Is it viable to go into music?

Edited: July 15, 2021, 3:52 AM · 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.

Replies (78)

Edited: July 15, 2021, 6:36 AM · A couple years ago I was exactly in your shoes, depression and all. I'll give you a short answer:

If you want to be the next Hilary Hahn, then it's "impossible". Like winning the lottery impossible; technically there's a chance, and fools will constantly remind you there's a chance ("you can't win if you don't play!") but for all practical purposes that chance is zero.

That said, if you think outside the box, do something unique to you, write some music that reflects your unique talents... I don't see why it's not worth a try. Don't worry if you haven't done anything "original" yet—you really have a lot of time to figure stuff out if you're only a hs senior.

Music is all about niches, and doing what others won't. I got the same spiel growing up and now as a uni second year I'm making more than all of my classmates from highschool through street performance. I even quit my summer job... seems viable to me!

Edited: July 15, 2021, 7:22 AM · It's definitely viable to have a career in accounting, economics, or law, and then keep the violin as a serious hobby.

You don't mention chamber or orchestral experience but those are both great fun and they (especially chamber music) become more fun when you engage with other serious amateur musicians who are at approximately your same skill level, and especially if you can put together a trio or quartet that meets regularly and really dig into stuff. Warning that this kind of commitment is not so common among career-minded college students. But if you're playing all those concertos and other stuff pretty well, then you should have the chops for most of the chamber rep too.

Chamber music does demand additional musicianship skills that you may not have learned yet. In my experience *amateur-level* orchestral playing is less demanding in terms of musicianship because as a section player you are less exposed. (Pro anything is demanding.)

As you approach college, you may wish to allow your access to music programs to help guide your selection. What are the minimum requirements are for playing in the university's orchestra? Do you have to be a performance major? Obviously don't go somewhere that only requires you to have a pulse.

Finally, econ/pre-law is unlike chemistry/pre-med in the sense that you will not have a lot of time-consuming lab courses, so it's a good major for double-majoring with violin performance if you decide to do that. You might have time for busking too. As Cotton says, depending on the environment it can be fairly lucrative. He's also right that having fun with music is often about finding yourself a creative niche. The straight-and-narrow path can still be fun, too, though. It's okay if you don't like bluegrass or heavy metal.

The advantages of careers like law, medicine, scientific research, etc., is that -- like violin-playing -- they are bottomless challenges. Remember that unless you are inheriting a family business or such, your career will be what YOU make it to be. Having the career and doing the job should be fun, but getting there should be too. My advice is to dig into ALL your courses in college -- try to enjoy them all, because you never know what you might catch your fancy once you've scratched below the surface. I chose chemistry as a safe fall-back (I was pre-med) but then I discovered I loved organic chemistry.

July 15, 2021, 7:25 AM · 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.

Interest in law? Sounds like a good career to me. I wonder if the two interests can be combined.

July 15, 2021, 8:16 AM · 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 don't want to get Freudian, but is your dad an economist or a lawyer, by any chance?

Edited: July 15, 2021, 8:26 AM · 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.
July 15, 2021, 9:32 AM · Mike,

As Joseph Campbell advised: "Follow your bliss." Note, "Follow" not obsess. First of all, concentrate on that Bachelors and keep music in your life while in college. I understand the long range planning but four years of college and the experiences you will have mean that you have to stay open.

An Alumn of "From the Top" noted that he got a business degree (with a music minor) because it prepares him to get paid work after college. It even opens some doors in the music industry at all different levels. After all music is, at the professional level, a business.

I remember my HS days when I had no clue about the world, I had dreams and nightmares about my future. None of my teenage aspirations converted into a lifelong career. However, the combination of experience and a business degree, mixed with more than a little serendipity, took me to a career in Supply Chain Management that paid the bills.

Now, in retirement, music has become central to my life.

You have a head-start on my experience, you already play and have opportunities to continue through college and beyond without the pressure of becoming a professional competing for gigs.

Enjoy the ride, you will be exposed to all kinds of knowledge in college and a path will open up that will allow the violin to come with you. Since it gives you "Bliss" continue to play while you study and get a better picture of what the universe has to offer.

July 15, 2021, 9:46 AM · "there isn't any harm in getting a "checkup" either"

That is precisely what I was hinting at. It should have been obvious that I wasn't expecting an outpouring (beyond the OP).

July 15, 2021, 10:18 AM · 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.

One of my nieces is an exceptional dancer. She has been so good from a young age, that she has been teaching and choreographing since she was a pre-teen. When it came time for college, she chose a science, where job opportunities were plentiful. But, kept on dancing, with the college ensemble. She just graduated and started working, but she is absolutely planning to find a way to get involved in some local dance ensemble in some capacity. I would suggest that you follow that sort of model, and see where it takes you.

July 15, 2021, 10:23 AM · 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.

In my experience, I have yet to meet someone, even really well put together, that I didn't think couldn't benefit from some therapy. Some people, like me, could benefit from quite a bit, and I recommend that you take advantage of all the resources that are available to you in that regard, and that will be available when you are in school. I imagine that any university offers free therapy to students (mine did), and I really hope you take advantage.

I can't recommend just singlemindedly following your passions from any personal experience, since I chose that fallback path, but I also only had very very vague ideas of what I actually wanted to do with my life at your age (I'm not trying to make a case for or against safe choices). It might seem like somehow, even at 17, your whole life has already you by, but you are very well positioned to pursue what you find meaningful, and you are young.

Edited: July 15, 2021, 12:16 PM · 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.

That said, violin degrees are useful in many ways, so I am not in the cynical camp that goes overboard suggesting they should be limited or very rarely available. Studying music performance is a beautiful thing, though definitely not for everybody.

July 15, 2021, 12:11 PM · I am concerned, as other posters are, that you sound depressed. You could benefit from a checkup, as noted.

Since you're a rising senior, I assume that NYU is a hope; it's not a given. I think anyone applying to highly competitive colleges should keep in mind that their dream-school, even early-decision when you're academically outstanding, is far from a guarantee.

Cast a wide net to find a campus and environment that inspires you. Look for somewhere that you can pursue music in an environment where you can get great instruction, play in top ensembles, and make music for fun with both non-music majors and music majors.

The principal-stand string players, including the concertmasters, of most of my local community orchestras are lawyers. (Unsurprising given that it sometimes feels like everyone in DC is a lawyer.) You can certainly combine most careers with a serious hobby of violin-playing. I'd suggest that for many good-but-not-phenomenal violinists that a life of amateurism may actually turn out to be more musically satisfying than becoming a typical pro.

Edited: July 15, 2021, 1:01 PM · I disagree, Adalberto. Who the heck is certain about anything as a high school student?

As an aside I'd like to mention that the OP should focus on building a robust social life outside of music. Love, service, and community are the things that really make us sustainably happy.

July 15, 2021, 1:25 PM · 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 have of course nothing against those who are happier studying something else not violin performance, as long as they are personally fulfilled with their choices in the long run. For most people, a degree in music won't be the easiest path to follow.

Whether you keep studying violin or choose something else moving forward, I wish you well.

For introverts, do find precious souls to share with, or find meaning in the little beautiful things in life that are often underappreciated.

Wishing the best to Mr. Liu.

July 15, 2021, 3:40 PM · 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.
July 15, 2021, 3:47 PM · 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.

I suppose that it's up to us to find what our intuition would tell us about ourselves, even though it's very unlikely to tell any of us to play the violin.

Edited: July 15, 2021, 5:11 PM · Just my 2cent.

I personally didn't have a great academic experience in Illinois as I spent too much time on transportation to get to my teacher. However, that has nothing to do with practicing the violin.

The good thing about studying in NYC is that you should have access to many great teachers without the need to travel for hours. You should be able to still practice for hours every day without hurting your academic progress, especially in the first year of college when the workload is still light.

I think a good alternative is to start your study at NYU as an undeclared student and have some taste of both worlds. The disparity between college education and K-12 in the US is HUGE. IMO the K-12 education in the US tries to expose you to everything but has a serious lack of depth and consequently makes students clueless about their true interests, capabilities, and potentials.

You mentioned that you "did the minimum to get a desirable outcome" academically, so I'm assuming you're smart and high school is too easy for you. Wait and see if anything changes after your first year of college. Maybe you'll feel more motivated after you see some challenges, or maybe it will make it more solid for you to pursue a degree in music.

July 15, 2021, 5:13 PM · 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.

Music is a particularly difficult field in which to make a living. I know a Julliard grad who is working selling gym memberships.

All of this being said, there is more to life than a job. You could even take the hippie attitude of turn on, tune in, drop out. Society these days is simply inhuman.

The future is uncertain. Even if you make good choices you can still get screwed. To some extent this argues for doing what you love right now.

July 15, 2021, 6:47 PM · 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.

However, if you're not aiming for a high-level career and a high-quality MM performance program, you may be able to skip the BM.

July 15, 2021, 7:34 PM · 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.

It certainly sounds to me as though Mike has developed his violin skills very well (far better than I ever did - probably). But I think he should consider college/university next on his journey rather than a conservatory - but keep his options open.

July 15, 2021, 8:02 PM · 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.
July 15, 2021, 8:03 PM · 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.

You do have to take some risks here and there and be open to possibilities. Econ is not a great job generator, but can get you into law school. What about going to Indiana or another school where you can get a good music degree with some all around classwork?

Also, any bachelor's degree, including music, from a good university can get you into a good law school, along with the good test scores. The No. 2 student in my class at law school majored in Opera Performance as an undergraduate. Many lawyers and law schools recognize some link between musical and legal talent somewhere deep in the brain.

At your age, just try to reason it though, hedge your bets, and go for whatever you decide. Talk to people you trust. Don't put the weight of the world on your shoulders. There are plenty of opportunities along the way to adjust your course! Make a decision, then try to enjoy things. If you want later, change your mind!

Edited: July 15, 2021, 9:00 PM · Mike,

What exactly do you like about the violin? What are your goals in music?

Find out if there are ways to achieve those things without being a full-time music professional.

A lot of high school students think keeping music in their lives is an all-or-nothing proposition, that the only way to study the violin seriously, solo with an orchestra, or give public recitals is to major in music in college and become a professional musician. That’s not true.

For example, if your goal is to study the violin and play more repertoire throughout your life for personal satisfaction, then private lessons (and recitals) that you arrange on your own will be much more economical than being a music major paying $300K in tuition and fees under the moniker of a NYU music degree.

July 15, 2021, 9:35 PM · Playing the violin professionally might or might not give you the same satisfaction you get from playing it simply because you love it.

I used to be a painter and sculptor. I loved the process of creating. It was a very private process for me. Then members of my family persuaded me do it professionally. Suddenly they were looking over my shoulder, telling me I "should" do this because it would sell, or I "shouldn't" do that because it wouldn't sell. Going professional suddenly made me externally referenced and made it much less fun.

Beyond the question of talent, I came to believe that there are two kinds of artists in the world: those who have the temperament to make and sell their art for a living, and those who don't. One is not better than the other; they're just different kinds of people.

With enough hard work and dedication, you might find yourself able to play professionally and have a wonderful time doing that! Or you might discover some other completely unrelated field that you'd rather make your living at, and keep the violin as a beloved part of your life outside of work.

Good luck in your endeavors and may you have wonderful adventures!


July 16, 2021, 12:37 AM · To Frieda's point, most violinists that become professional musicians will never solo with an orchestra, and many of them won't end up giving public recitals, either.

The performance life of a full-time music educator tends not to be dramatically different from the performance life of a comparably-skilled amateur.

July 16, 2021, 4:01 AM · 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 was in the OPs situation a few years ago (quite a few actually) and one piece of advice I was given - by a professional violinist was this: "If there is anything - anything - you can see yourself doing other than playing professionally, go for that!" And I did, and have never regretted that decision. I kept playing and I turned my focus away from the "solo with orchestra" repertoire, realising that the demand for me playing Mendelssohn concerto would be zero. So my list of concertos I have played is quite short. The list of string quartets, piano trios, sonatas and short solos with piano that I have played - and performed - is considerably longer. Not to mention the orchestra works I have played. Comi g to think of it the list of string sextets I have played is probably longer than the list of concertos ;)
I know many skilled amateurs who could likely have been professionals but made similar choices to mine and are happy they did. And I know people who chose to become professionals and are happy with that decision. But I also know a few people who chose music and are struggling with freelance careers or who ended up waiting tables or selling coffee.
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. For me music is the perfect way to clear my mind; it is impossible to be upset about stupid decisions from upper management while playing a Beethoven quartet! And it is easier to have music as a hobby than many other things (how about an amateur surgeon or lawyer?)
I don't know you so I am in no position to give you advice. I will pass on the advice I mentioned above and I wish you luck whatever your decision is.
Edited: July 16, 2021, 7:16 AM · 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!

Bo wrote, "[in] many discussions here we see people giving the list of concertos they played to indicate their skill level."

But that's not the student's fault. That's because of the way the violin is taught. The alternative, I suppose, would be to work on only salon pieces and other solo repertoire that has only (or is most commonly performed with) piano accompaniment, as well as chamber rep such as sonatas and so on. And maybe that's what should be happening these days. The other side of that coin is that kids gravitate toward the pieces they hear their heroes performing.

Edited: July 16, 2021, 8:32 AM · 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.

To play devil's advocate: I don't think it matters that much what you major in, with the possible exception of some engineering and professional (i.e., nursing) majors IF you intend your BS to be your final degree. Especially if your playing is NOT at a high level, you might want to major in music. Looking back on my own education, I could have done a performance/music major and ended up exactly where I am now (Ph.D. in psychology/anthropology). Because I was not playing at a high level when I completed high school (I was playing slightly below your level, I suspect) majoring in music would have really contributed to many more opportunities now, with much less effort.
The only caveat is that you'll need to make sure you cover the coursework necessary for whatever program you intend to pursue as a career. Chemistry and biology would be tough because of the labs, but you could do math, statistics, theoretical physics, pre-med, and any of the humanities or social sciences.
Edited to add: Make sure you graduate college with SKILLS not knowledge of content! Writing analytic essays; software design; statistics; the scientific method; violin playing--these are all skills. Avoid courses where you learn content only: many psychology, communications, and public health courses are notoriously focused on memorizing content. Anything with multiple choice exams should be avoided.

July 16, 2021, 9:51 AM · "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.
July 16, 2021, 11:25 AM · 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.
July 16, 2021, 11:49 AM · "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"

Imagine that happening with music! "Oh no - we a playing Tchaikovsky 6. Again!"

When I was a student one of the orchestras I played in used to have a summer camp. Some years a professional violinist was hired as concertmaster. In the evenings after rehearsals some of us would play chamber music, and off courses asked her to join in. I remember being very surprised that she never played chamber music outside of her orchestra job (where if I remember correctly she was section leader of the second violins). She had never played Brahms sextets! I couldn't understand how that was even possible to avoid.

Edited: July 16, 2021, 1:14 PM · 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.

Back in July 1973 I participated in a masterclass at Loma Linda University (now La Sierra University) in Redlands, California. The "master" leading the class was Claire Hodgkins, who at the time was the assistant to Jascha Heifetz at his USC Violin Masterclass (she does appear in the 1962 video of the Heifetz Masterclass - alsto interesting bio on Wikipedia). She brought along the entire student membership of the the Heifetz USC masterclass to participate there, at Loma Linda U. They comprised about half the masterclass; the rest of us were amateurs, mostly young (20-somethings) - and then -me- the oldest at 39. It was an all-day masterclass scheduled for 2 weeks (i.e., 10 days).

The Heifetz "kids" were fantastic, perfect "Sinding Suite" level players. The real purpose of that master class and those for other instruments being held there at Loma Linda was to provide an orchestra for the annual conducting masterclass of Maestro Herbert Blomstedt (who at the time was the Music Director of the Danish Radio Symphony - and later (1985-1995) of the San Francisco Symphony). I think there were about a dozen conducting students taking that masterclass, mostly college/university music professors/instructors who also conducted their school's orchestras and some community orchestra conductors.

The first evening orchestra rehearsal I was assigned to the 2nd violin section as were some of those amazing Heifetz students (Claire Hodgkins was our concertmaster). There were also a number of southern Calir. pro and amateur musicians to fill out the full orchestra. We played through some music (I think it included a Mozart symphony) with Blomstedt conducting** and then with individual conducting students conducting. I was really amazed to find that those students could not sight-read as well as I could - REAL SURPRISE! But then on the 2nd go-round all their playing skills were evident.

THOSE LAST 2 SENTENCES ARE MY WHOLE PURPOSE IN PRESENTING THIS EXTENDED BLURB.

** What follows is in addition to my purpose here, but BLOMSTEDT was an amazing conductor, I cannot imagine a better one, (and I have played under a number of "pro" conductors) every little motion and facial expression had a meaning that every one of the players could interpret instinctively. Quite obviously, the purpose of his masterclasses was was to teach some of that to his conducting students.

I have played under some of his "graduates" of previous and later masterclasses and it seemed to me that what they learned was to copy some of his motions but not so much their meaning and how to communicate them. I think I learned to spot Blomstedt copiers within the first 2 measures.

To be honest (in this narrative) I did not stay for the entire masterclass (neither violin or conducting/orchestra). I think I stayed two days, mainly because the Southern California heatwave at the time drove the daytime temperatures over 100°F (in the shade) and our afternoon practice rooms were not air-conditioned (although the masterclass and orchestra rooms were). So after that rehearsal I got in my motor home (where I had slept the first night) and drove home... Well actually, not entirely true - I stopped off on my way home to visit one of the violists from that orchestra (who was the maker of one of my violins) to buy my first viola that he had prepared for me (he regraduated the top of an "old" German factory viola and sold it to me in a case for $125. Then I got back in my motorhome after midnight and made on Highway 395 it just past "Four Corners" near Edwards AF Base, and pulled off the road and slept 'til dawn and then drove north the remaining 50 miles home.

July 16, 2021, 1:20 PM · "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."

In talking through whether she would be interested in turning her love of the violin into a vocation, this was one of the 'cons' listed by my eleven year old. "If I HAD to play, would I still want to do it?" Also one of the reasons I didn't turn a love of gardening into a degree in horticulture or landscape design. There are some things you want to pursue because of the love of it, and turning that into a J-O-B might kill the joy.

Edited: July 16, 2021, 1:33 PM · 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.

My violin teacher joined our uke group because she was sick of the life of a pro violist (Tchaikovsky makes her cry with boredom, she's done the Nutcracker so many times at Christmas), and my friend in the 70s who had a performer's diploma on the oboe played the penny whistle with his gf who played the bodhrán.

July 16, 2021, 1:33 PM · 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.
July 16, 2021, 10:28 PM · "Tchaikovsky makes her cry with boredom, she's done the Nutcracker so many times at Christmas..."

I've played that viola part, it's pretty hard. But yeah, like all pit music you count a lot of rests. You wait and wait and then suddenly you need to uncork some ferociously hard thing, perfectly timed with everything else. That's an irritating gig for me. The local dance group that does the amateur Nutcracker gave up on having a live orchestra and now they use a sound track. I can't really blame them considering the availability of relatively skilled amateurs in my town.

I've noticed that my violin teacher is fine with playing chamber music -- he enjoys it -- but not with amateurs. I would never dream of inviting him to join an amateur quartet. I'd just be putting him in a position where he has to decline.

On the other hand I know a local pro guitarist and guitar teacher who plays jazz with us all the time, not just gigs but jam sessions, too, as his schedule permits. His issue with jam sessions is that his workweek is pretty long and he has four kids...

Edited: July 16, 2021, 11:09 PM · 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.
Edited: July 17, 2021, 12:39 PM · 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.
July 17, 2021, 1:51 PM · 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.
July 17, 2021, 2:32 PM · 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.)

Not all hobbyists take their hobbies as seriously. Some love them more than their work. But not all professional violinists must be jaded and bored with their chosen line of work (yes, *I know* some are, and often not even care about music that much anymore. But it does not *need* to be that way just because it happens.)

July 18, 2021, 12:56 PM · I think that all jobs have their plusses and minuses, and people's reactions to those things vary. I think for people who win tenured orchestral jobs may end up feeling "trapped" by the fact that returning to the audition circuit is a major hassle, which can leave them stuck with colleagues, a conductor, or a city that is no longer to their liking. It's not necessarily the Nth repeat of the Nutcracker that grinds them down, or even anything related to the act of playing the violin itself. (For that matter, people can love teaching but loathe dealing with parents of students, or administrating a studio.)

Flexibility ought to be considered when making career choices. How portable are your choices -- is it easy to get another job? Move to another city? Dial up or dial down the intensity? Work flexible hours? Have time for your family or for hobbies?

July 18, 2021, 12:59 PM · 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.

Obviously there are exceptions and modifications you can make, etc. But know where you're starting from.

July 18, 2021, 3:06 PM · 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'!
July 19, 2021, 3:30 AM · 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.

Being well-off as a musician is rare to be sure, which is why anyone seeking to be one should be OK with possibly never becoming affluent. It is a decision not to be taken too lightly. But we should always remember that not all lawyers are rich (for example). Every career has risk associated with it, and is best approached with the attitude "this is what I am going to do, and I am going to make it work".

Side-jobs are fine as well. Doing good work is no crime. Gauge your happiness with your choices. Being a musician doesn't need to be equivalent with being a well-to-do doctor or lawyer.

Not advocating poverty or bad business choices, but let's be real, affluence is not all there is to life. Imagine if 100% of folks only wanted to study "the top ten degrees" according to the internet and "data"-would that be better for the world or even themselves? Music, along with many other much maligned, so called "useless" degrees have a place in our society. Not everyone should be a doctor, engineer, or lawyer, much like being a musician is not for everyone.

Be well-no arguments meant. Just wanted to add a bit of non-pragmatism to an already very practical thread. I am in the minority in my views, and I understand that. So just feel free to disagree, and follow whatever principles and ideals make *yourself* happier.

Edited: July 19, 2021, 4:56 AM · 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.

I remember in Germany in the 80s some top-level actors were protesting because they were earning less than Hollywood actors. They were earning ten times what a bank manager earnt, but they were unhappy because Hollywood actors earnt more!

Edited: July 19, 2021, 7:35 AM · "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.
July 19, 2021, 10:05 AM · The government should allow them to cash out and take all their money to space, as long as they promised not to come back.
July 19, 2021, 12:30 PM · 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.

I don't think that many of the children of such families are really aware of the grotesque delta that has developed between the UMC and the actual middle class.

The fact of the matter is that being a pro musician is a solidly middle-class job, if a more uncertain one since it might not be salaried. It is reasonably on par with becoming, say, an accountant or a social worker.

If your standard for pay is doctors, lawyers, investment bankers, and software engineers, sure, being a violinist is badly paid.

July 19, 2021, 2:20 PM · Just out of curiosity, what defines the "UMC"?

In term of asset and income, would seven-figure investable assets, excluding the first home and a secured six-figure income do it?

Edited: July 19, 2021, 3:48 PM · 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.
July 19, 2021, 4:21 PM · 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.
July 19, 2021, 8:43 PM · 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
July 19, 2021, 9:22 PM · Lydia, Both those things are true. I was trying to be succinct but this is too big a topic for that.
Edited: July 19, 2021, 10:15 PM · 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.

I agree with Lydia, also, about the "delta" between MC and UMC.

A few calibration points: The 2021 national median household income is around $80,000. For a family of four, it starts to get pretty hard to just meet the basic expenses of a suburban lifestyle below, say, $50,000. That's a guess on my part. But if $50,000 represents a baseline, then the difference between $80,000 and $110,000 represents a doubling in what one might call discretionary funds, not the more modest increase that comparing $110k to $80k would suggest on its own.

Often the "delta" boils down to one income vs. two.

July 19, 2021, 10:35 PM · Ann, even in America, the "upper class", as I understand it, is associated with lineage in addition to wealth acquired long ago.

Edited: July 20, 2021, 10:07 PM · 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?
Edited: July 21, 2021, 8:05 AM · I think it could be viable, especially if there is growth of interest in classical musics and by extension classical performers/groups.

I've noticed some musicians and critics bemoaning the current state of popular music, maintaining it is not as complex or rewarding as popular music produced 40 or 50 years ago. I wonder if that is true or not; perhaps there is so much popular music now it's difficult to listen to it all and make comparisons with the past. And the music landscape seems more fragmented with all the streaming options available. Is Paul McCartney writing songs now that are any less rewarding than what he wrote in the 1960's? Will McCartney's solo work have a more long lasting influence than his work with the Beatles? Will his music become a kind of classical music in that serves as a standard or model.

July 21, 2021, 11:04 AM · Ann, you are the one who brought "social class" into the the conversation of "economic class" and the viability of musical careers.
July 21, 2021, 2:02 PM · 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".

But to get back to Lydia's original point, which I find insightful, there is a certain interesting cognitive dissonance at play for the families whose kids typically have a shot at a top-tier conservatory. In the US, anyway, classical music as a profession (as construed by Juilliard aspirants, not people who always knew they wanted to be school music teachers/Suzuki instructors, etc) is
a) hard to get into (connoting prestige) and
b) associated, at its peak, with privilege and expense and old-school class values (classical music patrons typically being wealthier/whiter/older, right?) but also
c) not actually remunerative enough to ensure even a middle class lifestyle in the major metro areas where it is most viably practiced.

I'm trying at the moment to imagine what else might fit this bill. Maybe competitive/professional equestrian activities? Pro golf/tennis at any level less than the top? Humanities academia?

July 21, 2021, 2:44 PM · 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.

So I'd like to hear someone making a case for thinking of class in cultural terms in the US. I don't know if it's enough to distinguish between the explicitly anti-intellectuals and others. With that said, having seven figures in savings is rich AF, but another fetish of American culture is for everybody to think of themselves as solidly middle class.

July 22, 2021, 12:06 AM · 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.

Basically, any job that requires extensive elite education -- especially if it starts with childhood preparation -- and might not be especially financially rewarding, but nevertheless carries prestige.

Upper class parents would probably argue that one of their goals is to help their children discover and pursue their passions -- and enable their children to maximize that pursuit by not burdening them with money worries.

After all, arts appreciation, patronage, and skill is a mark of taste and distinction for the upper class.

Edited: July 22, 2021, 12:49 PM · Back to dollars and cents! My original question was actually related to the question posted by the OP.

Given that most conservatory graduates cannot support themselves by preforming alone and (let's be honest!) do not want to teach, their chosen vocation will need to be supported by an independent income. An investment banker or a radiologist who invests his/her disposable earnings over a few decades could presumably provide their children aspiring for a performing career in classical music with an independent income.

Edited: July 22, 2021, 1:02 PM · 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.

My life is quite comfortable, and I worked pretty hard, I guess, but I don't claim to be self-made. My parents paid for my college education, my music lessons, and I never suffered for anything as a child. Okay, we never ate in restaurants. Boo hoo.

Edited: July 22, 2021, 7:24 PM · "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."

reminds me of this video

July 22, 2021, 2:36 PM · “Given that most conservatory graduates cannot support themselves by preforming alone and (let's be honest!) do not want to teach”

That’s an amazingly sweeping statement and not remotely accurate in my experience. I love teaching and take it seriously as do many of my colleagues. And I have always pulled my own weight financially.

July 22, 2021, 8:37 PM · 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.
Edited: July 23, 2021, 7:48 AM · 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.

+1 to Mike Liu for the video link.

July 24, 2021, 12:51 PM · Has anyone here studied at Oberlin? How is the academics and conservatory?
July 24, 2021, 6:19 PM · 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.
July 24, 2021, 6:28 PM · I only know Oberlin by reputation -- an absolutely sterling reputation for both academics and the conservatoire.
July 25, 2021, 1:02 AM · 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.
July 25, 2021, 3:59 PM · 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.
Edited: July 26, 2021, 11:36 AM · 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.

FWIW I never felt that the dominant campus culture was 100% comfortable for me but I made some very good friends there.

Edited: July 26, 2021, 12:02 PM · @Mary Ellen Goree and Ann Morrill

I am not sure that I follow on the social environment. What specifically does that mean for Oberlin? Are the people there more introverted, resulting in a less party-school like environment? More rude people who are only career-minded? Sorry for being a dum-dum.

Movies have ruined my mind. I can only picture fratboys whenever I hear about college social life. Please help.

July 26, 2021, 12:16 PM · No fratboys. No Greek social organizations at all. I consider that a plus.

It’s a small school in a small town with a lot of students who are passionately interested in social justice—a good thing in my book. Beyond that I suggest you look online for ratings and descriptions from current students for the most accurate information. I recall the Conservatory as being not quite the same as the College.

July 26, 2021, 12:21 PM · 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.
Edited: July 26, 2021, 1:37 PM · 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.
July 26, 2021, 2:38 PM · 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.

Most highly selective liberal arts colleges (SLACs) and every Ivy League university and other school of similar quality (MIT, CalTech, Stanford, etc.) -- and probably most top conservatories -- will have the values of America's urban elite -- what you might think of as "East/West Coast" big-city values. They will be schools that are relatively "woke", and, at least superficially, will embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion. (Regardless of the color of a student's skin, they will generally have been raised upper-middle-class, and probably have grown up near a city. Diversity of skin color is vastly more common than diversity of family income and background.)

At such schools, a focused drive towards achievement and careerism will likely undercut wokeness (making it potentially performative more than sincere). SLACs will probably have somewhat less careerism than the big universities that have undergrad business schools and engineering schools.

If you're not comfortable with a left-leaning viewpoint on life, you probably won't be significantly more comfortable at Columbia that you would be at Oberlin. (Your best odds of avoiding a left-leaning environment would be to attend a religiously-affiliated school in the South.)

July 27, 2021, 1:56 AM · "Your best odds of avoiding a left-leaning environment would be to attend a religiously-affiliated school in the South"

Yay! I get to avoid the Southern states and go to a good school!

Just a joke. Best wishes to all Southerners.


Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Virtual Sejong Music Competition
Virtual Sejong Music Competition

Violinist.com Business Directory
Violinist.com Business Directory

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases

Fiddlerman.com

Fiddlershop

Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Violin-Strings.com

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin

Warchal

Barenreiter

Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine

Subscribe