Keeping Up Music-making After High School
To those who you who started violin as a child and continued to pursue it as an amateur after high school, how exactly have you made music an important part of your life? Did you join any community orchestras? Did you find friends to play chamber music with? Did you take lessons after high school? What sort of solo/chamber performances/gigs have you done, and in what sort of venue? Please share your stories.
I played both piano and violin from a young age. I enjoyed piano more and found it more social and collaborative within the context of my skill levels. In college, I formed a jazz trio with a bassist (my own brother, a very solid player) and a trumpeter (who turned pro later and is now the leader of the US Army Jazz Ambassadors), and we played occasional gigs. And I played in the college jazz ensemble and carried a small scholarship for that. To make extra money, I served as a staff accompanist in the music department, where my assignments were mostly voice students (music-ed majors), work that paid twice the minimum wage and was very easy work since 18-year-old voice students are basically beginners, as their instrument does not mature much before then. I did not do much with music during graduate school (just a few gigs the whole time I was there), which I regret. After earning my PhD I moved to Evanston (Northwestern U) as a postdoc. There was a good music scene there and I was able to take lessons (from Jack Hubble) and rehearse with jazz singers and play some jazz-trio gigs. One of the singers told me right away that she just wanted me to rehearse her -- she had already a pianist for her performances who was too expensive to rehearse with. That was okay with me because I wanted to hone my jazz-singer accompanying skills (that's kind of a specialty, and I admire players like Paul Smith and Michael Kanan who are great at it). When I got my tenure-track job I again set music aside for quite a time -- also I regret doing that -- but about 10 years later we hired a new professor who is a good sax player and we formed a quintet, and we had a great monthly gig at a local restaurant for several years until the owner decided to jettison live music entirely. We made a CD back in 2012. But even with decline in the local live-music scene, I still have about as many jazz gigs as I can handle, because I pick up a fair number of private parties. Around 8 years ago I also returned to the violin (with lessons, which have now tapered off to once in three weeks) and I now play the viola in three local orchestras and I have performed a solo piece (Beethoven Op. 40) with one of the orchestras (the non-audition one), and I have done some chamber playing and made some forays into jazz violin as well, building up enough skill to have played about a dozen gigs so far.
If you pick the right college, it's actually pretty easy to keep up with your music in college -- you can take lessons, play in the campus orchestra, etc.
Ella, for me it was (1) having children who learned to play various instruments, which inspired me to pick up the violin again, initially to be able to play duets with them but eventually also just motivated to improve my own playing; (2) this site v.com which helped me tremendously, I am good at learning by myself, but at least you have to know what is there, for that v.com is invaluable; (3) joining a community orchestra. All the best to you.
By far the most satisfying thing you can do with your violin is to play chamber music with friends--or at any rate with people. There are resources that you may or may not have heard of:
I think what hopes for is chamber music with musically like-minded, similar-ability people who are friendly and good-natured. If they are friends, so much the better, but you will enjoy chamber music with well-matched folks more than friends who are less well-matched, in my opinion.
The short answer to your question is that I have considered myself a professional since age 19. I don't do unpaid gigs, not because of greed, but I discovered that as soon as I accepted a non-paid event someone would call me to do a paid gig at the same time slot.
Thank you all for the responses so far. They are very inspiring. It's a unique situation for everyone, but hey, at least I have some idea of what to do...
I kept up with lessons in college (in Philadelphia area, no less), and moved to Boston after that. No shortage of community/semi-pro orchestras there, and I found one of the better ones because of a colleague of my father who was a cellist. Stayed in that for longer than I like to think, and studied a few years with the guy who was persuaded to be the concertmaster in that time.
Freshman year of college I took lessons with my private teacher whenever I went home for a visit, after being rejected from a neighboring college's orchestra program. I practiced as much as I could whenever time allowed (at first it was 2-3x/week, then only 1/x week! It was best that I did not get into the orchestra - I had so much schoolwork I barely slept my freshman year.) Sophomore year I was at a different college and I was in a chamber group there but had fallen so far behind re: skillset (which, upon reflection, was never great to begin with) that it was not enjoyable for me or my group. I continued to struggle in my attempts to keep up any kind of practice schedule, but I was floundering. Two years after college graduation, I put my violin away "for good"; it was a painful experience. It took another 13 years before I was in a place in my life where 1. I could afford private lessons on a semi-regular basis that I knew I needed because, let's face it, I needed to start all over again, and 2. I had/have a bit more time and schedule stability to regularly practice (albeit at reduced time than what I need to be a better player).
I had joined my college orchestra as an undergrad freshman, non music major, found the evening rehearsals too draining, and didn't continue after the first semester. I'm not sure why anymore but also had one semester in the college choir. At the time, I preferred piano and took a few semesters of organ private lessons. (I tried to get into accompanying but actually had more of that while in high school.)
I have played more or less continuously since high school, although there have been years with more or less activity. But I can think of several life choices/experiences that made this the case, as well as things I might have done differently.
I think Katie B.'s recommendation about getting as good as you can before graduating high school is an excellent one. Unless you major in music, or don't have to hold a job as an adult, you're never going to have as much high quality time available to practice.
Yes, I definitely peaked in senior year of high school! :-) I am probably at 30% of that level now, sadly. Feeling dusty and rusty.
Thank you all. I will really try to make music a key part of my life in adulthood. At this point in time I don't really want to have kids so that will give me that extra time...
Having been firmly against having children earlier on, and being persuaded rather late in life to have one, I wouldn't necessarily make the assumption that you won't change your mind. I am now in my forties and wearily juggling a preschooler at a time when everyone else my age is empty nesting and has plenty of time to play chamber music. ;-)
Lydia writes: " I notice that many musicians that switch careers simply stop playing; they do not become amateurs."
Yes, adults are allowed (and encouraged!) to do things for fun and exploration.
Maybe it's an artifact of living in the suburbs instead of the city, but all adult leisure is of secondary importance to kids' activities. The best times at the pool are taken up by kids' swim teams, most teachers who could teach advanced students don't want adults as students (or will only teach them during times the kids are unavailable) etc. The messages in my environment suggest it's a guilty indulgence to want to do these things.
Ella, et al.,
I think that there's a distinct separation between adult leisure and children's resume-building extracurriculars. Which is weird because the whole reason that colleges seek students with with great extracurricular activities is to enrich the life of the campus, so they hope that the students will continue to do those things even once they've served their college-admissions purposes. (Though in the case of violinists and pianists, at least, many of them stop playing the instant they get that acceptance letter.)
The moment I started college, my parents started overtly pressuring me to quit all my extracurriculars -- it got to the point where I actually pretended I'd quit both music and soccer just to get them to stop calling me. They literally saw both piano lessons and soccer as being purely for college applications. They found out only when I graduated from college that I'd been on the soccer team for three years (missing one due to injury) and participated in almost every musical activity on campus (orchestra, concert band, glee club, chamber music program).
It's easier to keep up with music as an adult if you live in or near a larger city, preferably one with lots of people in STEM. Your chances of finding other musicians/ensembles, as well as teachers open to teaching adults, go up when there are more people.
Frieda's comment speaks strongly to one of the reasons I stopped playing. I went from being very active musically to moving cross-country. To another major city, but one where all of the community music was word-of-mouth. The orchestras, for instance, did not have a web presence. Finding them was nigh-impossible. I'd found one orchestra in the process of transitioning from being community to professional. So they went to a single audition date and I hadn't yet moved by the time of the audition, and missed it. I called a zillion teachers and the extent to which I found anyone willing to teach an advanced adult was limited to someone recommending a newly-graduated student of theirs who had no previous teaching experience. I just couldn't get hooked into the community and I had no motivation to practice and in short order had stopped playing entirely.
I've had similar challenges even having only lived in cities with active community music scenes.
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