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#2056519 - 03/29/13 09:32 PM New poster here, looking for advice (long)
burghpiano Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 03/29/13
Posts: 7
Hi everyone,

Just wanted to introduce myself as a fellow musician and music lover who is looking for a bit of guidance.

My story is a long and not particularly compelling one, so I’ll try to hit the highlights: I started taking piano lessons at age 7, mainly because I was absolutely terrible at any kind of organized sport and my parents wanted me to do something besides play with toy cars all day. From the start I was able to pick up theory and reading music very easily—not really surprising since I had also learned to read at a very young age as well. It wasn’t until I was around 13 that these traits, along with my aforementioned lack of body coordination, were possibly a result of Asperger’s Syndrome (a label I’m not very comfortable with as it’s become a very trendy self-diagnosis and excuse for failure to cope with life, but it’s true that I did and always have struggled in empathizing with others). I breezed through my early lessons, reading well above the usual level for students my age, but unfortunately I wasn’t as good at actually listening to the sounds I made (which really is the more important part by quite a bit, isn’t it?). Worse, because my family moved around so much, I never stuck with one teacher long enough to really make a difference and my technique suffered greatly. Trying to sight-read pieces far beyond my playing level due to overconfidence, combined with poor technique, has led to pretty severe back and shoulder tension. Nonetheless, I soldiered on through school, taking lessons off and on and playing piano for theatre productions and choral recitals, mainly because I seemed to have few other skills and not because of any particular passion on my part.

I entered college first as a music business major, which I hated, then switched to an “individualized study” program which turned out to be completely wrong for me as well. After three years, I dropped out of college due to personal problems and soon after I began playing music on cruise ships. For the uninitiated, gigs for musicians on cruise ships have many benefits…and drawbacks. The two biggest benefits are that it’s steady work and you get a chance to see many parts of the world that you otherwise may not see. (My first ship gig was my first time in Europe...at age 22...I cared about little else!) After close to five years at sea, though, the biggest drawback for me right now is a lack of creativity and innovation in the music on a ship. Most of the guests are just on vacation and just want to be entertained, and consequently the music tends to be “the same old thing” over and over again. I don’t regret my career on ships at all—in fact, I’ve learned more than I ever thought possible about jazz (always a weak spot for me) and ensemble playing, gained invaluable experience as a performer, and had some of the best times of my life in some of the most exotic locales on earth. But I have definitely reached a plateau as far as performing goes, and this—combined with the lack of a good teacher in my life for many years—has me considering an end to my ship days.

It’s only fairly recently—through several different and occasionally painful life lessons learned—that I’ve discovered the passion and emotion that was missing from my playing, and am resolved now to develop it and add it to the equation. It was a fairly simple realization really—I often have difficulty communicating with people verbally, so communicating with music will be much more satisfying, right? To this end I have found myself with a renewed confidence and eagerness to learn all that I can about music. I can accept that I’m well past the age where I can develop into a concert-level virtuoso, and that the money will probably never be very good as a result—at this point I care only about doing what I love. The only question now is how to go about accomplishing my goals. I do want to return to school and finish and then probably pursue a masters of music as well. Hopefully at least some of the credits from the three years already under my belt will transfer and it won’t take too long. To be honest, though, even assuming I can get past the audition process, the thought of being a 28-year-old man in music school with competitive students who are 10 years younger than he, and whose collective skill level is at or (more likely) greater than mine is quite unnerving! Furthermore, a few fellow musicians have suggested that such a degree may not teach me anything more than what I already know (although for me that isn’t really the point, it’s more about being in an immersive musical environment). Because of this the other option I’ve considered is simply finding a good teacher and settling down with him/her for long-term instruction. This of course would be much less expensive and allow me more freedom to go out and explore the music business myself (on land), but I would miss out on the aforementioned immersive environment.

So I realize I rather annoyingly took four paragraphs to ask what basically boils down to “Does a professional musician need to go back to school again or does he just need a good teacher?”, but I felt the proper context was necessary. I didn’t have a good focus, good mental state or a clear understanding of my own abilities and goals the first time around and feel that now, with more improvement in these areas, I want a second chance. The only downsides now, as far as I can see, are high cost and possible lack of career options afterward.

To give you an idea of my skill level, here are some of the more advanced of the pieces I’ve worked on over the past couple of years. They are not necessarily all performance-ready just yet (for starters, almost none are memorized), but I feel confident playing them all the way through and have a good idea of my interpretations:

-Albeniz—Grenada
-Bach—Prelude in F Minor WTC2, Two-part inventions Nos. 4, 5, 6
-Beethoven—Sonata #1 in F Minor (1st, 2nd, 3rd movements are solid, 4th is shaky…need to develop better technique for those fast triplets)
-Chopin—Nocturne in F Minor, Prelude in Db major, Polonaise in A Major
-Debussy—Clair de Lune
-Grieg—To Spring
I have also written a number of original pop songs and pop-style instrumentals.
I know music is what I want to do for the rest of my life, no question, but am just a little conflicted as to how to achieve my goals. I’d appreciate any feedback you may have. Thanks!

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#2056560 - 03/29/13 10:43 PM Re: New poster here, looking for advice (long) [Re: burghpiano]
RachelEDNC Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/11/09
Posts: 79
What do you want to do for money with music? Teach? (if so, what age group) Accompany? (if so what style) Play for church services? Weddings? What sort of job would you like to settle down with eventually? I think the answer to that question would help in answering what to do to achieve your goals.

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#2056562 - 03/29/13 10:46 PM Re: New poster here, looking for advice (long) [Re: burghpiano]
Opus_Maximus Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/27/04
Posts: 1480
What ultimate career goals do see (and hope), for yourself?

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#2056564 - 03/29/13 10:50 PM Re: New poster here, looking for advice (long) [Re: burghpiano]
mermilylumpkin Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/08/13
Posts: 121
It's always great to return to music with a renewed mindset.

What do you envision yourself doing as a music career? Would you like to teach piano lessons, play in Carnegie Hall? I think if you have aspirations of performing, your options might end up being along the lines of the performing you were already doing (that is, small scale), whether you get a music degree or study with a teacher. It's a profession that favors the precocious and the very few. You do know that, right?

If you removed the end goal -- be it the degree or the vision of being on stage or whatever it is -- from the equation, can you see yourself getting pleasure and satisfaction and edification from the mundane, day-to-day bits? From sitting at your piano and practicing even when you're tired, and thinking about interpretive ideas, and listening to recordings and learning new things? As an adult, I spent a lot of time at the piano and I really pour a lot of energy into it. But I do it because I actually enjoy the in-the-moment process of making music, not because I'm striving toward a future-tense aspiration. It doesn't bother me too terribly much that I won't end up playing a concerto with a symphony or going to Juilliard (though that would have been fun!) because I tend to be more focused on trying to learn how to play whatever thing I happen to be working on really, really well. Or on trying to transmit something from inside my soul! (To a limited audience that frequently lacks concert hall refinement.)

If you have some money to kick around and think you'd like to get a music degree purely for the fun of it, I'd say go for it! (That's what I'd do if I had some money to kick around :-) Just keep a sober view of the realities of the field.

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#2057064 - 03/30/13 08:06 PM Re: New poster here, looking for advice (long) [Re: burghpiano]
Charles Cohen Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/26/12
Posts: 1183
Loc: Richmond, BC, Canada
"If you don't know where you want to go, it doesn't matter how you get there."

If you want to do something that needs a M.Music (or a B.Music), you'll have to go to school. No other way to get the qualification.

You'll be in the program with younger people, but your goals may be different from their goals. Whether your goals match your teachers' goals for you -- that's something to think about.

In your place, I'd find a good school, and have a talk with the music department chairman. You're obviously talented -- those cruise-line gigs are highly valued -- and you might be surprised by his/her advice.

I was in a samba band, and our leader was very, very good. He finally found a professional home for himself, teaching at a local community college with a good pop-music program. It was a big deal when he quit doing gardening work for the cash.

. Charles

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#2057134 - 03/30/13 10:57 PM Re: New poster here, looking for advice (long) [Re: burghpiano]
Arghhh Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/31/08
Posts: 1048
BTW, depending on where you go, you wouldn't be that much older than the other students. You can get a DMA at my school, and there are many students who are approaching 30, and some even approaching 40. The "problem" I had was my professor for my solo piano lessons was younger than me!

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#2057614 - 04/01/13 01:16 AM Re: New poster here, looking for advice (long) [Re: burghpiano]
burghpiano Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 03/29/13
Posts: 7
Thanks everyone for your replies. The more I think about it, the more going back to school is the most likely choice. As for my ultimate end goal, I’ve discovered through experience that putting a “dream gig”—even an extremely prestigious one—as a goal can be dangerous, as I’ve inevitably been disappointed once I actually get it and discover the (sometimes very) negative aspects as well. My goal is to learn all I possibly can about music, which I suppose means I could see myself eventually as a teacher at a college level. But right now I’m trying to change my thinking, as far as relying on external factors to achieve happiness goes. I don’t want to ignore the real world completely, but I think adapting a more Zen way of thinking, i.e. just focus on the joy and the passion and the rest will follow. smile

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