What’s special about Eastman’s undergraduate program? – part 1

This is the first post in a two-part series written by Matthew Ardizzone, Eastman’s Associate Dean of Admissions.

In my last post I wrote about the problems inherent in music school rankings (which are always subjective) and challenged prospective students to seek out distinguish each school, rather than rely on any ranked list. As a follow up, I thought it would make sense to address the question of what distinguishes Eastman among professional schools of music.

Eastman students support each other.

The first thing that always comes to mind when I think about what makes Eastman such a special place is the nature of our students. Eastman students demonstrate a remarkable balance of ambition and caring. They are able to pursue their craft at the highest levels while maintaining a strong sense of community and a generosity of spirit that is made evident in many ways. A favorite and oft-recurring example is what happens after a concert by one of our ensembles, such as the Eastman Wind Ensemble, Eastman Philharmonia, or Musica Nova in Kodak Hall. The audience, made up largely of students, assembles outside the stage doors and cheers loudly as members of the ensemble exit the stage. It speaks volumes when highly ambitious students will forgo a couple of hours of practice time in order to support their peers.

Eastman Philharmonia Concert, Feb 2, 2015.  Photo by Nadine Sherman

Eastman Philharmonia Concert, Feb 2, 2015. Photo by Nadine Sherman

Our students have vision.

Another striking thing about our students is that although they enter Eastman with a high level of accomplishment in their respective areas of study, they come in with a refreshingly broad vision of what it means to be a musician in the 21st century. We see it as our job to ensure they achieve the highest levels of musical preparation while they are here, but we also pride ourselves on our ability to ‘get out of their way’ to a certain degree, allowing and encouraging our students to pursue interests and skill sets outside of their major area of study. We have students pursuing academic minors, coursework in arts leadership, audio music engineering, performers studying conducting, jazz majors studying classical performance and vice versa. In other words, our students enter and emerge from Eastman with a sense of the importance of a strong musical core, but also an understanding that versatility and creativity are qualities that will serve them well professionally.

Eastman alumni are some of the most successful musicians today.

This leads me to another key characteristic, which is the success of our alumni. Our alumni make things happen. This is in part because of the education they received at Eastman, yes. But they are also successful because they learned here, outside of the studio and classroom, to engage with their peers, to collaborate, communicate and share ideas. Many of them perform and teach in what might be described as ‘traditional’ careers, performing with major orchestras and opera companies, or teaching at the secondary and collegiate levels. But many others create their own ensembles (Alarm Will Sound, JACK Quartet, Kneebody, Break of Reality, Breaking Winds, and many more), become administrators of arts organizations, start their own organizations or institutions, and otherwise lead organizations, departments and schools in a rapidly changing musical landscape. In other words, they successfully forge their own paths into an ever-evolving musical landscape.*

There’s a lot more to say, but I’ll stop there for now. In Part Two, I’ll focus on the tradition of artistic excellence, comprehensive curriculum, and renowned facilities that make Eastman unique.


*Examples of Eastman alumni include well-known artists like Renee Fleming, Ron Carter, Steve Gadd, Dominick Argento, Jeff Beal, Maria Schneider, Katherine Lewek, Nicole Cabell, Anthony Dean Griffey, Scott Healy, and Kevin Puts. They include members of our own faculty, and the faculty of major schools and universities including Yale University, Indiana University, Northwestern University, the Juilliard School, Rice University, University of Michigan, Oberlin Conservatory, New England Conservatory, Cleveland Institute of Music, Manhattan School of Music, Dartmouth College, the Peabody Institute of Music, Vanderbilt University, and many others.

They perform in all of the top 10 American orchestras, in orchestras abroad, in US military bands, in their own ensembles, including Alarm Will Sound, JACK Quartet, Kneebody, Break of Reality, Signal, Respect Sextet and Colossus. They sing at the Metropolitan Opera, Paris Opera, LA Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Teatro Communale di Firenze, Teatro dell’Opera in Rome, the Houston Grand Opera, Washington National, San Francisco, Lyric and Cincinnati Operas.

They lead in administrative positions at academic and performing arts organizations including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera, New World Symphony, Cleveland Institute of Music, Oberlin Conservatory, NEC’s Entrepreneurial Musicianship program, University of the Arts, Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music, Rutgers University, Stetson University, Peck School of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin (Milwaukee), Westminster Choir College, and Eastman School of Music.

And they create award-winning music, regularly earning the field’s most coveted prizes, such as the Pulitzer, Rome, and Barlow Prizes; ASCAP and BMI Awards, and Guggenheim, Fulbright, and DAAD Fellowships. Their work is performed by major orchestras, opera companies, soloists, and new music ensembles including the New York Philharmonic, London Symphony, Philadelphia, Minnesota, and National Symphony Orchestras; the San Francisco, Houston, Washington National and Minnesota Operas, and Ensemble Intercontemporain, eighth blackbird, Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, ICE, BroadBand, and Ensemble Signal.

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Preparing for your audition – part 2

We previously posted some ideas on preparing for your auditions.  Here are some more suggestions to help you get ready for a great audition.

Use visualization & mental rehearsal.  Creating positive mental images of an event like an audition can be a powerful preparation technique.  Imagine yourself walking into the audition room, greeting those who will hear your audition, and performing each selection in order with musicality and precision.  The goal here is to imagine the performance exactly as you would like it to go. The more detailed your mental picture is, the more it can help you to perform at your full potential. Doing this well requires discipline just like any form of practice.  You can also use mental practice time away from your instrument to help avoid overuse injuries, and to make the most of spare moments that would otherwise be wasted (waiting in line, etc.)

Practice being nervous.   You can do this by performing your audition in a variety of situations, especially ones put you under a bit of pressure.  Even if you don’t feel quite ready yet, set up a time to perform your pieces for a group of friends.  Schedule another run- though for someone you don’t know as well, but whose playing you admire.  Let your listeners know what kinds of feedback you are looking for (musicality, stage presence, rhythmic accuracy, etc.) At least one of these “mock auditions” should be performed in the same clothes you plan to wear at the audition, so that you can test them for comfort.

Another method to simulate the effects of performing under pressure is to jog up and down a flight of stairs before playing or singing though your audition rep.  This will elevate your heart rate, and make you a little bit short of breath.  Also try playing through your audition rep with minimal warm-up time in a room that is slightly cold. Create a variety of these mildly stressful situations for yourself, and then pay close attention to how you react in the moment. Some nervousness is to be expected at an audition, but you’ll be better prepared for a reaction like dry mouth or sweaty palms if you know to expect it and know how it will affect your playing. Demonstrate to yourself that these physical factors are manageable, and that they won’t throw you off.  Also, the more you practice performing under stressful situations, the less nervous you are likely to feel when your audition day arrives.

Keep in mind: everyone wants you to perform your best.  The faculty members listening to your audition know what it is like to perform under pressure, and nothing would make them happier than to hear you play your best. Don’t be fooled into thinking that an audition is an adversarial situation where you are being harshly judged.  Instead, approach it as an opportunity to challenge yourself and to learn something new that you can use in your next performance. At Eastman, faculty members often mention that they are looking for applicants who are eager to learn, and who have the potential to develop into great musicians.

Remember that schools are also “auditioning” for you.  During your audition day and other college visits, keep in mind that you are looking for the school that feels right to you.  Does the school you are visiting offer the types of opportunities and atmosphere that you are seeking?  Don’t focus so narrowly on the question of “can I get in here?” that you neglect to ask yourself “is this a place where I can develop my talents?”

We hope these suggestions will be helpful as you prepare for your upcoming auditions.  Do you have any tips or resources to share?  If so, please use the comment section below.  We are looking forward to hearing you!


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Preparing for Your Audition

Auditions at Eastman are fast approaching.  You may be waiting to hear whether you will be invited for auditions, or waiting for confirmation of your audition date.  The Eastman Admissions Office will notify applicants of this information by email no less than three weeks before the preferred audition date listed on your application – sooner if possible. In the meantime, what can you do to ensure that you are ready to perform your best?  Here are some suggestions to help you to prepare:

Know your audition repertoire very well.   This is self-evident, but it bears repeating. When you walk into an audition, there is nothing that will give you more confidence than feeling thoroughly prepared.  Take a few minutes now to look back at all of your audition requirements for each upcoming audition to be sure you haven’t overlooked any details such as etudes, scales, memorization or sight-reading.  Avoid the unnecessary stress of being asked to play something you aren’t ready for!

Know what to expect.  Are you likely to perform your audition on a concert hall stage, or in studio or classroom?  Will there be one person listening or several?  Will it be more like a lesson or a mini-concert? Will your evaluators stop you and ask you to try a passage differently? The answers to these questions will vary by instrument and by school, but having some idea of what the audition setting will be can help you to be more prepared.  You will also want to know what else you will be doing on the day of your audition.  At Eastman undergraduate applicants also take a diagnostic theory exam, and most are also scheduled for an interview.

Take good care of yourself.  Get plenty of rest, drink water and avoid caffeine (as much as possible) in the days before your audition.  Wellness is fundamentally important for all musicians, and  is especially critical for vocalists. You can’t perform your best if you aren’t feeling your best, and the stresses of audition travel and keeping up with schoolwork can make this a challenge.  Once your audition date has been confirmed by the Admissions Office, arrange your travel plans carefully to avoid being unnecessarily exhausted or rushed when you arrive at your audition even if it means staying over an extra night.

In an upcoming post we will discuss more ideas to help you have a great audition.  Happy practicing!

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Audition Day Reflections

Senior Andrew Psarris shares memories of auditioning for Eastman four years ago, and what the experience meant to him. Read more here. 

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Musician’s Tips for Traveling with your Instrument

These past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity here in the Admissions Office as we prepare to host on-campus Audition Days. We look forward to the opportunity to meet all of you promising young musicians and to welcome you to our campus. For applicants, the first step to a great audition is simply getting there. You may have lots of travel coming up, or you may already have a few auditions under your belt, but I wanted to share a few thoughts and suggestions to help your audition travel go more smoothly.

First, you need to plan ahead about transporting your instrument. For some of you (pianists, singers, and small woodwind instrumentalists) this is a non-issue. You really don’t have to give much thought to getting your instrument to the audition. However, it can be a very big issue if you play a larger instrument such as cello or double bass!

You’ll want to educate yourself about the latest rules and restrictions for traveling with musical instruments, and know the specific policies for the airline you book your travel with. Plan to arrive at the airport early to allow extra time for security screening. If you fly with a large instrument, you may need to purchase an extra seat for it. I recently spoke with one double bassist who told me that he not only had to buy a seat for the instrument, but the only way he could fit the bass on board was by stowing in the seat upside down! Shipping your large instrument separately can also be an option as long as you have an extra secure shipping case, but many musicians find this nerve-wracking to do.

If you play double bass, percussion or harp, be sure to check with the various schools where you are auditioning to find out what equipment they provide for you. You might discover that you don’t need to bring your own instrument along to every audition. Although playing on an unfamiliar instrument may be a little bit uncomfortable at first, it can be well worth the adjustment if it allows you to take an audition that you otherwise could not attend.

For musicians who play medium-sized instruments such as guitar, violin and viola, you generally won’t need to purchase a seat for your instrument for air travel. However, you will need to be very careful to make sure you can secure a safe space for your instrument on board. One of the best ways to do this is to be ready in the boarding area early, and position yourself to board at the start of your ‘boarding group’ as soon as it is called. Don’t wait until the end of the boarding process, because you will very likely find that all of the storage space on the plane has been filled. Boarding early can be difficult if you have a tight connection or experience delays, but do the best that you can. If you need help finding space for your instrument, ask a flight attendant.

For instrumentalists traveling internationally, you will want will want to be extra cautious if your instrument contains any rare or endangered materials such as ivory. Recent restrictions have made it risky to travel with these materials, and they could be confiscated.  More details can be found here.  Although we have not yet heard from any applicants who had problems with this, the danger exists.

Reed players will need to take a bit of extra care with their travel as well. Reed knives are not permitted in your carry-on items on U.S. flights, so be sure that they are safely checked to avoid having them confiscated at the security checkpoint.  If you play an instrument that is impacted by climates with a different altitude or humidity level than you are accustomed to, be sure to discuss the necessary precautions with your teacher. (Reed players, bring along a wider-than-usual array of reeds to give yourself some options.)

Regardless of the particular challenges of travel with your instrument, always strive to be patient and courteous to your fellow travelers and airline staff. Keep yourself well-hydrated, and try to eat good healthy meals on the road when possible. When I was auditioning for colleges, I made the unwise decision to sample a bacon cheeseburger in every city where I had an audition. Although it was a fun project and I didn’t suffer any ill-effects at the time, it probably was not a very smart way to fuel myself for good performances! Wash your hands frequently avoid germs, and try to avoid getting overly sleep-deprived or run down. Remember that the audition process is more like a marathon than a sprint, and you need to pace yourself to stay in it for the long haul.

We look forward to meeting you and welcoming you to the Eastman campus. Safe travels!

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Memories of my First Campus Visit: A senior’s thoughts on four years at Eastman

The following post was written by Sam Um, who is a senior percussion performance major at Eastman.  Thanks Sam!Percussionist Sam Um


Heading into the home stretch of my senior year, I think back on my four years at Eastman and the memory of my very first visit. I remember very clearly when I visited the Eastman School of Music in the fall of my senior year of high school. I flew by myself into Rochester from Rockville, Maryland to have a lesson with percussion professor, Michael Burritt. Coming from a suburban area on the outskirts of Washington, DC, I was very excited and a little uneasy about traveling to an unfamiliar city. I remember the moment when I got into the taxi at the Rochester airport all excited and nervous, looking forward to the next two days in Rochester. It was a gorgeous September day – the leaves were starting to turn, and a warm sun shone in the piercing blue sky. My first stop was the University of Rochester’s main campus, also known as the River Campus. There I met up with a high school friend and commented to him “It’s beautiful here, man.” He replied with a knowing smile, “Come back in December and see if you still say that then.”

After visiting with my friend on the River Campus, I hopped on the shuttle bus to Eastman. As the bus arrived downtown, I found myself turning my head from side to side, eager to see the buildings hiding behind the trees. My obvious curiosity probably made me to look like a real tourist among a bus full of students, but I was too absorbed with new sights to care. When we arrived at the student living center, I stepped off the bus and took a big breath as I saw the Eastman campus for the first time.

The main purpose of my visit was to have a lesson with Prof. Michael Burritt, Eastman’s percussion professor, and the lesson was truly inspiring. Getting a whole new, different perspective on things was mind-blowing for me as a high school student. Thinking about musical nuances beyond the notes, emphasizing the importance of the sound – these were aspects that I’d never thought about before. I had been focused mainly on notes and rhythm, but Professor Burritt cared so much about the actual sound I drew out from the instrument. The energy and passion was totally different than what I had experienced back home, and the environment of the school made me feel more excited about music than ever. After my lesson, I found myself in the main hall (Lowry Hall) of Eastman. I was inspired to think of all the great musicians who had walked, and still walk, through this same hallway. Musicians who are out there playing with New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, people who have won Grammy Awards, and who are great teachers at other institutions – now I was preparing to follow in their footsteps!

The next day, when I was waiting for the taxi to take me back to the airport, I stood in front of the school on the Gibbs Street and stared at it for a long time. I remember telling myself “If I could be here next year, I would never wish for anything more.”

There’s a new saying in Korea (where my parents are from), “When you are 18 years old, your life travels at 18 miles per hour. When you are 36 years old, your life will be traveling twice as fast than when you were 18 years old.” Looking back on my experience, I can’t believe that I first moved into the dormitory more than 3 years ago. My time here has passed quickly, almost without me noticing. Perhaps I’ve been so focused on the next project or the next performance that I haven’t been as aware of the months and years flying by. Or perhaps it is simply a case of “time flies when you are having fun.” Whatever the reason, graduation day is coming faster than I had ever imagined.

Now, I’m eager to see what the next phase of my journey will bring, but I’ve also come to feel very at home in Rochester. I’ve adapted to the snowy winters that my friend from high school warned me about, but also the beautiful summers and autumns that made me fall in love with Rochester. It almost feels like I’ll be here forever, and the idea of leaving seems very unrealistic and surreal. I have planted my late teens and early twenties here and it just seems like I belong to this place, permanently. But at the same time, I am looking forward to once again experience the excitement and challenges of a new adventure.

As a student worker for the admissions office, I frequently give tours of the campus for prospective students. On one of my tours, a visitor asked me this simple but interesting question: “If you were to be born again, would you do music again? If you were to do it again, would you come to Eastman again?” I answered without a second thought: “Yes, absolutely.” One of the most important lessons that Eastman has taught me is this: music is hard, just like so many important things in life. However, if you love it, and if you are passionate about what you are doing, it’s no longer a struggle. Instead it becomes fun challenge, like a puzzle. That’s why I’d still play music if I were to start over again. I’m passionate about music. I love music. Eastman has nurtured me to prove that I really do love it. It has been the ideal place for me.

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Applying to Eastman: Quick tips from an admissions counselor

The December 1st Eastman application deadline is coming up soon! Here are some insider tips from an admissions counselor to help you avoid common problems:

  1. Read the instructions first. The importance of this step can’t be overstated.  Every school you are applying to will have its own unique requirements, and you must read the instructions to know what is expected.  You’ll find Eastman’s application instruction for undergraduate applicants here, and for graduate applicants here.
  2. Choose your preferred audition dates carefully, and mark them on your calendar before you submit your application.  If you successfully pass the pre-screening round (or if pre-screening is not required for your program) the we will try to schedule your audition on your first or second choice date option if at all possible. Keep those dates open to prevent date conflicts.  If a conflict comes up, let Admissions know right away, even if you are still awaiting pre-screening results.
  3. Talk to your recommenders now.  Most recommendation letters, including those for Eastman, can now be submitted online. However, you should still contact each of your recommenders first before adding their names to your application.  It is a professional courtesy to ask first whether they are willing to write on your behalf, and they may need a helpful reminder about the great work you have done.  Don’t wait until the deadline is here to reach out to them.  If you need to send them a reminder, you can do that from your application status page after submitting your application.
  4. Request your transcript.  You can either scan and upload your transcripts within your Eastman application or send them by postal mail to the Office of Admissions. In either case you need to request them well in advance of the December 1st deadline to make sure they arrive on time.  If you are accepted and enroll at Eastman, we will ask for an official copy of your transcript by postal mail in early summer.
  5. If a pre-screen recording is required for you, treat it like an audition.  Pre-screening is a preliminary round of auditions, and should be treated very seriously.  Make sure your recording reflects your best performance ability, and that you are thoroughly prepared to record.  While you do not necessarily need to go to a professional recording studio, you do want to be sure to use quality equipment to make your recording, and do it in a space that is free of background noise or distractions. If you don’t own good recording equipment, consider borrowing some from a teacher or friend.  Also be sure to test your recording files for quality before uploading them.  Each selection should be recorded in a separate file, and each file can be no larger than 1GB in size.
  6. Proofread and spell-check every document you submit. The resume and personal statement that you submit with your application are a reflection of your writing skills.  Take the time to spell-check them and proofread them, or better yet ask someone else to proofread.
  7. Make sure your name appears consistently on every document.  Make sure your name is written the same way on your application and on every document you submit.  Consistency is key: if you put your legal name on your application but mail in additional documents under a nickname, it may be difficult for the Office of Admissions to match your items together.  If your name has changed, please make sure that the Office of Admissions is aware of any former names to be watching for.
  8. Let Admissions know if you have questions. We know that it is stressful trying to get everything completed by the application deadline.  Keep it all in perspective, and remember that the Admissions Office staff is here to help in any way that we can.

Do you have any suggestions or tips to share with your fellow applicants? Please feel free to leave comments below.  For questions, please contact the Admissions Office. Best of luck with the admissions process!

P.S. – Curious about what’s happening this week at Eastman?  Take a peek!

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Viola Studio: An insider’s view

ViolaThe Eastman viola community will be sharing their thoughts and experiences throughout the 2014-2015 academic year on The American Viola Society Studio Blog.  Professors Carol Rodland, George Taylor and Phillip Ying, along with students and alumni, will give readers an insider’s view of all things viola.

Some of the topics covered so far include:

Stay tuned throughout school year, as there is much more to come!


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Winning a professional orchestra audition: an interview with Zac Hammond

HammondHeadshot3Zac Hammond is an oboist and a recent graduate of Eastman who won the principal oboe position with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. At Eastman, Zac earned the Bachelor of Music degree in Applied Music, and studied with Prof. Richard Killmer. He also earned the Arts Leadership Certificate. We recently interviewed Zac about his orchestral experiences and the audition process.

Q: What led you to Eastman, and why did you choose to attend?

A: As a high school student, I had always been aware of Eastman’s reputation as an outstanding music school. I had a few band directors who would frequently mention how great the Eastman Wind Ensemble is. So, when I was looking at schools, Eastman was definitely on my list. As a senior in high school, I was confident that I wanted to study music but I was pretty conflicted about whether I wanted to be in a conservatory or a university environment, so I decided to apply to a few of both. What sold me on Eastman though was that despite the high level of motivation and dedication amongst the students, there was still an incredibly supportive and encouraging atmosphere that made it feel like a great place to study. Also after learning how dedicated and successful my teacher, Richard Killmer, had been at preparing his oboe students for careers, the decision to attend Eastman was a no-brainer for me.

Q: How would you describe your past four years at Eastman?

A: I would describe my years at Eastman as diverse and intense. One of the best parts about the school is that you really are able to try anything you want. I was able to play chamber music with different groups every year, I took baroque oboe lessons, I was able to perform in jazz recitals and I also was a part of Eastman’s Arts Leadership Program (ALP).  For me, ALP was especially helpful. It allowed me to get out into Rochester’s community by interning with the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra and also allowed me to focus on other aspects of music outside of just performing such as, technology and business. I really feel as though Eastman and ALP did a great job of making me as “well-rounded” a musician as I could be.

Q: Tell us about your experiences performing with Symphoria.

A: I am extremely grateful to Symphoria for the experience it gave me and how supportive the organization has been the past couple years. Symphoria is the new professional orchestra in Syracuse, NY. After the Syracuse Symphony folded in 2011, the musicians in Syracuse banded together and created this new orchestra called “Symphoria” to ensure that classical music remained in Syracuse. I began playing with Symphoria at the beginning of their 2013-14 season, which happened to be their first full season. They were in need of a principal oboist for their opening concert and they hired me as a substitute. I was lucky enough to continue playing with them as the season went on and was eventually hired as a regular member. This of course gave me an amazing amount of orchestra experience in addition to my studies at Eastman. What has also been very helpful to me during my time with Symphoria was being able to take part in more of the “behind the scenes” aspects of the orchestra. The orchestra actually functions as a “musician’s collective”, meaning that the majority of the management and administrative responsibilities are carried out by the musicians themselves. As a result, I was able to attend meetings and learn about many of the aspects of orchestra outside of the music like budgeting, ticket-sales, securing venues etc.

Q: What was your audition in Charleston like?

A: I learned about the opening with the Charleston Symphony this past summer and the audition took place at the beginning of September. I had just graduated from Eastman that spring and my plan was to spend another year in Rochester, continuing to play with Symphoria and then apply to graduate programs in the spring. I wanted to begin taking some professional orchestral auditions over the summer because ultimately that’s what I really wanted to be doing and I needed more experience with those types of auditions.

For this particular audition, they did a “resumé round” first in which they said that only about half of the applicants were invited to audition after submitting their resumé (again, this made me thankful for my experience with Symphoria). The audition itself was three rounds that they managed to do all in one day. The first two rounds were “blind” so the audition committee was behind a screen. For the third and final round they removed the screen so I could interact directly with the committee. In that round I played for about half of the time and then the committee held an interview. This is something that more orchestras are implementing at auditions so that they can learn more about candidates as people, not just as musicians. I believe this was especially important for this position because in addition to playing principal oboe in the orchestra, I am also going to be frequently performing with the Charleston Symphony’s woodwind quintet, which does a lot of outreach and interaction with the community. The interview itself was pretty straightforward. They asked me about my background, education and previous orchestra experience. Then they asked if I had any chamber outreach experience and I was lucky enough to have been in a very active outreach quintet during my sophomore and junior years at Eastman. They also asked about what I think should change about the current orchestra culture/model and about any “memorable musical experiences” I have had. My impression was that the interview was used not so much as a way to learn about my qualifications, but more to just see if I would potentially be easy to work and interact with. It all went smoothly and I am happy to say that at the end of the day they offered me the position!

Q: What do you think gave you the edge that helped you win the job?

I think there were a few things that worked in my favor at the audition. Aside from my actual audition going reasonably well (which was of course important), I think my answers during the interview and the experience I had acquired at Eastman made me come across as ideally suited for this particular job. They were especially excited to learn about my experience in the Arts Leadership Program and my internship with the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. That, on top of my administrative experience with Symphoria, probably made them feel confident that I understood the inner-workings of an orchestra and also that I was interested and open to new and innovative ways of presenting classical music, something that the Charleston Symphony has been actively trying to do. Also my previous woodwind quintet outreach experience at Eastman made me a good fit for the frequent outreach that they do.

Q: Do you have any advice for younger students who are preparing for a career in music?

A: My advice to young students looking to pursue music would probably be to explore every opportunity you can and keep an open mind. I think that the music industry, and especially the classical music industry, is changing very rapidly. In order to be successful, a musician is required to do so much more than just log hours in a practice room. You need to figure how to be a businessperson, use new technology, network, build audiences, manage money etc. That kind of experience only comes from putting yourself out there and trying new things. Although as an orchestral musician, I am in what is probably considered a more “traditional” niche of classical music, there are so many different paths in music you can take now and I believe it is important to open yourself up to all of them.

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The Absolute #1 Best Music School for You (and why I can’t tell you what it is)

This is a guest post from Matthew Ardizzone, Eastman’s Associate Dean of Admissions.

Eastman admissions director (not pictured) on why college rankings "get his goat"

Eastman admissions director (not pictured) on why college rankings “get his goat”

US News & World Report recently came out with its highly anticipated annual ranking of colleges and universities. Now that music schools are no longer separately ranked by the Report, I tend to view this list with even greater bemusement than I once did. Sure, I look to see how Eastman’s parent institution, the University of Rochester comes out (tied for #33 this year) and how the Princeton vs Harvard contest for 1st place played out. But then I can’t help but ask myself – so what? What’s in a ranking anyway? And how do they help you, the college-bound student, find the best schools for you?

Music schools might consider themselves lucky to be in a ‘niche market’ in which we don’t breathlessly anticipate a single high profile national ranking. But I am often asked how Eastman ranks among other music schools. I’m also sometimes surprised when I ask applicants why they chose to apply to Eastman and they quickly say “it’s one of the top-ranked music schools!” It’s true – there have been more recent listings in which we’ve done very well. But compared to US News & World Report, many of these other rankings lack any sense of analytical rigor. That might seem a strange thing for me to say as the admissions director of the “#1 ranked music school” according to uscollegerankings.org. But I can’t figure out for the life of me who is behind this ranking. Although they list their “methodology” here, it’s not clear how they are measuring things like “teaching quality,” “median salary of graduates,” and “alumni.” Clearly on this list, reputation counts for a lot, but does it go beyond that? The 2011 Fiske Guide to Colleges listed Eastman as one of the top undergraduate music program (that listing is not available online). And we were the “hottest music school” in 2008 according to Kaplan/Newsweek. That was gratifying, and we appreciated the recognition of our arts leadership curriculum. According to the BestSchools.org, we’re #11 among the top 20 conservatories this year. This ranking, by a recent University of Michigan graduate, seems sincere in its intentions, but shows no evidence of any quantitative methodology, and reeks of the anecdotal. In his own words, his ranking is “one man’s evaluation” (a quote taken from the comments section, which is as far as he goes in answer to the question, “what exactly are the criteria?”).

Although there is no single high-profile ranking that all music schools aspire to dominate, these other rankings still infect the world of music admissions, and unfortunately cause some confusion. Two recent examples are USA Today’s ranking of ‘music colleges’ (not to be confused with ‘music schools’ or conservatories, apparently) and Musical America’s “Guide to Music Schools,” which I should hasten to clarify is a listing of advertisers and not a ranking.

In the case of the former, the methodology seems clear, and the list confirms this. These are universities that offer music as a subject that can be studied, and it is a formidable list of higher education institutions with strong reputations. But most of the schools on this list don’t offer the professional degree, the bachelor of music. So if that is the degree you are seeking for your undergraduate studies, this list doesn’t help you at all.

In my circles, more buzz was created by Musical America’s “Guide.” I found this to be especially disheartening since there is no guidance provided by any research or expertise in higher education. Musical America functions primarily as an industry directory for performers, artist managers, and presenters of classical music. Many schools are listed as venues and presenters since we have performing arts series. I often read their articles about the classical music industry. But their readership consists mainly of industry insiders more than parents, teachers, and prospective music students. The result of their ‘pay to play’ approach is an alphabetical listing of schools that prioritizes those that chose to purchase ad space and expanded profiles. All of the information provided in the profiles comes directly from the schools. It’s my hope that this listing will be as inconsequential as I believed it would be when I chose not to purchase a listing for Eastman.

So let’s get down to it. If you can’t rely on rankings, how do you know which schools are “the best” for you? And as Eastman’s dean of admissions, don’t I think that Eastman is the best school ever? Well, maybe, but here’s what I can tell you with absolute certainty: Eastman is the best music school for the students who will be successful in our curriculum and thrive in our environment. And this is true of any of the many excellent schools that are out there.

There is no shortage of good music schools with excellent, even “world-class” faculty, impressive facilities and performance halls, and extensive performance opportunities. A number of schools can claim these things to various degrees. But we should also be able to demonstrate what separates us from each other. Unearthing these distinctions will enable you to discover the “best” school for you.

Since no one is going to compile a personalized top-ten list of best schools for you, honing in on your list will require some work on your end. Asking yourself these questions might help get you started:

  • What kind of environment am I most likely to thrive in? Music schools come in many shapes and sizes. There are stand-alone conservatories, conservatories and music schools that are part of a college or university, urban campuses, small town or rural settings, etc.
  • What sort of academic experience do I want to have outside of my lessons, ensembles, and the practice room? How challenged do I want to be in my liberal arts requirement? Am I someone who will take the absolute minimum requirement, preferably in classes populated by other music majors taught by adjunct teachers who realize I’m more focused on something else? Or do I want to take my academic classes in a college or university setting where I’ll be ‘swimming with the other fish’ in a more challenging academic environment? This might help steer you toward a stand-alone conservatory or toward a conservatory or music school that is part of a liberal arts college or university.
  • Who do I know who has attended a music school? Are there music school graduates teaching in my school? Have I talked with them about their experiences, and why they would or would not recommend certain schools for me?
  • Do I have access to music school representatives via college fairs, info sessions, or online forums where I can ask questions about environment, culture, course offerings, etc., and the all-important question: what distinguishes your school from other music schools?
  • Undoubtedly your private teacher, ensemble director, and/or school music teacher should have recommendations based on their experience. Often these recommendations are based on a strong sense of loyalty to a particular teacher and it might be more or less about a school as a whole. So just be sure when you have this conversation you push a little into the question of why your teacher thinks a particular school is a good match for you.
  • Cost is, of course, a source of major concern for most families. But my first piece of advice is to assemble your list of ‘best schools for you’ without including cost as a factor. Then, revisit your list and ask yourself if you have included schools that you know will be financially within your reach. The truth is, you won’t know what each school will actually cost you until you have been admitted and have an offer in front of you. Many schools have merit-based scholarships and each school considers need differently. Some schools will focus on meeting demonstrated need first, and others will be more merit-driven. Many fall somewhere in between, meeting need ‘selectively’ based on the applicant’s merits, but also the enrollment needs of the school. I urge you not to exclude schools based on ‘expected cost’ alone.

Once you’ve honed in on a list of schools of interest, do everything you can to familiarize yourself with the places, the people, and the offerings of those schools. In a perfect world, this would mean visiting each school. Geographic or financial restrictions may limit your ability to do this, of course. So pick and choose your most important visits, and communicate with admissions offices to fill in any gaps. Find out when school representatives might be near you. Can the school recommend an alumnus in your area who might be willing to meet for coffee (your treat!) and share his or her experience? Does the school offer an online forum for talking with admissions people and/or current students or faculty? Is the school and/or its students engaged in social media, and can you connect there and get a sense of the community, student life, etc. through Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, etc.? Is a faculty member from the school visiting your area in the near future?

Also remember that as a music applicant you will ultimately have the opportunity to audition on-campus at many of the schools you apply to. Take advantage of that visit to try and engage with current students, observe a rehearsal, etc. You will be auditioning schools as much as they are auditioning you.

So the next time you see me, please don’t ask me how Eastman ranks among music schools. Instead, ask me what distinguishes us, and then expect a lot of questions about you. That’s a conversation I look forward to having, and it will be the subject of my next post.

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