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Why I Tossed Over my Artistic Passion for Another Career

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when your passion isn't your career

I have realized that my artistic passion will not be my career.

And I’m OK with that.

Let me start with two points, for anyone who reads this and thinks, “Well, I guess all those years of lessons / classes / workshops / masterclasses / ensembles are a total waste because this (hopefully) relatable 21-year-old tells me they are in his eloquently worded article.”

First, if that’s what you take away from this, you’re not reading this correctly. No part of this article is meant to attack the pursuit of an artistic passion as a career. I envy that pursuit, but I am happy choosing other careers as a means of sustaining my artistic passions. More on that later.

Second, someone who reads this could very easily go on and become a wildly successful painter or gigging musician or stand­up comedian. If you don’t jive with the sentiment of this article, don’t sweat it; go recite monologues or mix paints or practice scales or anything that will help you become the successful artist you strive to be. But try to keep in mind that there are many people who were walking in your footsteps who decided to take a walk down a different road. I am one of them.

Which leads me to this:

I have been learning to play the violin since I was 5. For 16 years I have had a private one­-hour lesson every week (except during the summer, which was AWESOME). I’ve practiced violin one to three hours a day, almost every day, probably since I was 12 years old. For seven summers in a row, I attended overnight arts camps, playing violin in chamber groups and orchestras, having lessons, forming relationships with hundreds of people, some of whom now attend the finest conservatories in America.

I played in arguably not one, but two of the best youth orchestras in the Boston area during my four years of high school.

Now, I am a second-­semester junior at UMass Amherst primarily studying journalism. Not a student in the violin studio of Ilya Kaler at Northwestern or of Paul Kantor at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music or of Marilyn McDonald at Oberlin Conservatory.

[Want to pursue the arts? Check out the Guide to Performing & Visual Arts Colleges.]

I am a journalism student at UMass Amherst studying violin performance as a minor.

Seems to differ from the trajectory I initially seemed to have, doesn’t it?

I wrote an entire paragraph describing my various musical successes to debunk it all with this one fact: I decided to forgo the potential success I could have had at a conservatory or a music school to study something completely out of my comfort zone.

And you might be thinking: “Wow, cool, an article describing how you completely ignored the possibilities that were practically laid out on the floor in front of you. Really makes me feel level headed and confident about pursuing my passion for art now!”

However, that’s not all.

I’m also working part time at a stringed instrument repair and rental shop. A place with which I’ve fallen in love during the short time I’ve worked there. A place where I could see myself working for many more years, investing my time and knowledge of the violin and other instruments to assist young musicians along the road to musical success. A place that I wouldn’t be in if I didn’t have those 16 years of violin experience in my bones, shaping my success to be something different from what my 15-year-old self had in mind.

That’s the point. I want to reassure those who feel disconnected from their art but are unsure of pursuing something else for fear of losing that passion. If you end up in a career that allows you to pursue that passion, congratulations. Truly.

But if your story reads otherwise, as mine surely does, know that you aren’t a failure. A passion can remain as such for as long as you want. Realize that your passion does not have to be your career, and vice versa. Now I have to get back to practicing; this has stolen my attention from memorizing the Franck violin sonata for as long as I can afford.

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