Burnout?

January 3, 2005 at 08:01 PM · I am a high school junior in rural South Carolina and have been playing violin since age seven, almost ten years. Due to the demise of our district’s strings program, I began playing flute in the band so as to have some musical experience in school. I am a competent flutist and have attained leadership status and many close friendships as a result of my participation in marching band, but have no further plans for flute after high school. I also sing in the chorus (I have a nice soprano voice) and contribute immensely to our theatre department, where I do both technical work and acting. These activities all provide a support network, whereas violin has been a largely solitary effort (most of my friends have never heard me play). I feel committed to violin since it has been a part of my life for so long, but lately I have begun to wonder if I really enjoy playing anymore.

I believe that my participation in a two-week summer academy at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts & Humanities was one of the defining moments of my musical self. Before this experience, I simply played violin for my own pleasure. It was just something I did—I had no concept of competition. What I discovered over my (albeit short) course of study at SCGSAH was an pervasive sense of snobbery, competition, and favoritism among the strings players and faculty. These factors, in addition to a personality conflict with my violin instructor, have led to both a distaste for the atmosphere of the classical music world and a lingering sense of worthlessness as a player.

Conversely, my experience at SCGSAH opened my eyes to the possibility of exploring other genres (jazz, rock, fiddle, etc.). My parents bought me an electric violin, which I’ve fooled around on a bit, but there’s been no conclusive change of direction—my teacher is strictly classically trained, and we have had no luck in looking for a jazz instructor. I have nothing against classical music itself, but I feel that I am mediocre at best and do not physically have the time to practice as much as I need to due to family, church, and academic obligations. I long for my violin to be purely a source of pleasure for me—a laidback, no pressure, stress relieving, enjoyable part of my life.

I know that I will never be a concert violinist; a solo career is not my dream. My interest at the moment is music therapy, where I feel that I could combine my deep love for music and my desire to help others. However, to enter into a college program for music therapy, I will have to choose a principal instrument on which to audition and participate in a major ensemble each semester. I suppose violin is the obvious choice here, but I don’t want to be miserable if I truly do not enjoy classical music. I am terrified that playing violin in college will be as overwhelmingly negative as my experience at Governor’s School; but I were to quit, I would feel like my years of playing have been a waste of my time and my parents’ money, not to mention a huge disappointment to my lifelong teacher.

My parents emphasize that this must be my decision, that the only person I have to please is myself. I am torn. I know this probably all sounds ridiculous, but it has been a source of great stress and confusion for quite a while now, and no one else seems to understand. Feedback would be greatly appreciated!

Replies (14)

January 4, 2005 at 12:02 AM · Greetings,

this is really hard stuff for anyone.

I have two impressions. First, it may be that by diversifying, with all the best intentions, you have lost track a little on developing your full potential on the violin. When that happens and you lose your isntrumental goals the focus goes and it does become demotivating or even boring.

Second, if you really , really wnat to enter the most importnat and rewarding proession of music therapy then that should be your clear goal and it will override all the petty stupidities and competiveness that can flare up in college but is not really the norm in my experience. It depends where you go to some extent. Peabody might be good for you,for example.

The hardest thing a human being can try to learn (and many ofdon't ever get it) is that nobody can stress you out, make you angry or frustrated. In reality it is your choice entirely how you -choose- to react. If someoneis agressive and competitive about playing or anything else you might choose to feel sorry for them and try to talk about the way they feel or you feel . In essence, if you want to be a greta therapist you er, could start now on all those messed up players who think they are going to be the next Heifetz,

All the best,

Buri

January 4, 2005 at 12:30 AM · I had a taste of the distaste you mention. I eventually had the real experience of understanding their place, knowing that they were just small people showing their limitations. It doesn't characterize that much of the world. Don't let it bug you.

January 4, 2005 at 05:26 AM · Kelsey...you went to SCGSAH? Which year? I went to that camp summer 2002 and 2003. I was in the last group to enjoy the honors program. The camp too opened my eyes to lots of different musical genres and I appreciated jazz much more. As a result I'm more open to listening to other genres.

Although I loved the camp and it was the best experience I've ever had, I too saw the favoritism and intense competitiveness. I was a part of it in a way. Before then, I was never competetive. After the first year I was there, I found myself competing with my best friend for spots in orchestras and silly stuff. I think it's sort of how they put us in chamber groups by level which makes sense. That's when I realized hey they think I suck. Maybe I'm holding a bit of a grudge against some of my fellow violinists at that camp.

Unfortunately, the competitivness and favoritism was not at SCGSAH only. I went to North Carolina School of Arts last summer. And I saw favoritism there too. In fact, it was even more obvious and the ones who knew the teachers and had been there before got treated differently. Maybe just me...

As it pertains to you, I don't know about competitiveness in college since I'm not there yet. I just thought it was interesting that you went to SCGSAH too. The others would know more about the college. Maybe to make playing more about fun rather than competition, you could just take out old (or new) pieces that you enjoy. That always helped me get rid of my frustration with the instrument.

January 4, 2005 at 05:23 PM · Amy-- I was in Academy in the summer of 2003. I think I remember you. :)

January 4, 2005 at 07:25 PM · Kelsey,

I have also dealt with the issues of snobbery and competition. While I was working on my bachelor's degree, I was very unhappy in music school. Most of the other violinists were masters or PhD students, and had been playing since the womb. I did not really fit in with them, and I began to feel very inadequate. They were all viciously competitive, and could make very cruel comments. Once, I was playing the first Bach Sonata for my performance class, and while I played I heard someone talking loudly. My classmate was saying loudly, while cackling, that she had played the piece better when she was 10. That about did it for me.

Since then, it has taken me years to even be able to play in front of anyone. I realise I should have taken the comments in stride, but it is ghard when you have worked at something your whole life.

I have no advice to give, jsut sympathy. i think Buri is right, though. No one has the power to make us feel bad. We choose the way we react to these circumstances.

Best of luck to you, and don't give up! I still find great pleasure in playing for myself, and recently I did 2 holiday performances that went off without a hitch!

January 4, 2005 at 09:21 PM · Thanks, everybody...

January 4, 2005 at 09:46 PM · Kelsey, first of all, let me compliment you on your writing - it was a very well written post and clearly explained your dilemma. It is indeed a solely personal decision to quit - what you must examine is what you love about playing violin. What you would miss if you give it up. Have you thought about teaching? Additionally, have you thought of other career possiblities? Small or large ensembles?

Regarding music therapy, I think a possible solution for picking a main study could be soprano voice. Most conservatories that offer music therapy will, to my knowledge, accept a voice principal music therapy major. Where are you thinking of applying? London has excellent music therapy schools - and they are MUCH more prevalent there than here in the United States.

I also think, however, now is the time to seriously contemplate whether you want music to be the focus of your professional life forever and ever - or not. Perhaps your gut feelings about quitting violin should tell you something about how you feel about doing music in general. I cannot presume to know you, but I do know college opens your eyes to many other career possibilities, and you may rather go into a vocation completely separate from music - it happens! So if you are not sure about the music route - even related music route like music therapy - I would advise a college rather than a conservatory.

One last thought - don't think to yourself "if I don't play violin, things that I've done and worked for in regards to it will be for nothing." It is simply not true. Music is character building - your violin has played a part in making who you are. What was right for you yesterday, may not be right today. Don't be discouraged, crossroads are scary but also exciting. I share a vein with you in wanting to help others - I've always loved teaching and plan to be a teacher and a certified physical therapist for musicians. Find what fulfills that desire in you, and then just do it. It's not easy, few things are, but you owe it to yourself and your family to find it and pursue it. Take care.

January 4, 2005 at 09:37 PM · I haven't visited anywhere yet, but I'm considering Loyola University New Orleans...any other suggestions?

January 4, 2005 at 09:41 PM · the main conservatories in London:

Royal Academy of Music

Royal College of Music

Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Trinity School of Music

January 24, 2005 at 04:30 AM · Can you live without the violin ? Have you tried ? If you can't even bear the thought of living without it, then your question is answered.

But the violin doesn't have to be your career. You might enjoy it more if it isn't (no joking ! )

January 24, 2005 at 04:50 AM · Greetings,

I agree. But it is a good idea to experience the porofession first so you can make the right decision for you. Then be a lawyer and have enough dosh to buy a Stradivariuous, the worlds most expensive Hi Fi and a `quartet rehearsal room@ where no kids or pets are allowed,

Cheers,

Buri

January 24, 2005 at 04:57 AM · There won't be any pressure put on you in the college orchestra or even in lessons, if you aren't a performance major and it sounds like you don't want to be. I think your problem might be that it isn't a social thing, since your orchestra disbanded. In college you'll get together with people and play chamber music and perform if you want, duets in the dorm and so on. Duets of various kinds. But I digress... Anyway it will be fun. I guarantee.

P.S. like Buri said, you can do all this even without a music-related major. Don't let go completely. It will be useful. Not to mention probably a partial scholarship just for playing in the orchestra.

January 24, 2005 at 06:12 AM · Kelsey,

I, too, have contemplated quitting many times, usually because I get fed up with the competitiveness and high pressure of the music world, which causes me to feel that I will never be good enough. In fact, I have gone through at least 3 phases where I decided to quit and major in something else, only to realize after a week that I desperately missed playing. When I really evaluate things, I play because I love it and I love music; this should override any fears about not being good enough, or worry about the competitiveness and high-pressure environment. If you really love it, then don't let the bad stuff get to you.

Also, sometimes I think that the whole high pressure/competitive environment may be part of why I am so set on being a performance major--certainly not the main reason, but perhaps a small contributing factor. I, and a lot of musicians I think, tend to feed off of competition and excitement, and I have this need to always do the best I can and "win against myself," and I become addicted to practicing. I do wonder if other musicians have these same traits?

January 24, 2005 at 04:19 PM · Just wanted to chime in that it is definately possible, and very rewarding, to enjoy the violin lifelong without making it a profession (or indeed, even majoring or minoring in music). I took lessons through most of college, and played in the college orchestra (both great experiences...college teachers were much more intellectual about playing, which works well for me), but didn't major in it. (I had two other serious interests, and I majored in them instead. One got me a decent career, and enough money to get a nicer violin, and the other is also still a major interest, so I'd call it a good decision for me.)

Despite that, I still made progress in college, and since, and have been much more active since joining a community orchestra in my area this past year (great way to keep the playing muscles limber). Later in february I will be playing my first non-family solo performance in years (nothing fancy, just amateur playing in church, but my first time performing solo Bach...*gulp*).

As a note, I also experienced a bit of the nasty side of classical music culture in high school (actually, it was more funny than anything else, since violin wasn't my primary identity at the time...but it would have been crushing had it been). I experienced it far less in college (though I wasn't a major, so there were probably no particular expectations on me, and I didn't go to a music-focused school), and none at all since getting out. That culture can be killer anywhere in the classical music world that aspires to professionalism (I think it is 100x worse in opera performance, for instance), but is in my experience much less prevalent in amateur circles. I wouldn't take snobbery, etc, it as a downside of even classical violin as a musical tradition, just as a downside of the culture of top-level cutthroat groups.

By all means do explore other music styles, though - it can be a lot of fun. (Several of my favorites are Irish and Appalachian fiddling.)

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