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Thoughts on Being a Violinist

February 28, 2006

I love my job (or future job). I feel that I am very fortunate to be able to do something that I truly love to do. It’s a lot of fun, I get to work with some great kids, I get to jam out occasionally, and I am surrounded by beautiful music. Some days my homework is to go home and listen to a Beethoven Symphony, most days I’m expected to practice and analyze the most efficient way to learn a piece of music.

I however have many other interests. If you read my blog, you know that I love to knit, I like to watch movies, and I especially like cuddling with my boyfriend or my cat. Most of the time I can figure out how to balance all of these things on a tight rope and not only make music but have a somewhat normal life as well. These days it seems like there is little room for anything else but music. I get the feeling that if I want to be a decent musician I will never be able to enjoy other parts of life. So I begin to question, I love my violin, but is it worth it taking over my entire life? Is this just how it feels when a musician is in school, or is this just what is expected all the time? Can I handle it? If this is what it means to be getting a Masters, and it gets easier after this, then I can make it through. I have one more year of my degree, and I can push through that much.

Mostly I’m just feeling very overwhelmed. I had a horrible lesson yesterday, and a not so hot playing test today. I will be playing in Master Class in a few hours and all I want to do is curl into my bed with a good book and a cuppa’. Hopefully it will be better after this crazy busy week.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Gray permalink
    February 28, 2006 8:55 pm

    You have tapped into one of the great issues of my life, though I am in place considerably farther down the path and have already gone down a different fork or two. For me this dialogue is an old one, no longer painful, but also never resolved. I empathize with your thoughts

    I can possibly help you think about what it is like to choose not to do music professionally.

    Here’s an overly detailed background sketch:

    I was fully dedicated to music in high school. I went to a high school with unusual resources for performing arts. I played several classical and early music wind instruments, performed in many ensembles and contexts, and founded a successful early music group. I had other interests but music was the center of my world. I was worried about the realities of life as a professional musician, and concerned about the fact that I didn’t really love my primary instrument, the clarinet. I also wasn’t convinced that I would be good enough. I appied both to music schools and colleges with strong science programs, and was a little shocked to get into my first choices in both categories. After a soul shaking struggle I chose to go to a liberal arts university where non-music majors are treated respectfully by the music department. The sense of loss propelled me into an acute depression for weeks. Happily, luck and persistence allowed me to take music courses and instrument lessons and to participate in ensembles often reserved for music majors throughout college and grad school.

    I am now 50. I am convinced that I made the right decision. I have a successful career in sciences, human services, and government, and I have never abandoned music. I work ferocious hours, but I don’t have to make the compromises musicians often have to make between family time and income generating obligations on nights and weekends. My job performance is often judged publicly, but unlike a musician, my success is not as dependent on style, whim, aesthetics, and personal magnetism and even appearance. A close musician friend has developed repetitive motion disabilities that threaten her livelihood at mid-career. I don’t have that sort of vulnerability

    I now primarily play baroque and renaissance winds, and also traditional flutes and whistles.

    It is very hard for me to perform early music as often as I wish, but am very happy with the quality of the opportunities I do have. I usually perform early music with professionals and am paid as they are. This is very reinforcing for an amateur. I may not have enough opportunities to play, but I can freely choose to reject things I don’t want to do or accept risky projects, since I do not rely on it for income. I occasionally give lessons or substitute for school conductors, and am the music director for at least one theater production a year. Professionals who do not know me are skeptical of my ability and can be terribly dismissive. I no longer enjoy playing with amateurs who are not progressing to a higher standard. Sometimes I have gone for more than two years without being regular standing member of a group and am limited to ad-hoc events. .

    I play various sorts of traditional music with a couple of groups. mostly for contradances. New England is a great place to live if you love this music as I do. Art least two thirds of my performances are of traditional music now because there are more than enough gigs available.

    I’m happy with my decision not to pursue music professionally, but it is extraordinarily hard to find good opportunities as an amateur. My income has been higher and my career has been more flexible and stable, but I still grieve what I have missed.

    I don’t advise you to switch directions at all, but I thought that my experiences might show the other road. I admire my musician friends and I think that most would not want to trade lives with me.

    Finally, I would say that these days most people have multiple careers with complicated twists and turns. I know an oboeist who is now the CFO of a software company, an actor turned radiologist, and a guitar player who is a successful health economics consultant. You will have lots of choices and opportunities ahead that you could never dream of now.

    An interesting topic. I’m happy to revisit it.

  2. Jodie permalink
    March 1, 2006 3:11 pm

    Thank you so much Gray for you advice and sharing your experience with me here. Deep down I know I’ll make it through all this, but I’ve had a week of constant questioning. My dream would be to have a studio of about 30 students and play in some sort of performance group. The performance group could be a chamber group, or a local symphony. I have so many teachers and mentors that spend all their time living and breathing music, and I just can’t see myself doing that. They are amazing musicians, and their hard work shows in many ways. Hopefully I will be able to balance all the things I love, which is something I haven’t been feeling to successful at lately.

  3. Gray permalink
    March 1, 2006 8:28 pm

    Thanks for the nice comment. I ruefully realize that the question engaged deep and unresolved issues for me, and my dreadfully long answer was probably more useful as a form of discharge for me than as a response to you.

    That sounds like a good kind of life, one that I would certainly find attractive myself,

    Many of my music friends are able to mix teaching with a regional symmphony and more than one smaller ensemble such as chamber groups or theaters. The smaller ensembles tend to form and reform from small pools of players who know and like each other very well.

    My daughter now attends a private high school, despite our enthusiasm for publc schools. The music faculty there seem to have very enjoyable and rewarding jobs. As a practical matter, they are free from the anxieties endemic to the business of running a studio, and have many opportunities to take on roles and projects which are not at all limited to music. I think that most of them began as part time instructors there.

  4. Jodie permalink
    March 3, 2006 10:14 am

    It is comforting to hear that musicians have the ability to balance their lives. I’m plodding through a particularily frusturating week (lots of opera rehearsals) and am looking forward to a little break. Febraury has been full of performances and hard practice. Thanks for your helpful comments.

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