which im still doing today). We took English, Maths, Advanced Maths (dropped), Higher Chinese, Combined humanities (Social studies and Geography/History), Art, Chemistry and Biology/Physics. I had very bad grades. I would fail half my subjects constantly to the point where my school principal talked to my parents about switching to a private school. I proved them all wrong though, when in my O levels (major exams), i scored an average of B on all my exams, enough to get me into the course I'm in today.

How does this tie in with your post you ask? Well im currently studying violin, started in middle school, spent 3 years and got to ABRSM Grade 8 (highest "casual" grade in my country, usually kids at the age of 10 can get it but i started late), and am currently aiming for a Diploma in practical violin. During middle school, i was in the String Orchestra and I will gladly tell you that playing in an orchestra is one of the best choices i have made. It trains your ears and intonation, and also rhythm as you have to play in time with 2nd violins and the basses. I wouldnt trade those 4 years in my school's orchestra for the world.

Currently I'm building up my portfolio for a fine-arts university in Hangzhou, China, and juggling French and the demonic demands of my course (anyone who took architecture will know what im talking about), along with practicing for my diploma. I am also preparing for an audiition on 4 of February for an orchestra since my current school doesnt have one. I'm at the level of playing Weinawski's Mazurka, and i typing this after running through half of Wolfhart's 60 etudes in preparation for Dont's 24 caprices and the 60 etudes of Beriot. If you think what you're taking now is hard then prepare to get slapped in the face by life.

January 26, 2017 at 06:51 PM · It sounds like a tough situation. Passionate, but not learning fast enough to put all, or even many of her eggs in one basket. She would have to make sacrifices in order to *maybe* bring her level up to be to be competitive for conservatory entrance, but doing so would compromise other things, perhaps unjustifiably. But by not sacrificing anything, she for sure will not be in a competitive place, despite her desires. Sounds a bit like a catch-22. It is unfortunate that the violin world does not have many training opportunities for potential late-bloomers.

Edit: Oh yeah, and I just saw that she is from Florida. I have heard from quite a few, who have relocated to a different state for a new teacher, that the quality of instruction down there is not the best. It is really sad when that, along with being a big fish in a small pond is what is holding a student back.

January 27, 2017 at 12:06 AM · There are excellent teachers available in Florida; I know some of them. Let's not throw an un-named teacher, one we know nothing about, under the bus on the basis of no evidence. We don't even know if the OP has been forthcoming with her teacher about her dreams for the future.

A high school student playing Bach violin concertos is not going to be a big fish in any size pond, I am afraid. I have taught many worthy students at that age and level and they are wonderful human beings whose lives are enriched by playing the violin. My hope for them is that music will continue to be an important part of their lives as they move into adulthood. It's wonderful to watch them grow as musicians. But big fish in even small ponds? No--and that's OK.

January 27, 2017 at 09:13 PM · Olivia,

I am a student like you, and sometimes I do share the same feelings. I am one of the top violinists in my high school in Texas, if not in Texas, and I do have ambitious goals to become a professional level violinist. Addressing your problem with school, I understand how you feel. Classes can be boring and feel pointless, and I agree to some of that. However, back to the issue of violin as a profession, if you are just starting advanced level repertoire in high school (depending which year) I would reconsider your violinistic ambitions. If you are seriously committing to becoming a professional violinist, you need to start playing very advanced repertoire as soon as possible, practice all the technique (Kreutzer, Rode, Dont, Paganini, etc.), and your scales before your college auditions. As everyone else said above, being a violinist is not easy, and you will need a backup plan if all else fails. In order to become a successful violinist, you do have to be able to play at a higher level than the teachers you know around you. You do need to go to a prestigious music school ( UMich Ann Arbor, UT Austin, USC, Oberlin, Cleveland Institute, Juilliard, etc.). If you cannot go to a good music school, then being a musician would be a really stressful, as opposed to the utopia people make it out to be. I know this will be hard, but your academics are very important as well as your violin ambitions. Your academics that seem boring now will be very important in the event all else fails. I know this might seem scary, but it is harsh reality. I have been in that situation before, and your only way to get out of it is to pay attention in class. Doing homework during class could help with more practice time. Happy practicing (or studying)!

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