Its that time of year again. In the academic music world, early spring means one thing…school auditions! Seniors (both in college and high school) are playing auditions that will let them know how they will be spending the next few years of their life, whether its in an undergraduate or graduate program, or something else. Now, I have not taken a college audition in almost 4 years, but every year around this time I think about my experiences and all the people who are practicing like crazy right about now. I wanted to take a moment to reflect, and maybe give some advice to anyone that may be stressing right now and wondering what the next few years will bring.
While I don’t have any experience auditioning for undergraduate programs (my “audition” at CSU consisted of me playing a Rose etude…just one haha), I do have quite a bit of experience in auditioning for graduate programs. Over a 14 month period, I auditioned at 7 different schools. Here’s a little background for those who don’t know: five years ago (!!), in 2006, after graduating from CSU in the December 2005 I ambitiously auditioned for programs at University of Denver, Eastman, DePaul, and Northwestern. I say “ambitiously” because three of those schools were way beyond my reach, based on my playing ability at the time. Not that I had known that; I had been in the CSU/Colorado bubble my entire playing career and I really had no idea how good you had to be to make it anywhere. I won’t go into details, but it was quite a reality check…I recall paying a certain professor $100 for me to cry in a lesson with him at Northwestern when I realized how not ready I was for the auditions I was taking that weekend. I believe Daphnis is what sent me over the edge during that fateful hour. March 2006 was NOT a good month for me…3 reject letters! Anyway, because I didn’t know what else to do, I went ahead and enrolled at DU, the only school who accepted me that year. Fast forward to the end of 2006…started dating my current husband, and we got engaged within 6 months. My life had done a complete 180! He was finishing up his Masters degree at CSU and was interested in continuing on for a DMA. I said OK, I don’t like DU that much so I’ll audition everywhere you audition so that we can be together. I felt like I had improved A LOT and I would have a better chance this time. The schools ended up being Eastman (again), Michigan, Michigan State, and Indiana University. Like I said, I didn’t even choose those schools! Those were Ben’s choices. Again, long story short, I found myself accepted to all four schools with a full ride scholarship to Indiana. WHAT?!
Looking back, there were vast differences (other than my playing) in my auditions in 2007 that made them more successful than in the previous year. I won’t go into that in detail, rather, I am going to list some do’s and don’ts to students who are about to audition for various music schools out there based on my experience.
1. DON’T STRESS OUT! The outcome of your audition won’t be determined by how much you practice in the month before the audition. It will be determined by how hard you have worked and practiced in the year or years before the audition and how open your mind is to new ideas. Yes it is important to be fully prepared, but keep in mind that schools are not necessarily looking for perfection; they are looking for potential. If you can show that you have good fundamentals and have an open mind to learning, you should be fine. One of the reasons I was so successful in my 2nd round of auditions is because I took them in stride – I relied on all the hard work I put in the past year. For example, at my 2nd audition at Eastman, I auditioned for both Ken Grant and Robert Dilutis. Anyone who has met Robert, he can be extremely intimidating! It was very scary…but I clearly remember him asking me to play RK’s Capriccio Epagnol a second time, with some adjustments (specifcally the crazy runs at the end…he wanted me to emphasize the low notes more). And I did exactly what he told me to do – I think that could have been a deciding factor in my acceptance. Mostly everyone will go in and play their rep perfectly, its how you interact with the people that you are auditioning for that will be a deciding factor.
2. Do make sure that you take a step back and be realistic. Can you really compete with the level of applicants at this particular school? I wish I had done this my first round of auditions, I would have saved myself a lot of embarrassment and heartache! Its great to shoot for the stars, but its also important to know your own limits and to not set yourself up for failure. This is why I don’t audition for the CSO or NY Phil…ha.
3. DON’T audition for the school you are currently attending. Now, this is purely my opinion, but if you go to a different school, you have a different teacher, different environment, etc. which in turn gives you a fresh perspective. No offense to anyone who has done this, but it really “grinds my gears” when people do multiple degrees at one school. I am a big advocate of getting out of your comfort zone – more learning takes place. When I graduated from CSU, my teacher offered me a full scholarship to stay and do my masters there. I said, no way! I needed to get out of there. And, I loved being a student at Eastman, but I would not get another degree there – I want a fresh experience if I ever decided to pursue another degree.
4. Don’t play too much repertoire. This was my biggest mistake in my 2006 auditions – I was too focused on quantity. That was a big mistake! Seriously, what was I thinking? Maybe I thought by having an impressive rep list that it could make up for the fact that I was a sub par clarinetist? Right. Anyway, clearly QUALITY is much better than quantity. In 2007, I prepared a fraction of the rep as compared to the year before. I basically did what was on the list for each school, nothing more. This is when it is ok to do the minimum.
5. Do be yourself! Professors want to know who you are and if you would be a good fit for their studios. They want to know if they would enjoy teaching you and whether or not you will be a good student. Don’t go in there a be a stone cold face – be personable. Its hard to act relaxed when you are in such a high pressure situation, but I always tried to imagine I was in a lesson, not an audition – I tended to open up more and not be as shy and intimidated. And remember, often times you are auditioning them as a teacher as well. Remember to ask yourself, would I be happy spending two years or more in their studio? This should make you more relaxed (at least it would for me).
6. Do know a brief background of the pieces you are playing (even the excerpts), just in case. It has never happened to me that I have been asked about it in an audition, but you never know. You don’t have to recite a dissertation on a whim, but know basics, like when was the piece written? For who/what? What other pieces did the composer write? Things like that. Always better to be safe than sorry – you don’t want to have to say “I don’t know” if they do ask!
Basically, the gist is to not practice a lot more than normal, and to stay relaxed about the whole thing. Its really NOT as big of a deal as people make it. At least I don’t think so. I am not advocating not being prepared, I am advocating being relaxed in your preparation. As long as you have always worked hard, and keep working hard, you should have no problem getting into a school that is appropriate for your playing ability. Happy practicing!