Are You Trying to Force Yourself Into a Mold That’s No Longer There?


I was on a call yesterday with a young cellist. She’s a Junior in high school and wanted a bit of college advice. 

This young woman is a very talented cellist, and also passionate about science–like “oh, the intersection of neuroscience and space exploration, and maybe how music ties into that” kinda science. 


She wanted to know if there was a degree for that. 


From her questions, I could see a clear theme, and it’s a theme I see with a lot of high schoolers thinking about music school. 


What are my career choices here, and which degree program do I fit into? 


Music Major? Double Major? Music Minor? Or just keep playing a bit on the side? 

At first, she seemed a bit frustrated that I kept asking her what she wanted. What kind of career she wanted, and how much cello playing she wanted to do over the next 4 years. Because she didn’t think that what she wanted mattered. She was more concerned with figuring out what the colleges wanted her to do. What did she need to want, in order for the right school to want her? 


Photo by Space X


It got me thinking about my own decision-making process (WAY back) when I was applying to college. There was one dual degree program with a conservatory. Juilliard and Columbia. That was it, and it was VERY hard to get into. For the rest, the choices were made very clear, and read a bit like a multiple-choice test: (hierarchy included)

  • Soloist
  • Chamber Musician
  • Orchestral Musician
  • Teacher of tiny humans (because it was assumed that if you fit into the top 3 categories, teaching older students would be expected of you)
  • Music Therapist (even this was brand new at the time)


Being a freelancer wasn’t discussed. Even during my senior year at New England Conservatory, I had no idea what a freelancer was/did/looked like. It just wasn’t even considered. No one in that community WAS a freelancer. 

Things have evolved and progressed quite a lot since then, but it was the pandemic that created the largest shift. 


Photo by Massimo Sartirana


When the pandemic hit, and everything in the Arts shut down, the large institutions had their hands tied. They were too big and involved too many people and opinions to pivot with any speed, and many of them simply weren’t interested in doing anything differently. They figured they would just wait it out. 


It was the individuals who were able to get creative, come up with new ideas, new solutions, pivot, and get on with it. Suddenly we had new ways of communicating, teaching, learning, performing, attending concerts, writing music, collaborating, etc. It was like a renaissance of sorts. 


And now everything is different. Now we see the power of the individual artist over the large institution. Not that the latter don’t have a place in our traditions, our learning, and our industry, but they are no longer the gatekeepers they once were. 

Now, instead of asking a 17-year-old to check a box on a shortlist of pre-determined career choices. That young person is being given the chance to write their own choice in and to find the school or program(s) that fit their dreams, not the other way around. 


Photo by Nguyen Dang Hoang Nhu


But also….


What are the implications of this shift for those of us who started our careers based on that old list? Many of us assume that we made our bed and now we must lie in it. We had to choose something way back when. Or, maybe you chose one thing but ended up settling for something else that worked out sooner. Maybe it never occurred to you to wonder if you were happy on that path, or whether you could do something else. Maybe you were so busy working and playing and teaching that you didn’t notice how things were changing around you. And then, BAM! Once it was all shut down, and you were left with the space, time, (and more time) to think….you came to some interesting realizations. 


It’s not just you, and it’s not just us over here in the music industry. The Great Resignation is a very real thing that runs across all industries. 


So, whether you are a 17-year-old musician trying to figure out the college question, or a seasoned professional musician. If I were to tell you that there is no longer a mold for you to fit into–that our industry has done away with them for good–what would you choose to do? How might you reinvent yourself? What would you do more of? Less of? 


What would you like to learn, and what would you like to offer? 


I for one, cannot wait to hear about the implications of music on the neuroscience of space exploration. 







Photo by Vasily Kolada

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