In our continuing Getting into Grad School series, we bring you a guest post by Jacobs’ own Mary Ann Hart
Did I follow all these suggestions? No! I was fairly clueless about what I wanted and how I would pay for it. I ended up my first year in grad school not with a GA or AI position, but as a dorm advisor. Not sexy, but it paid all my tuition, fees, as well as room & board! Other dorm advisors became my friends, and we managed to enjoy a wide spectrum of shenanigans. Perhaps it’s a good thing that there’s no social media documentation of all that. It was nice to have friends outside the music ghetto. They were studying toward careers in law, special education, business, even the FBI….
My comments will sometimes be geared toward singers, because that is my discipline, but I hope some of this will resonate with instrumentalists as well.
Choosing a teacher: Discuss this with your current teacher. He or she may have colleagues to recommend, or a former student who is now on the faculty of a good school. Talk with friends who are now in grad school and happy with their teacher and progress.
Research recent competition winners – where did they study, and who are their teachers? You may have met other accomplished students at summer programs or competitions who are happy with their teachers. Ask them who these teachers are. Be advised that often students will flock like lemmings to the teacher of the latest competition winner as if that teacher has the keys to the kingdom. My experience is that successful singers come from all kinds of likely AND sometimes very unlikely places.
Money matters: Consider schools where you can get a degree that does not leave you with a debt as big as the mortgage on a starter home. How much is out-of-state tuition per credit? Is it possible to establish state residency to lower your tuition? How long does this take? How many credits are required for the degree you want? How much are additional fees? What is the cost of living in the place you want to go? Do the math before and after you get a scholarship offer.
Visiting: Try to visit the schools where you are applying. Check their school calendar. If classes are not in session, faculty are not likely to come in to school for a random lesson.
Find a date or two when you can travel – then a couple of weeks ahead of your trip, write your top two teachers at that school and ask if you can schedule a consultation lesson on one of those days. They won’t know their schedule on some random day six weeks hence.
Ask if there is a fee. Do NOT ask for a lesson on the weekend.
You might have time to observe several teachers if you plan ahead. You can learn a lot by observing! Take the tour and chat up the tour guide. Go to a performance.
Audition rep: Each piece should be one that you love, and have performed successfully more than once. Each piece should show something different (tempo, color, drama, humor, etc)
Avoid pieces with knuckle-busting piano parts – you don’t know who will be playing. We don’t need to hear the most difficult piece you’ve ever played!
Singers, do not try to show us how big/loud your voice is. Better that we should hear a dynamic range of piano to forte.
Practice saying the name of each piece and the composer’s name out loud. If you find yourself hesitating, look it up!!!
Prepare your music folder: Clearly mark tempi, ritards, breaths, cadenzas, etc. Highlight repeats and cuts. Check to see that all notes are on the page, and that all pages are present and in order.
Don’t be afraid to set the tempo with the pianist. Sing your part softly to show the tempo –that’s much more reliable than conducting.
Warming up: Singers, warm up in the hotel using straws. This won’t disturb your neighbors, can warm you up thoroughly, and won’t allow you to over-sing before your audition.
Set two alarms. Get as much sleep as you can. Allow plenty of time to find the hall, then find a practice room.
Health and Wellness: Singers, if you are sick, investigate rescheduling – and if you can barely phonate, CANCEL! If you can’t reschedule, ask if you can submit a final recording. (This means that you need to have excellent recordings before the audition season starts.)
Wardrobe – make a packing check list so that you don’t leave something important at home.
Men: Iron your shirt. Polish your shoes.
If you’ve put on a few pounds since the last time you bought an audition outfit, invest in a shirt, slacks and jacket that don’t pull and strain in unfortunate locations. Alterations are worth the money.
Women: Wear heels of a reasonable height that you can walk in confidently.
Invest in a solid color audition dress/outfit that flows over your body. Do not wear a dress that clings tight to the body. Every flaw will show, especially if the fabric is at all shiny or reflective.
If you are performing on a stage or platform, your dress will appear about six inches shorter that it actually is. Even the nicest knees are not the best look.
Even minimal shapewear can be your friend. We don’t want to see:
- Your belly button or the outline of your navel ring (yep, we can see it)
- The outline of your undergarments (yep, we see those too)
- Distracting amounts of cleavage. Lock and load those girls. Minimizers may make your outfit drape more gracefully.
What do we need to hear and see?
Your expressivity and connection to the music – your joy in performing
Your confidence that you can be who you are and allow the music speak for itself through you
Efficient breathing and healthy technique
Clarity of tone; resonance; even vibrato; inner rhythm
Legato (look it up – it means more than ‘smooth’); clear text and accurate diction (singers)
Always know that we are eager to hear your sing/play your best.
Everyone on the jury has had a bad performing day once in a while.
Everyone on the jury has a different aesthetic, so be yourself – don’t try to sing/play to your idea of who we are or what we want.
Coming soon…Stephen Wyrczynski’s thoughts on grad school and audition prep!