An interesting article that offered a valuable perspective found its way into my Facebook feed last week. The article was about a violinist who started violin in his mid-teens, not at the “normal” age of 3.
One person commented on the article that starting later than age 6 was detrimental if one wanted to be competitive. I had to politely disagree and replied that for me, starting at 10 seemed to be okay. A flood of other colleagues shared similar stories. Some starting at 11, 13, and like the author, 16!
There is a quiet assumption that one must start violin (or piano for that matter) between age 3 and 6 to make it. While it is a popular age to start, by no means is it a rule. So often we see artist biographies that state the artist “began violin at 3,” followed up with, “made their solo debut at 10” or “became the youngest member of the XYZ Symphony,” as if those are the most important benchmarks for success…qualifiers to an audience member that they are about to hear a performer that is worthy.
There is a stigma in music business that one will only accomplish notable points if they started at an early age. But as renowned composer Jennifer Higdon stated: “Starting late gave me a different advantage, because if you’re starting that late, the fire in you is different.”
A lot of impressive and charismatic musicians who started “late” have amazing and noteworthy careers. But you don’t really hear about their delayed beginnings. It would have been so comforting and inspiring for many to know that starting late could still lead to a respectable career.
I used to feel so insecure for starting later than many. I kept thinking: If only I had that head start, I’d have been so much further in my career!
But I really enjoyed my early childhood and to be completely frank, I wouldn’t have had the maturity, focus, or coordination to really make that “head start” worthwhile.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if more musicians divulged if they started late? Or is the audience so conditioned to expect wunderkinds and prodigies that mentioning starting music at 10, 15, 18 years old disqualifies the musician in their minds?
Let’s normalize starting when it’s right for the individual. Let’s normalize that there is no age-limit. It’s not a race. It’s about finding the best path for the artist to best serve the audience.