Is college a requirement?

Posted In: Young Harpists

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    Melia Willoughby on #165831

    Hello harpists! I am currently a junior in high school, and my future is right around the corner. I would really like to be prepared to face it, rather than have it sneak up on me. But I’ve got some big decisions to make, and I need some advice.

    I want to play in an orchestra. I’ve heard that college is not a requirement for doing this. In today’s temperamental economy, starting life out with several thousand dollars of debt hanging over my head is an even worse idea than it was in the past. If I could avoid student debt, it would definitely be preferable.
    Is this a viable route for my career path? Any advice, guidance, or experience you could give me to help me make this decision would be greatly appreciated!


    J P on #165832

    The current economic situation is enough to make anyone second guess spending money on a degree period! While it is true that a music degree is not required for playing in a Symphony, the percentage of people holding chairs without a music degree is very small. Why not explore options for scholarships? Many orchestras now are screening resumes and only sending out invites so your resume may be tossed aside if there’s lack of experience or simply no music degree present. Getting a music degree is much more than a piece of paper. It’s the experience of performing with great students that will become your colleagues and taking classes that will enrich your understanding of music theory and history. Most importantly it’s performance experience, and depending on where you go the curriculum may very well mirror what the local symphony is playing. Depending on where you go may open doors for you in regards to being invited to auditions rather than sending in tapes for the prelims etc.

    Being a professional musician is much more than just being able to play your instrument and get all the notes it’s an all encompassing field that’s rich with theoretical and historical concepts that you should be able to speak intelligently about. If you want to be a true professional you owe it to yourself and to the field of music to learn as much as you can. Just my two cents.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #165833

    Where did you get the idea degrees in music are not a requirement? You won’t be taken seriously at all, get a chance to audition, if you don’t go to serious, major music schools and the best teachers. An orchestra job is hard to get. It is possible to get local, freelance jobs in more than once group sometimes, but you have to be a well-rounded, well-trained musician to do well. Just being able to play the harp is not nearly enough. I can recommend schools if you like.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #165834

    One must aim as high as possible, not as low, to succeed in life.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #165835

    It is time to begin very intensive study and practice, up to three hours a day or more, if this is truly the path you wish to travel. You should also join a youth orchestra. I am going to be in the Twin Cities quite a bit if you want more guidance.

    unknown-user on #165836

    I’m a fellow high schooler, and I’m probably as confused as you on the subject of college. (Although I am taking courses at a community college near home)

    But I’ve heard extremely mixed reviews on the difficulty of majoring in music. From my teacher it sounds like bloody hell, and from my cousin it sound like picking daises.

    If you want to join the orchestra then it’s really important to major, as said previously, most symphonies won’t take you seriously without that paper.

    But to me music isn’t about the paper or the performance experience, it’s about the MUSIC. Too often people forget this, they focus on precision and focus. I obviously don’t have a ‘professional’ attitude, but it’s too stressful for me.

    It sounds like you’re serious, and if you’re willing to work the hours than go for it! You can start finding jobs as a ‘student harpist’, which will allow your customers to know you’re not pro. YET. haha!

    Earn some money, and in the meantime practice. In no time you can have enough to pay for college. Try a community college instead of a big university, there’s very little difference aside from the size of the name and the price. Others will disagree but a class is a class is a class.

    Look for scholarships and grants, you have to search hard and work hard to get them but it’ll be worth it!

    I hope I helped in some way, others make it sound so discouraging. Anything can be done if you try, and the college won’t kick you out of the class. They’re there to help you learn, and surprisingly professors are kinder than they sound in the movies. 😉

    Just don’t give up. I’ve flip flopped between the idea of majoring or not majoring in music just because some people scare me with the seriousness of it. But it’s not the end of the world! College is just one step in life, and if you screw up so what! Get back up and take another step. I’m saying this more to myself than you at this point. Haha!

    I tend to babble so (hopefully) thanks for reading and I hope I encouraged you at least a little. Good luck!

    — Natalie

    jimmy-h on #165837

    College isn’t the only path to success, but it is the most proven one. Do you have a plan B? Perhaps you could major in another field with much better odds of a job you would love that has a very low unemployment rate. Nurses are doing very well right now. You could also go back to school once you are more stable financially.

    You are wise to worry about taking on a lot of debt. There are many people who graduate with a large student loan and a degree that hardly guarantee’s them a job. The debt is so large and takes so long to pay off they might as well give it a name and a room in their house cuz it’s like raising a child.

    Research and apply for every scholarship you can find. The worst they can do to you is say no.

    You can also look into a military scholarship. I got one for serving active duty and got out with enough money to pay for nursing school. I would have had it even easier if I had saved money like I should have. I have a daughter who went to nursing school and the Army paid for all of it. I have another daughter who is in school and she got an awesome scholarship, just not with the military.

    I’m not saying join the military, just saying explore all options. There may be a path that takes a little longer but will make it easier for you to finance an excellent education in music and get you to your goals.

    Saul is probably right that it will be near impossible to get into an orchestra without a solid degree in music. Just keep in mind that with the economy in tatters many an orchestra/symphony is having budget problems which makes the competition to get into one even harder. Taking on a load of debt for a chance at one is kinda rough. Is it possible to find a degree that will land you a solid job while you minor in music, then go back for your music degree in a better financial status?

    Dont look at this as a one solution problem. Attack it from the sides and stab it in the back if you must. There are other paths than the direct one, the down side is they take a bit longer.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #165838

    A music degree is easier if you are talented and it suits you. I tried to do a geography major and found I was not doing well, and didn’t have resources to improve, but when I switched to music, that was no longer a problem. Some things are harder to learn, like EAR TRAINING, but others flow naturally. There’s a lot to memorize and absorb, so it takes

    marguerite-lynn-williams on #165839

    If you want to be a symphonic harpist, and that is the absolute only thing you can imagine yourself ever being, then I would suggest contacting several successful Principal Harpists directly. Most importantly those who have won jobs in the past ten years to get a real-life impression of what it took to get their position.

    Music Conservatory is very expensive, but there is no avoiding the training and experience necessary for learning the skills required for a symphonic job whether you do it in a traditional fashion or otherwise.

    I think in today’s world it is wise to have a broad education because you never know how your life will change in the future or how the music world will change.

    There are few symphonic jobs for harpists at this moment, there will be less in the future. I hate to sound pessimistic but its a reality in the music world.

    Lastly, look for any and all scholarships you can apply for, enter music competitions, get a part-time job, do work study, get creative in funding your education. Don’t go for the cheapest education, go for the most valuable one.


    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #165840

    Less, maybe in the short term, but the baby boomers will continue to retire, and most of those jobs will remain intact. I think we should, as a community, work on supporting more second-harp positions, even if part-time, with endowments, and if possible, to endow positions where they have been cut, like the Baltimore Symphony. Perhaps we can help the orchestras identify potential donors, as we encounter people who love the harp.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #165841

    The same goes for religious institutions, who, when they have a harp donated, are far more likely to employ a harpist on a regular basis. People with older harps that are not worth a lot, should certainly consider donating them to such places, or to schools.

    kreig-kitts on #165842

    In every field I’ve encountered, stories of baby boomer retirements have been greatly exagerrated, much to the detriment of students who rely on them before they pursue degrees.

    My prediction is that when orchestral harpists start retiring, orchestras will stop staffing full-time harpists and hire on the spot for individual pieces with them. Next will be percussion, and then anything beyond of core of strings and principal wind players.

    The upshot

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #165843

    I think that is unnecessarily pessimistic. I lived through a period in which a generation began retiring, and for every opening in a major orchestra, the harpist who is given that position leaves one or more other positions open. We are fortunate that orchestras still consider it prestigious to have a full-time harpist, or two, and we could work to support that. We really need to advocate for our profession and not be passive about the future. Not having a harpist only makes an orchestra less flexible, not to mention two harpists.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #165844

    Do I taste turkey spam?

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