Is it viable to go into music?
I was never very into my life. I went to school, studied, did homework, summer programs, internships, extracurriculars, and etc; this is just like any child, but I found that I never enjoyed any of it. I have always just lifelessly gone through these motions, did the minimum to get a desirable outcome (getting As, appeasing superiors, etc), and let my life happen on its own. That is, before I started pursing the violin more seriously. I started to feel more positive in general. I am now going to be starting my senior year in high school, which has once again thrust me into the throes of adolescence. I find that I cannot really see anything positive in the future, and I even sometimes question why I continue doing what I do. I have wanted to study music, but my college counselor, my own research, and an enumerable amount of people have told me that a lot of people who go to a conservatory end up teaching instead of playing, which I have been told is due to the competitive environment for performers. My counselor has even told me that he knows a kid who went to Julliard yet can't find a job involving performance.
So, my main problem lies in: should I pursue violin professionally in college? Is it something that will sustain me financially? Will it leave me behind other kids (academically)? I just don't know anymore.
I am currently planning to go to NYU to pursue an economics degree, then maybe going to law school (which I have interest in) or something Business-related for my masters.
Here is a list of pieces that I have learned:
Bruch Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Sarasate Zigeunerweisen, Sarasate Introduction and Tarantella, Wieniawski Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Mendelssohn Concerto No. 2 in E minor, Paganini’s 24th Caprice in A minor, Tchaikovsky’s Meditation for Violin, and Mozart Concerto No. 5 in A major with Joachim Cadenza.
I am currently working on the Paganini Concerto No. 1 with the Carl Flesch Cadenza.
A couple years ago I was exactly in your shoes, depression and all. I'll give you a short answer:
It's definitely viable to have a career in accounting, economics, or law, and then keep the violin as a serious hobby.
Along the lines of what Cotton is saying, the two cellists in my daughter's orchestra who decided to go to conservatories (USC and NEC) who are a couple of years older than her are also doing a concentration / minor in recording technology and plan to pursue this as a career. I think that's pretty smart - a steady source of income that pays fairly well and offers some schedule flexibility is a good foundation for gig work and the musical things you want to do.
Mike, you are 17 but sound like an old man, the way you describe what you have done so far in your life. Yes, I know what it is like to be depressed.
I really don't think this is a good forum for psychoanalysis. If Mike needs to talk to someone, that should be a professional, not some dolt he met on a violin blog. I'll only add that the range of what's "normal" is pretty wide, but there isn't any harm in getting a "checkup" either -- from someone qualified to give you one.
"there isn't any harm in getting a "checkup" either"
As others have suggested, keep music in your life as it clearly brings you joy, and there are lots of different ways to do that, beyond making a living at it. Investigate the possibility of doing something music related in college as another major or minor. Also keep in mind that you don't necessarily have to have a degree in music performance or teaching in order to be able to play, or even teach.
Mike, welcome back! I recognize a younger me throughout your posting, except you are in the nice position of being a much better player than I ever was. I chose the BORING and relatively stable path of engineering, which has never been anything close to a passion, but it has allowed me to start pursuing things that are really interesting to me and to discover passions along the way, once I started getting my head screwed on a bit.
IMO, if you have to ask, it is not viable for you. Your post have several other paths mentioned that you would also enjoy. Violin studies are a better fit for a lucky, hard working few, or for those who would not find happiness elsewhere. The path stated above by many is perhaps better suited for your heart's desires.
I am concerned, as other posters are, that you sound depressed. You could benefit from a checkup, as noted.
I disagree, Adalberto. Who the heck is certain about anything as a high school student?
I did not mean to be rude to Mr. Liu. He is allowed to ask the question as a young person. My point was that studying violin as a degree is something you do because "you must", more than to figure out whether it will be a sustainable career in the future. The latter is never warranted even to excellent players. So in my view, when you ask, you have doubts (normal as a youngster), but to decide to go all in for it, there should be no question nothing else will make you happy.
I would add that a non-music bachelor's degree does not preclude a professional career in music, if you continue playing at a high level while in college. Jonathan Vinocour, principal violist of the San Francisco Symphony, got his undergrad degree in chemistry and only decided to pursue a MM and a professional music career when he was 21.
Intellectually, I respectfully disagree with Adalberto. If you don't have doubts, then you're probably not thinking enough. But the really interesting phenomenon is the opposite - if you have an intuition that tells you something deeper, which you cannot doubt nor entirely understand rationally. If that's real, it could help you win the violin lottery.
Just my 2cent.
The world seems to be more and more cutthroat each year. The conservative advice with respect to employment is to go to the best school you can (it helps in obtaining internships, connections, etc.) and put all of your efforts into your major. This will position you best for a career.
If you're not already playing at an extremely high level, you almost certainly need the focus and concentration of a bachelor's in music performance to be able to make a go of getting into a good MM program and proceeding into a professional career.
I think if someone has a passion they should do all they can to nurture it and try to make it a life-long endeavor. Whether that is the way one earns a living is another story.
Music is wonderful hobby and passion for me. But I think it’s really hard to achieve financial security as a professional. I know many music professionals in my area with advanced degrees from top conservatories and worldwide performance experience. Most of them are broke unless they have family money. Some are teaching and they get by okay. But even as a teacher there are only so many hours and there is a cap on what students are willing to pay for instruction. Everything in life is a compromise if you’re a reasonable person. If you pursue music as a professional there may not be a big financial upside. But, all of my musician friends seem very satisfied with their decisions and happy in their lives. For some the music is reward enough.
if you asked the same question on a lawyer's forum, you'd get mostly the same responses! There are no guarantees of a good job as a lawyer unless you finish high in your class at a good law school. Life involves a lot of chance, but you're a high achiever, so you'll end up fine.
Playing the violin professionally might or might not give you the same satisfaction you get from playing it simply because you love it.
To Frieda's point,
Most amateur violinist won't be soloing with an orchestra either! And yet this is what we are measuring by; in many discussions here we see people giving the list of concertos they played to indicate their skill level.
I soloed with an orchestra! I played Beethoven Romance Op. 50 in F major with our community orchestra. v.com regular contributor Gene Huang has also performed with an orchestra, I believe (better violinist; better orchestra). It can be done!
Advantage of playing concertos as an amateur: you almost always have the melody! During lockdown I worked on Beethoven Op. 18 string quartets (first and second violin) and the Mendelssohn concerto. I enjoyed working on the Mendelssohn more. It lies really well on the violin (i.e. the sound is always very nice, shifts are generally not awkward). Granted, Op. 18 is not the most difficult set of Beethoven quartets, but, in my opinion, learning them reasonably well (and close to performance tempo) is at least as demanding as learning one of the Mozart concertos. And they don't lie that well. Further, the first violin part can seem a little screechy at times--lines and lines of notes on the E string with no respite. Not super fun to play alone.
"An important thing to consider is that we need a hobby to take our minds off from work. If you make your current hobby your profession you will need to find another hobby." This is important. On another plane, I knew a man who repaired pinball machines for a living and he hated that it destroyed his love for pinball by turning it into a JOB.
Paul you are right - besides etudes and scales, my daughter has been learning sonatas, trios, and quartets almost exclusively for a while; she is somewhat reluctantly learning Variations on a Rococo Theme now because it is 'the way (cello) is taught' and how the establishment expects you do demonstrate your chops. She's done multiple kid's orchestra performances and just isn't all that interested in the concerto repertoire, would much rather be making music in small chamber groups.
"I knew a man who repaired pinball machines for a living and he hated that it destroyed his love for pinball by turning it into a JOB"
Bo, it's an interesting observation. I have learned that you never can know for sure what strengths and weaknesses or experiences you may find in some really fine musicians.
"On another plane, I knew a man who repaired pinball machines for a living and he hated that it destroyed his love for pinball by turning it into a JOB."
I bought an Eastar flute for 100USD on Amazon. It's great, and I find it a good way to relax on the sofa when I have been working hard on the violin. I have a book of flute studies for later, but it's nicer just to improvise, otherwise it too becomes just hard work. Apart from a couple of bits of Fauré and Debussy, all I've got is folk tunes and some Chinese flute music books. I like it. I had been wanting to buy a flute since the 80s but I only got around to it last year.
I've thought about this, if I really HAD to play the violin to pay my bills, or was learning with that final goal in mind, I don't think it would be near as fun. I work hard at it, as hard as my body and schedule allows, but I'm that way with all of my interests. While I wish that I hadn't had to give up the violin at 12 (I had no control over that choice), I'm am thankful that there is no way at 61 that this could ever become remotely professional. I've goals, certainly, but those are personal, and that's a very different thing. Should a hammered dulcimer enter the mix that will be for the same reason.
"Tchaikovsky makes her cry with boredom, she's done the Nutcracker so many times at Christmas..."
The Arabian Dance from Nutcracker is to violists what Pachelbel's Canon is to cellists. Except worse, because our fingers stay firmly planted in an octave on the two lowest strings.
By about the 10th or 20th interview, or lack thereof, it generally becomes apparent that the interviewer isn't really interested in how much you'll enjoy and benefit from the job as opposed to what you can do for them. Similarly, the dream of playing a musical instrument for employment needs to be balanced with the reality that the question of what one can do for classical music is generally answered as "little", and the world for the most part has little interest and need for classical music and additional classical musicians. But this is all fine and how it should be, respecting others' tastes as their own, as while we should always be interested in the questions of life and what we might make of ourselves in it, for work the question is what can we do for others, and we can find great satisfaction and growth from that perspective.
The Nutcracker gives me nightmares for a different reason, ending the Russian Dance a measure late in our high school concert. It earned me The Look Over the Glasses from the teacher and another Look and Sigh the next day before class. I was so far back in the section that I had to tell my parents to sit toward the middle so they could see me, otherwise I'd be behind the curtain.
The idea is to keep your youthful passion for violin and its music to your old age, even as a professional. To be fair, many who play professionally can complain about the apparent drudgery of their job, but deep down they love their choice and would not do something else (the exceptions are always more noticeable, to be sure.)
I think that
One rule of thumb I heard third-hand (for pianists, who are in a much more brutal market): are you the best player you know? If not, don't bother.
Oh my... so much already said. I get the feeling that the OP has a rather idyllic view of life as a musician. My advice to him, do your homework and research what you'd be getting into and be honest about what sustain financially means. If the thought is that most musicians spend their days practicing and nights performing earning an upper-middle class wage, this might have to be revisited somewhat. Like anything expectations need be managed. Some might argue that if your wish is to play whatever pleases you, don't become a professional, but the beauty of music making is that you can play all you want AND earn a good living doing something else. I know of one ER doctor who is the concert master of a professional orchestra in his 'spare time'!
It has to be said, however, that many supposedly "superior" careers (i.e. most non-music degrees it appears, according to this thread) have individuals struggle to make it through their days just as well as the common stories of the pauper-musician.
Until about 1980 vocation was a driving force - it was your vocation to be a doctor or a lawyer or a musician or a politician. Then money was given carte blanche to rule everyone and everything. The Biblical Mammon is God again. A doctor will become a politician if there's more money in it. In America the poor are crucified in order to scare everyone else into making money. And the sad thing is, you can be rich if you follow your vocation, but everyone thinks they're poor if they don't have as much money as Jeff Bezos.
"The sad thing is, you can be rich if you follow your vocation, but everyone thinks they're poor if they don't have as much money as Jeff Bezos." What's REALLY sad is that they don't want to increase the tax levels on folks like Bezos and Branson because then THEY will have to pay those taxes when THEY become multi-billionaires. Instead they vote to tax themselves out of groceries and medicine for their kids.
The government should allow them to cash out and take all their money to space, as long as they promised not to come back.
The families that produce outstanding young violinists who are facing the choice between an elite university and a good (or even top-tier) conservatory are almost always upper-middle-class.
Just out of curiosity, what defines the "UMC"?
David, What you describe is upper class. Classes are defined by the bureau of labor statics, US department of labor. upper middle class income is in the lower 6 figures. assets are not counted though occupation is. For an overview, see Wikipeda Social classes in the US.
Paul, Maybe it's better to tax wealth rather than income. That's why Buffett and George Soros are so in favor of raising income taxes, their wealth far outstrips their income.
Economic class and social class are not the same thing, and where people are in income is only somewhat related to how they perceive themselves: Gallup - https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/204497/determines-americans-perceive-social-class.aspx
Lydia, Both those things are true. I was trying to be succinct but this is too big a topic for that.
I agree with Ann about taxing wealth. But if we look at how just the estate tax is structured, a generalized wealth tax isn't within our horizon.
Ann, even in America, the "upper class", as I understand it, is associated with lineage in addition to wealth acquired long ago.
David, Not necessarily, "lineage" does not enter into it. Only if you are talking about social upper class and then not as much as in previous centuries. Also, "long ago" is how long? 40 years? 100 years? Would my ancestor have to be a steel or railroad baron?
I think it could be viable, especially if there is growth of interest in classical musics and by extension classical performers/groups.
Ann, you are the one who brought "social class" into the the conversation of "economic class" and the viability of musical careers.
I agree that a lot of people in the US who are wealthy would not necessarily identify as "upper class", which connotes (in the US as well as other places, e.g. India, UK, etc.) a certain refinement of origin–hence the whole concept of "nouveau riche".
The US has such a saturation of anti-intellectualism (and I don't want to imply that there is really anything intellectual about being "old money", but that's part of the marketing of the idea of "old money") that I don't think it makes sense to think of class in terms of legacy and history. All riches in the US are pretty nouveau, once you scratch the surface, and it's a storied tradition in the US for the new rich to immediately try and market themselves as having some kind of storied history, culture and longer "legitimacy", because the idea is to make people forget how many heads you lopped off to get your money by convincing them that you were always at your station.
Katie, probably all of the above, along with being a full-time artist, dancer, actor, etc., and some ivory-tower academia -- and quite a few nonprofit jobs in general.
Back to dollars and cents! My original question was actually related to the question posted by the OP.
Christian wrote, "it's a storied tradition in the US for the new rich to immediately try and market themselves as having some kind of storied history."
"That's a 19th-20th century model. Nowadays it seems more likely for folks go around claiming to be self-made "successful businessmen" and so forth when they had a huge head start in terms of education, access/networking, and in some cases a substantial inheritance. Nobody should claim to be "self made" who hasn't experienced existential risk."
“Given that most conservatory graduates cannot support themselves by preforming alone and (let's be honest!) do not want to teach”
For those lucky enough to win a full-time orchestral job, the annual median salary of ~$55k is solidly middle-class. It's equivalent to a social worker, medical lab tech, skilled tradesman (like a sheet metal worker), or firefighter.
I suspect there are a great many 16-year-old aspiring violinists who haven't given teaching much thought and, if asked, would say that's not their plan. But a lot of life happens between the age of 16 and the end of college, especially if "college" includes an advanced degree (or two): a lot of growing up, shifts in perspective, expansion of horizons, and changes in plans. I certainly didn't envision myself teaching college chemistry at the age of 18. I thought I was going to be a medical doctor. I would have been miserable as a physician -- then. Now that I'm in my 50s it seems more attractive, but of course it's too late.
Has anyone here studied at Oberlin? How is the academics and conservatory?
I was a double degree student at Oberlin, graduating in 1982 with degrees in violin performance from the conservatory and mathematics from the college. It is a top-notch school in both academics and music performance.
I only know Oberlin by reputation -- an absolutely sterling reputation for both academics and the conservatoire.
Another yes vote for Oberlin's reputation. A couple of our faculty at the local college started at Oberlin. One of my former employers at the medical lab job did both pre-med and music at Oberlin.
Oberlin has a fine reputation though the social environment has apparently changed in recent years. It might be wise to make a visit if possible, spending some time looking around without an official guide.
LOL. Oberlin’s social atmosphere has been distinctive since at least before the late 1970s when I started there. I do agree it’s worth a look, because it’s not for everyone.
@Mary Ellen Goree and Ann Morrill
No fratboys. No Greek social organizations at all. I consider that a plus.
So-called "social justice" was carried so far as to generate a lawsuit against the College, see Gibson's Bakery vs Oberlin College. When college administrators encourage defamation so as to destroy a legitimate business that's a serious thing.
The Gibson’s lawsuit is a very complex issue with a long history and many nuances, and it is not relevant here at all. I will however note that the education one receives at Oberlin or anywhere else for that matter is from the professors and fellow students, not from the administration.
I agree with Mary Ellen here, though the relevant part of the Gibson's lawsuit is that it started out with student-initiated protests and the College's own part in it appears to be ancillary at best (though they are the ones who suspended the business relationship). Protests against racism are very much a feature of college life in many places, these days.
"Your best odds of avoiding a left-leaning environment would be to attend a religiously-affiliated school in the South"