Discouraging Words

I can remember at least two old cranky violinists coming to talk to young me about NOT going into music.  There was a session, for example, during a Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra retreat in which a real RPO professional (who was probably 47 but whom I remember as ancient) told us that, statistically, no one who graduates from music school wins auditions for jobs because there are only like 4 jobs out there in the world and 7000 hotshots coming into the job market every week. 

Quit NOW. 

I may have misremembered the details of this speech, but I remember the emotional jolt.  It was designed to discourage.

Last weekend I was presenting at a Double Reed Festival, and heard some oboists grumbling about another presenter who had evidently given something of the same talk to a roomful of masterclass attendees and participants.  High school students and cheerful adult amateurs.

And look, there’s an element of truth to this.  Classical music is not a growing field, and it is legitimately hard to get into a big orchestra, or even just a big enough one to take care of your basic income needs.  I have heart to heart conversations regularly with my most serious students – because no one should come into this profession expecting their path to be easy or lucrative. 


Let’s not discourage people who love what they do, no matter at what level they do it.  Let’s not say that since only an elite few can get into the New York Philharmonic,  no one should try.  Let’s not negate the experiences of people who are playing on the side, playing in community bands, making chamber music with their friends. There is enormous joy in that, and it’s not our place to tell them there isn’t.

And let’s not tell young people that there is no living to be made in music.  My colleagues and I are proof that that is not true.  I perform with two regional orchestras that don’t conflict with each THAT often. I teach, I freelance actively, I play recitals and concertos, I make reeds for myself and for others.  I LOVE what I do, and my freelancer husband and I have a house and a family and a fantastic life that suits us perfectly. 

I never did win the BIG job. I doubt I will.  But I’m working all the time, I’m joyful in my career, and I am not a unicorn, I am a normal human.  I figured out my strengths and what I love to do, and I leveraged them, and I made myself a career.  There’s a niche for everyone that wants one.

What is YOUR musical life going to look like?

6 thoughts on “Discouraging Words”

  1. Bravo and Thank you. I was one of those young professionals that was \”talked out\” of following music because of economic reasons. Some may say it was your decision and if you truly loved and had a passion for the oboe, you would not have keft. Well words have power, strong emotional power. Its many years later and while I cant turn back time Ive begun to play again. Its hard, but its all mine. Its the joy of doing what we love, that keeps us going, not the economics.

  2. Got that speech multiple times too as a youth and sadly never followed my musical potentials. 20 years later I have a full time, nicely paid, non-music career. But I also have the joys of making great music too for the love of it: 3 orchestras (some paid, some not), paid pit work, and other church gigs. I get to say “no thank you” to jobs that don’t interest me and play for the ones that do. All without ever studying music on the college level (except for continued lessons and general playing). While I wouldn’t say that I’m a unicorn, I am blest to have the perfect balance. Sven if you don’t follow music as a full time career, it can be a full time love and passion of your life.

  3. Fantastic – I'm delighted that you have been able to find that perfect balance! It's what all of us, in and out of music, are striving for all the time!

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