Double bassist Kathryn Nettleman recently left a great comment on my Advice for Aspiring Music Performance Majors post. Kate has been a member of a full-time orchestra (The Naples Philharmonic), a member of the New World Symphony, and has performed with countless major symphony orchestras. Recent engagements include the Chicago Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony, and Lyric Opera of Chicago. Check out her interview on Contrabass Conversations here.
She has succeeded in the classical music world in a way that many aspiring music performance students would love to emulate, and I feel that her thoughts on how to pursue a career in music are extremely valuable,
Thanks for this fantastic post. I agree with you re the degree thing to an extent; but there are truthfully other factors to consider. I doubt many full-time orchestras would even invite an applicant who had no post-high school education completed (unless perhaps that applicant was a current student of musicians in that section, or his/her playing exceptional and well-known.) Time at a conservatory or university gets you more than just a degree and a vague understanding of the early motets of Josquin dePrez… you gain invaluable experience playing in the ensembles of a fine school. I wouldn’t have half the clue I sorta have without regular orchestra rehearsals with Otto Werner-Mueller, for example, or being pushed to the limits of my abilities in lots of contemporary chamber music playing (something you RARELY get paid to do professionally, or even scrounge a pro-bono opportunity to do– best to get on that horse in college or at festivals.) I also feel like you learn at least as much from your peers and colleagues (good and maybe bad, too) as from your major teacher. Being at a school with an inspiring studio and excellent non-bass players just adds to the tools you can bring to the table, because you learn to play music (even if just the opening bars of Don Juan, a la audition) from and along with talented peers. Festivals are a great place to learn the rep, work with top-notch teachers and also interact with the current generation of motivated and talented players. Yes, the bulk of your learning and the tradition you inherit is from your major teachers. But other skills which are helpful– imperative, for most of us mortals– can basically only be acquired in an environment where others’ skills are also being fostered.
Is it worth $45,000 a year or whatever the hell top schools are charging nowadays? Ask the graduates two or five years into loan payments! Go where the scholarship is, as well as the teacher/bass studio/fine ensemble opportunities. I would say that if more than two of those qualities are seriously lacking, you’re going to the wrong school for you. But as I see it, you gotta go to school in our orchestral industry, at least for a partial Bachelor’s.
This is great advice from Kate, and I certainly agree with it. I urge people to pay special attention to Kate’s last paragraph:
“Ask the graduates two or five years into loan payments! Go where the scholarship is, as well as the teacher/bass studio/fine ensemble opportunities. I would say that if more than two of those qualities are seriously lacking, you’re going to the wrong school for you.”
I think that people plunking down $30,000-40,000 a year without realizing the lifelong implications of assuming such debt is what concerns me the most, and Kate sums it up quite well.