I once heard Harold Best, for many years the Dean of Music at Wheaton College, say “a degree in music is the best preparation for anything.” There is often a lot of legitimate hand-wringing and sleepless nights experienced by would-be music majors and their parents. Same thing applies to theater majors and anyone else in the arts. (Or Classical Studies or English Literature or you name it.)
A long time ago, I read that over 70% of people end up having a career in something other than their major in college. It was in an article by a syndicated columnist, so I can probably track it down (although it was pre-interwebs). The statistics would be easy to find. It was the columnists advice: study what you find most intellectually stimulating.
These thoughts are prompted by my recent discovery (via Google Alerts) of cellist and emergency-medicine physician Eric Roter (“E.R.”), who attended both Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music. He’s made videos of himself playing all 36 movements of the Bach Suites as a fundraising project for various medical charities. He calls it the Bach to Health project.
My advice to young people with artistic talent and passion who are worried about making a living is this: get the best training you can. Commit yourself to using your artistic abilities to making a difference in the world. You may or may not make your living (or all of it, anyway) from a traditional job in that field. How many full-time cello jobs are there? (Even fewer if you play, say, the oboe, as a friend with one of the few full0time oboe symphony jobs pointed out to me the other night.)
But who cares? I don’t think “E.R.” sees his years studying the cello as a waste of time. They prepared him not just to play the cello, but also to be the person he is.