Performing as a non professional

July 27, 2019, 5:33 PM · Hello,
Recently I have decided that pursuing a career in music is not for me (as a violin/viola player). So I have changed my focus onto something I feel I would do better at.

My question is, can people have a performing schedule, if somewhat limited, around a normal sort of 9 - 5 job? I saw on wonderful David's feed about that doctor bloke who plays in places. But was wondering if it works around other professions as well?

Replies (42)

Edited: July 27, 2019, 5:52 PM · Well, play music pieces that you can master. You don't need to perform big works that are better performed by a virtuoso.

Learn something very well and play it for an audience.

July 28, 2019, 1:29 AM · What sort of performing are you interested in? I wouldn't call it a schedule but for several years I'd moonlight once or even twice each weekend as a "stiffener" for many amateur orchestras in London, usually accompanying a choir. It made me some pocket money and a lot of sight reading practice. You need good contacts (my then girlfriend was also a violinist with more professional ambitions) and these days and in other cities it may not be feasible since such amateur groups are on the decline. After a few years it got to feel like a treadmill and I let it run down
July 28, 2019, 7:17 AM · I'd go so far as to bet that part-time musicians outnumber full-time ones significantly, and one demonstrably need not be a virtuoso to get paid for it, sometimes quite decently. (The attached caveats here are probably obvious enough that I don't have to bang on about them.)
July 28, 2019, 7:25 AM · I don't have any interest in like concertos or anything. More recital type things in local churches etc.
July 28, 2019, 8:50 AM · You can set up whatever recitals you want to do and can afford as long as you can find a venue willing to host (there will probably be a rental fee), an accompanist (will definitely be a fee), and an audience--family and friends will most likely comprise the bulk of your audience. Of course you can put up bills, advertise on social media, etc., but that's unlikely to draw in very many people off the street.
Edited: July 28, 2019, 1:55 PM · Jake, you can find a portion of my performing schedule in my profile (click on my name).

I have a degree in computer science. I started my career in what today would be described as DevOps engineering, was promoted into middle management, and then became an IT industry analyst (somewhat akin to being a very expensive consultant and public speaker). I work from home, but travel frequently on business, and have a somewhat flexible schedule. I also have a family.

My schedule leaves me enough time to be the concertmaster of a community orchestra, play chamber music a few times a week (and take coaching and perform a few times a year), and play several recitals a year. I take private lessons as well as orchestral coaching. I can sometimes juggle my work hours to be able to rehearse with a pianist for an hour or two during the work day.

I live in a city that has a lot of free chamber music series. They are normally populated by pros, but there is a set that has admission through audition (and then from there organizers of other series have offered invites). The series pays for the venue and does the promotion, and the bigger venues draw 100+ attendees (I often play for an audience that has no friends/family at all). Recitals are usually shared with one or two other performers/groups. Audience members may ask me where/when else I am playing later in the season, and I see them in other venues so it is possible to build a following even if you are an amateur.

Basically, you need to play at a level that is high enough that people enjoy listening to you. I do not play virtuosic repertoire in recitals; I stick with things that I can play pretty well on not a lot of practice time. And I try to play things that casual listeners will like.

Also I do not play for money. There is generally a donation basket. Donations go to charity. A recital can raise hundreds of dollars. I have played in benefit recitals that have multiple performers that draw enough of an audience to raise thousands of dollars for a charity. Serving refreshments post-recital or at intermission helps.

Make friends with some excellent amateur pianists; you will both probably enjoy the collaboration. And get to know other players so you can play other chamber music.

July 28, 2019, 10:53 AM · Play weddings.
July 28, 2019, 2:03 PM · Weddings almost always require that you have some friends that you can play weddings with, and a varied group of friends because brides may want different combinations of instruments.

Weddings are also high-stress events, especially if you've got a "bridezilla" on your hands. Weddings are far more about your professionalism and personality than they are about what you play or how you play it. You have to market yourself to get wedding gigs.

Weddings are unlikely to be satisfying musical/artistic experiences (unless you're playing as a favor to a friend, and there's likely to be a couple of years in your life when it seems like all your friends are getting married). You are often playing hackneyed music in hackneyed arrangements, and subject to a lot of truncation to fit with the flow of the ceremony.

I get the occasional request to play a funeral, wake, or the like. These are ironically a lot less stressful occasions, I think; people are happy to have the music as background or during the service. Note that both weddings and graveside ceremonies are often outdoors, and therefore you need preparation to play outdoors -- a gigging violin with a CF bow, usually, and possibly amplification.

If you're a regular member of a church that still uses oldschool church music rather than contemporary rock ("praise band") there may sometimes be opportunities to play a prelude or offertory. You have to stick with suitable repertoire for that, too.

July 28, 2019, 2:17 PM · I don't really want to play weddings or funerals. Playing in a church that I have booked myself (with my job, I'll have enough disposable income to book a few a a year maybe). They'd mostly be solo as when I go to university I doubg there will be a decent student pianist to get together with and I'm not gonna book a random pianist. To me there needs to be chemistry and history between two people when playing together.
July 28, 2019, 2:22 PM · "I get the occasional request to play a funeral, wake, or the like."

Have you played solo Bach in such occasions?

July 28, 2019, 2:58 PM · "Decent" student pianists are very easy to find at many universities. As for developing a history with a collaborator, every well known pair had its first time together at some point.

A recital comprised of unaccompanied violin only is extraordinarily difficult to pull off, and has a limited repertoire. Bach, Paganini, Ysaye, mostly, and all of those are really really hard.

July 28, 2019, 3:02 PM · I am more a viola player than a violin player currently
July 28, 2019, 3:11 PM · So I have been looking into unaccompanied viola stuff as well
July 28, 2019, 3:56 PM · No. I generally say no to almost all paid gigs currently because my husband doesn't feel like the pay is worth an evening home alone with our preschooler.

(The joy of little kids: Last night, my little dude streaked the quartet reading that I was doing; we play in my basement, which is essentially a dedicated music-room.)

July 28, 2019, 6:13 PM · The unaccompanied viola repertoire is even more limiting than that for unaccompanied violin. In either case, the audience is also somewhat specialized.

I strongly suggest you keep an open mind regarding the availability of good pianists.

July 28, 2019, 6:52 PM · I'm not against it. Just not very hopeful for finding one
Edited: July 28, 2019, 8:13 PM · I know this isn't ideal, but how about playing pieces that, although they're supposed to have accompaniment, unaccompanied? I think some showpieces by Kreisler, Wieniawski and Sarasate sound pretty good without the piano part, for instance. Sonatas are not good for this, however.

And oh, how about playing for hospital patients, jails and similar? Music can also be a therapeutic tool for those who are sick. And senior centers might also be a good place as well.

Edited: July 28, 2019, 8:49 PM · I think there's a difference between playing concerts that "seem" professional (i.e. programs played by professionals in professional venues, attended by the general public) and playing in typical volunteer settings where there is no expectation of skill but where any music is considered a gift (church, hospitals, etc.)

When Jake talked about a "performance schedule" and referenced Mark Lupin, I pictured a typical concert calendar, rather than casual volunteering. Jake, which did you mean?

For casual volunteering, you should learn hymns, some show tunes, oldies, etc.

Senior centers / retirement communities seem to have gotten much more formal about their music programs than when I was a kid playing in nursing homes. At least in my area, many such places have an organized concert series, and you can't just show up and play unless it's in your grandma's room.

July 28, 2019, 10:24 PM · I was meaning a concert calendar, a number of performances in venues (not necessarilly churches)
Edited: July 28, 2019, 11:09 PM · There are two core things to think about if what you want is a concert calendar -- i.e. regular solo recital (accompanied by piano, for the most part) appearances.

The first is having the repertoire to play. If you don't have a good repertoire of recital works already, you have to learn new things for each season. This requires practice time; if you don't learn quickly or have a busy life, it can be challenging. It also requires guts; if you perform without learning things to the point where they are bulletproof, you need the performance experience and reactions to glide gracefully through any blips that occur.

The second is having the venues and the audience. If you're playing at a pro or near-pro level, you need to build the connections to get invitations to perform; alternatively, you join whatever amateur performing societies exist. Otherwise, you have to rent your own venues (or make connections to play in retirement homes, libraries, churches, etc.) and do your own concert promotion.

The pianist is a minor issue. It's more fun if you have a peer collaborator, like an amateur at a similiar level or a nonperforming pro (like a music educator). But you can certainly pay a professional pianist; you don't need much rehearsal time if you pay an excellent pro. If you're paying to rent a venue, self-promote, offer refreshments, etc., the pianist is a modest additional expense.

Frequency is a factor, too. If you want to be playing one recital per year, you're in a very different situation than if you wanted to have a performance opportunity every month or every other month.

Mark Lupin seems to play classic recital repertoire that I'm guessing he first learned in his teens. Other than his orchestral works, he seems to work with organizers in order to play a yearly benefit concert, plus he can readily afford to rent his own venues; the organizers do some marketing, and he seems also actively engaged in self-promotion (both for his violin-playing as well as his medical professional endeavors). He has an interesting life story, too, which helps with that.

Edited: July 29, 2019, 6:58 AM · Very often when people go to university they assume that everything they do and everyone they know will necessarily be affiliated with the university. Not so. There are likely going to be pro-level pianists in the town (unless it's truly tiny) who have both skill and repertoire and will accompany for recitals for an hourly fee. Often they are Suzuki teachers who would love to do something besides watch children play Clementi Sonatinas. With student accompanists, the trick is to find one you gel with who can make a commitment to a serious project like accompanying a recital because it's going to mean practice time in addition to what they're working on for their piano professor. That's why I suggest you look for a "townie." Just make sure you know how well they can play before you ask them. The piano professors at the university will know these people and can make recommendations.

Lydia mentioned local chamber and recital series in her area. Something to remember is that someone had to start those. Could be you! If you're going to do something like that, let me just say that all such things are easier up until you have children.

Part of the secret to maintaining music as a serious hobby on the side of a professional career in another field is to make music your only hobby. My other hobby is woodworking (furniture-making) and basically I have done very little of this since my kids were born. Well, I guess I did make their bedroom sets (beds, dressers, shelves) but now one of the sets needs some modification/rework, and I'm really struggling to find any time to do that between work, jazz gigs on the piano, practicing the violin, etc.

July 29, 2019, 8:56 AM · In my area, 19th century wives of wealthy men started chamber music societies, and as professional wealthy wife-ing started to diminish throughout the 20th century, retirees mostly run those societies. :-) (The biggest one manages an endowment and has a full-time director.)

There are also new ones spawned via Meet-Up. I met some people via ACMP, but ACMP locally is fairly dead compared to the thriving Meet-Up scene.

July 29, 2019, 11:24 AM · As I say, I'm not looking to do a music degree. The university I go to may not have a music programme. I know this won't mean that there won't be any musicians at the uni, however
July 29, 2019, 11:47 AM · What profession are you expecting to enter, Jake?
July 29, 2019, 11:48 AM · Medicine
July 29, 2019, 1:31 PM · Jake,

Finding a good pianist will be easier than you think. As it turns out, a lot of smart successful people are actually creative types that love music.
Now, will you find a perfect fit that's willing to do a recital with you and split the venue costs 50/50 and do rehearsals for free? Well that's pretty unlikely, but certainly it's not hard to find a good pianist as long as you're willing to pay them well.
For even more encouragement, adult-focused music studios in your area will have adult recitals on a periodic basis and will be able to refer you a good accompanist. Doing this is to your advantage for exactly the reason people have noted above: playing an entire solo violin/viola concert program is either dreadfully boring or bonkers difficult, with no in-between.

But it all depends on what you want. Are you looking for a small intimate performance with friends? A recital to raise money for your local church? Or are you just looking to give something back to local community?

July 29, 2019, 2:26 PM · Proceeds from any performance I do in any capacity will go to a charity of my and/or my accompanists choice
July 29, 2019, 2:47 PM · If you're going to go into medicine, you need to figure out how you're effectively going to manage a decade-long hiatus from violin-playing. Some people manage to study efficiently enough and are willing enough to give up a social life to be able to practice in their first and second years of medical school. During the third and fourth years of medical school, and your three to five years of residence, any "spare" time you have is generally spent dealing with severe sleep deprivation; nobody has time to practice. (Maybe you take an hour a month to do exercises to try to prevent your skills from completely deteriorating). If you do a fellowship after your residency (generally a year or two) you may also be extremely busy then.

Ten years from now, you'll be able to have a rethink as you get established professionally. Some specialties may offer you significant flexibility in your life and not too demanding of a schedule if you don't want to work constantly (like dermatology). Other specialties are unforgiving (like surgery).

I know superb violinists just a year or three older than you that have recently stopped playing as they've started their third year of medical school.

July 29, 2019, 2:51 PM · I am the sort of person who has a routine schedule everyday. Even if it is only 30 minutes per day of scales and tone production, I will factor it in somewhere
July 29, 2019, 3:32 PM · Jake,

When you say "Medicine" many of us assume that you mean Medical Doctor (MD) or equivalent (DO, et cetera); however there are many careers in medicine that are not MD's. Please clarify as that makes a huge difference.

There are MD's who play instruments and there is "The Doctor's Orchestra" in NYC.

July 29, 2019, 3:34 PM · I'm English living in a town about 30 miles outside of London currently. And yes. An MD to become a medical doctor
July 29, 2019, 10:50 PM · Ah, the English system of medical training is totally different, and then you have the NHS as your employer. I've read that the NHS basically works junior doctors like dogs, though.
July 30, 2019, 3:03 AM · I'm not too concerned about that. My current employer does that to an extent
July 30, 2019, 7:05 AM · I used to work as a clinical scientist in an NHS hospital. Some of my MD colleagues were pretty talented musicians, but they were so busy (even the consultants) it was a nightmare trying to get together with them to rehearse!
Edited: July 30, 2019, 10:47 AM · Either your schooling/career/life will allow you time to enjoy music and practice your violin, or it won't. You deal with it as it happens. There's no way to "prepare" for it because, what are you doing to do, practice 5-6 hours per day now to get ahead on your technique so you can take several years away from your instrument? That might be solid advice for an 11-year-old, but not for an adult.

"I am the sort of person who has a routine schedule everyday." Generally I find that people who are in positions of increasing authority, responsibility, and compensation for their work are likewise increasingly beholden to irregularities in their schedule. Medical doctors don't get to choose when their patients code.

It's vitally important that you choose a career in something like medicine because you honestly think (a) you're going to love that kind of work -- and keep loving it for at least 20 years, and (b) you're going to be good at it. Otherwise there is no point investing so much effort in the training. When I first went to college my plan was medical school but I realized in my second year that I probably couldn't meet either one of those criteria. That is when I switched to chemistry full-tilt.

Edited: July 30, 2019, 12:27 PM · In Bristol (England) we have an orchestra that was set up many years ago to accommodate the musical wishes of staff at a local hospital. They found that the best arrangement that would suit them was a Sunday evening rehearsal once a month. This was sufficient for them to be able to give an annual concert to Friends of the Hospital, together with their own friends and relatives.

The orchestra is very much in existence after all these years, operates a similar rehearsal schedule, gives its annual concert, and has changed its name from one including the name of the hospital to one reflecting a wider membership from the City and County of Bristol. Anyone who attends a rehearsal will soon become aware that the orchestra still has a significant proportion of medics, and that which everyone dreads - the call in the concert hall, "Is there a doctor in the house?" :)

July 30, 2019, 1:55 PM · I wonder whether this isn't really about performing per se but about keeping a central role for music in one's life and continuing to develop as a violinist/violist. And I think the way to do that is a) continue to practice and learn technique and repertoire and b) find musicians you want to play with. I think you really need both.

I would encourage Jake to begin the search for chamber music partners. This may or may not be possible in a small town or rural area but it is worth a try. There may be some skilled amateurs or part-time pros with time in their schedule who enjoy the challenge of quartets.

One way to meet chamber music partners is to play in whatever community orchestras are available; through that experience you meet musicians (and sometimes conductors) who can lead you to playing and performance opportunities.

Here in Philadelphia, there is a remarkable institution called the Orchestral Society of Philadelphia, which reads different music every week -- just for fun and challenge, never for performance. It's a great way to learn repertoire, sight-reading and orchestral technique, have fun and meet friends. I'd be surprised if London didn't have something similar.

July 30, 2019, 2:07 PM · There is an amateur orchestra in my town. I tried joining a couple of years ago, on violin, but they sent me away (my teacher at the time wasn't very good). I've been meaning to go back on the viola but haven't quite got there yet
Edited: July 30, 2019, 4:17 PM · An option not yet mentioned: House concerts. You have an ensemble, you rehearse a piece or two, maybe with a coach (highly recommended). Then one of you (who has a large living room) invites everybody with their friends and family to a party where you play your program, followed by drinks and food. You get a benevolent audience and an intimate setting (which is ideal for chamber music, especially for small ensembles like string trios or duos). And it is low cost.

I have participated in quite a few parties like this. My brother and his wife organized house concerts regularly for a few years. I remember one we did back in my student years where we played Beethoven's op. 25 serenade (for flute, violin, viola) and Max Reger's serenade op. 77a. This adds up to about 50 minutes; I would not recommend to program for more time than that; even half an hour will satisfy such an audience, especially if the wine is good afterwards.

BTW: Such an event could also be a "dress rehearsal" for a "real" recital in a formal setting.

July 30, 2019, 7:10 PM · @Albrecht, thats what I was thinking while reading your comment
July 30, 2019, 9:53 PM · Groupmuse is designed to facilitate organizing house concerts, and is aimed at people who would like to get paid for them.
July 30, 2019, 11:25 PM · There will be oppurtunities (probably) while at university (with student orchestras) etc even if they don't have a music degree on offer. However, I may only do it to find some partners or something (quartet, pianist) and then leave and focus on the chamber music/sonatas


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