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Advice about going back to school for music

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by musicman1586, Jan 1, 2014.

  1. musicman1586


    May 24, 2012
    Alright everyone I need some advice, er, reassurance I guess. So recently I have decided that I can’t pursue academia as a career anymore, at least not going into the field I was going into. To make a looooong story short, I’m finishing a masters degree, was applying for doctorates, but I just don’t think I can keep going any more, simply because the prospects of getting jobs in my field have dropped off significantly and I don’t see that changing in the next few decades sadly.

    So about a year ago I finally decided to pursue one of my dreams: learn to play the double bass. I’ve played music my whole life. Over the years I’ve played violin, piano, percussion, guitar, electric bass, sitar (I know, weird huh?), and sang in choir. For a significant portion of my life I thought I wanted to be a composer. Unfortunately for me though, I picked the wrong instrument as my main instrument: bassoon. I love the instrument on its own, but I wasn’t passionate about playing it. In fact, I’m pretty certain that by the time I finished high school I was a worse player than when I started. Needless to say I knew I couldn’t make the cut getting accepted into even a very low-tier music program (I really was that bad). So I decided to pursue my other interest which was to go into academia. I always knew I wanted to play the double bass though. In fact, my last semester of high school I convinced the orchestra director to lend me a bass and I took lessons on it for a few months, but when I graduated I had to return it.

    So thus far on the double bass I have advanced very quickly. I wanted to pursue the bass as a solo instrument (which I know, who in their right mind wakes up one day and decides they want to do something as ridiculous as that) and I happened to find probably the best teacher I could have for this goal. I don’t know if it is “cool” to drop names on this forum, so I will avoid it, but he is a former virtuoso pupil of Gary Karr’s who is now a DMA student of Jeff Bradetich. Basically I was very lucky and hit the jackpot. In my first year of playing I have learned Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise, Faure's Elegie, the first movement of Vanhal, and I am currently working on the 3rd Bach Cello Suite in G, a Bottesini Elegy, and playing around with most of the 1st Cello Suite at pitch. I know that this sort of progress is uncommon and since picking up the bass, the fact that I did not pursue music as a career has seriously been nagging at me. Now that I have made the decision to reevaluate my life, I know I need to seriously consider going back to school for music. I have done my research and found out that all my hours from my undergraduate degree can be used for a new degree, so the fact that I could go back and only take courses (aka spend money) in music makes that prospect even more appealing. When I mentioned this to my teacher he didn’t seem surprised at all, and in fact was surprised that I didn’t think I could or should pursue a performance degree and that I was apprehensive about the audition process. In fact he pretty much told me point blank I would get in, which utterly shocked me, and perhaps suggests that I’ve been downplaying my own progress so far.

    So here is the question I have everyone. I am 27 going on 28 now. I have missed auditions and application deadlines this year by literally a matter of weeks or days in some cases, so it will be a year before I can apply, and a year and a half before I start a program any where. So I am looking at starting my musical education at almost 30. Do you think this is too late to be able to craft for myself a sustainable career? I am still not sure what I would actually even major in, originally I was thinking music business with a minor or double major in management so that I could hopefully work on the business side of the arts. But given my teacher’s reaction to me at our last lesson, I may consider composition or performance now as well. Regardless, what are people’s thoughts on this subject? Should I take the plunge? Any thing that I should be thinking about that would be hard for me to know ahead of time? Or am I really just fretting too much?
  2. You are the only person who can say if this is the right thing for you to pursue, but perhaps I can offer some useful information and observations.

    I've spent most of my life learning the instrument. I went through four degrees and seven years of music school, the last two of which I also worked as a freelance performer, teacher, and luthier. I've had the pleasure of sitting in with several professional orchestras and I'm just now starting a full-time position in Germany, but I think it's fair to say I've seen the business from a good variety of perspectives. Reading your post, I have a number of thoughts coming to mind:

    -- Given your age, you should have a clear(ish) idea of what your goals look like. Do you want to freelance? Teach? Play in an orchestra? What kind of music do you want to play? Where in the world do you see yourself doing that? Anything's possible, but you need to know where you want to go.

    -- Choice of school is incredibly important. Sadly, there are going to be some otherwise fine teachers who might have a hard time accepting an older student as an undergrad into their studio. Be sure you've made contact with any teacher you're interested in. Ideally, you would have at least one or two lessons with them before applying.

    -- Music schools are a bubble where your "standing" seems important. It's not. You could be the best bassist at Timbuktu University and it wouldn't mean a thing.

    -- Plan on working your ass off in school. If you find yourself with too much free time, you're doing something wrong. At your age, you're going to have to work twice as hard just to catch up. It's not just about bass. You need to know your theory, solfege, music history, etc.

    -- Working that hard will take a toll on your physical health. Even with the best techniques, spending 7+ hours a day every day with a bass in your hands is going to cause problems. Develop an efficient, healthy practice schedule right off the bat (pro tip: take lots of breaks and at least one full day off every week) and get in the habit of daily stretches or doing yoga if you haven't already.

    -- Do you have the financial resources to see this through to the bitter end? The vast majority of professional classical double bassists of our generation spend at least six years in school, sometimes much more, and most of them have been playing the instrument since childhood. Without scholarships, the school itself and the cost of equipment, sheet music, and everything else is incredibly expensive. This matters, because...

    -- This is a TOUGH business to make money in. High-paying orchestral jobs are rare, and the level at which you need to be in order to win an audition is exceptional. Most players will spend some time freelancing, and many will remain as freelancers. While there are a handful of highly successful freelance bassists (particularly in Hollywood), the majority are struggling to get by. You need to ask yourself if that's a career you could live with. And keep in mind, most full-time freelancers are more than qualified to play with a professional orchestra. The ones who aren't tend to wash out; contractors notice when you can't play your instrument.

    -- Sometimes gigs are no fun. If most of your jobs are weddings and church services, they can be downright miserable. Because you're trying to sustain yourself on money made from performance, you will gradually realize that your relationship to the art form has been compromised. When it's a hobby, the whole point is to have fun. In the real world, you almost never get to play the music you want.

    -- Sometimes gigs are the best thing ever. Playing music has taken me to parts of the world I never thought I'd see, let me feel things I didn't know I could feel, and brought me to meet some of the most fascinating people. It's not always comfortable or easy, or even rewarding, but it can be an exciting lifestyle. Just don't plan on living in a mansion.
  3. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004

    Jason Heath has done some excellent writing about his freelance orchestra experiences at http://doublebassblog.org/2006/12/road-warrior-without-expense-account.html

    Rest assured, if you think your prospects in your current field look dim, they won't get any better in music unless you are one of the chosen. You'll have to dive in head first and spend a good many years professionally to know the answer.

    You say you don't want to go into academia. Realize that many musicians are now looking to academia to make their living. Where there were once a great many career sustaining playing jobs, there are now much, much fewer. Musicians by the truckload are getting masters degrees and doctorates for this very reason.

    You really have to want to do this to be able to commit, and without commitment, you'll never succeed professionally. I'm guessing this would apply to your current field, also.

    As an aside, try using paragraphs in your writing. It will make your story much easier to read.
  4. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    I'm afraid I can't offer any advice on going to school for music, just wish a good luck. I would like to say that I thoroughly understand your decision not to continue towards a doctorate. What field would it have been in?

    I got my doctorate in history back in 2006. At the time, everyone was giving me the thumbs-up, saying I'd found my true calling, advisors said I had a good CV and should do well on the job market. Now, going on eight years later, I'm still adjuncting at $2500 per course. Thankfully my wife's career is solid (she's a librarian), so we can pay the bills (just), but that also means we're geographically anchored so I can only apply to local openings - which are non-existent. And in other fields - even just part-time retail jobs - I often don't even get an interview when I apply. One of the few times I did get an interview, the conversation went, "Well, you don't REALLY want this job anyway - as soon as a professorship opens up, you'll be out the door." And no matter how much you try to explain that you really like being able to buy groceries and heating oil, they don't believe you. Planning on getting a tenure-track professorship is starting to be more and more like planning on becoming a rock star or pro athlete. I don't think I could really heartily recommend to anyone to go for the doctorate any more.
  5. christian10992


    Jan 2, 2014
    Here is my opinion, for what it is worth, and sorry if I repeat anything:

    I entered university as a music major, on bassoon and saxophone. After three full semesters I changed. It wasn't because I couldn't handle the demands or keep up with my music, I just didn't enjoy music in an academic setting. This is something a lot of people run into, and that a lot of my friends have went through as well. Other people leave for a plethora of reasons. Music departments shed a lot of people annually.

    Now, I still participate in my university's music department, and play in bands as well on various instruments, and I am in a music fraternity. I found a way to balance music and my other interests so that I am now cranking out more music and having more fun doing it than ever. You don't have to be a professional to be a musician. Music can still be a profound and everyday part of your life without it also being what you rely on for money.

    Also consider that classical music is a horrible job market right now. You dont have to look too far past the headlines to see that. It sounds like you want to be an orchestral player. A few spots a year open in orchestras that you can make a decent living in. When people get a spot, they generally hold onto these for a LONG time. Unless you plan on branching into other genres, you will probably need to pursue a masters or doctorate and hope to get a university position somewhere in addition to playing.
    This all is not to discourage you. I think everyone should persue their dreams, but I just want to give you a fair representation of the academic and professional music scene as I have seen it. Hopefully it helps you in some way.
  6. austentaciousC


    Mar 17, 2010
    This thread should be stickied ASAP
  7. Joedog


    Jan 28, 2010
    Pensacola FL
    No expert, but I have 3 friends who did music school (Berkley). All 3 have fairly low paying (non-music related) day jobs to pay the rent. Actually one still lives with her parents. All 3 are excellent musicians, and make some $ with various bands, but nowhere near making "a living". Obviously some do, and some acheive GREAT success, but the odds are not great. Not trying to rain on your dream, but be aware of the hurdles going into it.
  8. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    I still think that Steve Swallow's advice applies - if it's something you WANT to do, it's the worst way in the world to try to make a living. If it's something you HAVE to do, there's no better life in the world.
  9. lfmn16


    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    If you want to make a career in music, talk to people who are actually doing it, not the arm chair quarterbacks.
  10. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    You mean, like Paul and Eric?
  11. neilG


    Jun 15, 2003
    Ventura, CA
    My 2 cents: I wouldn't get too hung up on getting a music degree unless you plan on teaching at a school, and even then, see the posts above. I have two degrees from Juilliard, a decent music school I'm told, and nobody has ever asked if I even graduated high school when it came to getting playing jobs. Get a degree for anything else you want to do for a living and/or for your own growth, but specifically for music, not necessary, IMO.
    I should add that as a university teacher, I would have no problem accepting an older student as an undergrad if they had the appropriate talent. Good luck to you.
  12. This has not been my experience at all. In Houston, some contractors care a great deal. If they haven't worked with me before, saying I have degrees from Rice is usually enough to get me on their call list.

    If you're sending out a resume for an orchestral audition, you're not going to get very far without any professional experience or some kind of music education listed.
  13. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    As Eric notes, paragraphs help writers and readers organize ideas. In their absence it's likely that some readers missed this critical convergence of concepts:

    Yes. It's too late AND it's too unlikely. For as long as there have been "professional double bass soloists," which is to say about 125 years, there have never been more than about three of them at any one time. If you have your heart set on becoming one of the three I don't think it will work.

    But if you have your heart set on becoming one of the three then what I think doesn't matter at all. Good luck to you, MI1586.
  14. I missed that part. And yeah, the ship has probably sailed on that one. If there ever was a ship.

    Honestly, I can't think of a single person working today who receives the bulk of their income from playing classical bass solos. Gary Karr is retired. Edgar Meyer and Renaud Garcia-Fons are writing their own material where the classical label wouldn't apply. People like Jeff Bradetitch and DaXun Zhang have full time university gigs.
  15. lfmn16


    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    Well, I wouldn't talk to a frustrated accountant or someone like me that did it 30 years ago.
  16. Ed's point is that both Paul and Eric DO play music full time for a living. You just randomly chimed in as the voice of someone even you wouldn't talk to about this subject.
  17. musicman1586


    May 24, 2012
    No, let me make this clear. I have no intention of becoming a soloist as a career. I was mentioning that I was attracted to the bass to begin with because for whatever crazy reason I adore it as a solo instrument. I know I am waaaay too late on the soloist gig, I was merely mentioning it as speculation for why I have advanced quickly (ie: I never just played one octave scales, I was straight into thumb position right to the tip of the fingerboard from the get go). I don't foresee myself going into a performance career, I might be able to make it as a mediocre orchestra musician, but I don't really see that as my calling. Majoring in performance would really be for me just to put myself to that test and see if I could come out on the other side, but I don't see myself doing performance. Many schools offer a "performance certificate" for non-performance majors which is probably what I would opt for. Realistically I always wanted to major in composition, and I have never ceased to write music or be interested in the craft, and I get a kick out of studying theory and orchestration.

    If I could craft an idealistic scenario what I would do is go back and get a double major in composition and business. Then I would idealistically land a job in something like financial management for an orchestra or venue management or something along those lines while composing on the side, yada yada. What I know is that I want to be heavily involved in the world of classical music again, and I feel more and more that I would not be satisfied just being a hobbyist. I wouldn't be surprised if I got my degree in composition and then realized I can't avoid academia and wind up with a ph.d. in theory or something like that. I would love to be involved in the world of academic music personally, and the only reason I didn't pursue this path originally is because I honestly was such a poor bassoonist that it just was not an option for me back in the day.

    That being said, I know I could get jobs in the classical music industry without a degree in music, but there is something about the challenge and knowledge that you can only get from pursuing that path which I am drawn continually back to. Particularly when it comes to theory and composition, I know I can learn much of that on my own, in fact I own and have read good portions of many of the "seminal texts" in theory, orchestration, etc. but there is something about the academic setting that forces me at least to go to that next level. I continually feel that I will regret it if I don't get that higher level of education that I can't receive from weekly bass lessons. I have considered seeking out composition teachers for lessons, but I don't know if that would ever be enough for me.
  18. neilG


    Jun 15, 2003
    Ventura, CA
    You're probably right about the audition resume, but I've not been on the deciding end of who to allow in to auditions.

    The OP says he's finishing a master's degree. At his age, and especially if he has the talent he professes to have, going back to school for a performance degree doesn't seem necessary. I'll wager that any time he sends out a resume to contractors nobody will ask or care what the subject of his degrees are. I know plenty of musicians whose grad and often post-grad degrees are in something besides music.
  19. punkjazzben


    Jun 26, 2008
    I have recently completed a PhD in history, and have been doing casual work for a number of years now (I'm what you would call an adjunct). My wife has a solid career as a school teacher, so a stable income is there. But I've made a deal with myself that I wouldn't get sucked into doing casual work for years, always hoping to get a break; I'm 27 this year and we want to start a family before it's too late. And buy a home. You can't do that working 90 day contracts that are available only six months of the year. So if I'm not in an ongoing position at the start of 2015, I'm out. I'm very competitive, with a very strong teaching and publishing record, but even that's no guarantee if secure work in the academic world.

    So I am considering using my performance degree from c.2007 to find work as a teacher with a secondary school (instrumental or classroom music), or look at other work in the arts industry (not necessarily performing).

    My advice would be to go for it, and you should most definitely double with something complementary and 'practical' like business, law, or education. Remember, too, that research students gain a whole pile of skills that are attractive well outside academia - you just need to identify them and market yourself to the non-academic world effectively.
  20. lfmn16


    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    Nothing random about it. The OP asked for advice and I gave it. You must be one of those frustrated accountants I was telling him to stay away from. :D