My future in music

August 25, 2019, 11:37 PM · Hi, everyone!

I know this is very similar to another recent discussion, but here goes.

I’m a freshman in high school, and I play both violin and piano. My more serious instrument is definitely violin, and I really love playing music. I started playing when I was five and changed to my current professor when I was ten. When I started with him, he gave me Tempo di Minuetto, where I began my journey of the "Solos for Young Violinists" book series. Some of my more recent pieces are the Bach Partita No. 3, Bruch Concerto No. 1, Mozart Concerto No. 4, Grieg Sonata No. 3 (1st mvmt), and Zigeunerweisen. As bad as it may sound, I only very recently realized how much I actually love playing music. I attended the HeifetzPEG program this year, and it has shown me how much I have yet to learn but also how much I can achieve if I’d practice. Sounds cliche and probably like something that would wear off in a few weeks, but it has truly changed how I practice and how I feel about the violin. Anyway, enough of my life story,

Don’t worry, I’m not going to use your answers to determine my career path! I’m just a bit curious about what you guys think. I’m by no means exceptional with my repertoire or interpretations, but I definitely want to see how I can keep music as a part of my life.

Replies (16)

August 26, 2019, 12:48 AM · Post a link to a youtube video, just you playing at home and the piece doesnt have to be concert-finished either, just describe how long have you practised on it.

August 26, 2019, 8:08 AM · If you're a freshman in high school, and you've done ALL MOVEMENTS from Bach Partita No. 3, Bruch Concerto No. 1, Mozart Concerto No. 4, as well as the Zig, and these have been played to a highly polished performance standard, then my sense is that you could be competitive. But it really REALLY depends how well you've played those pieces. My strong suggestion to ANY high school freshman is: Maintain your academics and have a Plan B. If you're going to go for conservatory admission, then you need a professor who has prepared students for that before (with demonstrated success placing them).

Sounds like you got your (parents') money's worth out of the Heifetz program....

August 26, 2019, 12:25 PM · go to youtube and search for videos of kids in prep divisions of any credible conservatory and see how you measure up. Very few of those kids are going to make it as professional violinists.
Edited: August 26, 2019, 1:17 PM · I would think deeply about what you are truly interested in. Is music the only thing you truly love or do you have some other interests/passions? The good news as far as going amateur is concerned is that there are lots of opportunities to get together with other like-minded people; you could join a local amateur orchestra or play chamber music with friends or do a bit of local performing. I would keep all your options open and weigh everything out. Right now you have plenty of time to decide, and you can even take gap years after high school if you need it. I would focus on doing your best in school and maintain good grades. There are plenty of different kinds of post-secondary institutions, and university is not the only good option, though you must have a degree to get into certain careers. Bottom line: keep all your options open. And oh, by the way, you have a significantly better chance that the guy who recently started this kind of thread of getting into a decent music program, assuming you play your current repertoire well and make good progress in the next few years. Making it into HeifetzPEG is already a good sign.
August 26, 2019, 1:37 PM · Assuming you are playing your repertoire at a polished level, you're in the running. But so are many other students, more than openings exist for. A Plan B is always a good idea. And if your current teacher lacks experience in preparing students for conservatory admissions, you might also want to get some coaching from someone who is knowledgeable about current audition requirements and level.
August 26, 2019, 3:30 PM · Yolanda,

Paul's advice on having solid academics is the best advice for anyone. As Tom Friedman noted: the future belongs to self-motivated, self-starting life-long learners. As a High School freshman, you have a very long future to plan for and most people change plans multiple times.

As far as keeping music in your life, that is always possible. You might win some competitions, go to a conservatory and become a professional musician. (Not an easy life.) Or you may find something that really lights your inner-fire and pursue that as a career. You can play in the college orchestra, do a lot of community outreach performing (even while in High School), play in a community orchestra, teach children who might not ever get an opportunity to learn the violin, you might even build your own quartet, chamber orchestra, community orchestra, youth orchestra,... All while having another career that pays the bills.

In the meantime, live your life to the fullest. Explore, learn, read, dream,..

August 26, 2019, 4:44 PM · Hi, everyone! Thank you so much for the input.

I’m not sure if my teacher has had great success with preparing students for conservatory auditions as most of his students (other than me and one other girl) are college students. To be completely honest, I don’t think he really cares about how you play onstage. He assigns pieces and is very knowledgeable, but that’s about it.

I’ve learned the entire Bach Partita No. 3 and Mozart Concerto 4, but I haven’t played the second movement of Bruch. I started on Zigeunerweisen two weeks ago, but I’d be happy to send in a video of how it’s sounding currently. I played the first movement of Mozart last, so I'll probably post a video of me performing it in a studio class.

Academics are definitely one of my priorities. I come from a family that stresses academic proficiency (and they put pressure on me to certainly be more than just proficient).

I'll think more about it! Thanks once again for the responses!

August 26, 2019, 5:56 PM · Well, you are a lot closer to target than the other poster, but depending on your goals, you are still about ~2 years behind the kids who are applying to top programs. But you will likely be a strong candidate for the second tier schools. I'm assuming since you went to HeifetzPEG you play your pieces reasonably well.

In your shoes, you kind of need to make a decision. If you want to be competitive, you are going to have to work really hard starting right now. You may also need to switch teachers since it doesn't sound like yours is entirely meeting your needs. You need someone who can really set up a clear path for you, including lots of performing (and potentially competitions). You also will likely need to ease up on your piano playing -- it is simply not possible to manage a heavy academic HS load and two full-time serious instruments.

Just for reference, this is the general plan my son, who is the same age is on. Before college, he is expected to play all 6 Sonatas and Partitas (he's on 4/6), play all 24 Paganini Caprices (he's done 6/24), finish Kreutzer-Dont-Rode (he's a bit behind on this), complete most of the Group 1 concertos on the DeLay Concerto Sequence list (he's done 13 of them), and have several of the Group 2-3 ones under his belt. There's a bunch of other incidental stuff (show pieces, sonatas, etc.), but that is kind of the broad outline.

August 26, 2019, 7:03 PM · Now's a good time to spend time with professional musicians in your community and talk to them about what the life of a pro is like. It is not an easy life. Attend a high quality music camp that includes college-aged people who are starting to face the job market.

I decided to question a professional path(i.e. going to conservatory) when I met people at music camp who were graduating from Oberlin Conservatory, fine musicians, and they were going out on the trail to audition for their dream job -- which paid $13,000 a year.

And to win the audition they would have to beat out people from Juilliard or Peabody or New England. Tough, tough road - these were people who had already put in 12 years of really hard work and there was no clear payoff in sight.

I also got to know a violinist and violist who played in symphony orchestra of a medium sized city where I lived. They played 30 weeks and got paid around $380 a week (do the math), so they had to take on every conceivable odd job they could -- teaching lessons, weddings every non-orchestra Saturday, and non-musical work like helping out at the violin shop or doing fundraising paperwork for the symphony, or handyman work for neighbors -- anything. They were very emphatic that this was not a life they would have chosen if they could make the decision again.

My third important experience was getting to know my teacher, a Curtis graduate, a tremendously gifted violinist who had a somewhat credible career as a solo career but hovered -- never soared. He lived in kind of a drab apartment teaching lessons for $20 an hour (this was the 70s). It was also not an easy life.

My teacher said: People who become musicians do so because they have NOTHING ELSE they can do; there is no alternative. If you have other things you're interested in besides music, he said, that's a good thing, go explore them.

Looking back, I was a good player with a solid foundation but no prodigy. If I'd gone to conservatory I might have been able to eke out a living. But instead I went to college and got a career that paid well enough to support a family and give me financial security. I'm a vocational musician - I play at a relatively high level but I play for fun. And I have never regretted this.

Edited: August 27, 2019, 11:03 PM · What Thomas Boyer said. One of my piano teachers in high school was a man I really adored. I'm still in touch with him. He was such an intellectual. He seemed to know everything about art an literature. He was an amazing pianist. (Yes he had some shortcomings too.) But he made his living lugging around a Hammond B-3 organ and playing in country and western bands and his car was in such bad shape that sometimes I had to pick him up from his apartment, drive him to my house, have my lesson, and drive him home. That's when I *knew* it was totally hopeless for me to be a professional jazz (or anything) pianist. When you turn on the TV and there's a 6-year-old child playing flawlessly what you're aspiring to play on the violin at age 15, there's a valuable calibration point there.
August 28, 2019, 12:47 AM · I have generally studied with teachers who were making a good living in music.

My first Suzuki teacher was making a modest living with a full studio of beginning and intermediate students; she was married to a gentleman who had a well-paying professional job and her job was essentially pin money, as they used to call it.

My second Suzuki teacher had been a full-time LA studio musician and loved that career, which was apparently pretty prosperous. Her husband retired and they moved from LA, and she settled down to a busy teaching career supplemented by occasional gigs.

My primary teacher in high school was a full-time tenured conservatory prof. None of the professors at that college made great money, but I'm guessing he made decent enough money teaching a modest-sized studio plus two or three private students on the side.

My teacher in college was a violinist in the Philadelphia Orchestra, which pays decently. He had a handful of private students (including some as a university adjunct), but didn't gig.

My first teacher as an adult had a full-time principal 2nd position in an opera orchestra. She also taught as a college adjunct and had private students. I'm sure she had a busy life but wasn't working round the clock.

My current teacher has a college adjunct position plus carries an extremely heavy teaching load in addition to performing as a soloist. My coach for orchestra music is the concertmaster of a full-time core ROPA orchestra and the concertmaster of two more part-time orchestras; those orchestras are located in three different states and one of them requires commuting by airplane, plus he picks up other gigs.

My teachers have been what I would call the lucky ones. They make professional money that is reasonably predictable. The women have generally had husbands who make excellent livings, which undoubtedly was a help.

None of them were prodigies, and one didn't start taking lessons until they were in high school. But they also made their careers before things were as ultra-competitive as they are now.

August 28, 2019, 2:41 AM · You have a great future in music, Yolanda, if you just keep enjoying playing the violin with friends you will make and by yourself.
Edited: August 28, 2019, 3:15 AM · A child with impressive technical facilities for their age isn't necessarily on a trajectory towards a full time orchestral job. People develop at different times, they lose interest (especially kids who are pushed so hard) and orchestras look for different qualities.

The violinists in your local pro symphony, for the most part, are not the former 6-year-olds who could play Paganini, and may not have placed in any major competitions. They have simply displayed the right skills for the job & fit the specific preferences of that orchestra. I've seen it happen over and over again: being a golden child who's won XYZ doesn't mean you're right for every job that involves playing the violin.

OP should get in touch with the best possible teacher, and have a discussion with them about whether this would be a good decision for her.

August 28, 2019, 10:33 AM · George Wells gave good advice.

You have to think about what aspects of violin-playing you like. Do you love to practice? If so, is it steady progress and improvement that makes practicing great? Is it learning new pieces? Or is it just the methodical act of practicing, and you don't have to like the material you're practicing in order for it to feel rewarding?

Do you love playing mostly solo / solo-with-piano? Chamber music? Orchestra? What gives you the most satisfaction?

How much are you motivated by performing? Do you think you'd enjoy teaching? Would you enjoy a life in which you do almost no professional performing but spent your day in a public school teaching children's songs to elementary-school kids and maybe conducting a beginning string orchestra in arrangements of pop tunes?

How important is financial stability to you? How important is having a good income? How important is working a 9-5 sort of schedule, without a lot of unpredictability? Not having to work evenings? Not having to work weekends?

Being an amateur doesn't mean being unskilled. You can get access to great opportunities if you're an excellent player. You'd want to look for a college where you'd be able to take lessons from an excellent teacher, and keep practicing. (If you get good enough, you can also take some pro orchestra gigs, which will pay a whole lot better than nearly all part-time jobs.)

Post-college, join one or more community orchestras. Find some musical buddies and play chamber music. If you wanted to, you could basically spend every weekday evening in either orchestra rehearsal or chamber music. Many community orchestras these days sponsor regular chamber music concerts, which would be another outlet for chamber performing or doing works that are violin-with-piano. You may actually play and perform MORE as an amateur than you would as a professional unless you land a top-tier orchestra job.

September 12, 2019, 1:26 PM · I’m a bit late, but thank you all so much for your responses! I thoroughly enjoyed reading them, and they have all really made me think about what I truly want.
Edited: September 12, 2019, 1:55 PM · I just want to say, while Susan's son is doing extremely well, he's in an unusually competitive environment for his age. I know of more than a few students who were not at his level at his age--though they were certainly doing very well--who got into conservatory with a good teacher, worked extremely hard, and won a job. That is where I think you are. If what you want is to play in an orchestra, it's not necessarily out of your reach if you are willing to work very hard and get kicked in the stomach more than a few times en route to winning a position--auditions are brutal--and all the better if you're happy with a significant part of your income coming from private teaching and/or weddings.

Gemma is correct about the different trajectories. And some of the most impressive prodigies end up burning out and doing something else entirely as their training was focused on being a soloist and there isn't room for everyone there. Orchestral playing is something entirely different and demands a different skill set and personality than does being a soloist, and not everyone can make the adjustment, or wants to.

Editing to add that nobody in their right mind would have encouraged me on a professional track when I was 15 or 16 and yet here I am. In my case, I had absolutely the right teacher in undergrad and my learning curve over those four years was very fast and steep.


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