How Many Colleges Should Music Students Apply To?

As high school seniors are getting their applications underway (or at least thinking about getting started!) a question often comes up: how many schools should I apply to? What is the right number for your “short list”? The answer to this question is as individual as each student, but I would like to offer some guidance here that may be useful.

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The standard advice that you will hear from many sources (such as here) is that seniors should be applying to between 6 and 8 schools. These applications, seniors are counseled, should fall into three categories:

  • Two or three “reach” schools, which the applicant would like to attend, but where admission is not a sure thing due to higher selectivity
  • Two or three “match” or “probable” schools, which are schools where it seems likely that the student will be admitted
  • Two “safety” schools where the student is nearly certain of being admitted

You’ve probably heard this advice before. However, it can be a bit bewildering for music students who can’t necessarily use a grade point averages and test scores to gauge their chances of admission to any particular school. Grades and tests may be a factor, but the quality of your audition is likely to have a bigger impact on your chances of being admitted.

So, music students are left wondering “what are my chances?” and “what’s a safety, and what’s a reach?” At Eastman we frequently hear questions about how many openings will be available for a particular instrument in a given year. Unfortunately these questions don’t help the student much. Even if you know that your first-choice school is looking to enroll X number of kazoo players (insert your instrument here) this year, that still doesn’t tell you whether that means your chances are good. These numbers could even mislead you about your chances, and discourage you from applying to a school that could be a great fit for you.  Top music schools receive applications from all over the world, and students don’t really have an effective way to judge how they compare on a national or international level – ultimately, that’s what the audition process is for!

Here are a few ideas that can help alleviate this problem:

  1. Visit at least some of the colleges/conservatories that you are thinking of applying to.  If you can take a lesson with a professor during your visit, set that up well in advance. During the lesson, ask if the professor thinks you are on the right track, or if there are specific things you should be working to improve as you prepare to audition. While on campus, try to listen in on a rehearsal or attend a concert so that you can hear the level of music-making going on at the school.  (Keep in mind that you may be hearing upperclassmen or graduate students, so don’t get spooked if that is the case!) Talk to current students during your visit to get a feel for the campus culture. You can also ask about their admission experiences and why they decided to attend. (Also see our advice here on campus visits.)
  2. Be as involved as possible in the top musical groups in your area. For many students this means performing in youth orchestras, All-County, All-State, and the like. These types of activities are common among successful applicants to music schools, but keep in mind that getting into All-State ensembles does not automatically translate to acceptance at your preferred music school. Keep looking for opportunities that will stretch you including competitions, recitals and professional gigs.
  3. Talk to your current music instructor(s) about the schools you are thinking of. They will likely be able to guide you and help to tailor your list.

Don’t be too focused on the question of “where will I get in?” Instead, focus on creating a targeted list of schools which will offer the kinds of experiences that are most important to you – in other words, schools that will be a great “fit” for you. That might mean regular access to full-time resident faculty, small class sizes, lots of ensemble opportunities, a high quality curriculum, a close-knit community of students, or any other number of factors that will shape your next four years.

So, this leads us back to the original question of how many schools to apply to. For many music students, submitting between five and ten applications is a good number, even if the schools on your list can’t be easily categorized as “reaches,” “matches,” or “safeties.” Applying to a much larger number of schools may seem like a tempting strategy to hedge your bets, but it can backfire if it leads you to spread yourself too thinly with applications and auditions. Here are some steps to help you arrive at the right number for you:

  • Develop a list of schools that you like, and would be happy to attend. Think in terms of which schools are a good fit for you. (This means you should not be applying to any school “just to see if I can get in.”)  For each school you are considering, make yourself a list of things you have already learned about the school, and what aspects you want to learn more about.
  • Consider the time and money you will need to invest in applications and pre-screen recordings (if required for your intended major/instrument).  This is a labor-intensive process, and application fees can add up quickly. Each school will also have its own set of unique requirements that you will need to keep track of.
  • Factor in the expense and time it will take to prepare for and perform your auditions, especially if you will be traveling to audition. It is not realistic to think that you could audition at 20 schools during the 2-3 months of audition season. However, an on-campus audition is a good investment of both time and money for a school in which you have a serious interest.
  • If you play an instrument which you know is typically more competitive (such as piano, flute or voice) you may want to have a slightly longer “short list” than if you play a more rare instrument.
  • Brace yourself for some surprises. You may find that you are waitlisted at a school that you thought was a sure thing. Or you might be admitted somewhere you didn’t really expect.  The admissions process is subjective and often a bit unpredictable.

Ultimately the right number for you depends on how well you have done your research on each school, and your unique situation. However, I hope these suggestions provide some helpful guidance as you finalize your list.  Best of luck!

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Eastman application is now open

Old Computers

Unlike this, the Eastman application is neither overwhelming nor old-fashioned

We are pleased to announce that the application for Fall 2015 admission is now open!  We’ve spent the summer making updates and improvements, and we are excited to get the admissions season underway.  The Eastman application allows you to upload recordings and videos directly within your application on the “Recordings” page (if recordings are required for your instrument or major).  Be sure to record each selection in a separate file to make the upload process go smoothly.  Recommendations and transcripts can also be submitted electronically.

Now is a great time to get your application started through the links below.  Let us know if you have any questions!

Undergraduate application instructions

Graduate application instructions

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Applying on More than One Instrument

guitars and drum on park benchThe question of applying on more than one instrument comes up frequently in the music admissions process. There are some cases in which applying on more than one instrument makes sense, and others in which it is not recommended. This post will discuss some factors you should consider in making this decision.

The first question is “can I apply on more than one instrument?” The answer is yes, Eastman allows students to apply and audition on more than one instrument (or an instrument and voice). Applicants who do this should select both instruments within a single application. There is no need to submit two applications.

Sometimes applicants have the misconception that applying on multiple instruments will automatically increase their odds of being offered admission – almost like buying multiple lottery tickets! Some think that playing many different instruments will be more impressive than playing one instrument. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Your qualifications will be considered separately for each instrument, and your ability with one instrument has no effect on your chances of being admitted for another instrument. (The exception is Eastman’s Master of Music Woodwind Specialist degree, a specialized graduate-level program which requires proficiency in multiple woodwind instruments.) It is very important to keep in mind that, if you successfully pass the pre-screening round, you will be simultaneously preparing all of the audition requirements for each instrument. This can be a daunting task, particularly if you are preparing auditions for several schools. Students who audition on more than one instrument may discover that they don’t have enough practice time to prepare all of their audition pieces. In fact, you could actually reduce your chances of admission by diluting your efforts in a highly selective admissions process. The phrase “too many irons in the fire” comes to mind. In most cases it is better to apply only on the instrument with which you have the most expertise, and which you think of as your “primary” instrument.

Applying on more than one instrument does make sense if you are equally skilled on both instruments, and you prefer not to narrow your focus yet. Completing the admissions process (pre-screening and audition) may help you to see where your strengths and preferences lie. Each year at Eastman we typically see only one or two applicants who are qualified for admission on more than one instrument. Before starting their degree, these students are required to choose one instrument as their primary focus. We believe that this helps students to focus the efforts of their studies, and ultimately to succeed in their future careers.

Students have the option to take half-hour weekly “secondary” lessons on another instrument, which is an excellent way to continue progressing on another instrument that you enjoy, but which is not your major focus. Students do not need to apply or perform an admissions audition on the secondary instrument in order to take these lessons, but they need to have at least intermediate skill level on the secondary instrument.

If you are trying to decide whether you should apply on more than one instrument, we recommend that you discuss the issues mentioned above with your current music teacher(s), think about how your practice time will be divided, and make a well-considered decision.  When in doubt, focusing on one instrument is usually a safer route. Also feel free to contact the Office of Admissions  if you would like to discuss your options.

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Music Parents Survival Guide

If you are the parent of a music student, you might want to check out a new book from Amy Nathan called Music Parents Survival Guide.  It is full of advice and info to help you navigate the many steps your child will take between first lessons and heading off to college and beyond.  The book includes interviews with lots of professional musicians, educational leaders, and admissions experts from top music schools, including Dr. Matthew Ardizzone, Eastman’s Associate Dean of Admissions.  Definitely worth a read!

Cover for Music Parents Survival Guide

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Making the most of a campus visit

Visiting a college campus is a great way to get a more complete picture of what studying there would be like. Websites are a useful starting point, but they can’t replace the first-hand experience of meeting faculty, students and staff members and seeing the campus in person.  Here are some tips to make the most of these visits:

  1. Maximize your travel by combining college visits with other trips.  If you have a family vacation planned near a college you are interested in, try to set aside some time for a campus visit.  Some families plan road trips with stops at several schools, which can work well too. However, visiting more than three or four different colleges in a single trip can become a bit overwhelming.
  2. Contact the Office of Admissions well in advance. Ask about tours and/or information sessions available during your visit. These may be offered only on certain days or times of day, so plan accordingly. Also ask about any other opportunities that might be available, such as sitting in on a rehearsal or attending a concert. When visiting Eastman, you may also want to consider a visit the University of Rochester’s River Campus. Spring and summer are the most popular seasons for college visits, but other times of year can also work very well.
  3. Connect with faculty. If you are hoping to meet with a faculty member during your visit, contact him or her via email as far in advance as possible to introduce yourself and inquire about availability. A lesson or meeting is an excellent way to get a feel for teaching style and “fit.” A lesson can also be particularly useful if you have started preparing your audition repertoire so that they can give you specific tips on how to improve. Most faculty members do charge a fee for sample lessons, so be sure to inquire about this when you arranging the lesson time. Also keep in mind that faculty members have very busy schedules, and may not be available if you haven’t made an appointment in advance.
  4. Talk to current students during your visit and ask about their experiences. Spend some time in the cafeteria, local coffee shop or any common areas where students gather. (A visit to Eastman would not be complete without a stop at Java’s!) Your tour guide may be a student, or you may be able to meet up with some of the students who play your instrument. Don’t be shy – students are usually more than happy to meet fellow musicians and tell you about their school.
  5. Before you go, make a list of specific questions you want to ask. Some topics you might want to learn more about include coursework, ensembles, student life, study abroad, dual degrees, financial aid, and the application & audition process. Your questions will become more focused as you learn more about different schools. There’s a lot to learn, and each school is different, so come prepared and take notes and pictures!
  6. Want to pick up a t-shirt or hoodie from the colleges you visit?  The campus bookstore is a great place to do this, but make sure to leave extra room in your suitcase for this purpose, or pack an extra bag!
  7. After your visit, take some time to review any brochures you collected as well as your notes. Think about what you learned, whether the school feels like a “fit” for you, and any new questions you might want to add to your list for future visits.

We look forward to meeting you on campus!

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Apartment Search Advice for New Grad Students

The following post was also written by guest poster Amy Skjerseth, who is a recent alumna and has done her share of apartment searching.  Thanks for sharing, Amy!
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So you’ll be attending Eastman for graduate school in the fall—congratulations!—and you are wondering about finding an apartment in Rochester. As a recent undergraduate alumna of Eastman and the University of Rochester, I’ve lived in four different apartments during the past three years. I’d like to share some tips and resources with you that will help you get started on finding a place.

You can start by visiting the Office of Residential Life’s Off-Campus Housing database. The database includes listings from nearby property management companies and is easily searchable. If you would like to find a roommate, you can search listings posted by students who already have housing and want a roommate, or you can browse postings by students who do not yet have housing but wish to live with roommates.  You can also try posting the new student Facebook group to connect with another new student.

Besides contacting property management companies, Craigslist is another way to narrow down potential apartments and locations. You could start your search by clicking the “apartments/housing for rent” category in Rochester, and type “East End” into the search bar. This will produce results for the closest apartments to Eastman; look on Gibbs Street, Grove Street, and Windsor Street. You can also expand your search to the nearby streets of East Avenue, University Avenue, Alexander Street, and Park Avenue, which transitions from the East End neighborhood to Park Avenue and Neighborhood of the Arts (NOTA). You can find out more about the neighborhoods surrounding Eastman in the section below.

Other useful search engines are Padmapper and Rent Rochester, where you can either search for listings on a map of the city, or search by neighborhood.

Where should I live in Rochester?

Eastman is located in the East End, which is home to many of Rochester’s cultural attractions. With the Little Theatre (an independent movie house), many cafés, restaurants, and the Rochester Public Market, the neighborhood surrounding Eastman has no shortage of fun things to do. If you come to Rochester during the summer to look for apartments, be sure to check out the Rochester International Jazz Festival, which is held each summer on Gibbs Street.

If you want to live as close as possible to campus, you should start your search very early. There is a huge demand for apartments on Gibbs Street, where the Eastman school and dorms are located. Just past the dorms, there are several apartments on both sides of the street. Some of the closest houses and apartment complexes fill up quickly for the coming year, with current students typically signing leases in April or May.

Here are some of the apartment complexes and management companies closest to the Eastman campus (contact them as soon as possible, as they fill up quickly!):

University Place is located across the street from Eastman, on 328 Main Street. Many students choose to live there for the convenience of being steps away from the school, and it’s a nice building with several amenities.

Halo Lofts are modern, well-managed, and contain many amenities (free internet and cable, as well as a washer and dryer in each unit). They are very close to the Eastman dorms, on 60 Grove Street.

Grove Street Management owns many apartments on Gibbs Street, as well as Windsor Street, which is only one street over from Gibbs. Look at their “Grove Place” neighborhood for the closest apartments to Eastman.

If you are looking to live a little farther away from campus and a 10-15 walk doesn’t bother you, consider living on Alexander Street, Park Avenue, or Prince Street. These streets offer an array of things to do that are only a short distance from Eastman, and often, apartments in this location are on the cheaper side of the spectrum.

Alexander Street, only a ten minute walk down East Avenue from Eastman, is home to many bars and restaurants. Just slightly past Alexander is Park Avenue, truly a neighborhood within itself. It has endless restaurants and shops on the “main drag,” in addition to several side streets where individual property owners rent out apartments. A walk down Park Avenue in the fall is a dream; its snow-covered buildings make it unbelievably beautiful in the winter; and in spring or summer, it is a favorite destination for Eastman students when venturing out on a walk or grabbing a bite to eat. The Park Avenue website is a great starting point for exploring the area.

If you want to live on or near Park Avenue, Flower City Management has a good reputation. Several Eastman graduate students rent with them every year and overall seem to be very happy with the apartments and the management’s attentiveness. Flower City also owns a beautiful building located on 8 Prince Street—a side street between University and East Avenues—that offers housing slightly removed from the liveliness of Alexander and Park.

Prince Street is near the beginning of the Neighborhood of the Arts (NOTA). Home to the University of Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery and a public magnet arts high school, this neighborhood is an eclectic mix of arts facilities and residential streets. Scattered throughout this pocket of the city are charming, Victorian-style houses that are reasonably priced. It is close enough to walk or bike to campus, but I would recommend driving in at night and taking advantage of the free parking on the city streets next to Eastman (parking is free on weekdays starting at 6 pm and all weekend).

The South Wedge is a really nice neighborhood to the south of Eastman, but it is usually the farthest away that graduates students choose to live. You would definitely need a car (or at least a bike) for the commute, and Eastman students typically pay around $40 a month for the parking garage right next to Eastman (that’s the student discount). If you biked to campus during the day but wanted to drive in during the night, you could park free at the meters by Eastman starting at 6 pm or anytime on the weekend. The South Wedge is a really hip neighborhood with great restaurants, a European market, pubs, and shops. The apartments I have seen in the Wedge are newly renovated, and there are plenty of great deals in that area.

East End, Park Avenue, NOTA, and the South Wedge are all great places to live—it just depends on how close to campus you want to be. If you can’t find a place on Gibbs Street or would like to find a place farther away from campus, you would be fine waiting until late June or early July to visit Rochester for your apartment search. It is always a good idea to see the apartment before signing the lease. If you absolutely cannot make it to Rochester before school begins, the management companies that I have listed above have excellent reputations. Find out all of the information you can from them before you make your choice, regardless of whether you visit or not. Best of luck on the apartment search!

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Things to do in and around Rochester

Today’s post was written by Amy Skjerseth, a recent graduate of Eastman.  Her tips will help you get to know the city of Rochester, and give you the insider view on some fun things to look forward to.  Thanks Amy!

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Things to do near the Eastman Campus

On the block surrounding Eastman, there is a wide array of restaurants to go to, with options ranging from fastPhoto by Matthew D. Wilson food to upscale. Just around the corner of the school is Moe’s Southwest Grill, a Mexican fast-food place, along with Golden Port Dim Sum, which offers all kinds of Asian cuisine. You can head down Gibbs Street to Tavern 58, a fancier spot that serves up American food. Java’s Café and Spot Coffee are great places to grab coffee with friends, study by yourself, or indulge in a delicious dessert after a concert. Just past Spot is Matthew’s East End Grill, and a few steps beyond Matthew’s is the Little Theatre, one of Rochester’s cultural gems. This independent movie theater has five screens, with an artsy, fun atmosphere and a cute cafe. It’s also a terrific value: $5 tickets for students or a student membership for $35 that covers admission to twelve films.

To get to more restaurants and shops, turn right at the corner of East Avenue and Alexander Street. From Alexander, you only have to walk a little ways until you are at the beginning of one of Rochester’s most trendy neighborhoods, Park Avenue. This meandering, tree-lined street is filled with cafés and restaurants, bakeries, specialty shops, hair salons, a CVS pharmacy, and more. It takes a little less than fifteen minutes’ walk to reach the beginning of Park Ave, but once you’re on it, each block has something to offer. It’s a pocket of Rochester that warrants many outings.

Another popular restaurant destination for Eastman students is Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, just a ten minute walk downtown. The atmosphere is fun and relaxed, and you probably won’t find better mac and cheese anywhere else. Another local barbecue favorite is Sticky Lips, which is a little farther away; it’s more accessible by car.

On Saturdays, many Eastman students make the short walk or take the free shuttle bus from Eastman to the Rochester Public Market. You can supplement your meal plan with fresh produce of every kind imaginable from the Public Market. It’s a larger farmer’s market with indoor and outdoor areas, plus several food carts where you can get breakfast sandwiches and empanadas. When you move into your first apartment, it is a great place to buy groceries, and it’s open on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday year-round.

Speaking of groceries, that reminds me—I can’t forget to mention one of the most talked-about Rochester staples, WegmansSushiWegmans! It’s a grocery store, but believe me, there is so much more to it than that. Rochesterians love Wegman’s, and once you walk into one, we think you’ll instantly understand why. It’s not just grocery shopping; it’s a highlight of the week. Hitch a ride to the Wegman’s down East Avenue (at 45 minutes, it’s just a little too far to walk) and you’ll become an instant fan.

There is also a Wegman’s (the flagship store, which is huge!) in Pittsford Plaza, which is accessible by shuttle from the University of Rochester on Saturdays. Also at Pittsford Plaza is Trader Joe’s, Chipotle, Barnes and Noble, TJ Maxx, Bed Bath & Beyond, Five Guys, and the Cheesecake Factory. You can also take a Saturday shuttle from the River Campus to Marketplace Mall, which is a large shopping area that includes Target, Walmart, and a movie theater.

Take the Shuttle to River Campus

The River Campus is home to the University of Rochester’s College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering. There is a free shuttle bus between the Eastman Student Living Center and the U of R that runs quite frequently and only takes ten to fifteen minutes. The bus drops you off at Rush Rhees Library, an iconic building that houses several study spaces and, of course, extensive library collections where you can check out books with your Eastman ID. You can then go through the University’s tunnel system to get to Wilson Commons, the student center. Many Eastman students visit Starbucks there, but Panda Express, at the bottom level of Wilson Commons, is also popular. Your meal plan is valid at every dining center at the U of R, so there are lots of options!

You can also use the U of R gym free of charge, with just a swipe of your ID. If you are looking for alternate ways to exercise, many students will purchase YMCA memberships because the Y is on the corner of Gibbs Street between the Eastman Student Living Center and the school. The YMCA offers discounted memberships to students. Eastman students often play basketball and Frisbee in the courtyard in the middle of the Eastman Student Living Center, or they’ll head over to the River Campus to play soccer. Many students take advantage of the bike path that runs alongside the Genesee River to get in a run or take a leisurely stroll.2013_Rochester_Lilac_Festival_-_Flower_City_Lilac_-_02

There are many beautiful parks located near the University of Rochester. Highland Park (designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York City’s Central Park) is well worth a visit, especially when the lilacs are in bloom. Genesee Valley Park and Cobbs Hill Park are also within the city limits.

 

What’s Outside of Rochester? Rent a Zipcar or take a bus or train!

The best kind of car is a friend’s car, of course. But you can also take advantage of the Zipcar service, where you can rent a car from a parking lot near Eastman. The rates are very reasonable, but make sure to sign up for a car about four days in advance for prime availability. Visit www.zipcar.com/rochester for more information.

There are plenty of things to do outside of the immediate metropolitan area of Rochester. The parks mentioned above are just a few of the green spaces that upstate New York has to offer; if you drive north from the city for about twenty minutes, you’ll arrive at Lake Ontario. The Rochester lakeshore boasts several lakeside parks, as well as Seabreeze, an amusement park. The lake is a great place to hang out in the warmer months, but it is hauntingly beautiful in the winter — well worth a visit.

At only slightly above an hour away by car, Letchworth State Park rivals many national parks throughout the United Letchworth_State_Park_GorgeStates. In fact, it’s nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the East.” Plan a day trip to walk around its three large waterfalls and explore miles of hiking trails. Don’t forget to bring your camera; this is one of every Eastman student’s favorite daytrips.

Another daytrip that also includes waterfalls is a destination you’ve most likely heard of before: Niagara Falls. It’s only an hour and a half drive from Eastman—the perfect place to go with your family when they visit you.

If you want to visit New York City over fall or spring break, there are several transportation options available to you. Both the Amtrak and bus stations are very close to Eastman’s campus—only a ten minute walk. Many students take the Megabus or the train, and it only takes about six to seven hours to get to the City.

As you can see, there is much more to Rochester than just the block surrounding Eastman. Take advantage of what Rochester has to offer; get out and explore your new city!

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Waiting is the Hardest Part

Congratulations – you survived your college auditions!  You may feel a bit like you’ve climbed Mt. Everest, and the hard part is over.  However, the waiting period before you receive your admissions decisions can be equally (sometimes even more) difficult.  Here are some tips to help you make the most of the next phase of the admissions process.

  • Take some time to think about each of your auditions.  What went well, and what could have been better?  What would you like to do differently in your practicing and preparations next time you have an important audition?  By making each audition a learning experience that will help you grow as a musician, you gain value from it regardless of the outcome.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself.  This might sound contrary to the previous point, but it won’t do any good to obsess over a mistake whether big or small.  Musicians have a tendency to be their own toughest critics. Keep a positive outlook, and take some time to celebrate all that you’ve accomplished thus far.  Missing a note or two doesn’t mean that you blew an audition completely. If you were already perfect, there would be no point in going to music school!
  • Take on new musical challenges.  You’ve probably been so focused on your audition pieces that you are eager to set them aside for a while.  Now is a great time to start new repertoire, change up your warm-up routine and/or devote some extra time to practicing fundamentals.  Set some new goals to accomplish before the summer is over.
  • Stay focused on schoolwork.  Now is the time to catch up in the classes you missed during the audition season.  Also be sure to stay on top of your academics during the upcoming months, and don’t give in to “senioritis.”  The school you attend in the fall will require a final transcript from your previous school, and you don’t want there to be any questions about a sudden downturn in grades.
  • Re-connect with family and friends.  The spring and summer will go fast, and next fall you may be far away from people you care about.   Take the time to make some great memories with them now, and let them know how much you appreciate all the support and encouragement they have given you.

When will I find out?

All applicants will be notified via email of their admission decision.  Graduates will be notified by April 1st, and undergraduates will be notified by April 15th.  Decisions are sent as they are finalized, and are not sent all at the same time.  If your friend receives a decision before you, that doesn’t mean anything except that their decision was finalized sooner.  Rest assured that the admissions team is working feverishly to let you know as quickly as possible.

Image: Clocks by blue2likeyou

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A Great Interview

Many of you will have an interview as part of your audition day at Eastman, depending on the program you are applying to.  Interviews are conducted by a member of Eastman’s faculty or staff – either individually or in small groups.   Interviews are one of my favorite parts of audition days, because they create an opportunity for us to get to know you face-to-face in a more personal way.

The best interviews I’ve participated in are the ones that applicants approach with candor and an open mind, not a rehearsed spiel.  We have your resume on file already, so reciting a list of your notable accomplishments isn’t particularly useful. We are more interested in learning about what inspires you, what your goals are, and how you would fit in as a part of the Eastman community.

In group interviews, it can also be interesting for you to hear from other applicants who share similar goals, though their stories may be very different from your own.  You may be one of the few serious musicians in your high school, but from now on you’ll find many kindred spirits who care about music as much as you do. Your interview will be a unique experience shaped by you and the other participants. Sometimes interview groups are chatty and funny; sometimes they delve in to serious topics like the future of music.  On more than one occasion I’ve even seen applicants strike up new friendships during the course of an interview.

Here are three tips that can help make your interview a good experience:

  1. Be yourself.  That’s who we’re interested in getting to know.
  2. Plan at least one or two questions that you would like to ask your interviewer. (Very important!)
  3. Keep your ears open. You never know what you might learn, or who you might meet!
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Memorization: a necessary chore, or a path to a more enjoyable performance (audition) experience?

Performance decorum in Mozart’s day demanded that there be music on the stand, though he often played from memory. On at least one occasion, he placed a blank sheet on the stand, just to keep up appearances.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Many of you are required, or at least encouraged, to perform all or part of your audition from memory.[i]  What I’ve learned from my own performing and teaching career is that memorization is not important so much for its own sake, but more so for the musical benefits it brings.  The ultimate goal is a musically satisfying, communicative, and ‘alive’ performance.  I’ve also learned that it is rare for a student to get direct training in how to memorize effectively.  As a result, I’ve developed a whole workshop on memorization, but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to hit just on the basics.  I’ll be happy to respond to questions in more detail—just leave a comment on this page.

 

Memorization basics:

  • Put down the instrument.  Study your music as a conductor would study.  Conduct through it.  Sing it.  Understand it (key, meter, tempo, rhythms, dynamics, form).  Get it to a point where you can ‘perform’ the piece in your head.  The better you understand what is happening with the form and the harmony especially, the better you will know the piece.  This is also a good indicator of the difficulty level of the piece relative to your current skill level.  If it is difficult for you to sight-read, and subsequently to visualize, it will be difficult for you to learn, and a more appropriate repertoire choice may be in order.

 

  • Respond to novelty.  Our brains respond to novelty.  We remember well things which have a profound effect on us emotionally.  Repetition in practice is necessary but it is also dangerous in this regard.  It desensitizes us to what is truly remarkable in a piece of music.  Find ways to rediscover what is extraordinary about a particular piece.  There are many ways to do this, but it boils down to approaching the piece with ‘beginner’s mind.’  What would this sound like to someone hearing it for the first time?  What would it have sounded like to someone hearing it for the first time at the time that it was written?  Are their unexpected intervals, cadences, etc., that a lesser composer would have handled differently?  Allowing yourself to be ‘struck’ by these novelties will help them to stick.

 

  • Do mindful repetition only.  It’s no secret that repetition is a necessary part of your practice routine.  But how you engage in repetition has a profound effect on how well you learn your music.  In his book, The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle writes about how learning takes place in the brain when synapses are repeatedly fired, and ‘white matter’ (myelin) wraps around the circuit.  This is good news and bad news.  Our brains learn every time we repeat something—whether we are doing it correctly or not.  This is what makes bad habits so difficult to overcome. Before repeating a passage with a mistake in it, fix the mistake.  Repeat the fix, not the mistake.  Give yourself the experience of doing it correctly, no matter how slowly you have to do it.  It’s after you’ve fixed the problem that mindful repetition should begin.  The ‘maybe-I’ll-get-it-this-time-if-I-get-a-running-start’ approach is not recommended!  This kind of mindful repetition will result in memorization (i.e. ‘learning’), without that being the primary goal.

 

  • Let’s NOT start at the beginning.  It’s not a very good place to start…if you want to be prepared to overcome memory slips.  We’ve all experienced, either directly or indirectly, the memory slip that sends the performer back to the beginning of the piece, only to hit the wall again at the problem spot.  Set up ‘memory pillars’ throughout your piece.  These can be structural (which requires that you know the form of the piece), or they can be the beginnings of particularly vexing passages.  Learn these inside out.  Practice starting cold at each of these pillars.

 

  • Forget perfection.  The aim here is not to avoid mistakes, but rather to be able to overcome them, and minimize them, when they do happen.  An audition jury will be more impressed with your ability to handle a little stumble than they will with a bland ‘mistake free’ performance.  They are interested in gauging your potential artistry.  Pay attention to where the mistakes tend to come.  Why are you making them?  Does your attention tend to lag at a certain point in the piece?  Have you not analyzed that passage, so the accidentals don’t make sense and are difficult to remember?  These might be good places for memory pillars…

 

  • Study theory.  I still remember ‘train-wrecking’ in Bach’s Partita No. 2 in my junior recital.  Afterwards, the jazz guitar teacher, who was on my jury, came up to me and said, “you gotta know the changes, man.”  It seemed an odd thing to say about Bach, until I realized what he meant: you have to understand the underlying harmonic structure in this seemingly ‘linear’ music.  He was right, of course.  The better an understanding you have of how traditional voice-leading and harmony work, the more deeply you can absorb your music.  Ear training and keyboard skills help too, by the way…which is why they are a required part of your curriculum in music school!

 

  • Prepare to be nervous.  As I mentioned above, an audition is not a typical performance experience.  In a previous post, Christina Crispin suggested ways to ‘practice being nervous,’ such as running up and down a flight of stairs before practicing.  This is great advice.  Your body chemistry changes when you are nervous (fight or flight!).  This in itself can cause unexpected memory slips, which can further throw you off.  There is, of course, a direct link between how nervous you feel and how well prepared you are.

 

Remember that memorization is not the end in itself.  My hope is that I’ve provided some insights to enhancing memory as a step toward the greater goal of deepening the musical experience for both the performer and the listener.  With increased confidence in your knowledge of the music, more of your artistic self is available to interpret, to react, to truly play by heart and from the heart.

 


[i] At Eastman, memorization is only required for instruments that traditionally perform from memory, or for repertoire that is traditionally performed from memory.  Refer to the repertoire requirements for undergraduates and graduates for your specific instrument.

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