Four years ago when my son, Peter was applying to music schools, I often remarked (okay, more like whined and complained incessantly) about the complicated nature of the application process. Prior to his baptism into the whole college app world, I had managed (quite easily, actually) to launch his two older brothers off to college. They both even transferred schools after their freshman year. Piece of cake. Enter Peter, and it was like I’d never visited a college website before. That’s because, as my finance-major son, Mike, often reminded me, the sites I was attempting to navigate were music school sites, made up of music people and the brains of music people simply don’t work the way the rest of the world’s brains work. That’s just a fact. So, while these websites probably made perfect sense to the musically gifted, the rest of us normal people were left pulling our hair out. The first test, I learned was this: just trying to FIND the application
Sidenote: I have considered starting a support group for parents going through the process. We’ll see if I have the energy for it… Anyway, the first decision my husband and I needed to make was what kind of school to send our little prodigy. We listed the pros and cons of Conservatories vs Universities with music schools. Peter decided in the end that he wanted to have a variety of people in his college experience and the option of attending football games. So, we opted for music school within a University, which involves a dual application process. First, he had to apply to the college, complete with the usual essays and letters of recommendation, transcripts, etc. Then, a separate app for the School of Music within that college had to be filled out, including essays, letters of recommendation, more essays, audition repertoires, and audition dates. Upon acceptance to the University, the music school then contacted us to confirm an audition. I had folders with spreadsheets trying to keep track of who was sent what and when and what still needed to be sent where. Thank God for alcohol.
We entered into auditions completely blind. (And, I say “we” because it was truly a joint venture.) The fact that he was admitted to ANY music school spoke volumes about his talent because the poor kid had absolutely NO clue as to proper audition protocol (with the exception of what he learned as a student at Birch Creek Music Center – thank you, thank you, thank you Birch Creek) or what the intimidating god-like professors were looking for. We later learned that many of the other kids he was competing against for those coveted positions (4-5 spots for a freshman class) had been professionally coached. It was stressful, to say the least. Just trying to figure out appropriate audition material was daunting. It had to be challenging, but not too hard because you’re obviously trying to impress these people with how awesome you are and that you’re SO much better than all those other losers waiting to audition. But, it couldn’t be too simple, either – you couldn’t go in with kindergarten material.
So, for the uninitiated of you out there, and possibly parents of future music geniuses, this is what an audition day looks like: first thing, begin your covert operation with a little intel by taking note of how many of the competitors are left-handed (reporting back to my lefty son that he could either relax or get his game on, based on that vital piece of info), then try to grab a rehearsal room to get in some last-minute cramming. Next, wait outside an appointed room with a multitude of other stressed-out kids and their parents, counting down the minutes until your appointed time of judgement to give a flawless performance before a poker-faced panel – probably just a little scarier than awaiting the apocalypse. As each student’s name is called, wish him/her good luck, while secretly hoping a fatal mistake is made. Finally, acknowledge that you’re a really horrible person.
And, I did feel awful because these kids were just like my son. Well, except for the fact that they’d had six to twelve months of audition coaching behind them to bolster their confidence and performance. But still, I felt kind of bad harboring those thoughts. Another thing about his audition experience, in particular, was that, as a percussionist, unlike someone who plays trumpet, clarinet, oboe or piano, etc, he had to perform his audition perfectly on several instruments: snare drum, marimba, timpani and drum set.
Well, fast-forward to the present and Pete is now in his third year at the University of Iowa School of Music as a percussion performance major. I remember reading his Facebook status two weeks into his freshman year: “Playing music every day & couldn’t be happier.” (sans the capitalization and punctuation) His professor told me that Peter is not going to be the guy who joins a scene when he gets out of school. He’ll be the guy who makes the scene. Translated from music-ese to English: he’s not a guy who will be waiting around for a gig on a Saturday night. He’s going to make things happen. And I believe that.
So, I should be over this whole music school application/audition trauma, right? Not so fast, mister. My daughter, Mary Kate has decided to follow in her brother’s footsteps. We (yes, we) just finished the first round of apps and have started round two. At least we’re a little smarter this time around. She’s been receiving some coaching and will attend a mock audition soon. A representative from one of the music schools she’s looking at told a group of us that when her office is contacted by a parent asking advice on how to ensure admission, she responds that, short of murdering the competition, there’s really nothing they can do. So, there’s always that, I guess. Wish us (yes, us) luck. And, hopefully, next year, I’ll hear her professor tell me that hers was the tastiest steel pan solo he’s heard. Yeah, Peter’s teacher really did say that.