Very nice, interactive site here! You seem to know the ropes of the music world pretty well, so I thought I'd ask a question. I was pretty serious about piano in my teens--I went to Interlochen most summers, was on "From the Top," and I had lots of success in local competitions. Come college time, I wasn't very interested in taking the "music major" path. I mostly pursued other interests, graduating with a French major and a writing major, with a bit of piano lessons and practicing on the side. Near the end of school, I totally changed course and realized I wanted to be a pianist. I'm now in the graduate program at Carnegie Mellon with plans to apply to Peabody for a doctorate next year. I guess my question is: Does anybody succeed in the music world without having done an undergrad music program? I'm really not going for the "insanely successful concert pianist" thing. If I could join a university faculty and keep a relatively busy recital schedule, I would be quite content. Do any names come to mind of successful pianists who made their "music career" choice after undergrad? I feel dumb for having missed the chance to do a 4-year conservatory program, but hindsight is 20/20, and so on.
That's a great question! I really don't think it matters what degrees you have; if you play well, you play well, and people will notice. Two very famous cellists majored outside of music and did very well for themselves: Yo Yo Ma and Alicia Weilerstein. That said, a university faculty position and a relatively busy recital schedule is a lot to ask for, even for most conservatory-educated gradates. I have so many friends -- with doctorates -- who would give most anything for a university faculty position!
There is no reason to harbor regrets for decisions you made; you can always use your undergraduate degrees to your advantage! Try programming concerts of French music; demonstrate to audiences how the lyricism of the language translates into the music; talk about French poetry -- what makes it beautiful, unique, or interesting -- and show how French composers utilized these attributes in their music (Gaspard de la nuit is terrific for this). Or: develop concert programs that juxtapose writing and music... that is fertile ground -- you could devote several concerts to Goethe's Faust! When you apply for teaching positions, use your academic credentials as an asset -- offer to teach classes on the topics I just mentioned, or simply state that you would be able to relate especially well with students pursuing academic degrees.
Cheer up! No regrets!