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A Parents’ Guide to Conservatory Auditions, Part 12: Going Solo

Karen Rile

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Published: January 16, 2014 at 7:41 PM [UTC]

Click here for a reference page to all of Karen Rile's series: A Parents' Guide to Conservatory Auditions

Amtrak - Train Schedule - Philadelphia 30th Street Station, October, 2013


My daughter’s first audition was held at a you-can’t-get-there-from-here university. There were no direct flights, and after you landed you had to rent a car or find other ground transportation from the airport to the college town, fifty miles away. The campus was large and confusing, and it took all of my brainpower to navigate to the hotel in a rental car without a GPS. When we finally checked in, after an exhausting day of travel, I felt a sense of accomplishment for having made the trip easier for my kid.

The next morning we noticed two young cellists from our area in the hotel lobby preparing to make their way to the auditions. I was excited to reconnect with their moms, whom I’d known for years, ever since the kids were small. But, they informed me, their moms weren’t along for the trip because they’d been unable to take time off from work. The boys, both under eighteen, were traveling together without an adult chaperone. I was amazed at how calm and centered they seemed. And impressed that they had found their way to the hotel alone, lugging suitcases, sheet music, and large instruments.

Like most parents, I cherished the time I spent traveling with my daughter when she was auditioning for a violin spot at music conservatories. But because audition dates were often assigned only a few weeks in advance, I had to scramble repeatedly to re-arrange my own schedule. That winter, my life was turned inside-out. And every parent I met on the audition circuit said the same.

Then there were the parents I didn’t meet. The ones who could not get time off from work, or couldn’t arrange coverage for their younger kids, or couldn’t afford to double up on expensive air tickets. Their kids went out solo.

On the audition circuit we came across kids who had flown in alone from boarding schools, carpooled with the families of other students, or had made an Amtrak day trip. At Peabody we ran into a young pianist from our city. When I saw him, my heart melted and I instantly wanted to take him under my wing. He’d had a tough day and seemed exhausted and grateful for a couple of familiar faces. But when I told him we’d be glad to give him a ride home, he demurred because he was on his way by train to Boston for another audition. As he spoke, his self-confidence seemed to re-inflate. The only child of a non-English-speaking single parent, he was already used to fending for himself and traveling alone from Philadelphia to New York for lessons. He was visibly proud to be able to handle these longer audition trips, including the prospect of staying alone for the first time in a hotel. It would be an adventure, and he was excited for it.

Unaccompanied travel may seem out of the question for some seventeen-year-olds, and just barely doable for others. But with proper support, kids can and do rise to a challenge. Necessity of situation can prompt a psychological growth spurt that might not have otherwise occurred for years to come. And, as recent evidence suggests, the exhilaration of independent traveling may even help an auditioning student focus better and reduce anxiety. Your student might actually perform better if mom and dad are not there, cushioning every step of the way.

“I liked going out on auditions alone more than with my mom because the journey felt so scary and intense. It forced me to take the audition very seriously,” says a young friend, now a junior at Juilliard, who traveled on his own to several out-of-state auditions a high school senior.

If your personal situation makes it necessary for your high school senior to travel alone to her conservatory auditions, you can take solace in the fact the she won’t be the only student without a parent at her side. And there are few steps you can take in advance to help ensure a smoother trip.


  • Get a your child a copy of your credit card in his name. (If you can't trust your him with a credit card, then reconsider sending him out alone.)

  • Make sure she has a government-issued photo ID. If she doesn't have a driver's license, help her apply for a state ID card at your local DMV.

  • Help her get an ATM card, if possible, so she can have access to cash in a pinch. You may need to co-sign on a student checking account to facilitate the ATM card.

  • If your student has friends at the conservatory, see if he can crash in the dorms. He may not get much sleep the night before, but auditions are 99% preparation and adrenalin anyway. His friends will be supportive and encouraging, and maybe even be able to help him find warm-up and practice space. And night or two in the dorms will give him a better idea of campus life than a guided tour.

  • If she's staying in a hotel, check the hotel's policy on for guests underage guests. You may need to prepay the room fee, or even find a different hotel, if under-eighteens are not permitted.

  • Try out, in advance, (and practice using) travel apps such as TripIt, HopStop, and FlightStat.

  • Make sure he knows his rights with regards to airline carry-on regulations (and avoid carriers who are known to be hostile to passengers with musical instruments.) If a flight attendant insists the instrument be checked, he should refuse to board the plane. If he will need to go through customs, send a long a copy of the bill of sale for the instrument.

  • Print out a copy of everything: every travel document, every hotel confirmation, and every email confirmation of every audition and trial lesson. Make a list of every contact phone number and email and print it out. Hard copies will be invaluable in the case of a lost or suddenly defective smartphone; they will also serve to prove that an audition was indeed scheduled if your kid arrives at the sign-in desk only to be greeted with the news that her name is not on the list. (This happened to the daughter of a friend of mine last year.) Compile the printed material in a thin, lightweight binder packed with her sheet music (which should, of course, never go into checked luggage.)

  • Snoop around to see if you can find out who might be going to the audition from your home town or past summer programs. If you know the parents (or even if you don't) it might be worth a quick call to make them aware that your kid will be traveling on her own. Most parents would be glad to keep an eye out and offer help on the road if it's needed. But it probably won't. She'll be fine. And she'll return home a few inches taller.


My daughter is auditioning for grad schools soon, and (sadly for me) I won't be needed on these trips. In just a few years she's blossomed into an independent, resourceful adult perfectly capable of making and executing her own travel plans.

When I mentioned I was writing this article she told me how glad she was that I came with her when she was seventeen. "I would have been terrified traveling to those auditions alone," she said. But I believe that if she'd needed to go it alone, she would have been okay once she got started. I'm just grateful that I had the opportunity to enjoy, a little longer, the illusion that she still needed there beside her, smoothing the way.


From Laurie Niles
Posted on January 17, 2014 at 5:53 AM
As the parent of a teenager, I find this to be really helpful! It's hard to let go and embrace these first major steps toward independence, but if well-planned, they can be motivating and empowering for both the young adult and the parent.
From Karen Rile
Posted on January 17, 2014 at 7:01 PM
I've added another bullet point, at the advice of a reader, with tips on air travel with instruments!

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