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Classical Musician

Classical Musician

Classical musicians perform, compose and/or conduct music. They might play an instrument or sing in live performances at concerts and theatres, or attend recording sessions to produce CDs or backing tracks for adverts, TV, radio and films. This may also involve them writing new material for a specific event.

Many classical musicians make a living by combining their performing career with instrumental or vocal teaching. Some work within the education department of an orchestra or opera company. Others train as school music teachers, working either full time or part time as a visiting (peripatetic) teacher. Some work full time in the bands of the armed forces.

Classical musicians usually work long and irregular hours, practising alone, taking part in rehearsals and performances. Evening and weekend working is common and a lot of travel may be required.

Musicians may work in a variety of environments. These can range from indoor concert halls, theatres and recording studios to outdoor venues. Musicians can also work in schools.

The pay of classical musicians varies widely and only a few earn high incomes. Many are able to earn steady incomes by taking on a wide variety of work. Solo instrumentalists may earn between £50 and £650 a concert. Employed orchestral musicians may earn between £24,000 and £45,000 a year.

A classical musician should:

  • have outstanding musical ability
  • be self-disciplined and hardworking
  • have a real love of music
  • like working with other musicians
  • enjoy performing to an audience.

Classical music is a highly competitive area of work. Many musicians are self-employed and very few earn their living as solo performers. They may, however, make successful careers playing in orchestras, ensembles and professional choruses, conducting, composing and working in music education.

Classical musicians need extensive formal musical education and training, often to postgraduate level. Most have learnt to play one or more instrument from an early age. Entrants to higher education music courses often need to have achieved grade eight in their first instrument.

Musicians must continue improving their skills, practising and rehearsing for many hours a day. They may study for a postgraduate qualification in, for example, performance, composition or conducting.

Musicians need to make a name for themselves. They may do this by entering competitions, applying for bursaries and awards, taking auditions, participating in special schemes for young artists, joining amateur groups and giving free concerts.

What is the work like?

Classical musicians perform, compose and/or conduct music. They might play an instrument or sing in live performances at concerts and theatres, or attend recording sessions to produce CDs or backing tracks for adverts, TV, radio and films. They may be commissioned to write new material for a specific event.

Many classical musicians make a living by combining their performing career with instrumental or vocal teaching. Some may work within the education department of an orchestra or opera company. Others train as school music teachers, working either full time or part time as a visiting (peripatetic) teacher. Some work full time in the bands of the armed forces.

The life of a classical musician involves:

  • regular and intense practice, often for many hours a day
  • attending auditions
  • learning and rehearsing new pieces
  • taking care of their instrument or voice
  • setting up for a performance
  • performing for an audience or in a recording session
  • educational work (for some)
  • dealing with the business side of work (if self-employed), such as negotiating fees and organising publicity.

Musicians with exceptional talent and personality may become solo performers, but opportunities for this type of work are limited. Experienced musicians may find regular work performing in an orchestra, chamber group, ensemble or chorus.

Hours and environment

Classical musicians usually work long and irregular hours, practising alone, taking part in rehearsals and performances. Evening and weekend working is common, and there can be a lot of travel required within the UK and possibly abroad. Extended periods of time away from home may be required if on tour.

Musicians may work in a variety of environments. These can range from indoor concert halls, theatres and recording studios to outdoor venues such as the parks and the gardens of stately homes. Musicians can also work in schools and other educational settings.

Some performance venues, such as cathedrals and churches, may be cold and draughty, as can rehearsal rooms.

Salary and other benefits

The pay of classical musicians varies widely and only a few earn high incomes. Many are able to earn steady incomes by taking on a wide variety of work. As a guide:

  • Solo instrumentalists may earn between £50 and £650 a concert.
  • Solo singers may earn between £50 and £880 a concert.
  • Visiting music teachers in schools may earn between £20 and £30 an hour.
  • Self-employed orchestral musicians may earn between £50 and £650 a day.
  • Employed orchestral musicians may earn between £24,000 and £45,000 a year.

Many musicians are self-employed and need to find work to fill in time between blocks of regular scheduled work. They may supplement their incomes by working in sectors other than music.

It could be useful to join the Musicians' Union and/or the Incorporated Society of Musicians. These organisations offer advice and information on a range of issues, including fees.

Skills and personal qualities

A classical musician should:

  • have outstanding musical ability
  • be self-disciplined and hardworking
  • be totally dedicated to a demanding profession
  • work well on their own and also with other musicians
  • have the self-confidence to perform in front of an audience
  • have energy and stamina
  • be willing to practice constantly
  • be resourceful and well organised.

Interests

It is important to:

  • have a real love of music
  • like working with other musicians and musical directors
  • enjoy performing to an audience.

Getting in

Classical music is a highly competitive area of work. Many musicians are self-employed and very few earn their living as solo performers. They may, however, make successful careers playing in orchestras, ensembles and professional choruses, conducting, composing and working in music education. Some orchestral musicians are employed full time by an orchestra; others work on a freelance basis.

Opportunities for full-time classical singers are more limited than for instrument players. Most opportunities are within opera or with one of the small number of professional choruses or chamber choirs.

Conductors face very stiff competition for the small number of jobs available.

Many classical musicians combine their performing career with teaching privately, in schools or in community music, playing informally, managing other artists, or taking up a residential position.

Entry routes

Classical musicians need extensive formal musical education and training, often to postgraduate level. Most have learnt to play one or more instrument from an early age. They usually take a series of graded examinations, including theory of music. Formal training for singers can sometimes begin later, as the voice takes time to mature.

There are two main types of higher education courses:

  • specialist vocational degree courses in a conservatoire (music college)
  • music degree courses in a university or higher education institution, including music in the community courses.

The academic entry requirements for degree courses are usually at least two A levels, including music, or equivalent qualifications. Entrants often need to have achieved grade eight in their first instrument, and sometimes grade six in their second. Auditions and interviews form part of the selection process. Entry requirements and course content vary, so it is important to check with individual institutions. Courses usually last three or four years full time.

Entry to postgraduate courses is normally with a first degree in music. Courses often last one year full time.

It is also possible to train as a classical musician with the Army, Royal Air Force (RAF) or Royal Marines. Musical education is combined with basic military and first aid training. A high standard on one instrument is normally needed. Entry is by audition, although the RAF expects a minimum standard of grade eight from The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM).

Musicians who want to teach music in a secondary school normally take a degree in music, followed by a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE). It is also essential to get some experience of working in schools and the community. Experience of working with established education departments in orchestras, ensembles and opera companies is also useful.

Operatic and choral singers often sing in foreign languages, so knowledge of other languages can be an advantage.

Training

Musicians have to continue improving their skills, practising and rehearsing for many hours a day. They may also attend specialised courses to extend their technique or the types of music they play or sing.

Musicians may study for a postgraduate qualification in, for example, performance, composition or conducting.

Freelance musicians can benefit from training in business skills, such as negotiating payments, accounts and marketing.

Getting on

As well as formal qualifications, musicians need to make a name for themselves. They may do this by entering competitions, applying for bursaries and awards, taking auditions, participating in special schemes for young artists, joining amateur groups and giving free concerts. This may take many years and, even once established in a career, maintaining success can be time-consuming.

Talented orchestral musicians may become section principals, sub-principals and principals. Orchestras and opera companies can offer opportunities for musicians who want to extend their practice through their education departments.

Further information

The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM), 24 Portland Place, London W1B 1LU. 020 7636 5400. Website: www.abrsm.org

Association of British Orchestras, 20 Rupert Street, London W1D 6DF. 020 7287 0333. Website: www.abo.org.uk

Creative and Cultural Skills, Lafone House, The Leathermarket, Weston Street, London SE1 3HN. 020 7015 1800. Website: www.creative-choices.co.uk

Headquarters Corps of Army Music, Kneller Hall, Kneller Hall Road, Twickenham, Middlesex TW2 7DU. 020 8744 8650. Website: www.army.mod.uk/music

Headquarters Music Services, Royal Air Force, Uxbridge, Middlesex UB10 0RZ. 01895 815481. Website: www.rafmusic.co.uk

Incorporated Society of Musicians, 10 Stratford Place, London W1C 1AA. 020 7629 4413. Website: www.ism.org

Musicians' Union (MU), 60-62 Clapham Road, London SW9 0JJ. 020 7840 5558. Website: www.theMU.org

Royal Marines Band Service, HMS Nelson, Queen Street, Portsmouth, Hants PO1 3HH. 02392 876943. Website: www.royalmarinesbands.co.uk

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

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