Long Live the Amateur Musicians

Long Live the Amateur Musicians

Mar 16, 2012

When we think music education, immediately our minds jump to little children playing tiny instruments, middle school bands or high school orchestras and conservatory training. While no one can deny the importance of music education for youngsters, we have forgotten a larger portion of the population: the adults! So many people learn instruments when they are younger and then let the hobby go as the pressing concerns of life come along. We've all been there - my lost craft is speaking Spanish (lo siento, Señora Saunders). Concerning the future of music and the need to reach different audiences, are we neglecting a relatively untapped resource?


The word "amateur" is derived from the French meaning "lover of" which gives quite a different impression than the meaning of "a non-professional" which most of us associate with the word. These "lovers of music" can be found throughout the world and are carrying on a wonderful tradition of keeping music as a centerpiece of the home. One such lover is my Grandpa who started playing flute almost fifty years after he first played the instrument as a boy. He plays in the Shriner band and we often have wonderful conversations about the power and the evils of the metronome. There is something truly beautiful about playing music for the pure sake of love and enjoyment.


So why is it that when it comes to organized training, there seem to be very few options for these amateurs to get involved? Some churches and bigger music organizations have small orchestras or chamber ensembles for people who want to play on a recreational basis, but the pickin's are pretty slim. One of my students is retired and has been dutifully progressing for four years with her love of the cello. She longs to play in a string quartet, but getting connected to other amateurs like her has been really difficult! For a place as musically inclined as Chicago, I found this fairly surprising.


Encouraging the revival of the amateur musician could be one surefire way to reinvigorate concert goers and keep the love of music strong in our communities. Adult students need opportunities to network with other amateurs looking to play. After all, much of the chamber music written before the late 18th century was composed with the amateur ensemble in mind! All music lovers should be given the chance to learn and play.


Upon seeing my cello on the el, at least half of the people who strike up a conversation with me excitedly tell me that they used to play an instrument when they were younger. Why the disconnect between past and present? I have to believe it is more than just hectic schedules and adult problems, but is rooted in the lack of opportunity. Our efforts to keep the value of music strong in the US should be bigger than working to sell concert tickets. Anyone else agree that the mindset of educational outreach needs to change? Is it time to broaden our minds to a different demographic? Leave a comment with your thoughts.


If you are an amateur musician, what does playing music mean to you? I would love to hear your story. Additionally, if you are looking to play with other musicians, leave a message as I am sure you are not alone. I would love to use this post as a meeting place for those looking to jam. Play on and long live the lovers!




Hi Allegra, Tell your student

Hi Allegra,
Tell your student about The Chamber Music Network, They are an organization devoted to bringing together amateur musicians. Their directory lists players by instrument, ability, and location. They are also an excellent resource for learning about workshops, home coachings, etc. and they even have a grant program. The comprehensive list of links on their website will be of interest to musicians of any level as well.
Great blog!
-Lou Torick

Hi all and Allegra, The

Hi all and Allegra,
The Chamber Music Network,, is a great organization devoted to bringing together amateur players. Their directory lists players by instrument, area, and ability. They are an excellent resource for workshops, home coachings, and even have a grant program. The comprehensive list of links on their website should be useful to musicians of any level. Check them out!
-Lou Torick

Celebrating amateur musicians

Allegra, thanks for bringing up this topic! At PianoForte Foundation, we have always recognized and believed in the power of amateur pianists to promote the piano and its repertoire. We even created the Chicago Amateur Piano Competition to celebrate this vast international network of musicians.

We define amateur as someone who pursues piano playing for pleasure and dedication to the art, rather than for professional pursuits or financial benefit. It is this pleasure and dedication that brings some of the most inspired and inspiring performances! These pianists are doctors, lawyers, widows, retirees, cancer survivors--all linked by their shared passion for music and the piano. It's a unique and special thing to watch, and you would be amazed by many of their performances.

Now for our shameless plug: the 2012 Chicago Amateur Piano Competition is coming up on May 23-27. There will be solo and concerto components, and most events are free and open to the public at Ganz Hall and Symphony Center. Please come and share the love! More information at

Many opportunities to play

There are many places to play in Chicago:

1. Try for chamber music players

2. City Wide orchestra meets in Jefferson Park rec center

3. Sherwood community orchestra....downtown

4. For wind instruments: New Horizons Bands at DePaul, Glencoe, Music Institute in Winnetka, etc.

5. Music Insitute Community Orchestra in Wilmette

6. Amateur Chamber Players Association

Many other regular groups meetings regularly

Good Luck.....there are opportunities.

Harvey Leva
Evanston, IL

great post A

The lack of opportunities for amateur music makers may be due in (large) part to the profession of music education itself. We groom future teachers to work in academia as band, choir, and orchestra directors and we almost completely ignore the 'private' teaching option. Why aren't there more music education 'firms' where teams of educators cater to music makers of all ages? Where passionate teachers work together to build music education businesses within their communities? We have removed that option almost completely from the table and in turn, have come to rely on the education system to provide teachers with jobs that are dwindling before our very eyes.

There is a huge market for amateur music making in the world, and there are adults (and kids) everywhere starving for information - just look at the boon of youtube 'how to' videos as well as the popularity of shows like The Voice and Idol or programs like Guitar Hero. These things are NOT music education, but there are few alternatives for people to access so how can we blame them for trying?

Kudos to Allegra for realizing the 'the disconnect between past and present' and how amateur music making can help fill concert halls, create stronger school music programs, and more musical communities in general.

hey that was me!

didn't mean to post anonymously! - eugene cantera @DLP_DSM &

oh sorry, that was me,

oh sorry, that was me, Shosh(ana) who left the previous comment :) cheers

My mom joined a community

My mom joined a community orchestra about 12 years ago and is completely devoted to it (almost more than she is to her marriage!). Community groups are one of the best ways for lovers of music to connect, make new friends, create music, and have fun. Perhaps if you have children taking private lessons you could ask other parents from the same teacher if they play and get together for more chamber music settings.....great topic, Allegra!!!

For the Love of It

Just to expand a little on your preferred definition of the word “amateur” and your statement: “There is something truly beautiful about playing music for the pure sake of love and enjoyment.” There are two excellent books that address the reasons that people choose to become amateur musicians and the rewards of doing so.
Wayne Booth (amateur cellist), in his beautifully written book “For the Love of It” attempts to answer the questions: What is the point of pursuing any skill when you know you’ll never come close to “the top”? Why would anyone spend free hours and weekends on a demanding practice that promises no payoff in money, fame of power? Is it true that anything worth doing is worth doing only if you can get credit for doing it really well? Why do amateurs do what they do?
Stephanie Judy’s book “Making Music for the Joy of It” is written as both a resource manual for “late learners” of music and a motivational text to challenge any and all reasons that “amateurs” have to not learn how to play.
Both of the above books are inspiring and contain valuable material for every “amateur” musician.

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