Musical regrets

September 12, 2019, 9:17 PM · Hello,
I've been thinking a lot recently about my musical regrets. Mine are that I wish I had attended a conservatoire junior department (pre-college) or gone to a specialist music school. Practised scales and technical things earlier on that I have.

What are yours?

Replies (38)

Edited: September 12, 2019, 9:32 PM · I wish I would have recognized at a young age that my violin teacher was pretty much just mailing it in. But how could I? My parents and I -- we were all just clueless.
September 12, 2019, 9:44 PM · My regret is going into music. My college teachers mislead me into thinking I could be a great violinist, but it was lies to fill their studios. If I could go back I’d go into medicine where I know I’d get a well-paying job.
September 12, 2019, 11:05 PM · Marty, I know one violinist who transitioned from orchestra teacher to medical doctor beginning in her early 30s, a couple of violinists who became registered nurses, another violinist who is becoming a radiology technician (these were all excellent musicians btw), and someone who moved from a business career to being a medical doctor beginning in her mid-30s with the science pre-reqs and then started medical school at 40. It's never too late.

I wish I had practiced more and better beginning at an earlier age but I am quite satisfied with my life now, so perhaps "regrets" is too strong a word.

September 12, 2019, 11:16 PM · It's fairly common to switch careers these days.

I know someone who majored in cello performance, lived the regional orchestra and freeway philharmonic life for a few years, then went to law school, practiced law for a decade, and then went to medical school. He now practices medicine and is principal cellist in a community orchestra on the East Coast.

I'm already on my third career (now a lawyer), and I'm still only 36.

Edited: September 12, 2019, 11:21 PM · My musical regret was not realizing earlier in my life that there were teachers who accepted late starters. I gave up looking for a teacher after being rejected several times as a teenager because I was supposedly too old to start, not realizing that my parents had only been asking teachers who consistently had students winning competitions and getting into conservatories. I then self-taught until age 33, thinking that I didn't have any other option. Given how far I got by self-teaching in spite of having some bad habits that needed correcting, I can only wonder where I'd be if I'd looked elsewhere for a teacher and taken lessons from the beginning.
Edited: September 18, 2019, 11:31 PM · No Regrets. I was almost good enough. I have always thought that I could play 2nd violin or viola in a fully professional orchestra, but not good enough to win the audition on those really hard first violin parts. My first private teacher, during Jr. Sr. High School, over-estimated my potential. I did eventually find my niche in a non-classical genre that paid better than what my classical colleagues were getting. Then I started a non-music job skill at age 28. It paid the rent, medical insurance, retirement account, little things like that. Many years later I felt much better when I read that Half of the Julliard graduates eventually leave the music business.
Correction- maybe one real regret-. I wish had started my voice lessons at twenty-something instead of 60.
Never too late?-- Albert Schweitzer had 3 earned doctorate degrees; theology, music, medicine.
September 13, 2019, 2:46 AM · Lots.....
I wish I'd continued lessons when I had finished at university (I did eventually, but many years later)
I wish I'd spent more time playing 2nd violin rather than first
I wish I'd taken up viola
I wish I'd spent more time on music and less on other distractions
I wish I'd spent more money on better instruments, bows and experimenting with strings etc.

But I'm not complaining. I've had lots of fun, stimulation, friendship, satisfaction etc through what I have been able to do playing, listening and reading/studying in between some very demanding daytime jobs.

September 13, 2019, 8:54 AM · Often, having regrets is futile. Only when circumstances actively prevented you from achieving your goals, you may regret that, but even then that does not help much. But regrets of the form "I wish I had done X, I had the opportunity, but still I didn't do it" simply means that it was not in you at the time. Accept it.
September 13, 2019, 8:56 AM · No need to be rude thanks
September 13, 2019, 9:32 AM · I have a couple ones that really hit me in the gut, but none that I'm willing to share here. One that I am willing to share is that I wish I had established a better technical and practice foundation early on. I was simply not given the tools or guidance for it, so I didn't know better (and neither did my parents, nor were they able with their work schedules if they did). It's okay, I'm making up for that lost time now.
Edited: September 13, 2019, 9:50 AM · Jean might have been slightly terse but I didn't find his/her comments rude. I was kind of thinking the same thing and it was hard to come up with something that I regretted about my musical life. Maybe it's a personality thing, and I do have personal regrets, but not all that many, because, as Jean says, I just don't find it helpful or productive. The few things I've actually regretted about my past are things I've tried to learn from and overcome, generally successfully. So one advantage of not having myriad micro-regrets is that I can focus on the big ones and thereby avoid repeating them. Regret by itself is not a particularly adaptive response.
September 13, 2019, 10:31 AM · Jean's response was neither terse nor rude. It was good advice from a mature person.
September 13, 2019, 10:43 AM · +1 to Scott.
Edited: September 13, 2019, 11:04 AM · My musical wish, not regret, is that I realized earlier in my life that I should learn to play the violin rather than the guitar. My mom even suggested that I learn the violin, but I couldn't care less for it at the time.
September 13, 2019, 11:14 AM · I owe my ability to play the violin (such as it is) to my second teacher. I wished I had a better first teacher.
Edited: September 13, 2019, 12:28 PM · I, like probably many others, regret that I was not born as talented as Oistrakh. I do regret that I was only able to study for one year with Rene Benedetti, instead of three, which would have probably made me a quite good amateur. But, I have had fun as the amateur I am and have no real regrets.
Edited: September 13, 2019, 1:01 PM · As a young child, I told myself I hated music because I thought playing and instrument was just what my dad does on the piano. I had a good ear for it and actually loved to listen to music, but I suppressed it. I was terribly shy, too, which didn't help at all. I imagine that, if I'd let myself try music sooner, I would be much more advanced today.

Oh well.

Edited: September 13, 2019, 1:07 PM · I took lessons at 9 years old so I could get out of class twice a week. Subsequently, I was awful and within a year I quit. I didn't touch a violin for the next 58 years, and now I love playing. Yes, in recitals I'm the tallest by a foot or two, and the oldest by several decades, but so what? I'm having a great time. If I'd stuck with it, I probably would have ended up in the junior high and high school orchestras. Perhaps I would have played in college, and who knows what after that? But why go there? It's a waste of time. I look at it this way - if I hadn't quit I may never have experienced learning the guitar, mandolin, and lute. I spent years acting and directing plays and I loved that. I wrote a couple of books. I spent 37 years teaching English and theater and loved it. I've been a photographer for over 40 years. Would I have met my wife if I continued playing at 9 years old? Would I have lived in Michigan, Vermont, Minnesota, and Oregon if I continued? Who knows? Forget regrets! Waste of time. Celebrate what you have.
Edited: September 13, 2019, 3:36 PM · A friend in high school once tried to get me to try the cello. I played bass and it was completely foreign to me, so I did not, even though it was sitting there for free. I regret disappointing her AND having not taken the opportunity on an instrument that I picked up many years and many dollars later.
Getting over the Japanese stereotype (fear and machismo as a kid) and just playing violin a decade before I did.
Not getting an organ when I was taking lessons as a kid. The price tags scared me. The lessons were pretty awful only partly because I couldn’t practice the pedal parts.
September 13, 2019, 3:40 PM · Agree entirely with Jean.

I stopped for over 40 years - but have no regrets either. At least with my life's occupations (I have a few personal ones, I wish I didn't but I can't walk the walk there).

The way it went I am now comfortable, I have an outstanding instrument, can afford lessons and solo performance at summer festivals, play in a reasonably good community orchestra. What's to regret? That I'll never play the Beethoven concerto with the LSO?? But if I did would I not regret that I did not follow my #1 talent and establish a very respected career?

Even if not pointless, regrets are almost always soul-destroying. IMO if you regret something you should try to embrace it anyway as your own decision and your own life (advice I have to take too).

September 13, 2019, 3:51 PM · “What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.”

From “Burnt Norton” TS Elliot, Four Quartets

September 13, 2019, 5:06 PM · One regret that I do not have is NOT becoming a professional performing musician. I was a music recording engineer and worked with professional musicians at the highest levels in classical, jazz, rock, house, gospel, and others. At DePaul, I was always around professionals and performance majors.
Like Elise, I stopped playing for about twenty years BECAUSE of the pressures and the subjective and judgmental nature of the profession, both from within and from others.
It wasn’t until my wife got me back into playing viola in a community orchestra that I learned to have a triathlon attitude in music and enjoy it again. By that I mean, my criteria is ‘can I play musically with others, am I improving, am I enjoying musical discovery and exploration of new works and experiences?’ That is the attitude that I hope will carry my musical life into the second half of my time here.
September 13, 2019, 5:50 PM · I regret having stopped playing not once but TWICE. I also wish that I had been taught to really practice analytically at a much younger age.

Still, I'm solidly content with my musical life now, even though I wish I were playing at the higher technical level of my childhood. I have a terrific non-music job, own a truly fabulous soloist-grade violin and bow, am the concertmaster of a decent community orchestra that gives me essentially a yearly chance to perform a concerto with orchestra, play plenty of chamber music for fun as well as in front of reasonable-sized audiences, and get to perform solo works on a regular basis in nice venues with good audiences. Plenty of professionals can't say the same.

September 14, 2019, 6:26 AM · Charles - thanks for that. Perfect.
September 14, 2019, 6:44 AM · The grass on the other side. . .
I've seen both sides, after I moved from full-time music into I.T.
in ALL jobs, there are times when you have the routine dross to get through. In music, it's not all about playing great symphonies under great conductors - there's the cold, miserable Thursday afternoon playing absolute rubbish to justify the grant.
One of my hobbies is photography. Take a beautiful bride and happy family - anyone can get good photos. The skill comes with the " bride of Dracula" somewhere awful, and getting good results.
In I.T., there were many times I was doing routine stuff -zero creativity. But it had to be 100% correct.
To sum up, NO job is as glamorous as you think it is going to be.
September 14, 2019, 8:23 AM · Frieda, I agree with the rhythm thing. I am paying for it now
September 14, 2019, 8:29 AM · "Only when circumstances actively prevented you from achieving your goals, you may regret that"

Jean's comments there don't make much sense to me. Why would I regret something entirely outside my control? That's inventing a definition of 'regret' which doesn't make sense, apparently in order to present an opinion that one should have no regrets (as much as possible), which also doesn't make much sense.

It's much more reasonable to think that one should recognize and regret entirely what one has done wrongly, especially in order to avoid that same failure in the future. It does not mean that one entirely dwells on the regret and does nothing about it, but having no regrets implies some sort of mistaken belief in perfection or fatalistic futility.

"I had the opportunity, but still I didn't do it" simply means that it was not in you at the time. Accept it."

That can be read as curt and rude - it wasn't in you, therefore you were incapable, so deal with it. I don't find it to be helpful.

Perhaps Jean would like to correct my understanding, to which I say in advance, I would then regret the mistakes I'm making now.

September 14, 2019, 9:27 AM · "Celebrate what you have."

And what you have done, and what you can still do.

September 14, 2019, 9:35 AM · Mr. Wizard to Tooter Turtle after every misadventure, (read with 1960’s cartoon Einstein accent) “Always remember Tooter, be what you is and not what you is not, because people that is is the happiest lot.” [I hope that was close, memory does not always serve.]
September 14, 2019, 11:07 AM · it Is proof of their resilience that regrets occur and have power over us despite their futility and seeming irrationality.
Edited: September 15, 2019, 6:35 PM · I regret that I didn't know that one can drop violin for many years, at a have-fun-playing-chamber-music level, and pick it up again and still, after some months of work, play at a have-fun-playing-chamber-music level again. I stopped from age 18 until age 58. I would have picked it up far earlier if I had known how much is preserved. I thought it would be like starting over. I only restarted out of neceesity of a sort, a somewhat desprate attempt to keep my recently widowed grieving father occupied playing duets. Sometimes writing or telling others ones regrets may, hopefully, be helpful to others who may chose to take ones own road not taken.
September 16, 2019, 10:44 AM · Sometimes I think about what would have happened had I gotten to study with my current teacher starting as a child, which was an option that could have happened, and then I think about how immature I was and how I'm not sure if I would have been ready to do the work with any teacher. It's best to just do what you can with the situation in front of you. I don't know about your particular situation, but a specialist music school is probably still available to you in the future as long as you practice and bring money.

And then what if I had become a pro musician and had been miserable, playing a bunch of gigs I didn't want to in order to survive and feeling underappreciated and out-competed, instead of being able to play as a hobby and choose carefully what I want to do? Not everyone can be a top tier soloist, or even play in an orchestra with a salary to support yourself on. And even then, how many top tier soloists have been just miserable people despite having careers that many envied? Wherever you go, there you are.

Edited: September 17, 2019, 4:58 PM · I long ago adopted a philosophy of "no regrets". I refuse to play the game of "ifida": ifida done this, ifida not done that... My life could possibly have been better, but it could also have been a whole lot worse. I've decided to be happy where I am, and to be careful to stay in a happy place. I often say that I've spent my entire life avoiding success - and my tongue is only partly in my cheek when I say it.

I see my 25-year musical hiatus as something that just happened; I was doing all sorts of other good things at the time, and when I finally came back the music was still there.

One thing I've never considered is taking up music as a profession. I don't even want to think about the tradeoffs I'd have to make for that. I get all I need from playing in an amateur orchestra and going to bluegrass jams. I certainly appreciate what the pros do, but I'm content to be a competent amateur.

To quote Bach: Ich habe genug.

September 17, 2019, 5:42 PM · easy to dismiss regrets unless tied to shame, that’s a whole new round of therapy
September 17, 2019, 5:44 PM · Well said Edward. But even when I've blown it and embarrassed myself and perhaps my teacher, I still don't have regrets in the long term.

Now I do regret asking my old friend when the baby was due - when she wasn't pregnant...

September 18, 2019, 8:20 AM · I do regret changing my second (or third) instrument from piano to organ at age 11, against the advice of the school's head of music (E T Chapman). My co-ordination is not good enough to really play the organ (D minor Tocatta doesn't require much co-ordination, but you start paying when it gets to the fugue, and as for the St Anne's, I never managed the last two pages. My favourite two Brahms Chorale Preludes remain out of my grasp). It would have been far preferable to become a better pianist (though nowhere near the standard of two or three of the other pianists in the school) and possibly take up the organ at 15 or 16. Also I came to appreciate the expressive capabilities of the piano compared with the organ far too late.
I also slightly regret not having had a go at the cello, as my inability to turn my left wrist far enough puts anything more technically difficult than the Beethoven Violin Concerto out of my reach.
Edited: September 18, 2019, 10:39 PM · I wish I had discovered a love for playing the violin (as opposed to love of music itself) earlier in life. I have learned the hard way that nothing can replace the hours of work you need to build a technical foundation.

But who knows how things would've turned out if things had gone another way? I might've lost interest, been injured, etc. Doing things differently may not necessarily have improved my chances at success and happiness in the long run.

September 19, 2019, 3:33 AM · @Gemma I feel you so hard on that to ge honest

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