Chances of making a living as a freelance violinist and violin teacher in Toronto
I graduated in Northwestern with a master in violin performance 12 years ago, then went back to my hometown in east Asia and worked as both a violin player and teacher. For playing, I was a tutti violin in the number 2 orchestra for the first four years, then I quit and went freelance, now I am the assistant 2nd principal of a smaller chamber orchestra. For teaching, because of the high demand of instrumental teachers, there is no problem in having enough students to provide a decent living, and I teach both group classes in schools and private students.
Unfortunately, because of political turmoil here recently, I find this place is no longer liveable for my family, therefore our family planned to move to Toronto, my wife’s hometown this or next year. So I am not sure if I can still do the same thing in Toronto. I expect a great income drop there, but not sure if I am able to kick off my career there since I have heard that parents expect instrumental teachers playing piano as well. Also, not sure if Asian male will be less desirable as an instrumental teacher. For playing career, Since I don’t have connections there, I will try to play in amateur orchestras first to make connections, but I am not so sure about the level of playing in freelance orchestras, wedding gigs, pop gigs, etc, is it comparable to big cities in US?
Disclaimer: I know nothing specific to Toronto.
I suggest that you look into obtaining the proper clearances for teaching underage children. I'm in the US and I believe Canada is similar in how they handle the requirements. Coming from another country may make it difficult or involve a waiting period.
I'm sure there's a great deal to consider here for you.
Take Mary Ellen's advice. Based on what I know from music friends who used to teach in Canada, and experience in the US:
In the U.S. there are no required "clearances" whatsoever to hang out a shingle and teach private lessons to underage children. I can't imagine Canada is any different.
Hi Jon - I live just outside Toronto and lived within it for ~20 years prior. I've been an amateur violinist for the past 10 years so althought I am local, I'm no expert on the professional scene.
Just a note on getting Suzuki training—it is time consuming and expensive, though definitely worth it IMO if you want to teach young children. You certainly don’t need it to fill a studio with middle and high school students, or from whatever age the strings program begins in the local schools.
Hi Jon. Disclaimer: This is a joke which is meant to be encouraging in this context. It's just a joke. I think I heard from a colleague who emigrated from Hong Kong to Toronto: "If you can't make it here, you can't make it anywhere."
I've don't know about any biases agains Asian male teachers, but...
I have not had this conversation with local teaching colleagues (predominantly female anyway) but have learned from meeting teachers at various Suzuki-related events that some have policies with varying degrees of strictness about not being alone with a child (not sure what age). Of course with Suzuki, a parent is supposed to be present, but this extended beyond even the "age (range) of independence" - in order to eliminate the chance of any remarks about impropriety because of the risk that any insinuation, grounded or not, would be career-ending, even life-as-you-know-it-ending. I don't mean to be alarmist, just pointing out the thought process.
Based on my own experiences in Toronto, I think too much is being made of being male or female, Asian or otherwise. I have had two male Asian violin teachers myself, and my son also has a male violin teacher. Both our teachers have several young female students, and teach some of them alone at night in relative isolation, and there is little to no concern about that, in view of the trust they've established, the personalities and manners they bring to their teaching, and because they're valued in this context for their love of music and ability to teach, not gender or heritage.
In any city where the driving times between locations are not entirely trivial, parents will almost certainly attend a child's lessons simply because there's nowhere else to go for an hour. Unless the teacher lives in a downtown area where there's a coffee shop or bookstore or the like down the block, the parent is pretty much stuck hanging out while they wait. That reduces some of the concern about leaving a child alone with a teacher, of whatever gender. I agree that parents tend to be more paranoid with male teachers.
My daughter's teacher is male. I stay during lessons not because I don't trust him but because he thinks she still needs me to stay.
Thanks for all the wonderful advices! I guess I will have a look on the RCM teachers training program.
I have a male violin teacher and he was also my daughter's teacher. I had no concern about leaving her with him, ever.
What a great idea Paul - and the student and parents have a full record of the lesson.
I agree that the video recording is a great idea and very useful regardless if the student is alone or not.
If you present yourself as an amateur, you will be forever branded as an amateur. Don't do it.
It's possible that there's a semi-pro group in your area where a lot of pros have a sort of "busman's holiday" -- i.e. it's a mostly-pro group but they're playing as volunteers for the sheer fun of it, or it's an all-pro group that pays token gas money and isn't under a union CBA. That can be a good place to make contacts, since people are there in significant part for the social experience. Most of those people will primarily make their living by something other than orchestral performance (in my experience, it's been people who mostly teach or who do a lot of quartet-based gig work; in my city there's a constant stream of chamber music demand for fancy embassy dinners and whatnot, so it's quite feasible to make a living that way).
Jon - please take Mary Ellen's words seriously.
I agree with Frieda and Mary Ellen, and am writing this in the hopes that if you see the same piece of advice three times, you will heed it. I can't think of one thing you gain by joining an amateur orchestra as a professional musician.
"If I were setting up a private violin studio, one of my first purchases would be a Sony Handycam. The rule would be that you must bring an empty, functioning SD card to your lesson"
I recently pulled out my old Handycam, got a micro SD adapter, and have been happy with it so far. It mounts nicely on a tripod, has a remote, and good battery life. I was using my phone for some videos but my battery would die, some one would call, or I would run out of storage every time I was in the middle of recording. Soon, I will get something a bit more modern.
Timothy: what is your area? I've never heard of a private violin teacher doing a background check on him or her self in the U.S. If a private teacher advertised that they had done one, I would wonder what they are trying to hide. Of course, for working in a school, the school will need to do one.
I'm in Pennsylvania. I am not saying it is required to teach privately, but I would not be surprised if it becomes a requirement. If you are an offender that has been caught, it is doubtful that you could hide anything and still have the clearances. They are pretty thorough, but not bulletproof. https://www.education.pa.gov/Educators/Clearances/SchoolVolunteer/Pages/default.aspx
I agree with Jocelyn. I’ve been teaching private lessons for almost 35 years now and not one parent has ever asked for a background check nor have I ever heard of any other private teacher having one done. I’m in Texas.
The Kitchener Waterloo Symphony is just an hour or so away from Toronto.We are a full time professional orchestra and always need good extras. You could send your résumé to our personnel manager Nancy Wharton if you want Jon.
Fully professional orchestras in Toronto that I am aware of:
Mary Ellen wrote, "I agree with Jocelyn. I’ve been teaching private lessons for almost 35 years now and not one parent has ever asked for a background check." Fine ... but neither of you is male. I haven't heard of anyone being asked, either (male or female), but we do live in weird times. It's not unthinkable. I still wouldn't do a background check on myself. If you're concerned about your online reputation, there are companies that can manage it for you.
Sorry for causing misunderstandings, I mean I would have play in amateur orchestra if I haven’t seen these advices. :)
The way professionals, especially those who are NOT playing professionally, feel about playing with amateurs is interesting.
If what you need is constant archive, a Nestcam with cloud archive is reasonably priced and you can grant other people access to view clips, which gives you a certain degree of ability to provide attestation to an unaltered video.
The OP (Jon) is not ex-NBA and he's not retired. He's an unknown quantity with some foreign experience who is trying to join the "NBA" (or minor leagues) of music and make a living at it.
"The way professionals...feel about playing with amateurs is interesting."
I suppose in a perfect world, a true professional can perform with anybody they wish at any time and not have to worry about having a stigma attached to them that could affect their income. But I think it is incredibly professional and kind for the ones that take the time to work with us amateurs and find a way to enjoy it. Sometimes, I think the reason and purpose of music making is completely missed!
When the St. Lawrence String Quartet had a play-in in my community, it never occurred to me how bad it must have sounded to them and how potentially frustrating and irritating that activity might have been for them. They do it because it's a form of outreach, because it generates goodwill in the communities they visit, and because they get to be the pied pipers of Haydn. But that's way different from joining a community orchestra.
"The way professionals, especially those who are NOT playing professionally, feel about playing with amateurs is interesting."
Here (and in other cities I've lived in), it's common for community orchestra string principals to be professionals serving as unpaid volunteers -- individuals at the freeway philharmonic level, though, not people who hold full-time tenured orchestra positions (ROPA core or ICSOM positions). This may come with some perks like the occasional concerto opportunity, and whatnot. Indeed, I'm pretty sure that most of the community orchestras here have at least a pro as concertmaster, even if they don't pay them.
I can totally see that tenured members of full-time orchestras have little time to play with amateurs since they are working full time as performing professionals.
One of my daughter's former teachers volunteers as concertmaster for a community orchestra. In exchange, she could get a concerto opportunity for her students every other year or so. It wasn't a big deal to my child since she was 6 at the time and we declined the opportunity as it was a big deal for some of her high school students who was presenting violin as their main EC on their college application. It gets all so complicated sometimes.
Hi David - you're right in that, for an established professional teacher, occasionally playing with amateurs is fine. I think that depends on the level of your students. However, the OP is an unknown quantity to his community, and having that that be the first thing he does will automatically brand him as an amateur. He won't be considered for those compensated "ringer" positions because he has sent the message, by joining the amateur orchestra, that he doesn't expect (or even deserve) to be compensated for his time.
Regarding the basketball analogy, at a division 1 school in the year they won a national championship in the 80s, my brother in law who attended school there would regularly play pickup games with the guys on the starting lineup, because playing and hanging out with just decently-good but like-minded folks can be fun when you don't have other more important things to do with your time (like kids and a full time job).
Some teachers still define themselves as a performing pro, even if 90% of their income comes from teaching and 10% of it comes from their freeway philharmonic gigs.
Evan summed it up perfectly for the OP and his current situation.
Frustration may be off-topic, but it is certainly relevant to the decision not to play in lower-level orchestras. I'm very much an amateur, but I recently resigned from the principal viola chair in a community orchestra because of that kind of frustration. In the first couple years I felt it was rewarding because I was learning to lead a section. I stayed as long as I did (6 years) because I felt the obligation to give back after learning to play mostly through mini-lessons from other community orchestra musicians. But at some point I just no longer had the time or energy to deal with it.
I totally understands why pros generally do not play with amateurs. First, pros are not machines which can switch between the “pro mode” and “amateur mode” whenever they like. They need ongoing exposure on a high level music making environment, I see so many good players deteriorating quick after they graduate because of the lack of professional opportunities. Second, pros are not in a very advantageous position in our society. They have to spend all their energy to make connections within the industry, doing marketing constantly, and labelling themselves as paid musician is not because of arrogance, but for survival.
Good grief. Playing a duet with a student is called teaching. It's not "playing with amateurs" even if the teacher is playing one of the parts in a performance.
(With due respect to the Mary Ellen Gorees of the world, to those who've done their time with us amateurs, and to wonderful places like this where professionals of varying ilks mix with students of all stages...)
Your point is well taken. With regard to jazz musicians, I've seen both kinds -- pros who will run and grab their horn from their car if they find themselves in a restaurant with live jazz. Others who won't come even if invited repeatedly.
THANK YOU, PAUL!!!!!!
Lydia has it right, except that the strict rules about social media at pro-am events are more likely the exact same rules that govern all of our orchestra's public performances. When we are (officially) recorded and/or broadcast, we are being paid under a union agreement. Being recorded and worse, shared on social media, outside of approved channels means that we have no control over the media and we aren't getting properly compensated.