Family Approval

Edited: November 20, 2017, 8:01 PM · I'm currently a sophomore in college studying violin performance. I love what I do but my family doesn't. I picked music as my major pretty late (the summer before I started college) but I'm doing well and my professor is happy with my progress and has allowed me to stay on the performance track. My big problem, and the most damaging to my confidence has been my family's lack of enthusiasm about what I've chosen. My parents haven't voiced an opinion beyond do what makes you happy, but my grandparents on both sides have voiced concerns about my financial future. They often ask me why I didn't choose to go into something more financially stable and secure like engineering or medicine because of how smart I am (I did well on the ACT and graduated valedictorian of my high school). I feel like my parents don't care about what I do and that my grandparents flat out disapprove. Any advice?
Edit: I am on full academic and orchestral scholarships for college.

Replies (24)

November 20, 2017, 7:51 PM · Your parents and grandparents have a point. It is totally normal and wholesome for them to be concerned about your financial security as you enter adulthood and become independent. Especially if they're footing the bill for your education, because they want to make a good investment. You may have engineering or medicine as your Plan B, but who will fund your transition to those careers if a pro career in violin doesn't work out? Those are programs where you'd be doing college basically all over again.

Your bio on this site says that you're majoring in violin performance and business at a small state school in Louisiana. To be perfectly frank with you, your bio is the first place I have ever heard of your university. You might ask your violin teacher how many violin-performance (e.g., pro-orchestral) careers have been launched from his studio in the last several years.

Edited: November 20, 2017, 8:17 PM · I see you are violin performance/music business. What are your goals? What do you see yourself doing in five years? Getting a job in a professional orchestra can be very difficult even for graduates of top tier conservatories. Arts administration is a reasonable field that (in my opinion) could use a lot more good people than are currently working in it.

I think your parents and grandparents want you to have a successful launch into adulthood, which includes financial independence. Having a realistic plan (beyond "I want to be a professional musician") will go a long way in difficult conversations. Are you interested in teaching? (Private and/or school music?) Have you attended any high-level summer programs? Do you have an entrepreneurial personality; are you good at schmoozing brides (and more importantly, their mothers)?

Frankly I would be concerned too if you were my son, and this is coming from another former valedictorian who got degrees in violin performance despite a distinct lack of parental enthusiasm...but I was attending Oberlin, not a small state school. My concern with your school has nothing to do with your professor, who I am quite sure is a fine violinist and an experienced teacher though his resume does not reflect any experience in the U.S. professional orchestra world. It has more to do with your competition. I'm guessing you're either the best player at your school, or at the very least one of the better ones, which is not going to set you up with realistic expectations. Spending a summer at a place like Meadowmount or Aspen would be ideal, but a much less expensive alternative is to listen to Youtube videos of senior recitals from bigger schools, and/or audition videos.

Good luck!

November 20, 2017, 8:16 PM · You're an adult now. Given that your parents are probably supporting you financially, and would like you to be happy, you do not need their approval of what you are doing with your life. Similarly, your grandparents should butt out. Subject, of course, to the assumption that once you finish college, you are going to be financially independent -- rather than asking them for financial help because your music career doesn't provide a good enough living.

I am guessing that you sacrificed going to the kind of highly-competitive school that your academic standing would have been permitted, in favor of going to a small state school where you could get in as a violin performance major.

It looks like your school grants a BM with one or more concentrations, and your concentrations are violin performance and the business-of-music -- rather than a full business degree. That will somewhat hinder easy execution of Plan B, but really, if you finish your undergrad degree and decide you want to go into engineering or finance or the like, you could probably go get an MSE or an MBA without a whole lot of additional coursework, especially if you spend your electives on computer science classes or the like.

Just keep in mind that you might be able to make a lot more money, and still play and perform just as much as an adult, by majoring in a STEM field, taking violin lessons, and practicing a lot.

November 20, 2017, 8:33 PM · It's great to be getting your education on a full scholarship, so that is a big plus!
November 20, 2017, 9:12 PM · Thank you all for the advice. That's exactly why I posted here so I could hear from people that have experienced similar things or can tell me things from a different perspective. We're currently on break at my school so I'm going to be spending the next few days really thinking things over and trying to figure out a solid plan for the future that I can really believe in. Thanks again.
November 20, 2017, 10:16 PM · As long as you don't come back after college asking them to bail you out, it's your life & your choice. It's also a good idea to acknowledge the chances of anyone (including yourself) having a successful career in this field. Not assuming anything about your playing, just saying your parents & grandparents would probably like to know you are aware of the reality, for their own peace of mind.
November 20, 2017, 10:38 PM · I think it's worth thinking about the spectrum of options available to you, rather than thinking about it in more black-and-white, music-vs-lucrative-career fashion. The line between amateur and professional is sometimes blurry. My city has a thriving community of performers who don't primarily make their living from performing -- and many big cities do.

Some are true amateurs -- people who don't hold a performance degree, who make a living in some other profession, but nevertheless are highly skilled.

Some are semi-pros -- people who don't hold a performance degree (but who might have another sort of music degree), who make a living in some other profession, but sometimes perform for money (for instance, for weddings and/or in a freeway philharmonic).

Some are ex-pros (or current pros with day jobs) -- people who do hold a performance degree, but now make their living in some other profession, with music as a sideline. Some might still consider themselves pros, and some might still earn some income from performing.

Some are teaching pros -- people who make a full-time living either from private teaching or from teaching at a school, but who don't make a significant income from performing.

Some are performing pros -- people who derive a significant percentage of their income from performing, even if they also have another source of income, like teaching.

The skill delta between each of these categories is not as large as one might think. Some of the amateurs are spectacularly good (two local pianists have even won the Amateur Van Cliburn). So are many of the ex-pros -- indeed, their sheer skill tells you a lot about what's necessary to be able to make a living as a full-time musician. I've met a lot of people who got an undergrad degree in performance, and then went to grad school in an unrelated subject, and are very successful in their new field. And conversely, I've met teachers who went to fourth-rate music schools, graduated playing intermediate-level repertoire (think Thais, Dvorak Sonatina, etc.) on a marginal and technically-shaky foundation, and nevertheless maintain busy teaching studios, and perform alongside amateurs.

I often think that the amateurs have a lot more fun performing than the pros -- their reputations aren't on the line in the same way when they're performing. That sometimes also means being able to perform a lot more often, as well, since each performance doesn't have to be as polished as a pro would insist upon.

November 20, 2017, 10:51 PM · "And conversely, I've met teachers who went to fourth-rate music schools, graduated playing intermediate-level repertoire (think Thais, Dvorak Sonatina, etc.) on a marginal and technically-shaky foundation, and nevertheless maintain busy teaching studios"

We have such teachers here too. Occasionally I pick up one of their former students. Trying to rehabilitate years of incorrect technique and sloppy intonation is loads of fun for both me and the student./sarcasm off

To the OP: private teaching, if you enjoy it and have an engaging personality and a lot of patience, can result in a decent if not tremendously impressive income. It can take some time to build a studio that provides a living, and you need to live in a city with a critical mass of people who have the disposable income and the desire to give their children private lessons, preferably where the public schools have an established strings program (this is likely to be your main source of students). If you have the time and the money, you might also consider going through the Suzuki teacher training. It can be an advantage to be a male in such a heavily female-dominated field; mothers of little boys can also want their children in violin lessons, and it's helpful for the children to see that it isn't just a "girl" thing.

Of course, if you don't enjoy private teaching, it can become the worst kind of drudgery.

Getting back to weddings, I know of some decidedly mediocre musicians who are making a killing with weddings. Not to imply anything about your playing--I don't know your playing--only to say that the wedding bar is significantly lower than even the freeway philharmonic bar. Again, it takes time to build up the business, and you need the right kind of personality not only to sell yourself to brides but also (on occasion) to tolerate a lot of nonsense.

November 21, 2017, 12:06 AM · Heck, I know high school students who make $100s with weddings. Not enough to live on, but pretty good as a second income stream.
November 21, 2017, 5:41 AM · Mary Ellen wrote, "and you need to live in a city with a critical mass of people who have the disposable income ..."

The downside is that such places often have higher costs of living, especially real estate, child care, and transportation (food is sometimes cheaper because there is more competition in urban areas). And with the health insurance markets in the US going completely to hell, having a job with group-rate fringe benefits is a definite plus.

November 21, 2017, 9:16 AM · Cities where a lot of parents have disposable income often don't need good public-school strings programs in order to drive an industry for private lessons, by the way. Around here (DC metro), it seems like most of the kids taking private lessons on the violin are starting at age 3 or 4 or 5. (And that's at $70 for a 30-minute private Suzuki lesson, much of the time.)

The person teaching my son's baby music class is a freelancer (and is a sub for the National Symphony), and, besides teaching music exposure to toddlers, has a non-music day job, I think. That seems typical for how musicians stitch a living together, but that person probably literally works 7 days a week, days and evenings.

November 21, 2017, 9:23 AM · Keep the scholarship, throw out the parents... OK, just kidding.

I remember when I told my dad I was studying to be a potter. Oh that didn't go over well at all. He was a military man and wanted me to follow suit. Not for me.

Thing is, you are the one who has to live your life. There are way too many people out there living lives of misery because they feel a warped sense of loyalty that includes following someone else's footprints. You HAVE TO BE happy in what you do. Yes, you can have a back up plan, which is smart, but don't dump your dreams for someone else's.

Oh, I only stayed 8 years in the military. After that, I've enjoyed not being told how to dress and cut my hair. And my degree branched out to include Fine Arts, which I'll never regret, because today, I made my daughter happy with a painting.

November 21, 2017, 9:49 AM · You're only young once, and you have scholarship support so that you can "chase the dream" so-to-speak. Don't squander it! :)

College is a time to explore. You'll never know what you're capable of if you don't go for it. At the same time, college is also a great place to change your focus and pursue a field you didn't consider before. An undergraduate degree is more than just a singular focus on a major!

Edited: November 21, 2017, 1:24 PM · First, here's hoping that you can shed the need for parental/grandparental approval, because that way lies madness. If you were good at school and are good at music, you have options, as long as you don't preliminarily shut some of them down.

There are a number of threads in this forum about the sketchy economics of freelancing and the insane amount of competition for even low-paying jobs–so I won't belabor that point.

ButI do like the idea of a Plan B, academically. I might have mentioned this in a different thread...but I knew a guy at Duke who wanted to play professionally. So he taught (reluctantly) and gigged and daydreamed and took any audition he could get for a couple of years after college. He also set himself a hard timeline of ~3 years to see if he could make it. When his time was up, he shelved the instrument and went to business school and AFIK is now making a killing in commercial banking or something (we lost touch). It really really helped that he'd done a double major in music and math from a well-regarded academic institution. But this struck me as an eminently sensible plan–he never had to wonder if he could have made it, and he got a taste of the lifestyle he'd lead if he didn't ever land an orchestral job–and got it out of his system. If you were a valedictorian, you've probably got the academic chops to add a second major in economics or something, right?

Edited: November 21, 2017, 12:17 PM · Pursuing your dream of violin performance will never again be as easy (comparatively speaking) as it is now. I pursued a degree in fine arts and never regretted it. My professional arts career only lasted 10 years (no thanks to the market crash), after which I successfully entered a corporate profession.

I will never suffer disappointment over getting a "non-corporate track" degree because that is an experience I will never have the means or the freedom to have again. As long as you are prepared for the possibility that things won't work out the way you hope, I don't think you will regret it.

November 21, 2017, 12:30 PM · Krista is right. Everyone always focuses on the immediate practicality of something, and not necessarily the long lasting intrinsic value that the choice will have. And since you have a scholarship, who cares? Have fun with it and be practical later :) Life is pretty darn long, and if you only ever focus on what makes financial sense then you'll have more trouble seeking happiness.

I'm a teacher now (what I consider to be a fairly successful one, although perhaps like one of those 4th-rate teachers lydia talks about :D). I really love what I do, and I usually look forward to the work week far more than I look forward to the weekend. But it took YEARS for my mom to "Get on board" with believing that teaching was an actual career choice. It wasn't until I had about 40 students that she finally admitted to me that she thought I'd made a good choice.

Full disclosure: I didn't go to school for music. It was an option, but I just didn't see the benefit back then, because it seemed that practice was my weak link, rather than other factors. Looking back, I was neglecting to consider all the other, seemingly extraneous aspects that it provides, such as a competitive atmosphere, a social life with other people that love the same thing you do, a panel of different instructors to give you multiple perspectives, etc....

Anyways, as I always tell students (usually the ones headed off to college): YOU'RE the one who has to live with the results of your choices, not your parents. So make choices that make sense to you.

Lydia: my jaw dropped when I read $70 for a 30 minute Suzuki lesson.

Edited: November 21, 2017, 1:24 PM · Jeff, others have given you very good practical advices already. I would like you to think about what does parents' approval mean to you? When, why, and to what extent these approvals are necessary, if at all? What are you prepared to go through if you decide to go ahead regardless what they want of you?

You are probably have been thinking about these type of questions already. If so, bravo! People don't think about such issue carefully early on can be vulnerable to actual or perceived views of others throughout their adult life, no matter what they have succeeded in their pursuits. It's not a happy situation and I'm sure you don't want to be such a person when you grow up. Treat this career choice issue as a good opportunity how to be confident and be prepared to live up to any choice you've made in your life, you'll be way ahead a lot people.

Edited: November 21, 2017, 2:51 PM · Erik: My research into the cost of Suzuki 30 or 45-minute violin lessons for young beginners here taught me that they are staggeringly expensive -- very nearly the cost of one-hour lessons from non-Suzuki teachers. But it does support a community of teachers who can afford to live here. :-)
November 21, 2017, 3:38 PM · Is it possible that the Suzuki teachers are also the ones with pedigree, reputation, experience, and track-record? (Not that this would necessarily be a coincidence.)
November 21, 2017, 3:43 PM · The mention of the disapproval of the grandparents suggests to me that one of Jeff's parents is possibly still trapped pleasing his or her parents in turn. In that case maybe the apple isn't falling very far from the tree. It's understandable.
November 21, 2017, 4:35 PM · Jeff is so lucky to have parents say "do what makes you happy". You just can't underestimate the power of such parental support. They are Jeff's parents, grandparents are not. I grew up in an extended family. I would get all sorts of directions from my grandmother, aunties, uncles on top of my parents all the time. It was a really powerful moment when realized that among all the voices, mine is unique and can't be confused by others. :)
Edited: November 21, 2017, 4:57 PM · I think the OP's high school and test achievements are to be applauded.

There are problems with almost any career that one chooses these days. But if you pick something now you don't love, what chance will you ever have for that satisfaction?

Our oldest daughter went through a lot before she realized that architecture was her dream and after getting an MS from Harvard she had to move to Europe to find a job - and it was only an 18 month internship (paid, but not enough). And she had a tough time finding work there after the internship had ended - did various things including writing the Acceess Press Paris guide. Later some 3 years after she had left Harvard when my wife and I were lounging in her Paris apartment during a visit I happened to read the current issue of the quarterly magazine from the Harvard GSD (Graduate School of Design, of which architecture was one branch) and they literally confessed their guilt and apologized for not letting their students know what a small percentage of graduates were actually able to get jobs in architecture at that time.

She moved back to the States the next year (22 years ago) and had some trouble finding a satisfying job with a decent employer, although eventually things worked out and she has had increasingly good jobs as an architect with two good firms over at least the past 18 years. Her daughter also followed her own life dream and graduated from Northwestern in theater a year ago (about as chancy a thing as music and violin performance). She moved to New York City, which is where the theaters are, with a 4-day/wk job as a receptionist already waiting and got involved with theater people, some play writing and improv performances. Now, a year after she moved to NY she is spending 2 days a week getting paid for writing, still doing some receptionist stuff, and some actual acting that gets reviewed

My point is that there can be a lot of ways to keep it together when you get an "arts degree" from a "full-service" college or university, such as the OP is. Being able to write, some public speaking skill, and general and or business knowledge can help you on your way to your chosen career. Just choose your general courses carefully.

I know a local pianist who has built a teaching studio of 60-70 students/week (children and adults) that have allowed him to also become a landlord with several properties. I also know some of the "Freeway Philharmonic" string players - that is hard work (and a lot of driving); at least one of them has had jobs as a cellist with 6 of the regional symphonies at the same time - he is now also principal cellist with the New Century Chamber Orchestra - which is also not a full-time job.

As an adult I have spent about 50 years in association with community college music teachers some of whom were very impressive musicians from whom I continued to learn a great deal from my late 20s into my late 70s. I thought some of them had enviable careers.

Edited: November 22, 2017, 6:44 AM · The very fact that you are concerned about the lack of your family's approval is a testament of its importance to you. Unless you pursue a psychotherapy to see what, if anything, can get changed in that area, you will have that shadow following you all the way to the Carnegie Hall.
The trouble with parents is not the parents themselves (which are often just a carriers of a parental archetypes), but what we internalize as "the inner parent" and what therefore becomes part of our own psyche, for good or bad.
Heck, I am tempted to paraphrase Joseph Campbell and say "follow your bliss", but also to say: have a plan B and perhaps plan C.
Whatever happens, keep loving music and having fun playing it!
November 21, 2017, 10:08 PM · Many good suggestions and advice given. Since you are on scholarship, I too think it is a good option as other suggested to have a plan B, and to tailor your curriculum as much as practical to give you a good start and shorten the duration it might take to enable that plan B if it were to become desirable. You can then explain to your parents/grand parents how you feel about taking the opportunity that is offered to you to pursue a career in music through that scholarship, realizing that there would never be such opportunity again, and if all fails, at least you would live your life knowing that you gave it a good try. Since plan B would already be in the making, it wouldn't set you off all that much in the long run. The skills and knowledge you are acquiring in the music profession should be enough in theory to at least enable you to subsidize plan B to an extent. In other word show that you acknowledge their valid concerns for your well being and that you are not ignoring their advice, and give them a warm fuzzy feeling that you don't intent in milking their retirement savings, which is probably on their mind (it would if I were them).

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