Music and Vision homepage


Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Whilst Alice is on holiday for two weeks,
KELLY FERJUTZ is Classical Music Agony Aunt

Dear Kelly

What do you think about a woman -- Marin Alsop -- being named conductor of the Baltimore Symphony?

Interested in US

Dear Interested -- this is way too long a topic to be covered here, this week. Tune in next week [publication Monday 15 August] for all kinds of good dish on the topic!


Ask Alice

Dear Kelly

My daughter is twelve. In addition to being a good student -- mostly As, with a few Bs -- and willing to participate in team sports (although she plays to help her friends, more than to win for herself) she is brilliant at music. We're not sure where this ability comes from, as her father and I are not musical, although we do like to listen to the occasional concert. We've always tried to be very supportive, but recently seem to have reached a new stage, which quite frankly, leaves us floundering.

Sometimes she seems to like the piano best, sometimes the violin, and the teacher of one instrument encourages her to give up the other. She is confident she can adequately maintain the status quo until she reaches college age, when if necessary, she will make a choice.

I freely admit to some qualms about this, as we do not have unlimited financial resources. We will be able to eventually send her to university, but not if we have to buy two costly instruments before that time.

We have insisted that she keep up her academic work, which she seems to find very easy. We encourage any athletic endeavors, and display great pride (and no little confusion) over her musical abilities. What do we do with this child? Is it fair to encourage her in music, not knowing if she really has that certain 'spark' so essential to such a career? What kind of career can she make for herself as a professional musician? Should we insist that, when she is ready for further education, she pursue a career in another field (law, medicine, teacher, whatever) and set music aside until after she's graduated?

Is there an eventual musical career possible for a young woman in these circumstances? We don't want to force her into anything, just do the best thing for her, now and twenty years from now?

Any advice will be greatly appreciated.

Kelly Ferjutz

Dear Confused,

This is indeed a dilemma, possibly one with no answer. However, there are clues that you can follow in order to eliminate some hazards.

A friend who now plays in a major orchestra had to make a similar choice as a teenager. He's a very sociable creature, always surrounded by family and friends. His high school orchestra went on a two-week tour and he quickly discovered he didn't like all that traveling -- or the necessary periods of solitude that were part of it. He gave up the solo instrument in favor of the more orchestral one, and has been happily earning a good living for the past thirty years (and incidentally, seeing the world while he's at it!) I found this to be a very profound explanation when he first mentioned it to me, but it's very true. Soloists may well earn an enormous amount of money, but will that compensate for the loneliness that is such a necessary part of that lifestyle? This is true for singers as well as instrumentalists, by the way, and may contribute to the incidents attributed to 'believing one's press releases'.

Certainly, it's also true that having a back-up career is an excellent idea. An injury or illness may make it impossible to continue playing one's instrument. Teaching is always a viable companion to performing, but if the musician isn't trained to be a teacher, that won't always work out well, either. Some singers become stage directors, and are very good at it. Either a singer or instrumentalist might become a conductor of either chorus or orchestra.

A somewhat similar situation exists in the world of dance. Because dancers put so much pressure on themselves and their bodies (dancing in spite of injury, for instance) their careers are sometimes shorter than planned. At the same time, since the dancer was just a teenager, there has been no other ingredient in their life than dance, and many of them are woefully undereducated. They have no alternate or back-up plan for the time when dance is no longer a possibility. Many cities (and dance companies) have begun offering special education programs for dancers that can begin while the dancer is still active, but will eventually result in a degree that will provide a wider choice of employment opportunities at some point in the future.

Twenty years ago, another young friend -- a cellist -- was in an advanced program at our local music conservatory. He still had one more year of high school before heading off to university. His teacher suggested a better instrument, and at that time, the next best category of cello would cost more than $20,000! Twenty years ago! And that figure did not include a bow or a case. This young man was not quite 16 years old. His mother was a well-respected violin teacher in the area, but even she was not prepared for that kind of news!

Imagine a young person wanting to study medicine and being told they would have to establish and equip a medical office BEFORE they could begin taking any medical classes, or enroll in med school.

But what if you invest that kind of money in an instrument, and the child (for any one of a number of reasons) decides to enter another field, leaving music behind? Well, unless the instrument is damaged in some way, it should have appreciated in value at least somewhat since you purchased it.

And finally, another consideration is this. Study after study after study has shown that students who excel in music -- because they want to -- will use that same self-discipline in whatever field they may choose, should music not be the final winner. Youth orchestras know this very well, and do all they can to encourage it. Traditionally, members of these orchestras exhibit a 99% rate of attending -- and graduating from -- a four-year college, even if they don't end up studying music. An extraordinarily high percentage of them then go on to graduate school, sometimes still participating in music, sometimes not.

Nurture your daughter and her great gift. Be sure she knows she's loved regardless of her choices. Without overloading her, make her aware of the financial situation regarding prices of instruments versus educational costs. So encourage her, but don't push, and at the same time let her know that if she changes her mind and wants to study something else entirely, you'll still be there, happy and loving and supportive.

Copyright © 5 August 2005 Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland USA

Ask Alice



 << M&V home              Alice's columns >>