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Things you would have liked to know earlier


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What do you wish someone had told you earlier in your musical life?

I could write a book on this, but:

1. What the pro music scene is really like

2. What the audition process is really like

3. What the politics are really like

4. What the Union is actually like

5. What the competition is actually like

6. How the Choice of a location of a school might be important.

7. What would happen if you get hurt in your mid-thirties, and dont have a lot to fall back on.

8. How utterly ludicrous Colleges are when they hire horrible Musicians with PHDs, and dont look at successful pros with established abilities and lack a sheepskin.

9. How incestous the free-lance scene can be, and how it is controlled by a handful of people who are extremely connected to the Union.

10. How little Girls with no talent and plastic Boobs can get record contracts, and successful players with excellent music cant walk through the door.

11. How playing on CDs that sell 11 million copies won't help you financially, even if you arrange tunes and play solos.

12. How some violin dealers (just some) can be crooks.

13. How most conductors are talentless idiots who treat players like dirt and get paid 20x more.

I could go on. I guess my biggest shock was the union. You pay these guys a lot of money, and basically they do nothing except take the money.

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I could go on. I guess my biggest shock was the union. You pay these guys a lot of money, and basically they do nothing except take the money

What do they do for you, then? The teacher's unions -at least in my experience-do a lot for us. Sometimes it's obnoxious, but in general it's sorta worth the money.

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Violin itself or general life?

On Violin, how to practice, how to be self-critical, not fearing notes, believe in yourself when you've done the work. Technique? well where do you want me to start - I am the doctor after all - ask away, but it better be specific!!

In life, I am only *starting* to get to grips with giving good advice to keen pupils/student - I'll join in with other comments if I may, rather than share too much immediately.

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As an adult beginner the one thing I would have liked to have known is that you can't learn everything in, say 5 years, and be done with it and be a proficient player. No one warned me that it is a life long study, that it is addictive, that once you're hooked you can't ever leave...kinda like Hotel California.

Also, on a more humorous note, I thought 1st position was all there was. I was VERY perturbed to learn that there were many more positions to learn. That amuses me still-that I was so naive.

And then, of course, no one warned me about those Maestronetters!

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What do they do for you, then? The teacher's unions -at least in my experience-do a lot for us.

They do basically nothing, but there is no way around it. If you are not a member, you are not going to work.

Full-time Bands are a bit different, I was in many. As a free-lancer, they just take your money. I have been in this local for years; I have yet to receive a union paper, the scale book, anything. I did get a correspondence from the union yesterday: my dues are late.

I have never scored a gig from the Union, and I have been a member for 25 years ( I am 38). I have been screwed out of thousands of dollars for the CD I made with REM, and the union has refused to help me. I have probably paid $20,000 to the union, and I have never benefitted in any way, shape or form.

I dont even get the union newspaper. I have called a zillion times, and I still dont get it. The website has a search function for members, and my name is not on it, even though I have a union card in my pocket.

My pension is small, but I cannot get MY MONEY out, even with a huge penalty, until I am 55. It is my money, I could really use it, but I cannot get MY money out.

I play with a rock band called Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and I was actually BANNED from playing in a few cities because of the Union. Detroit was one: I have been playing with the band for years, but I wasnt allowed to play in Detroit ( where I have played with TSO many times), because some local nimrod wanted 2 local violinists to sight-read a concert that I have played 100 times. Of course, it turned out that one of the local violinists was related to the union president in Detroit.

On only one occasion it worked in my advantage, however sadly:

I did " Beauty and the Beast" in Akron last year, a bunch of shows. The touring company was on the road for years, had 2 fiddlers with them. For some dumb union rule, they were sent home, and two local players took the jobs that they had held for years. I am a good player, but this is an example of how stupid the union can be.

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That's too bad, Kabal. Our teacher's union does any or all of the following:

negotiates our salary scale and increases

negotiates our master contract (grievance procedure, conditions, etc...all that good stuff)

legal representation free (except DUI's and drug charges)

representation on grievances with administration

special interest stuff-like class size, tax base,-legistative issues-that sort of thing

free will-making (2 1/2 hour sessions with a lawyer)

retirement stuff galore

I'm sure there's more. But in general, they do help us and support us and represent us. It sounds like the music union is very political with lots of hidden agendas.

Do you have to be a member? Teachers don't HAVE to, but I think most are members. Our building is, like 95% or so.

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Ouch! Kabal - this looks bad, and I thought I had some bitterness. I hope desperately that you've let some of this go over the years - it seems a lot to deal with.

Actually TD, I have let it go a long time ago, I am fairly happy now. I still gig, and I still love music. I am the only guy around here who goes to gigs then comes home to work on his own music, I feel blessed.

I merely point out the pratfalls of the biz to the younger kids, who are looking at careers.

I didnt understand the audition process ( it is much different in the US). I kept getting screwed, and then I sat on the audition commitees. Geez, the stuff I saw. The worst was for a band that paid quite well. The conductor went through the Resumes, and saw one of his friend. This kid did not pass the first round ( there were 3), and he got the job, I kid you not. The kid did not pass the first round, and he actually got the Job. I was blown away. I also saw a few fiddlers turned down because they were " Too Good", and I saw some local players who were advanced to finals because committee members were friends, even though they played horribly.

I have no desire to be in a full-time band, but this is what it is like in the US, so I thought the Kids should know what is in their future.

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The human mind is an incredible thing. Achievements in Physical/Emotional endeavours can be rapid if both the teacher and pupil work towards the same goal with the same enthusiasm. On the Violin, there are elements, which in technique terms, have to be right (or if not right, close enough to not damage the intended path to the goal).

The teacher has to impart the knowledge in a structured and correct manner, and the student has to WANT to improve their playing. What is central is the theory that a good teacher provides the necessary service for the pupils to effectively teach themselves (see 'a few words for the teacher' in Galamian's book, although this is true to all methods, not just his approach)

As a student of the Violin, it is important to take the maximum amount from each lesson, really listen and digest what has been discussed, pay 100% notice to technical and musical matters. To unfailingly TRY to improve yourself through all the times when you work on your own - be it practice or orchestra, whatever.

It isn't until this kind of approach is accepted by a student of any discipline that good (and hopefully near maximum) improvement can happen. Few can do this on their own and even less can do this unless the teacher provides the 'environment' for this to occur. It is not hit and miss, it is a science, but one that is available to all that seek it if they really want it.



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The union is more useful for orchestra folks. Historically, music directors tended to behave like third-world dictators and the union has done a lot to help (master agreement, grievance procedures, etc.).

Yes, this is true. Cleveland was an important part of this, when Szell would hold players over for two hours, and hear every violinist play a Haydn Symphony solo. That is one of the only advantages for a free-lancer; the gig ends on time.

Some of my friends play with the Akron symphony, a per-service regional band. They recently hired a new conductor, who by all accounts is the worst conductor in the world. ( a bunch of people quit, she got a vote of no confidence, but Hoosiergirl knows how it works).

This lady actually made all the violins play alone, stand by stand, the opening of Daybreak from Daphnis and Chloe ( basically special effects). It took a half-hour. Why the union didnt jump on her sorry Butt, I have no clue. I have never worked for her, but my trusted friends say she is the worst.

I wouldnt have played, personally. Sometimes Orchestra folks dont understand the concept of solidarity, but if an entire orchestra walks out, the board can either fire and rehire 90 people, or they would boot that idiot conductor.

Too often, orchestra players act like sheeple, but if they had some backbone ( and risk being fired), conductors like her would be gone.

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Everything I know right now! But, honestly I wish I started playing instuments earlier on. I got my first real instument at 18, and have been hooked ever since.

I feel lucky that I do not have to deal with the industry. I see a lot of my friends struggling to make a decent living, and their frustrations make it clear that its not about art anymore. Is all about money, contacts and prestige. Quality is measured in long & shortterm moneymaking opportunities.

I feel blessed that I can enjoy, play and create in a musical format without having to worry about money and stuff. A daytime job takes care of somethings, and it still enables me to make music at least 3 hours a day. (I do think about it most of the time!)

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I have been offered the Elton John tour. That could change any second, but if I get that sucka, I will be sending you postcards from many countries. Elton John seems so stable, so down-to-earth, and so friendly that I cannot imagine a glitch happening, he seems so easy-going and carefree, I am sure it will work out just fine.

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Kabal, I will respectfully disagree with you on some of these issues. Some of us enjoy excellent pay and benefits, working conditions,etc.because of the strength of our local union. I'm sorry that your local union reps. sound like clowns. I am though, confused about your remarks re: recordings and pension. No special payments in Aug.? I would guess that the union is reluctant to hunt down funds for you because it wasn't a union contract to begin with. Pensions as a rule have age qualifications on them, and the AFM pension fund has a very generous benefit per contribution figure.

The audition scene is complicated, of course,yet, nothing drives me crazy like the notion that good players don't win and politics supercede playing well. I have heard stories too. I found that when I advanced at auditions, the other advancing players were people that I recognized from other auditions. I've been amazed at the consistency of results for some players (attending blind auditions). I will choose not to believe that a winning candidate couldn't play very well. I'm curious: which orchestra? Which candidate? I also found, very consistently, that those who gossip the most in the green room don't go anywhere but home. Kabal, I don't mean this all as a reaction to your post , so please don't take it so. I am reacting to the general negativity which is rampant in this field,passed along by people"in the know". My feeling is that the opposite is true. The higher one climbs in this profession, the better the view.

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I wish I'd have chosen violin as my profession.

I understand there's an ugly side in the industry; I understand how competitive the music world can be, and how unfair, how subjective, the people who decide your music career can be - both in terms of school enrollment and orchestra position hiring. From the previous replies, I further learned about things hidden behind the beautiful music.

Nevertheless, still, I wish I'd have continued on as a music major. Playing the music is so enjoyable. It's a luxury. I wish I were a violin teacher who teaches young kids. I can't help but wonder how amazing it would be to witness my pupils grow, that is, if I were a violin teacher.

Perhaps I'm saying this because I'm not in the profession. I only see the bright side of it. Okay, it's not so bad to be a finance, or accounting, or taxation major, but one thing is for sure: I wish I didn't quit violin for such a long time. Techniques are harder to build for grown-ups than for children/teenagers, IMHO. There are pieces I could play with no problem when I was 10 yet are killing me now because I lack the techniques. I have the music in my mind but I can't perform it anymore. It's a little frustrating.

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Hi pjm,

The first thing I would like to say is "Welcome" to this forum , since you are new. I appreciate your candor, your smarts, etc.

In reply to:

The audition scene is complicated, of course,yet, nothing drives me crazy like the notion that good players don't win and politics supercede playing well. I have heard stories too. I found that when I advanced at auditions, the other advancing players were people that I recognized from other auditions. I've been amazed at the consistency of results for some players (attending blind auditions). I will choose not to believe that a winning candidate couldn't play very well. I'm curious: which orchestra? Which candidate

I would be glad to PM you which Orchestras do this. I have been on both sides, I have been a schmuck who has taken fixed auditions, and I have been a commitee member for auditions that were fixed. It would be easy for me to say " It was fixed, I didnt get the job", that is called sour grapes. I have been screwed out of several auditions, but since there is the " Sour Grapes" thing, I will not dwell on that, even if it is true.

As a member of audition commitees, I learned a lot about the process. Some folks were put directly in the final round, some coughed to give their personna away, etc. The commitees knew who the local players were: I had one player who bought me a carton of smokes and some crazy Chinese Wine, and several tried to bribe me in other ways, including Sex, I swear to God.

I think that you might be a bit naive about the audition process. Quite often, the best player gets the gig, but quite often, the best player doesnt get the gig. Trust me, I have been there.

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Kabul,I didn't mean to give the impression that I think the best player always wins the job. I also have gotten raw deals.The reality seems to be that if you are of a certain level, you will win a big job, not the next one , or even the one after that, but you will end up in an appropriate place when stars are aligned. I also feel like the smaller scale the orchestra, the more insecurity/politics goes on.

My perspective is of violin auditions only. I can understand that for soloist positions in the orchestra one would consider other factors as well. I don't feel that this is fair, but this is clearly standard practice in some orchestras for titled positions.

I honestly have not seen a recent audition winner in a major orchestra who plays "horribly". Please coach me on how to discuss this (pm). In that regard I'm definitely naive.

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I wish a lot of things, and I was told a lot of things... whether or not I listened is another story.

One thing I wish I'd been told is that you play for fun, for your own enjoyment... f*ck the audience. It took me a long time to realize that... I was probably close to 18 when I finally did, and by then the damage of perfectionism had taken its toll. But now it's fun for me, and the last four or five years have been wonderful... I don't try to fit into any stereotypical violinist role like I thought I had to in the past... I get some strange looks from the "proper" violinists when I show up for rehearsals with bondage collars and spiked wrist cuffs and stuff like that... but what the hell, it's fun, it's me... what else matters?

I also wish someone had told me that there are a lot of true assholes in the music world. I guess this ties into the above... I was almost 18 when I realized that the world of professional violinist wasn't for me. Not that the music and time required was too hard, but the people I'd have to deal with on a day to day basis just weren't the kind of people I wanted to be around. This realization was pounded home when I was a freshman in college and was around a lot of music majors. These people were highly skilled (some of them virtuoso caliber) but some of them were the biggest pricks I've ever seen.

I graduated high school thinking I wanted to be a music major... I'm glad now english called to me... I'd have probably done bad things as a music major.

These are just a few of my musings for the night... maybe something else will come up, but I doubt anyone wants to hear it.


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It's sad, but not altogether surprising, that the internal politics in the pro music world is just like the internal politics in every other kind of employment. We've all seen idiots get promotions. We've all seen talent ignored because of favoritism. Who you know is far more important that what you know or what you can do. It's just the sorry way heirarchies work.

What I would have liked to have known earlier was that playing classical violin does not make one a babe magnet. More importantly, being a middle-aged classical violinist especially does not make one a babe magnet.

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