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What I've Learned, | Dec 29, 2016

​Stanley Ritchie, violinist

Goal-setting may be overrated, according to Ritchie.

A native of Yenda, Australia, professional violinist, author and distinguished Indiana University professor Stanley Ritchie began his orchestral career at age 19. He later went on to hold principal positions at the New York City Opera and Metropolitan Opera, as well as the Vancouver Symphony. In his studio at IU’s Jacobs School of Music, Ritchie, 81, shares what he’s learned about success.



Take every second chance you get.

I remember getting a call from the City Opera about an opening in the violin section. I thought, What the heck. It’ll pay the rent, right? So I went down to take the audition. When I arrived the contractor said, “By the way, this is for a first-chair position.” Needless to say I did not play very well. But they gave me a second chance and told me to come back on Friday, by which time I’d memorized the music, and I got the job.

Ask tough questions.

One day as I crossed Central Park, I asked myself, Why are you living in New York? I hated New York. It was big, dirty, noisy, and there was little time to really use the city. Then I opened a travel magazine and found Vancouver. I liked what I saw, so I ran down to the Canadian Consulate and found out the Vancouver Symphony was looking for a concertmaster. Three weeks later I signed a contract with them. In a sense the job fell into my lap, but only because I asked the right questions.

Embrace the uncertain.

Shortly after I arrived in Vancouver, I received a postcard from a harpsichordist up in Portland. Her name was Elizabeth and she’d heard about me from an old friend who used to make rock n’ roll recordings with me. I said, “Well heck, why don’t we get together and read some music?” It was an instant click. We were married five years later.

Be diplomatic.  

You get nowhere by making someone’s life miserable. I’m always interested in finding the supportive way. How do you tell someone, “That sucks?” Yes, there are teachers who humiliate. One of my students had a tyrant of a professor before she came to me, and she was scared to death—I mean, sweat running in rivulets down her face. That’s not good teaching. That’s a kind of sadism.

Be patient.

As nice as it is, ambition, I think, can also be a curse. There’s the chance you’re going to wind up bitter and frustrated if you don’t get exactly what your heart’s set on. So I tell people, “Just do what you like, work hard, and something good will come.” Thankfully I’ve never been too cursed with ambition. The big breaks will come as long as you’re 100 percent ready for them.

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