Backup Career as Harpist?

Posted In: Amateur Harpists

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    unknown-user on #155011

    Hello all,

    I’m 18 years old, and want to keep my options open for what career to have. Used to want to be a doctor, but am now very confused about my future. But I’m unsure about being a harpist because of the bad economy, and shrinking orchestras, so I hear. What are the benefits like, relative to other professions, of being a harpist (especially during tough economic times)?

    I feel it can produce the most beautiful sounds, out of all the instruments. I used to play piano when I was VERY young and was also forced to do it in school, but I stopped a couple of years ago and only got up to playing grade 4 pieces, but with difficulty (and boredom).

    To what extent do you think it is a viable solution as a backup career? Because the thing is, I could never go into finance or business, or have a desk job, and if I don’t go into medicine (which is an option), dentistry, psychology or being a university prof, I wouldn’t mind being a harpist…

    lisa-fenwick on #155012

    Sasha, Having been a music major myself and having just sent my older kid to college for music this year and

    unknown-user on #155013

    Right. I agree with you but everything changed when you said “so far he is really happy with his decision”. I know how parents would think, because I have some who are also very concerned about my long-term decisions.

    But I didn’t say I wanted to take that route, I just said that I wanted to keep it as a viable backup, in case other things didn’t work out for some reason or another. I suppose then doing music would be the only option, and thankfully the only option, because it seems so much more fluid and nice to me than most other occupations, but then again that is just me being idealistic I suppose. Thanks for your feedback 🙂

    lisa-fenwick on #155014

    Sasha, When I said so far he is really happy it is just that he is only in his first semester. We are in full support of his decision but we have also let him know we are in full support of whatever he wants to do.

    Tacye on #155015

    I have several friends who studied something other than music at University and are now professional harpists (with degrees and even higher degrees in teaching, science, classics, history…)

    elinor-niemisto on #155016
    carl-swanson on #155017

    Elinor- Your post is right on the money. I’ve had a couple of talented high school students in the last 10 years and I told each one of them that if there was something non-musical that they were interested in and could do as a career, then they should do it. They could always continue studying harp and take it as far as they wanted. They could also do jobs(weddings, functions, Christmas jobs, etc.) for which no degree is required. But by having a career in some non-musical field, the pressure would be off to take anything and everything to try to make ends meet. The real pleasure of making music and playing the harp would be able to take it’s place in their lives, without the pressure of making a living at it, and more importantly, of having to make the difficult decision, years out of college, to retrain for something else in order to have a livable income. The hard truth is that most music majors on all instruments are going to be making their living at something non-musical within a few years of graduating from college.

    Briggsie B. Peawiggle on #155018

    Absolutely……and with the current cuts being made to many of the largest orchestras, even if you play an instrument other than the harp, you are going to really struggle for the most part. And when I got my music degree, I did a double major as a performance/ed major (not on harp) and was able to find a teaching job relatively easily. Even that is becoming next to impossible. I can’t imagine doing anything but music, but it’s really really a struggle.


    cc-chiu on #155019

    Going into medicine requires about the same commitment as a career in music… You don’t have to be ‘talented’ but it surely takes a lot of determination to even get into medicine school – especially in the US. I’m a medical student from the Netherlands so I can’t speak of my own experiences in that regard – but before you can get into medicine school in the US, you need to have extremely good undergrad grades, do a lot of extracurricular work, do interviews etc. etc. A lot of really good people get rejected… And then there’s medical school – a challenge in itself – but after medical school, there’s residency (it’s not easy to get into the residency of your choice) – etc. (in the Netherlands, the major cutoff is the residency application process instead of the med school application). I know there are a lot of stereotypes against doctors, but generally, if one would like to make money, going into medicine isn’t a smart option. (don’t forget the hours & the liability insurance…).

    Eventually, I think that most careers carry some ‘risk’. If you start med school, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to pay all the loans etc (unless you get a really good scholarships). I don’t think it’s a ‘safer’ option than becoming a musician. However, if you feel medical school – or becoming a harpist, or becoming a dentist, etc. etc. is something you’d be willing to give up everything for – do it! If you’re sure you really want it, even though there might be some drawbacks, there’s no reason to not to do it, is there?
    There might be a risk involved, but if you are really determined, go for it, don’t allow yourself to be held back, what’s life when there are no risks involved? :). Being really determined is the only way to get anywhere – music, medicine – or finance :).

    By the way, you don’t have to choose right now, do you? I’ve read about med students who had a liberal arts major (plus the requisites for medicine school). So it might be possible to major in harp/music while still being able to become a doctor? 🙂

    HBrock25 on #155020

    As far as medical school goes, I graduated from med school last year and am now in my residency. It is very challenging and I would argue that it does require a special kind of talent. But it is a talent for science, critical thinking and communication with patients. Scholarships for medical school in the US are basically non-existent for the average applicant. You will carry incredibly high levels of debt (more than some houses cost) through educational loans and then spend several years paying them back. It is a long hard road and not for those who want to get into it for the money (it’s not what it used to be) or for the prestige (it’s not what it used to be either). However, it can be a very rewarding profession. And that will be what carries you through the hard times in medical school and the harder times in residency and later as an attending. My advice, if you are interested in medicine, please spend some time shadowing doctors in a variety of specialties. And if you get the chance, shadow residents.

    And during undergrad, you can major in anything and still apply for medical school, as long as you take all of the pre-med classes that medical schools require for admission. I personally dual degreed in English and Biology with a minor in chemistry. However, I started out as an English major and by the time I got to my senior year I only needed a couple of classes to get another degree in biology… so I took them. I will say that having a major other than biology does make you stand out in the applicant pack… as long as you do well enough in your pre-med classes.

    As for the harp, I can’t speak towards being a professional harpist. But I can speak to doing some other career and playing harp. I have enjoyed learning harp as an adult. It gives me a way to relax and des-tress from my busy days in the hospital. It is something that I get to do just for me. And it has also improved my dexterity, which is helpful in medicine. Once I improve more, I would like to combine my profession with the harp and volunteer to play music for patients in the hospital. 🙂

    All the best,


    unknown-user on #155021

    Wow, I was not expecting replies so numerous and detailed. Thank you all very much, it means a lot to me.

    I will seriously reconsider being a professional harpist, or professional musician, for that matter. As for medicine, I’ve been researching for a couple of years now, sometimes furiously, and even shadowed different doctors for a couple of weeks, but I STILL have mixed views. On the whole, however, it seems to be exceedingly stressful, and I suppose you are right that it is not what it used to be. It’s definitely not any easier when most others around you (in university–mine is renown for medicine and science) are planning for medicine or something related like biomedical engineering. I’ve lost interest in these things…I suppose…

    The bottom line is that I am basically confused about everything and have no idea what I want to do anymore. Doctor, dentist, harpist, lawyer, psychologist, philosophy professor, even geologist or petroleum engineer.

    I suppose I should start developing skills as a backup anyway, and I can be like the Triplettes de Belleville 😉 Thanks again.

    unknown-user on #155022

    …as in, I should make sure to have backups, but at the same time try to find passion in little things and forget the big picture for a while if you know what I mean, in the carefree air of the Triplettes de Belleville.

    tony-morosco on #155023

    I’ll echo what Elinore and Carl said.

    In College I studied psychology. I earned an MA in experimental psychology and worked in the field for several years. Playing the harp not only was a great hobby during that time, it also helped me pay part of my way through school.

    I no longer work in the field I studied (although to some degree I use what I learned every day). I still play the harp, and I manage to make some money off it, which is great. I have recently been working with some other musicians to form a band to play jazz and contemporary music. Although I enjoy classical music, and play some classical music for my own enjoyment, for me I never really had aspirations to be a professional classical musician.

    I think I made good choices regarding all of this personally. I have found myself in a career that I am good at and I enjoy well enough, and which affords me enough money and benefits to pursue other things, like playing jazz harp in a band. I get to make music with some other really great people, and I am not worrying about how I am going to put groceries on the table. And I still have time and resources to pursue other hobbies and interests.

    I can’t imagine not making music. But I also can’t imagine having to rely on it entirely for my livelihood. In my situation I can do what I like. I can play the music I want to play. I can afford to turn down jobs I don’t want (I haven’t played a wedding since the 90’s).

    Some people will never be happy unless they are doing something harp related full time. If that is you then study music. If it isn’t then my advice is to study something else and

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