Career options as a classical musician
As I'm getting to that age where I need to start to consider future tertiary options, I am unsure whether or not to go to a conservatory or not to further refine my musicianship.
I'm obviously not going to get a soloist career, seeing as I started violin aged 10 (I'm 16 now), and my technique is no where near as good as I want it to be. (I've just started to play the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso and the whole Bach G minor sonata, and other recently played works would be the Mendelssohn (whole), Beethoven Spring Sonata (whole) and Tambourin Chinois.
So, is it really worth it attending a conservatory to become a better violinist? What options would be viable as I would never be able to get entry into top tier schools, such as Julliard, Curtis, NEC, University of Music in Vienna, Colburn etc... I absolutely love playing the violin, but considering my options, I don't think it's worth studying further?
And, even if I did go to a conservatory graduating with a performance degree, what career options would I have? I feel like it's quite limited and I can't think of any performance careers other than playing in an orchestra.
I would like to be in a professional string quartet/piano trio, but I'm unsure this is possible either. Other ideas include: cruise ship musician, violin teacher, musicologist or music historian (I also have a huge interest in studying great composers and their lives, and I would love to go through and analyse old scores, or artefacts. I don't know anything about this career option and what level of musicianship or the requirements are, but if anyone has any information, feel free to let me know.)
Thank you for taking your time to read my thread.
Getting anything full time in music is tough but don't quit now if you love it. You're only 16, and your list of pieces is impressive. You can always double major. One thing schools do seem to have money for is a good student who also excels at an instrument. Several of my students have gotten decent scholarships to study in college with no intention of being professional violinists.
"...musicologist or music historian (I also have a huge interest in studying great composers and their lives, and I would love to go through and analyse old scores, or artefacts..."
What are your other interests/hobbies? Most professionals do a combined career with orchestra playing, chamber music, solos, gigs, and teaching. You can always study further with a great teacher, and play in ensembles for pleasure. Some professionals might be in so-called chamber music clubs, where they're in a large group of musicians interested in performing chamber music, and they earn some money performing concerts. They play works with various instrumentations.
You can also get a performance degree from a university and that will give you some credentials for expanded opportunities especially if you go on for a more advanced degree. Even if you stay in the music profession this will give you some of what you need for teaching at the college or university level. I know several fine musicians who have gone that route and done very well teaching at the public community college level - and continued to compose and perform solos, chamber music and with professional "regional" symphony orchestras.* (P.S. They seem to be able to "retire" at about age 60 and continue on in music as teachers, emeritus instructors as well as performers.)
We could learn something from our colleagues over in the Theater department. Acting students know, even better than musicians, that their chances of becoming full-time pro. actors are slim. So most of them also learn an ancillary craft; stage crew, carpentry, costuming, sound and lighting tech., business, etc. and it is those other skills that frequently become the day-job that pays the rent.
One career option that I think is overlooked is to join the military and be in one of the orchestras. The Marine Corps Band in particular has a very good string section. It is probably pretty competitive, but it pays well, gets a pension, and not "military" in the traditional sense. Check out their website for audition info and requirements to get a feel for what they have to offer. Browse through the biographies and you'll see a lot of bachelors and masters in music from good schools.
At this stage I think it all depends on how well you're playing these pieces. If they're well within your technical range (i.e. You can learn each in piece/mvt in a month or so of steady practice) then I certainly wouldn't write off an orchestral career. Probably not in the NY Phil but if you went to a really good teacher and worked hard for the next 6-8 years you could audition for pro orchestras, particularly if you went abroad. Depending on where you're located you could also potentially make a living as a freelancer, playing weddings and other gigs, and teaching. If you really love the violin I wouldn't write off a career just yet - keep playing and see how it goes.
The military string ensembles are great but they are exactly as competitive to get into as any other professional orchestra paying a comparable salary.
I live in the DC area. The military orchestras attached to this area are basically like any other full-time professional symphony, in terms of the caliber of player they attract. Many of the players in those orchestras also freelance and teach in this area, and the some of them are principals in the local freeway philharmonics, which gives you a good idea of how they compare to other pros.
In my conversations with local pros pros over the past few years, I've discovered that a not-insignificant number have day jobs. (This obviously excludes people who have full-time orchestra positions.)
Sorry to get back to you all so late! I'm so glad people have commented on my thread.
If anything, I think it is harder to make a fulltime living as a professional chamber musician than it is to land a gig in a fulltime orchestra. The path to such a career resembles the soloist track more than the orchestral track in that it requires winning competitions. Most groups that "make it" also have residencies at universities so there is significant teaching involved.
Is it me--or do there seem to be a bazillion touring string quartets out there?
A lot of the young groups seem to be the graduate quartet-in-residence somewhere. So they are still students. And maybe if they're lucky, they'll move on to be the faculty quartet-in-residence somewhere. Even if they don't, their primary income likely comes from teaching.
No, I'm talking about fully-professional touring groups, not grad students.
I just got curious enough to go look at the quartet bios for the season's line-up at my city's major performance venues. It looks like the quartets that are not already well-established (i.e., not the Takacs or the like) are all ensembles-in-residence somewhere, most frequently a university.
Ensemble-in-Residence is not the same as a graduate quartet. Students on graduate assistantships don't go out and tour at major venues. I'm talking about groups that have graduated, won big competitions, and are now faculty. And there seem to be a lot of them.
Right. That was the second part of my earlier post: "And maybe if they're lucky, they'll move on to be the faculty quartet-in-residence somewhere."
Quartets have to do a lot to survive these days.
"You are a good musician. Unfortunately, there are a lot of good musicians in the world"
There are lot's of theaters who needs life music for every night performances and shows. And circuses as well :-)
Broadway shows pay good money, but those positions are exceptionally rare, very difficult to get, and have their own drawbacks (like playing the same show every day for years).
"There are lot's of theaters who needs life music for every night performances and shows. And circuses as well :-) "
Well, Cirque du Soleil and Cirque Dreams generally employ a live violinist for each show. ;-)
Where is this Shangri-La where every theater has live music?
K Ch, you are grotesquely overestimating the opportunity, both in terms of number of people employed and what it pays. ("Shapito" is not an English word, by the way, and a definition does not seem to be Googleable at all.)
Now I understand the arc of my life:
touring broadway shows often hire local musicians, but that might be one or two violinists for a musical, and tend to be the same few people all the time - not a large source of jobs, and not lasting more than a couple weeks for each show. In the US, most ballet companies can't afford orchestras and use pre-recorded music.
I once had a room-mate who played tuba in the clown band on tour with Ice Capades. My day job for 30 years was: research or clinical lab-tech; histology, immunology, electron microscope... jq
Back in my day (maybe today even) colleges and music schools would lay out the options as Soloist (everybody encouraged to aim for this ideal image), chamber, orchestra and teaching - that was all your career choices. A fellow violinist at Guildhall in London was very good at playing Irish music (an already working). He was asked, "How seriously do you take the violin". He was later thrown off the course - partly, he thought, because of him playing Irish music. I heard of lots of stories like this back in the 80's and also stories of the 60's and 70's when it was much more extreme - apparently, a clarinet player could get thrown out for playing saxophone. At one of the London colleges I auditioned for I expressed I had an interest in jazz and was told, "Oh, don't say that here!"
Question is, how many of those folks playing little local band gigs manage to make a living from it? As far as I can tell, it just adds to the possibilities for your patchwork of gigs to make a living as a freelancer.
Lydia, I agree with you. It's not a career for the feint hearted.
It's not a path anyone necessarily recommends for music, but I went to a liberal arts college and had a number of friends doing music or music-y stuff. One is now a music librarian, one is a music prof at another liberal arts college, some did the law school/something with computers/education/social work/etc. People here could probably give you a few liberal arts colleges with good violinists in your chosen geographic area. I have also met some folk who did liberal arts and then conservatory for masters/doctoral work.
Wow, I just read all these comments. Interesting to hear the very contrasting views on the circus type career. Quite interested in the music library pathway possibly?
And also, not to be rude, but what does everyone here do as a living?
Classical music is mostly dead, and the dearth of professional opportunities corresponds to the lack of interest in the audience for paying enough for it to cover the gleam of the expected surroundings and lifestyle. Go into it if you will not to earn a living, but to make it live.
With respect to K Ch, I can't believe it's harder for a violinist to change specialisation than it is for a scientist.
What K Ch doesn't see, I suspect, is that most of those gigs that they're talking about are taken by the
Become a cruise-ship entertainer. I saw Katei on a recent cruise from Skagway to Vancouver and he was awesome. Fantastic chops and a very athletic stage presence. https://kateiviolin.com/ Okay maybe the cruise ship circuit doesn't need two of these, but it gives you an idea for the scope of your opportunity if you're willing to be flexible about where you live and what you play.
"Classical music is mostly dead, and the dearth of professional opportunities corresponds to the lack of interest in the audience for paying enough for it to cover the gleam of the expected surroundings and lifestyle. Go into it if you will not to earn a living, but to make it live."
Classical music isn't dead, and it is possible to make a living in it if you are a good player with a serious work ethic, excellent people skills, and a little bit of luck. It is pretty much not possible to make a million dollars unless you are Joshua Bell, Yo-Yo Ma, or of similar stature. And for those who aren't so fortunate as to land a full-time orchestra job, the long-term feasibility of piecing together a living out of students, freeway philharmonics, and weddings, is questionable. That sort of life can get exhausting pretty quickly. It works much better if one is married to someone who has a decent job with benefits.
Just came home from a fine string quartet concert by the Vertavo Quartet of Norway. Total commitment from the players (who travelled a long way to be in Adderbury UK), great enthusiasm from the audience. Unfortunately there were less than 100 of us in a church that holds at least 3 times that number. Conclusion: not a great choice of career for an aspiring young player
My good friend, who had a 30 year pro career as a violinist, did it by combining various income streams. She played with a good quartet that got gigs; she subbed at the Chicago Symphony and played in the pit of many touring musicals that came to Chicago;she taught at Oberlin as an adjunct. It all combined to keep her happy and playing, and making a living, at least until the bottom dropped out after the financial crisis hit, when chamber music subscriptions disappeared. By the time the smoke had cleared, it was too late--she had a "real" job and the people getting the gigs were the new kids just out of school. She has come to terms with this and seems happy in her new career.
Consider a school like Indiana University. Excellent, top tier music program with a ton of opportunities, but also a good all around undergraduate education. Double major in violin performance and something else more "useful" that you enjoy (psychology? music education? music administration?). This would cover all your bases. :-)
Looks like most of the comments you are getting are from folks involved as professional muscians and seem quite well-infomred. Let me comment as someone 50 years removed from where you are after having a similar life choice. Back then I was a trumpet player, only recently trying to re-invent myself as a violist. I strongly considered a musical career but ended up a physician. I had 3 close friends in high school who pursued music. Today one is a Fire Chief, another a Police Chief, and the other makes his living teaching elementary band and running rental property. A couple I met later are graduates of Indiana in music--masters and doctorate level. They worked in regional orchestras, including in Mexico and finally landed jobs in military bands (trumpet, clarinet). My friend a cellist with a degree from a respected university works as a church choir director and teaches. All of these folks have at times supplemented income with teaching. Me, as a hobbyist musician, have been able to enjoy myself in regional symphony, brass quintet, jazz band, church groups. In some respects, as probably an intermediate musician compared to most here, I might have enjoyed it more over the long term without a lot of the stress of working the mulitple income streams as someone aptly described.
Note that putting together a patchwork of gigs and teaching has serious financial implications even if you make a good living because of the difficulty of getting a mortgage or any other kind of loan that requires you to prove an income stream. You are considered self-employed.
"Note that putting together a patchwork of gigs and teaching has serious financial implications even if you make a good living because of the difficulty of getting a mortgage or any other kind of loan that requires you to prove an income stream. You are considered self-employed."
And don't forget to document EVERY expense. They're all deductible, to the last penny.
So the takeaway is...
Nah. You can do it in a night if you use Turbo Tax. Just have a box handy on a bookshelf somewhere and get in the habit of throwing everything tax related (receipts, logs etc) in there. The software transfers last year's returns automatically and all you have to do is update the numbers.
By itself a BA or BM music major is of little economic value, but not the absolute bottom of the list. At least you have a skill. Some undergraduate majors, I won't name them, teach zero real job skills. If the minor or general ed. courses are carefully selected it is possible to switch departments for grad. school (law, business..) I knew a doctor with the BA degree in music from Oberlin, with enough of the pre-med science courses to get into med school. What is really needed, in my opinion, is the minor in music performance, which would include studio lessons. None of the UC or CSU schools do that.
About "double majoring," that's fine if the second major is purely theoretical such as psychology or economics. It won't work if it's a lab major like chemistry, or anything known to have very time-consuming projects, such as computer science.
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