Anonymous asked in Entertainment & MusicMusicClassical · 2 months ago

Career as pianist? Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto no. 1 fairly reasonable LIFE goal, or way too difficult?

I am 15, and have been playing the piano for about 11 years now, and I started at a music conservatory when I was 13. I practice exercises (Schmitt, Liszt, Hanon), scales (thirds, octaves, sixths), arpeggios, etc. I am currently playing a variety of pieces: Chopin Ballade no. 1, Chopin Etude in F minor, Liszt “Un Sospiro,” Bach (some of the Well tempered clavier Book 2), Kreisler-Rachmaninoff “Libesleid,” Beethoven “Tempest” sonata, Debussy “Estampes” (all three), and some smaller Chopin waltzes, mazurkas, nocturnes, etc. 

      Some past repertoire of mine has been Bach’s Italian Concerto (all mvts), Chopin Scherzo in B-flat minor, Chopin Concerto in E minor (first mvt), Rachmaninoff Prélude in G minor, Rachmaninoff Prelude in B-flat major, Schubert “Impromptu” in A-flat major, Beethoven “Appassionata” sonata (3rd mvt), probably some smaller pieces as well. 

      I am not listing these to brag. I have spent many hours (homeschooled) practicing these pieces, and I know people at my conservatory who can do more at a younger age. Although I can play these pieces well, I am torn between becoming a pianist or becoming a mathematician/computer scientist, at which I am also good. I have written several math research papers, and would be very sad not to become a mathematician! Any advice on my future career? I know making it as a musician is much harder and I won’t have nearly as much financial stability, but I can’t imagine piano being simply a hobby. 

      Thanks in advance!


I feel like part of my attraction to the piano is that I can put my feeling into it. With math, although it is a beautiful subject, I don’t feel it helps me emotionally in the same way. 

Update 2:

I apologize in advance if this comes across as an egotistical question/post. I am definitely not perfect, and I have a long way to go as a musician. 

Update 3:

I guess what I’m also asking is, if I continue putting hours of effort into my playing, could it be possible to play Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no. 1 at some point in my life (very late, even)? Ever since I began listening to it frequently, I have considered it a possible life goal, to be finished sometime before I die. I am willing to spend decades learning it (that might be ridiculous, I don’t know how long it typically takes even a professional). 

2 Answers

  • 2 months ago
    Favourite answer

    Once again, agreeing with Mordent.  When we professional musicians attend seminars and conventions, there is often a panel discussion about the morality of encouraging merely mediocre, but star-struck students, to pursue performance degrees.  Yes, you many love it - but you have no clue where you are in the food chain.  Here;s a statistic - every year, we graduate more PIANISTS from top school, than we graduate LAWYERS.  Opera News magazine, several years ago, quipped "It is now official - there are more hopeful dramatic sopranos in NYC then there are pigeons . . ".    There are more people who are exceedingly good in their HS varsity sports - and so very, very few make a career in pro sports.  Those of us who DO make our living in the arts, often do so with compromise; as a flutist, I knew that I would need another music-related professional career as well - with a Union, retirement, great insurance - so I taught middle and HS music for almost 30 years - while my husband ( same plan) and I played well over a thousand concerts with colleagues, zillions of weddings and parties that wanted excellent classical music, taught lessons.  This ALSO had the benefit of letting us retire from teaching SCHOOL in our mid-fifties - so we could make MORE music that we wished.  My conservatory friends who majored in performance are going to be dragging that cello around until they are 80 - and are living day to day - worse, now.  Many of the finest musicians I played with chose a career (*day gig*?) as attorneys, ER nurse, psychologist, accountant, dietitian, and other professional worthy of their intellect - so they could then make all the music they wanted, in their OWN time.  I was an outstanding  (National Merit) scholar who turned down many scholarships to prestigious universities, to pursue music.  But I had a keen sense of who and what I could do - and how to live a LIFE that is artistic, and has no financial worries ever.  There are flutists I know who are better players than me - but if there is a $45,000 gold flute up for auction (as if I wanted one . . ) then I have the fatter checkbook to buy it - because I planned the whole financial and artistic arc of my life.

    Major in mathematics - many diverse areas of application exist! - and then study an practice as you wish.  Let is be your refuge and glory - not your burden.  Good luck - thousands of us have been in your spot.

  • 2 months ago

    A "career as a pianist" is very different to "a career as a concert pianist" which is ALSO very different to "a career as a world-class concert pianist".

    I make my living playing the piano - mostly by accompanying choirs (I mean before the world got the plague) and teaching. I'm good enough to accompany concerts but I definitely wouldn't say I'm good enough to give a proper classical recital and expect people to pay money to hear it.

    I work at a university with a couple of other pianists who ARE concert pianists - they give recitals all the time, but only in local or smaller national venues. Although they're very good they're not world class.

    You're probably good enough to make some sort of a career as a pianist, but it really depends on your other skills. I'm not really technically proficient except in 2 areas - I can sightread and improvise well. Those skills suit my job very well - often I'll get given a score and be expected to play it then and there to a high(ish) quality. Sometimes the score is complete garbage and is a TERRIBLE reduction - semiquavers are great for strings and just useless noise for accompanying a choir rehearsal. Being able to improvise means I know what I should play instead. That is what gives me the ability to make my career.

    There is more than one way to make a career out of music. Conservatories convincing everyone they can be a soloist is frankly a con - how many could there realistically be?

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