Dear Alma, I’m fed up with playing youth orchestra

Dear Alma, I’m fed up with playing youth orchestra

Daily Comfort Zone

norman lebrecht

August 25, 2023

From our agony aunt’s weekly mailbag:

Dear Alma,
I am a 13 year old cellist, and I am pretty good. I am playing Haydn C Major. My parents are pretty famous classical musicians and that’s how I know about Slippedisc. Here’s my problem and I hope you can help. I don’t mind playing cello, but it’s not really my jam. I have to practice 30 minutes a day, which is usually a drag, and last year my parents made me join the youth orchestra. It takes basically my whole day because I get home from school and have to do homework, eat dinner then get picked up and I get home super late. I keep telling them I want to quit orchestra because it’s a waste of time and my parts are really dumb anyway. Can you help me? They just let me quit piano.

no to orchestra

Dear No Orchestra,

I am glad that you are reading Slippedisc! It means that you are pretty knowledgeable about classical music, which is cool, and which will probably make you a very interesting person when you are an adult.

Ok, let me see if I got this right; you think playing cello is ok, you don’t have to practice very much, so you can deal with it. You just don’t want to do a ton of it, and it feels like it is eating into the rest of your life too much when you have to play in orchestra, which isn’t very satisfying for you anyway. Your parents recently let you quit piano.

Now let’s look at the other side, from your parents’ perspective. Why do you think they want you to play in orchestra? They must know the parts are pretty easy for you, so that’s not it. Is it because they want you to know the other people in your town who play music? Will the orchestra offer some cool perks like touring or concerto competition in the future? Are they friends with the conductor, and might be embarrassed if you quit (it might make them look bad to have their child dis the local organization, like they are too good for it or something). Maybe there is some skill that they want you to gain that you don’t know about.

I know your reasons, but I don’t know theirs, and maybe it’s a good time for you to write down a list of why you do and don’t want to do it, and ask them to do the same. Then have a little meeting and compare notes. It seems like they are reasonable, because they let you quit piano. And they aren’t pushing you to follow their steps and have a career in cello, because you don’t practice a ton. They just probably want you to have the benefits that playing an instrument offers, and if they can explain those to you, you can come up with a solution together. Maybe there are ways to get those benefits another way. Maybe no orchestra, but a super awesome summer camp? Maybe one half year orchestra and one half year some other cello thing, like chamber music? Or maybe your youth orchestra day can have an extra tasty meal in it or a special dessert after orchestra.

My mom made me play in a youth orchestra that was in the next town over, which took an hour to get to, and she would bring me to the cake place every time after orchestra was done and I would get a huge piece of cake. Basically all I remember about orchestra was cake. It was massive and delicious.

I bet you guys can figure something out. Check back here and let us know in the comments section what happened.


  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Dear “No to Orchestra”,

    Quit the cello, go back to the piano, and start playing tennis.

    • 13 year old says:

      Hello Pianofortissimo,
      Ha ha that’s is so totally funny because I love tennis and we just played as a family today and it was super fun. I started my list and asked my parents to do one too. Tennis is fun. I am way better on cello so that’s why I quit piano instead.

      • Pianofortissimo says:

        Great! Best wishes!
        🙂 Pff

      • Jason Bray says:

        Hi, I study orchestra double bass for 15 years,but I didn’t start till I was almost fifty, and I became a music Major at the same time. I had wanted to know music like that for years but never had the opportunity, for many reasons. I had played the guitar and electric bass so I was doing a lot.
        I would say if you only practice for a half an hour? Then you aren’t even really practicing, it takes a half an hour to warm up properly. And as far as orchestra, it’s kinda of more of an experience of relationships and how to work in a group, your musicianship should already be prepared by the time you get to rehearsal. The reality is the most orchestral work is really boring and plain and only has flashes of difficulty. I am reminded of that YouTube video of the alto singer who sings the background part to Mariah Carey’s Christmas song, same note over and over. I had a bass part in a symphony once, it was a low C note for 83 bars! 83 ! You have to really count.
        My advice is to go back to the playing the piano and improve, expand your styles, don’t waste you time with orchestra until your ready to be on that team. Pick up a guitar and learn about the different tuning of strings, cello,guitar, mandolin, all have different arrangements.
        Make a real assessment of your effect as well, I practiced four hours a day, starting at 6am every day of the week, one does not even know the muscle needed until that level of practice happens.
        Just don’t sell the piano or the cello. Keep on keeping on with music!!

  • Leon says:

    What a wonderful caring response! It offers many ways to resolve the matter in a mature way. Thank you!

  • Corno di Caccia says:

    My advice is to give up the ‘cello and take up French horn. It’s the best instrument in the orchestra and everyone else will be so jealous when they hear you play the great famous horn solos in the orchestral repertoire. Some may despise you but it’s worth it because you’ll know that they can’t play it as well as you. I remember playing the solo horn part in Mahler 5 and one of the violists (don’t take up the viola, please!) complained that the horns were so loud she felt – or maybe wished – she was under our seats. You see, they all want to be close to the horns, so just go for it.

    • 13 year old says:

      Hi there,
      French horn! How fun. My aunt plays that. I guess the dealie-hoo is that I actually like a lot of different music. I do some guitar, singing, and even a little fiddle, and so I really like music but just don’t want to get too stuck in the kind of music my parents do for a living. I just want to have time to be a kid and do lots of different stuff, not just one kind of thing. And my parents are cool with that they just want to make sure I am doing enough classical because they think that’s the kind that makes you the smartest.

    • Violist Katie says:

      French Horns may have contributed to the acoustic shock suffered by Royal Opera House Violist Chris Goldscheider back in 2012 during rehearsals for Die Walkure. He was sitting directly in front of the brass section and the sound levels were judged to be in excess of 130 decibels (roughly equivalent to a jet engine). No longer able continue his profession (or hear his wonderful Horn-playing son Ben) because the hyperacusis caused is too painful and his hearing was damaged irreversibly. Even every-day tasks required ear-defenders. He sued the ROH – successfully. Be careful – it may happen to you!

    • RZ says:

      Love this! Especially the viola advice. Spot on.

  • Jay Sacca says:

    What a great reply! Very insightful – I particularly like the ‘comparative lists’ approach. I would only add: the cellist is pretty young (though not for someone who wants to be a professional musician, but as was observed that doesn’t seem to be the case here) so maybe agree with mom and dad to take a year off, maybe two – except for a little practice – and see if you miss it, and are eager to return, or if you’re just a lot happier without it.

  • Elizabeth Horn says:

    My daughter was in a college and community orchestra, and later a youth orchestra when we moved. She much preferred the adult orchestra: 2 1/2 hour rehearsals once a week, but every five weeks a full length performance of interesting music and good soloists. The youth orchestra had two performances a year, and fewer pieces, not with the experience and subtlety. That is the problem: you aren’t learning enough, with too much time spent on simple music.

  • Grandma says:

    I love being on a quiet stage before anyone arrives at the hall. I love creating the music for the audience, being a part of something that transcends every single person in that hall— something that transcends anything the composer who penned the notes could have ever imagined. I love the hushed silences, the haunting beauty, the painful tension, the glorious release. I love every single thing about being a musician, and I am so grateful every time I get to take the stage that I didn’t quit when I asked myself the same question you’re asking yourself now.

    Should you quit? I don’t know, but finding the answer for myself was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Good luck.

  • Violinist says:

    Playing in an orchestra is life with sequins!

  • Jim Pivarski says:

    It seems like everybody here is telling you to quit the cello and take up their favorite instrument. Well, my favorite instrument is the cello, and I’ve been playing it since I was your age.

    You’re right about youth orchestra. In most pieces, cellos only play a supporting role. (See , it’s hilarious!)

    What I like about the cello is that it’s like a human voice… with the range of Freddie Mercury. Long after I stopped playing cello in any classical setting, I met a jazz cellist who was willing to give me lessons (the cello was a drum for him as often as it was a stringed instrument), and I’ve since spiraled off into Middle Eastern and Indian improvisation styles. I really want to learn Carnatic ragas, if I can find a teacher.

    Check this out:

    If you’re giving something up, be sure you know what you’re giving up—musical style, role in an orchestra, or instrument—one is not intrinsically bound to the others.

    • 13 year old cellist says:

      Hi great idea. I did do fiddle camp two summers and now I can play a little banjo and guitar. It’s really fun.

  • Corno di Caccia says:

    It does appear that modern education doesn’t believe in challenging young people in general. Mediocrity reigns supreme.

  • Shophar says:

    My current schools and ex schools orchestra teachers had the same problem until she arranged movie music, heavy metal, and Earth Wind and Fire for stings and the kids love both of them both.

  • Julie says:

    I played violin when I was 11-13 years old. I lost interest and didn’t like it again till 20 years later. A part of me wished I stayed with it as a kid so I would’ve been much better as an adult but I realize everything has a time and place and whenever I played it with love was the right time.

  • MagicMusicAdam says:

    As someone who has played the piano since age 8 and took up cello as an adult, I’d swap the cello back to piano – but look beyond the range of standard classical music – look at jazz, pop, learn how to vamp chord patterns and rock licks. This will open up keyboard playing in bands too (severe shortage of good keyboard players!). As a pianist, it’s quite easy to turn your hand to other instruments too – over the years I’ve had turns with sax, drums, guitar, bass, violin, clarinet… The piano is the ultimate versatile instrument, solo, small or large group, and any style of music.

  • christopher storey says:

    I am afraid that I have harsh words for you : I wonder whether the orchestra would also be glad to see the back of you ? You sound smug, self-satisfied and,perhaps, not quite as talented as you see yourself to be. I realise that you are only 13 years old , and obviously very immature, but a little humility might go a long way and enable you to get much more out of your experiences than is happening at present. Try it and see….

  • Ilse Burger says:

    Dear young cellist, I’m nearly 66 and did piano my whole life. I also studied B.MUS. At your age I practised 4 hours daily. But the difference was, I LOVED it. On the one hand, don’t stop music, you will regret it forever, but find your niche. You’re still young, but sit down and think what is the one thing you absolutely love doing? I knew for sure that I wanted to do music my whole life. It was my passion. Good luck to you in this decision.
    Kind wishes, Ilse Burger, South Africa

  • Drew says:

    Why not branch out, I’ve seen some great use of the Cello in Traditional Irish and American music. Experiment, start learning cello Concertos and just have fun with that Cello. If youth orchestra is a bore then switch it up. I’m a guy who wished he had learned a musical instrument and the Cello is my favorite. Maybe you can negotiate a year off. I bet you will miss playing the instrument. I think having the foundation of reading and playing music is super important and you will eventually appreciate it!

  • Bone says:

    I feel like John Rosemond writing this, but here is another view: your parents understand that the intense discipline and concentration gained through learning a musical instrument is worth enduring your complaints to ensure that your intellectual and emotional development is on a positive trajectory. So buck up and continue throughout your school days and then make a decision for yourself when you are an adult.

  • 13 Year Old Cellist says:

    Hello everyone!
    Great news. My parents found a chamber group I can do this fall. It’s going to be a Brahms Sextet so it’s really cool and I can play loud. Then I can go back to orchestra in the spring. It means only one hour a week but I need to practice my part by myself too. It’s also with some people I know so that will be fun.

  • Leah says:

    I hate to be this way but I felt the same way about ballet and, years later, regret it severely. If I had just stuck with ballet I can guarantee I would’ve had a career in it. I was just feeling a little burnout is all, and being young, I had conflated it with not wanting to do it anymore.
    In situations like these, where I’m currently indecisive, I think about what my future self would likely want. Although my past self mightve thought quitting ballet would be helpful, I unknowingly cut off a path in life my future self (now) would’ve adored. Just some food for thought if you’re still a little torn

  • Corno di Caccia says:

    The old phrase about being a Jack of all trades but master of none may be applicable here. Best to specialise in one or two instruments or you run the risk of being a mere dilettante.

  • Corno di Caccia says:

    @violist Katie: I’m sure you’ve noticed that the bells of French horns point away from the orchestra; it’s more than likely the sound coming from Trumpets and Trombones which causes the most concern in this area. Plus, playing in an Opera Orchestra in the pit is more harmful than playing in a concert hall as the sound is much more contained in an Opera pit. As it is, I’ve had tinnitus for years but recent tests show that my overall hearing is perfect for my age. Personally, I find the noises around me just walking the streets is more concerning than orchestral playing. Plus, why aren’t more parents/adults concerned at the amount of time young people walk around wearing the worst kind of earplugs all of the time? This requires intervention.

  • Tennisplayingviolinist says:

    If he is playing the Hayden with just 30 min/d, he

  • Cecily says:

    I wish you, the young cellist the happiest possible life and hope you make excellent choices which are the most suitable for you. . This post however, won’t be a popular one (-but I always say what I sincerely think, come what may -) I think a little humility and gratitude is what you need now. You have wonderful hardworking parents who have spared none of their hard-earned money in providing you with no doubt top class musical tuition and ferried you to and from your lessons and from orch’a. Many young people would give their eye teeth for such advantages. Many of the wise people who read Slipped Disc here and other such things couldn’t learn music or afford a good instrument until they earned the privilege and the money as adults. They would not turn up their noses at your opportunities! Playing in a youth orchestra has wide ensemble skill and other social benefits, not least the importance of appreciating the contribution made by other players as well as oneself. It is not a selfish situation. Also there are many musicians younger than you are who show even more musical development and who already have developed a professional practice routine. You just haven’t met them yet so you are still a big fish in a small pond. Rather than working less why not give your talents the good shot they deserve! This could have the wonderful effect of re – sparking your interest! . You have reached a point in your young life that no matter how clever or talented you are, you will go no further in a musical career unless your attitude changes. But hey, it may not be the right choice of career for you anyway and that is very much your decision.. But try to listen and learn from wise heads and from your parents and make an informed decision.. That way you will have no regrets. I wish you every blessing and every success…

  • Piano Lover says:

    Another spoiled kid complaining about life.
    Go play on Tik Tok-no more practicing needed.