Instrument Snobs

As a professional violinist with many different symphony orchestras throughout the years, I have learned that your value as a musician is not solely based on your performance, but rather how expensive is your instrument.  One would think that the pettiness of the cost of any item fades after high school where they are more concerned about what name brands you wear on your clothing.  The truth is, it only accelerates and magnifies as you get into the professional world.  Usually, other musicians don’t care what brand of clothing you wear, but they certainly want to know what kind of strings you use, the maker of your instrument, who does your luthier work, what brand is your bow, how old is your instrument, etc.  I have been judged based on the TOOLS I use for my job.  That’s what an instrument is:  a tool.  I have seen symphony personnel managers and music directors dismiss musicians based only on the instrument that they can afford/use.  Teachers tell their students and parents to spend more and more money on instruments, going vastly into debt that will likely carry for 30+ years.  And yet, these same musicians are vying for those “coveted” symphony jobs that don’t even pay enough to make the instrument payment each month, let alone give them money to pay for the essentials of life (housing, transportation, food.)

If you are wanting to be a concertmaster or soloist, you must shell out more money than any other player in the orchestra as you are “expected” to have the most expensive violin.  If you don’t, then perhaps you are not worthy of being the concertmaster or soloist.  I realize this is my opinion, but I know many violinists who will agree with this statement.  Why?  Because I have asked them.  It’s conversation.  Yes, musicians do talk and discuss instruments backstage.  The problem is when you are judged based on your instrument value alone.

Of course I know the difference between good instruments and not-so-good ones.  But my value of an instrument is not based on the price.  It is based on the sound, response, touch, feel – qualities not tied solely to the price.  Once you get out of the student models and into really professional instruments, it’s a personal choice for what YOU like.  After all, it’s your ear next to it for unending hours of practice and playing.  I actually use different instruments based on the styles and venues where I perform.  A friend sent me the link to this article where professional soloists are asked to select which instrument they would prefer to use on tour.  They compared newer and older fine violins, without knowing which was which.  It is definitely worth the read!

Overall, I do believe that one should try to obtain and purchase their desired instrument that they can afford to do their job well.  However, in any professional career, one should not be judged on the “name brand” of the tools they use.  But life is not fair, and as long as other musicians perpetuate the idea that the cost of an instrument is tied to the value of the attached musician’s abilities, it will continue to be unfair.  And most symphonic musicians will continue to be debtors and starving artists just to pay for their instruments to keep their jobs and appease their peers.