Classical Musician

The Job and What's Involved

Classical MusicClassical musicians perform, compose and/or conduct music. They might play an instrument or sing live or recorded classical music, do session work for backing tracks, adverts and films, conduct performances, or write music.

Some musicians decide to extend their work in music education - for example, working with the education department of an orchestra or opera company. Others train as full-time school music teachers. Many classical musicians make a living by combining performing with instrumental or vocal teaching, either privately or as a visiting teacher in schools. Some work in the bands of the Armed Forces.

The life of a classical musician involves regular and intense practice, often for many hours a day. This might be combined with a hectic schedule of performances, education work or recordings.

Some have the exceptional talent and personality to become solo performers, but opportunities for this type of work can be limited. With experience, musicians can perform in an orchestra, chamber group, ensemble or chorus.

Classical musicians usually work long and irregular hours, practising alone, taking part in rehearsals and performing. Evening and weekend working is common, and there can be a lot of travel in the UK and abroad.

Musicians may work in a variety of environments, from indoor concert halls, theatres and recording studios, to outdoor venues such as 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, can be cold and draughty, as can rehearsal rooms.

Starting salaries for employed orchestral musicians may be around £22,750. However, salaries vary a lot depending on the type of work a musician does.

Musicians are often self-employed and need to fill gaps in their diary between blocks of regular scheduled work. Many supplement their incomes with other work. The Musicians' Union and the Incorporated Society of Musicians suggest the sort of rates musicians could be paid. These vary widely depending on the type of work and the experience of the musician.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Classical music is a highly competitive area of work. Musicians are often self-employed, and very few earn their living as solo performers, but often will make successful careers playing in orchestras, small ensembles, professional choruses, conducting, composing and working in music education.

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 or in working with community groups.

Education and Training

Classical musicians need extensive formal musical education and training, often to postgraduate level. Most have learnt to play one or more instruments from an early age. They usually take a series of graded examinations, including theory of music.

Formal training for singers can sometimes begin later, since the voice takes time to mature.

Useful qualifications include:

* GCSEs/S grades and A levels/H grades in music.
* BTEC National Diploma in Music Practice. Entry is with four GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3), or the equivalent.
* Scottish National Certificate Courses in Music. Entry requirements can vary from no formal academic qualifications to three S grades (1-3).

There are two main types of higher education courses:

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

The minimum academic entry requirements are usually two A levels/H grades, or the equivalent, including music. Entrants often need to have grade eight in their first instrument, and sometimes grade six in their second. Auditions and interviews form part of the selection process.

It is also possible to train as a classical musician with the Royal Marines, Army and RAF. Musical education is combined with basic military and first aid training. A high standard on one instrument is normally needed. Entry is by audition.

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 useful to get experience of working in the community. Working with established education departments in orchestras, ensembles and opera companies is an option too.

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

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Professional Youth and Community Workers usually have a qualification in youth work validated by the National Youth Agency (NYA), (or Youth Council for Northern Ireland), and recognised by the JNC for Youth and Community Workers.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Classical musicians need:

  • Outstanding musical ability.
  • To be self-disciplined and very hard-working.
  • To be totally dedicated to a very demanding profession.
  • To work well on their own and also with other musicians.
  • Self-confidence.
  • Energy and stamina.
  • To be willing to produce work to an exacting high standard.
  • To be resourceful and very well-organised.

Your Long Term Prospects

As well as formal qualifications, musicians need to make a name for themselves by entering competitions, 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.

Orchestras offer opportunities for talented musicians, who may rise to section principal, sub-principal and principal. Orchestras and opera companies can offer opportunities for musicians who want to extend their practice through their education departments.

Get Further Information

The Arts Council of England,
14 Great Peter Street, London SW1P 3NQ
Tel: 0845 300 6200
Website: www.artscouncil.org.uk

British Phonographic Institute (BPI), Riverside Building,
County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7JA
Tel: 020 7803 1300
Website: www.bpi.co.uk

Creative and Cultural Skills, 4th Floor, Lafone House,
The Leathermarket, Weston Street, London SE1 3HN
Tel: 020 7015 1800
Website: www.ccskills.org.uk

Equity, Guild House, Upper St Martins Lane, London WC2H 9EG
Tel: 020 7379 6000
Website: www.equity.org.uk

Headquarters Music Services, Royal Air Force, Uxbridge UB10 0RZ
Tel: 01895 815286
Website: www.rafmusic.co.uk

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

Musicians' Union
Tel: 020 7582 5566
Website: www.musiciansunion.org.uk

Royal Marines Band Service, HMS Nelson,
Queen Street, Portsmouth PO1 3HH
Tel: 023 9272 6167
Website: www.royalmarinesbands.co.uk

Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall, Twickenham TW2 7DU
Tel: 020 8744 8608
Website: www.army.mod.uk/music

Scottish Arts Council, 12 Manor Place, Edinburgh EH3 7DD
Tel: 0131 226 6051
Website: www.scottisharts.org.uk

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