Violinists/Violin students and weight

September 18, 2005 at 06:48 AM · Hi all, new member, but long time lurker and I have a question for everyone about weight. While we all know the advantages/disadvantages health wise and all the other associated issues, in your experiences and/or opinion does weight effect a violinists' success and performance?

I ask because as a newbie I qualify somewhere around chubby, and only know a three people who actually play violin. One of those people is an instructor at the college where I work (not a school especially know for it's music department, but not bad). Anyway, since I don't really "play" in his opinion [that's a whole nother issue!], I was horrified yesterday when he made a comment that before I did anything else, I needed to lose weight so that I would present well on stage.

After I thought about it, it is somewhat understandable, but then he deliever the kicker that he has never taught a student who was even slightly overweight, regardless of talent, because 'if they don't look good, I don't want them representing me at any auditions.' What I can't understand is that as many of our gentlemen performers as there are, surely at some point in their careers, some had to have developed a gut.

Your thoughts?

Replies (27)

September 18, 2005 at 06:54 AM · I sincerely hope you get a new teacher. I personally think he is being abusive to you. I have never heard that being 'chubby' was an issue to playing violin, and I in fact had a very fine teacher once who was 'chubby'. Audiences go to listen to music and enjoy the artistry of it...they are not there to compare waistband sizes.

Best of luck.

September 18, 2005 at 07:07 AM · 'if they don't look good, I don't want them representing me at any auditions.'

A teacher's priority should be helping the student to succeed, not gaining personal reputation. That statement alone proves him to be selfish, egotistical and does not have the student's best interest at heart. Learning the violin is already hard enough. One does not need on top of everything else to put up with a jerk of a "teacher".

I too used to have a teacher that would be considered chubby, and he performs regularly with the local city orchestra. I see no correlation between weight and violin playing.

September 18, 2005 at 07:33 AM · hmmm, how nasty. Oistrakh was pretty chubby and that didn't seem to hurt HIS playing carrer ^_^ (do you hear anybody say Oistrakh was a great player...too bad he was chubby or he could have been great?) I could see problems with being significantly overweight, perhaps posture, stamina and such. I don't know from experience, since I've never had a chubby teacher or had any chubby violinist friends, but several conductors I know are pretty darn chubby, and still dynamic on stage. They also play the violin, so I'd say it's not a big deal. They are trying to lose weight...but who isn't? Either way your teacher was just plain mean >:^(

September 18, 2005 at 05:12 PM · Wow, Tedra. Are you sure this guy was not being sarcastic? That is almost unbelievably boorish of him.

Even if he is joking, it is in very poor form IMO.

Besides, he is an instructor at a college that is not known for music, but not bad. So, then, what kind of instructor is he? Probably not good :/

I say for get him and move on.

September 18, 2005 at 04:00 PM · Eugene Ysaye was one of the greatest (if not the greatest) violinists of the late nineteenth century, and he wasn't the world's slimmest guy. I agree, that comment of your teacher's was uncalled for. I would start looking for alternatives.

September 18, 2005 at 04:24 PM · That's ridiculous. Playing the violin has nothing to do with how you look- of course, you should have a great stage presence, but that comes from the heart more than anything else. Your teacher is just being rude.

September 18, 2005 at 05:22 PM · WOW!

This is terrible! It is true that in the past, it didn't matter. But, today, appearance does play a role in getting a major soloist career. You rarely see overweight unatttractive people the way you used to (not that this is a reflection of what it takes to play the violin... just current marketing). However, with playing the violin under normal circumstances, it has nothing to do with it.

As a teacher, I would never make such a comment and I find that innappopriate. But, there has been worst cases. The most famous story is that of Gwen Thompson, who went to study with Heifetz. Apparently, he told her that no one would go see her play because she was fat, and required that she lose 50 lbs. Her lessons for the first few weeks consisted of a scale weighing and only when it was done did lessons begin. I guess to each teacher his own, but I find it so sad that today there is way to much attention given to how the player looks rather than sounds on stage. :(

Cheers?! Naw, not for that!

September 18, 2005 at 05:26 PM · stage presence isn't about being skinny. it is about looking important.

Get a new teacher.

September 18, 2005 at 11:28 PM · Oh, thank you all! It just struck me as a really odd thing for college-level instructor to say and had to have some feed-back.

However, I am very thankful to say that he is NOT my teacher.

September 18, 2005 at 11:47 PM · It's one thing to suggest exercise to a violinist (to help strengthen muscles and such) but to suggest weight loss...

He should have suggested exercise to improve the playing, if he had to say anything at all.

September 18, 2005 at 11:48 PM · Let's not talk about the living. Many great violinists were overweight. Consider David Oistrakh, whom I am happy to say I saw play 6 times. Definitely overweight. But his stage presence was phenomenal. If I were his teacher, I'd be proud to have him represent my teaching.

September 19, 2005 at 02:29 AM · Tell the guy that he's one of the reasons that talentless trailer trash singing bubblegum pop dominate the commercial recording industry - people like him placing image over ability.

September 19, 2005 at 04:17 AM · There's a story about Galamian not wanting Rabin to go on a diet, because he was afraid he'd lose too much weight and not have the same tone.

September 19, 2005 at 04:43 AM · That teacher is an idiot.

Rabin, Oistrakh, Perlman, Zukerman (now), Stern, Ysaye, and Dicterow all are or were what one might consider overweight.

I wouldn't even give this teacher a second thought. Surround yourself with people who are worthwhile spending time with.

Preston

September 20, 2005 at 10:31 PM · Ignaz (I think that was his first name) Schuppanzigh was a fine violinist during Beethoven's time. Schuppanzigh was obese, but he was one of the few violinists (or anyone else) whom Beethoven liked. Schuppanzigh was the concertmaster at the famous first performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, where the almost totally deaf Beethoven, acting as conductor, had his head buried in the score and heard nothing. The orchestra and chorus and soloists were following Schuppanzigh, who was descretely conducting without letting Beethoven know it. With this kind of admirable behavior, who cares about weight!

Pretty soon, we'll be saying that you can't be a good violinist if you are too short, or too tall, or the wrong skin color, or don't have the correctly shaped face, or lisp. Did you know that there were at least 2 famous violinists who lisped? Fritz Kreisler and Bronislaw Huberman.

September 21, 2005 at 01:46 AM · Hi,

Just out of curiosity and, for no good reason, can someone name me one well-known soloist under 35 on the circuit right now who is overweight? I am not talking of people like Zukerman, or greats from the past...

Cheers!

P.S. This does not change anything about the teacher being an idiot.

September 21, 2005 at 01:49 AM · Christian, there are none. I don't think the changing markets will accept it. Zukerman isn't overweight, is he?

September 21, 2005 at 03:26 AM · Well, that's an interesting trend, especially since the obesity trend in the US has headed the other direction in the past fifty years.

September 21, 2005 at 04:33 AM · How is that an interesting trend? The obesity problem is precisely why it's so in vogue to appear healthy. I don't know if you've noticed, but people have never favored someone "just like them" in entertainment.

September 21, 2005 at 05:31 PM · What about Pavarotti?

Such an incredible presence!

Absolutely pure, beautiful stage presence.

And gorgeous music.

And not skinny.

September 21, 2005 at 06:15 PM · Pieter,

Zukerman has put on a bit of a spare tire in the past couple years...not that it matters. Perhaps it's just Amanda's fine cooking??

Preston

September 21, 2005 at 06:37 PM · I was an ex-34 waist in denial for about 4 years. I wore 35 and convinced myself that it was just a little more "roomy." I have finally accepted within myself that I am a 36 and that I am just fine.

It has not affected either my sex life or my playing. Actually, I think the bigger waist makes me a better player. Now I more fully appreciate my ability to butcher perfectly good music a lot more, now that my body will no longer allow me to think that I can still go out and terrorize the athletes with my lighting speed and agility.

In other words, being out of shape makes me play violin more.

September 21, 2005 at 09:45 PM · I haven't seen Zukerman in about 5 years. Didn't know about that.

September 22, 2005 at 07:45 PM · As a musician who would definately be considered obese, I recently discovered that having to reach around my body to play is quite difficult, even painful.

For me, a lifestyle change has to happen if I want to see my children grow up. I can also see quite easily becoming a better musician if I can get my weight down to "slightly chubby" because of the physics of not having to reach to strange positions, as well as the endurance improvement that would definately occur. So weight can definately be a factor in playing ability.

For this teacher to be concerned over appeances and how he is represented in auditions is quite disturbing. I am aware that my students' playing is a reflection of my skills as a teacher, but it seems unnecessary to put the additional burden on my students in auditions that they better "make me look good" or else. Auditions are filled with enough other stress already. When my students do audition, I'm proud of their efforts, not my skill (or lack thereof) as a teacher.

Overall health is most important, I am coming to realize, whether it is thin or "slightly chubby."

September 22, 2005 at 08:29 PM · Maybe your teacher said wasn't trying to make a crack about your weight, he probably just said what he was thinking in the wrong words. My teacher says that jogging helps playing a lot. I don't know if it's because it can help loosen up your muscles, lower your resting heart rate, or help your breathing, or any number of things. Maybe your teacher was trying to be helpful but it just came out wrong.

September 24, 2005 at 12:41 AM · This guy is an idiot.

Is anyone ever going to say "He can't be a good teacher because he accepts students who are overweight &/or unattractive?" No, they're going to say "He can't be a good teacher because he is such a f***ing IDIOT."

I'm SO glad to hear you're not his student. Nobody should be his student. The only kind of student he should have is ex-students.

September 25, 2005 at 08:21 PM · 1) True musicians believe in the music and what you are trying to say. 'Nuff said.

2) If someone is actually looking, I think one's confidence and enjoyment in one's own playing will far outshine anyone's physical appearance on stage.

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