Advertising and Web Hosting on Woodwind.Org!

Klarinet Archive - Posting 000301.txt from 2002/06

From: "Kevin Fay" <>
Subj: Re: [kl] Majoring in Clarinet Performance
Date: Sun, 9 Jun 2002 12:31:46 -0400 posted:

<<<I've been told that I could become a very good musician, but I've also
been told I could be a very good businessman . . . . Having a career as a
symphony player would be a very rewarding "job". That's something that I
was shooting for before I added business as a double major (the business
world interests me as well). It's unfortunate that I feel like I would
never "make it . . . . So, I battle constantly between majoring in clarinet
performance or in business administration. Did some of you on the list have
mixed feelings pursuing the clarinet instead of another interest that might
make you more money? Do you regret, perhaps spending money/time on that

These are many questions, which together show a marked level of maturity, I
think. Points to consider --

1) You are *not* going to get a chair in a major symphony. Now, I don't
know you (or even who you are) and have never heard you play. But if you
are at a school where you can do a double major with biz admin, you're not
at a major conservatory. Those folks are miles ahead of you already --
evidenced by the talent + practice that got them in there -- and *their*
chances are none too good. The chances of you getting such a "job" are
about the same as winning the lottery; yes, it could happen, but reality

Piece of advice # 1 - before you decide to spend the next X years
exclusively studying clarinet, take a field trip to Eastman, Julliard or
wherever Howard Klug is teaching. Hear the students in that studio, and ask
yourself the hard question if you will *ever* play that well. Then ask if
you will ever play as well as they will once they have done their hard work
to be included in the 150 that show up for the National audition.

I was a music major in college for a while, thought myself a pretty good
clarinet player. Then I met a girl who not only was a looker, but could
play rings around most everyone else. She went to Eastman for grad work, I
went to law school. (She taught me a lot in nine years of marriage, too.)

2) Just because you're not going to get a chair in a major symphony doesn't
mean that you can't make a living playing clarinet. You must realize,
however, that this is still really, really difficult. Sean Osborn noted
that 8 people do it in Seattle - I live here too, and I think he's about
right. 8 out of 6 million isn't quite a one in a million long shot, but

You can enhance your earning power through performing music if you start
doubling, now (you should have started a few years ago, but no matter).
You'll need 4 sizes of saxophone plus a flute at a minimum. Here in Seattle
(a fairly representative city) you could add and additional 20 people to
that total if you look at the stable of commercial musicians in town.

. . . of course, you should do the research there too. Gigging musicians
spend a lot of time in smoky bars and cruise ships, and while they make a
living it's not a great deal of money.

3) You can *vastly* enhance your earning power if you teach, either
privately or public school music. I don't know of many musicians who do not
supplement their income through teaching. Note, however, that even the most
expensive teachers only make so much money; public school teachers can live
a very nice life, too, but not usually an affluent one.

Piece of advice # 2 - go into teaching *only* if you want to be a teacher.
Teaching is an entirely different skill set than performing. The best
teachers I know - and I know many, as I tend to hang with them - are not
necessarily the best musicians. (Their work is in inspiring young minds,
not oral/digital manipulation.) There are way too many failed performers
teaching school and hating every minute. If you don't like kids (and I mean
*really* like kids), this is not for you. Teaching shouldn't be a "fall
back" but your first choice.

4) You don't have to be a music major to play a lot of music. Charlie
Neidich graduated from Yale with the award for being the outstanding
musician of his class - but majored in anthropology. Indeed, a business
background can do much to enhance the gigging musician's earnings -- Kenny
Gorelick (Kenny G to the public) is not only a pretty good saxophone player,
he's also a certified public accountant.

I have a day job that takes a fair bit of time, plus 3 kids. I still play
in a good community orchestra, a wind ensemble, a "band" (not very good, but
they know how to party) and am regularly called to play in other orchestras
and musical theater. I turn down more gigs than I play. I'm a true amateur
- musica amo. Because I don't do it for (or need) the money, moreover, I
can be choosy; I don't play gigs for people I don't like.

Piece of advice # 3 - Before you dedicate yourself to the quest, ask some
symphony musicians how much they like their jobs. Many do - but many hate
the repetition, the conductor, or the person they have to sit next to for
the rest of their career. If you turn your passion into your job, you might
not like it so much.

So . . . should you choose a performance degree, or business?

My answer/advice is to be a performance major. Just get the business
degree, too - especially if you like it. There is nothing making you a one
dimensional drone except the blinders you put on yourself, or perhaps the
bureaucracy at your college (which, if you're smart, you'll figure a way

Even if you are to go the performance route, you really ought to fill out
your education with other stuff. Spend much time on the list, and you'll
see things like a musicologist (like Dan Leeson) and world-recognized
performers (like Tony Pay) sharing the background in mathematics. Want sage
computer advice? Many, many, many IT geeks on this list. We've got a bunch
of lawyers, too, but hey what can you do?

Think of it this way - the university is nothing more than a Knowledge
Supermarket, and you are the customer. Fill up the cart with as much as you
can. If it takes 5 or 6 years to get your second (or third) degree, so
what? You're young. Money? Get a job along the way; if you really do have
business aptitude, you'll find a way to deal with it.

I have 2 undergraduate degrees off the 5-year plan, both stereotypically
"worthless" from an economic perspective (history and political science).
Do I regret not getting a performance degree? Yes indeed - not because of
the piece of paper -- it has little intrinsic worth -- but for the extra
knowledge I would have like to pick up with it. I don't have the full grasp
of music theory that I should to be a more successful performer, for
example. While I don't think that my career path would have changed one
iota, in hindsight I would have liked to have gotten the performance degree,

Best of luck,


Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at


     Copyright © Woodwind.Org, Inc. All Rights Reserved    Privacy Policy    Contact