8 in 10 youth orch members become professional musicians

The numbers are in at the 50th anniversary of the German National Youth Orchestra (BJO) and some of the stats are striking:

Around 4,000 musicians have played in the BJO at one time or another. Some are now pastors, corporate consultants, physicians or scientists, but an astonishing 81 percent of the former members went on to professional music careers. A situation possible perhaps only in Germany, which has as many classical orchestras as the rest of Europe combined.

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  • Happy birthday BJO! My thoughts: Any one who makes it to the BJO has already long been on the track to becoming a professional musician. Since it is so competitive to gain admittance to the Bundesjugendorchester, my question is, what experience did the other 19% have that they decided not to become a professional musician?

    • All sorts of professions; a career in music isn’t for everyone. And of course it’s entirely possible that they never won an audition for a job that appealed to them.

  • The last bastion of classical music in the west. When one goes to, say, London or Paris, the overall impression is that classical music is just in the peripheries of overall culture (even though numerically a lot of classical music events are held). In central Europe, it is still part of mainstream culture. Most people have some familiarity with music, which is definitely not the case elsewhere.

  • I’m pretty sure that figure would not be replicated in other countries – perhaps an indication of the relative paucity of really first-rate amateur music-making in Germany? 4000 players seems quite a small number over such a long period: perhaps this orchestra is seen as primarily as a professional training ground, which is not the ethos elsewhere.

  • I was member of the first violin section of BJO in 1974 – 1976. I went on to study physics and then to medical school….
    .

  • That’s a very high number. I too was a member of a local youth orchestra (in Hong Kong). A larger number of my former colleagues ended up in finance, law, medicine etc. I would say less than half of us ended up in music.

  • This is very admirable.
    But does Germany have great living composers? Are we talking only about curatorial excellence, or is there a vibrant creative streak still alive in German music? Wolfgang Rihm? Who else should I be listening to?

  • How nice it would be if the top youth orchestras in the USA could say this. I have not done official research but would suspect that less than 20% of the players in top youth orchestras here ever achieve full time employment of any type in classical music. I believe that I have read from knowledgeable sources that less than 5% of people with advanced degrees in music are actually employed in music. I know it’s all about economics and interest, but a sad commentary on our value system.

    • But the purpose of U.S. youth orchestras is not to produce professional musicians; that’s a byproduct. The purpose is to enrich the lives of young people, teach them a skill and an appreciation of orchestral music that can stay with them their entire lives, and not incidentally build audiences for tomorrow. I can think of several peers from my youth orchestra who are now professional musicians, as am I. But many others have gone on to successful careers in engineering, medicine, computers, teaching, editing, etc., while still keeping orchestral music in their lives as dedicated concert-goers and, often, as members of amateur orchestras. And of course they are passing the love of music down to their own children.

      The success of a youth orchestra isn’t measured in the percentage of its alumni who make a career in music. It’s measured in the percentage of its alumni who retain their youthful enjoyment of music throughout their lives.

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