Choosing a career. Music? Veterinary Medicine??

Dear Mr. Friedland,
I am a sophomore in high school and have been playing the clarinet for 7 years. I would consider myself to be an above intermediate player. Recently I have been having trouble choosing my career. I have taken career compatibility tests and they have all suggested that I should be a veterinarian. I think that I would enjoy being a vet and would be very good at it. The problem is that I like playing my clarinet just as much as I like animals. I considered going to college to become a professional player but I was persuaded not to by the high competition and unstable salary. Now I am reconsidering becoming a professional player but I don’t know if I am good enough or if I am up to the busy work schedule. How did you decided that becoming a professional musician was the career for you? What is the life of a professional musician like? Thank you so much for your time!

Hello Bryan:

 Thank you for your letter and for your question as well. The whole thing about music as a career is somewhat of an unfortunate situation and becoming no better with the passage of time as more and more clarinetists search for a niche that will provide them with security for a lifetime.

In my own case, I must say that it was a different time, more than 50 years ago and much less competitive. At that time there were only a few symphony orchestras that provided year-round employment. Meanwhile Music Schools and Universities became more organized and attracted more students, organizing curricula, ensembles, and the incoming students. But there was not an increase in the number of positions available, creating even more competition. Now it has gotten much worse with even more students who play very well and without more money being out into the industry. The resultant atmosphere for the young person seeking to be a performer is bleak at best.
In actuality, Europe treats its musicians better. Musicians there are more subsidized by the state, which has not happened in the US.
But wait.
Is there anything to keep a person like yourself to become and excellent clarinetist? No. Nothing at all.
Is there anything that would prevent you from studying to become a veterinarian at the same time? No, there is not.
So Bryan, here is my sincere advice. Become a veterinarian. And while you are studying you may increase your skills as a clarinetist as well. You will find many ensembles in which to play and you will be just as happy to play without having to worry about making a living by playing the clarinet. Life is much too short.
I do not know when I decided that I must have music for a career. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I quickly learned that I would be happier doing many things in music, which I have done, rather than just playing in any orchestra which many find indeed ordinary, even boring.
Besides the playing the industry of music is or can become quite unsavory. I used to think that because music is so beautiful , it is the business of it which can be rather ugly.
So, I did many things all within the realm of music including performing as Principal Clarinet of a major American Symphony, teaching University, conducting an orchestra for many years and playing all of the major repertoire for the instrument within the realm of chamber music as well as some music administration. For me ,it was fine, but I can readily see and understand a person who is faced with a decision in this world to choose to become a veterinarian and still to become the best clarinetist that they can.
So that is my advice to you and I hope it will be of some help.
Good luck Bryan, always, 
Sherman Friedland

One Response to Choosing a career. Music? Veterinary Medicine??

  1. danop says:

    As a clarinet player who loved music and wanted to make it a career, I entered college in a music ed. program. While I was there I often thought about going into clarinet performance, but I soon realized that I didn’t quite “have it” to be a performer. I sometimes compare myself to the minor league ballplayer who is very good, but not quite good enough to make it to the major leagues. I went into music education and had a long career as a teacher. Music ed. wasn’t a bad career choice (you might want to consider it), but it can be very frustrating at times. Whenever money is short, music is one of the first subjects cut. With No Child Left Behind, music is often a very low priority in many school districts. My career as a music teacher ended earlier than I would have liked because my school district (one with low standardized test scores)phased out music programs.

    I agree with Sherman Friedland 100%. I think there will always be jobs for clarinet performers, but the competition is fierce. I wonder about the long-term outlook.

    Having said this, if you really have a burning passion to be a performer, I wouldn’t completely ignore it. When you start to look at colleges, you could consider a double major in music and pre-vet. It might not be easy, but many people have done similar things. You also could consider getting a B.A. in music as opposed to the “usual” B.M.
    You would still have a music degree, although it would be less intense than getting a B.M. You would probably be able to take private lessons and play in some ensembles, and you would also have room in your schedule for pre-vet courses. While in college, you could play a recital. Recitals are generally not required for those who aren’t performance majors, but with your teacher’s permission, you could still probably do it. After going throught the recital preparation and performance experience, you might find that you really love it. If this is the case, and if you are at the top of the section in your performing groups, it might be worth trying to go for advanced degrees in clarinet performance. Remember, though: In order to go this route, you need to be 100% positive that this is really what you want to do. If you are less than 100% positive (99% isn’t good enough), go the DVM route.

    Best of luck to you. Do the best that you can in the next few years of high school in both science and music. When you’re a senior and starting to apply to college, the decision might be a bit easier.

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