Studying the Violin in College

 Studying the violin and taking it to that 'next level' can and should be a very exciting time in a young violinist's life.  Where should you go?  What do you want to eventually “do" (for a living)? How much will or should it cost you?  Putting it all together to make the best choice and one that really suits you, the individual.

We could write a book on the subject I am sure, but as a professional bass player (I play bass in the Phoenix Symphony) and also one of the top upright bass dealers in the world, I am always asked by young players, or player's parents hoping for more information about just what to do or ideas of where to look for more information about studying in college and pursuing music performance as a career.

First, this is a just going to be a brief over view and in no way, would we ever try to tackle all the answers or give guidance on what to or where to go.  There's just too much there.  I am a parent with two of my own kids now in college (one is a Forestry major and the other, Photography!)  I can easily say that they are both very “artsy-fartsy"!  One thing that I would never want to risk doing is control the passion and enthusiasm my “kids" have for life.  Even said, I am a bit of a reality check sometimes.  Just call me, Mr. Practical for now.  Tennessee Williams once said “if you find a job that you like, you will never work a day in your life!"

Thinking of a college degree in music and violin?

There are a multitude of questions regarding what, where, how and even why.  Let me begin saying that I would like to give a perspective on two fronts: one as a symphony playing professional (going on 25 years!) and from a parent's perspective (going on 23 years!).

Full time, professional symphony jobs are very few and extremely difficult to get.  Without sounding like Dr. Doom, let me at least say, that if you look strictly at the facts and numbers, the percentages and odds of string performance majors getting a fulltime position with an orchestra while not impossible, still very difficult.  With the present public school programs, cheaper instruments, more plentiful teachers (also making it more affordable) have really created a lot of very good, very qualified players around the world.

Here is the quickie version of the process of getting a top symphony job:

Start on the violin at an early age, (by the way, talent knows no age) so don't get paranoid if you think you started “too late".  No such thing if you love it and willing to work hard.  You practice many hours a day, every week, through junior high, high school, go to a great college, maybe even a Masters degree and you send in a resume when you see an orchestra opening (in the International Musician).  You pay an audition deposit (this guards against the “no-shows") you get your repertoire list (in email or post), you prepare for this “list" and solo for the next 4-6 weeks, or longer, buy your air ticket, book your hotel and you go and play.  You get…about 5-10 minutes your first round, (you are behind a screen, anonymous and perhaps one out of 50-100 players!)  All wanting the same one job. Hey, I said this was the “quickie" version!  This then leads me to the next point:  Where to go to college???

Studying the Violin in College

As I previously wrote above, there are lots of violin teachers.  There are a lot of very good violin teachers.  As a hardened professional musician (well, I am not really hardened…that sounds dark.) I would ask the following questions to the prospective teacher: What professional orchestra position have you had or your students gone to or have?  To me, this is the most important question to all string playing students (that really want a symphony job) to ask.  Don't be afraid…ask!  Your well being and your future depend on having real, factual  and accurate information.  If your prospective college professor has never held a professional orchestra position (that you aspire) and is not some top performing solo artist that also loves to teach, and they have very few former students “working", I would have to say…perhaps look elsewhere.  For violinists, there are lots and lots of different kinds of ways to make a living playing and teaching the violin.  There are very qualified players that choose not to work in a professional symphony and/or those that prefer smaller community type or regional orchestras that pay part time kind of salaries, but also teach on the side.  On the side?  Some really good and experienced violin teachers can have an incredible career happily teaching and some have huge studios (30-60 students a week).  At $20-50 per lesson and even more in some cases, you can do the math.  Somewhere there is a happy balance.  The word “happy" is key here.  Music majors tend to be smarter in general and another great idea is to get a 'double major'.

Music major and engineering?

So many of the students that I knew at school, evolved into other fields.  I went to a great music school (Indiana University) and a lot of my fellow students are in professional orchestras now. Just in my own symphony, there are 12 former Indiana people of varying age.  Music students are smart!  A lot of the people that didn't go on to professional music careers, even though they got the degree, either got a double or cognate field at the same time, or went into an entirely different field afterwards.  (Just in my own graduation class, there are doctors, lawyers, scientists of different fields).  Pretty cool I think…which again, makes me say: music majors are smart!  After studying for years and spending hours dedicated to practicing their instrument, this alone shows some serious sacrifice….knocking down an extra year or two in a different field and spending the necessary study time, easy!  (Easy for me to say at least.)

Some schools give scholarships.

Yes, I know of more than a few bass players (again I play bass) that after years of practice and good money spent on teachers (parents take note), they decided that while they love music still, maybe want to study something else in college. Some top universities desire to have the best players in their school and maybe not enough players to balance out their school orchestra or studios will offer sizeable scholarships to attend that school, as long as they play in or study the violin there, even IF they choose another major!  Is that cool or what???  Please don't contact me and ask which ones.  Every school is different and it changes year to year.  This is your due diligence time.

Do what you love.

Again, I go with “find a job that you love and you will never work a day in your life".  Life is short and I think that if you love what you do, you will do whatever you have to (working hard) do succeed.  Something will work out and at the same time, don't pull the wool over your eyes and don't be afraid to look at and ask the toughest questions.  Last but not least….buy your violin strings from us!!!!

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