Considering a Career Shift

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Dear Greg,
I am 20 and a pre-medical student at a State University. Yet, I am unhappy because I wish to pursue music. I guess you can call it the "Berlioz Syndrome". Majoring in Piano or Music is bad because the State University that I attend does not have any good piano professors. I am wondering - do I continue to do pre-med and be the normal person with a good salary or do I go do something that I am passionate about even when I am old? What if I have a small repertoire that includes mostly Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin? Do you think that music is only pursuable for those who study it professionally at the age of 15 or younger and for those who win competitions in high school and college? I really dislike competitions, and I didn't compete at all in my younger years. I've asked this question (making music my life) to my piano teacher (who is very good-she is a moscow conservatory grad) and she told me that I certainly have the musicality and the emotions and some of the techniques down. I just need to practice practice and practice. Any advice?
 - Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

I certainly do not want to be responsible for a decision that you regret later in life, but I will cautiously offer a few random thoughts on the subject:

  • Remember that choosing one path doesn't necessarily exclude the other; the decision isn't an "either/or" decision. You can still play the piano if you pursue another careers. "Amateur" can be defined as a "lover of" something; quite a noble pursuit, if you ask me!
  • There are plenty of career paths for a pianist in today's world (teacher, accompanist, writer, composer, music series director, educational outreach performer, "music as medicine" researcher, etc.), all of which require loads of dedication and passion.
  • It takes an unimaginable amount of skill, determination, and luck to succeed as a concert pianist, and it's not everything it's cracked up to be. Skill: the bulk of a pianist's skill is developed while they are young; it get's harder and harder to learn new music as one grows older. Determination: Some would say I don't have a life (I "work" 16 hours a day), but I'm having a ball; although I become obsessive when I'm doing something I love, it's also when I feel the most alive. Luck: self explanatory.
  • I went into my career with the knowledge that I may not come out with much, but I knew that as long as I had the music, I would be happy. (Cheesy, but true.) I'm not nearly as career-oriented as I probably should be, but my perspective goes beyond that of becoming a notable pianist. (Yes, many would argue that I have an extensive, self-promoting website, but if you'll look around, you'll notice that every page was built with very real intentions to fulfill my mission - to demonstrate that classical piano music can serve as a powerful and relevant force in society.) I'm not terribly daunted by what the future may throw my way, because my priorities are substantial enough to ride the waves. Humanity, artistry, and the divine will be present no matter what happens. Virtually everything I do is fueled by my mission.

Good luck and best wishes!

- Greg