Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Music School Questions, Part Two

This is a continuation of Part One (obviously). If you need to read Part One, I'm a little put out that my writings aren't the center of your universe already. That said, the link to it is HERE (Part ONE).

So, let's continue with some things to ask or at least ponder when choosing a school.

  • Is the professor one which demands a certain brand of instrument, mouthpiece, ligature, etc be used by every student in the studio? This may be a deal breaker for you. It may not.
  • How involved is the student in the selection of Repertoire? Look, there are some pieces considered 'standards' which the student is going to be expected to play. However, in my opinion, the student should be given some input into what is being assigned. How'd you like going into a senior recital with sixty minutes worth of music that you absolutely hate just because the professor assigned it to you? No thanks.
  • Are there 'professional development' classes offered? Think things like billing, purchase orders, fundraising, skills you might need as a music educator but aren't generally taught in regular classrooms?
  • For the education majors- are you being given assistance in preparing for the Praxis exams or are you basically on your own?
  • What is the reputation of the school locally? Regionally? Nationally? This comes into play when applying for jobs or post graduate study.
  • What are the marching requirements for undergrads? What are the scholarships there? Does marching band interfere with concert bands? I know of programs in the past that didn't even have a wind ensemble in the fall due to marching. THAT'S what I mean by interference. (By the way, I'm in no way bashing college marching bands. They can be a great and rewarding experiences with even some very cool travel from time to time!)
  • What are the job responsibilities as a graduate assistant? Understand that there will be work and time spent on your part. However, make sure that you'll have time to do what YOU need to do first. You're there first and foremost as a student and you are there to improve as a musician. That isn't to say you cannot gain skills from your jobs as a grad assistant. Absolutely, you can.
  • Is there time for YOU? You need down time. You need time to exercise (yes, as a musician you absolutely need exercise). You need time for your other classes, to socialize with friends. To not end up as a quivering, burnt out ball of anxiety? Ask current students tough questions.

This is a shorter one but I'll see if I can't put together a part three soon.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Picking a Music School? Some Questions You Need to Ask. Part One.

I'm sitting in the instrument room on a rainy day at Interlochen Arts Camp listening to young musicians practicing. It's nirvana. It reminds me that many of them will soon be selecting a college. I'm convinced that there needs to be some 'Picking a Music School for Dummies' books. Really. There are so many questions that need to be asked and so often the prospective student has no idea that those questions are even questions. The same could be said for prospective graduate students. Often, the thought of getting accepted by a program becomes the driving force; without first thinking "This is a great, respected music school but it is the best one for ME?". There are questioned which should be asked and answered before a decision this big can be made. Otherwise, the student's experience will be less than optimal and, sometimes, things can become toxic in a hurry. When one is talking about the amount of time and money involved as well as the impact on studies or a career down the road, be deliberate and avoid hype.

  • What is the success rate for students? What are the alumni doing? How many are in grad school or doctoral programs? What's the job placement rate for Education majors?
  • What are the performance opportunities there? How much time does the student get with their instrument?
  • Is the school proactive about bringing in guest artists for master classes? Will the student have the opportunity to participate?
  • Talk to the students there. Are they given good direction? Is their development the most important thing in the mind of professors or do those teachers have 'pet projects' or agendas which interfere? ( yes, sadly, that question should be asked)
  • If the student is a prospective grad student looking for an assistantship, is the assistantship guaranteed for the duration of graduate school? GET THAT IN WRITING.
  • Is the major professor tenured? Is there a possibility of the professor leaving? On the other hand, is the professor riding tenure to retirement (Meaning, how aggressive is the professor in helping to develop the student, perform themselves, and growing the studio?)?
  • What are scholarship requirements? Are there scholarships which simply aren't worth the time requirements? (Yes, this can be a thing)
  • Will the student have the opportunity to get some teaching experience; either through teaching private lessons or working with local schools?
  • Are there good repair techs within a reasonable distance?
  • Are there enough practice rooms? This is a big one. One wouldn't think it would be a problem but if there are a dozen practice rooms and a few hundred music majors it can be an issue.
  • What hours is the building open? Is there adequate access?
  • Talk to the students again. How much drama is in the department (this can usually be determined over pizza)? Is there drama between studios or professors? You don't want to walk into a toxic situation.

I'll have more questions to ask in Part Two: The Search for more Scholarship Money

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Jury Duty- Making Heads or Tails of Your Jury Sheets

Ahhh summer break....

   I'm enjoying another summer at Interlochen Arts Camp and while preparing my summer practice schedule went back to review my jury sheets from earlier this month. I'm trying to identify areas of need and the jury sheets provide some insight into areas of development for me.
   My jury day was......interesting. I had recently been diagnosed with severe obstructive sleep apnea (which was of no surprise to me or anyone who knew me) and the second sleep study, the one to determine which level of CPAP device I needed to correct the apnea, was scheduled to begin about five hours following my jury. I was looking forward to both my jury, for which I felt exceptionally well prepared as well as the sleep study, where I could finally work towards relief from the condition.
  Thirty minutes prior to my jury I was in a practice room warming up when I got a call from the doctor's office. I figured it was to confirm the night's appointment and answer. '........insurance company denied payment on the study. Your out of pocket would be $1200.......'
  This was THIRTY MINUTES before my jury.


 Walk into my jury. Graduate juries are a bit longer than undergrad and as such I'd prepared Lennon's Distances Within Me as well as Boutry's Divertimento. These are stylistically different pieces; with the Lennon being very introspective and often full of angst (as the title would suggest) and the Boutry being much lighter.
  I used to dislike the Lennon. Now, with more life experience, it speaks to me like few other works and has become one of my favorite pieces. The Boutry I enjoy but it's just good music. It isn't cathartic, musically, like the Lennon was to me.

Yeah, so I mentioned the Lennon having a lot of angst? With the news I'd just received it was a bit moreso than normal. I get it. I was upset, I did too much with the bigger dynamics and my sound spread a bit. I WAS UPSET. I WAS FURIOUS...FRUSTRATED....feeling despair.

By the time I got to the Boutry I was a bit better; having worked out some of my frustration during the Lennon. Still, one of the comments I received on a jury sheet floored me.

I expected some of what I got. I could even hear it as it was happening and was too emotional to rein it in. "Sound spreading in higher dynamics. Some intonation issues.' I fully expected that. Then I read one which had me shaking my head in disbelief.

A faculty member had started a new section for the Boutry and began with "Ahhh, this is more YOUR STYLE of a piece'


Yo, dude! I just put my heart and soul and everything I am into the composition you just heard and something based on French cafe jazz from the mid 20th century is more 'my style'? I couldn't help myself and laughed out loud when I read the statement.

Here's the deal, though. That was that professor's OPINION. That's what that professor HEARD.

What's the point of all this?

Well, you should take your jury sheets seriously. There is likely something pedagogical in there which you can use to improve. Moreover, if you're playing a piece and doing things which stylistically are just wrong......and all of the faculty comment in a similar fashion....ok, look at how you played it and work on your style.

Having said that, a comment such as that? That is an opinion. That person may have the title of Doctor of Musical Arts but that doesn't make them necessarily right. That's often when you need to return to your professor (especially as an undergraduate) and ask about the statement.

Moral of the story- Sit down with your professor. Go over the comments- the good, the bad, and the weird. It's one performance...a snapshot of your playing. Don't dwell too long on the good or the bad. Take the useful bits and remember that professors aren't perfect or necessarily right. This isn't a subjective issue. There are a lot of things which in music aren't 'right' or 'wrong'. With juries, worry about the things that are and remember that YOUR voice as a musician is no less valid than someone else's. If you feel very strongly about the way you phrased a line and can defend that eloquently; then do so.

Oh, and I finally got the CPAP. I'm no longer nodding off during class...rehearsals...standing in line....