Advice on Grad School
I’m writing for advice about grad school. To give you a little background:
I was already in a full time orchestra job and had been deliberating about leaving for some time. I finally decided impulsively to apply to grad school (MM) at the last minute, (mid September,) and then got tendonitis as a result of over practicing. I wasn’t able to practice for most of December, January and part of February, right before auditions, and spent most of the time doing PT and mental practice. Not surprisingly, my auditions were a bit of a hot mess. I didn’t even have time to learn and memorize the entire third movement of my concerto, (Brahms,) so I simply prayed that no schools would ask for it, since I had heard that they often don’t. I just barely managed to learn the first two pages. Most of the schools in fact only heard 1st movement of Brahms, Bach and Paganini, but Indiana asked for third : (
It was the only school where I flat-out was rejected. I know I would probably have been accepted if not for the third-movement debacle. I got a full scholarship there back when I auditioned for undergrad.
My question is this: I received nearly a full scholarship from a few of my backup schools, such as Carnegie Mellon and Cincinnati, and was accepted with no scholarship at a few others (Stony Brook, McGill.) I didn’t even bother applying to the schools I ACTUALLY wanted to attend, (CIM, NEC, Eastman, USC,) because I couldn’t prepare all the prescreen material in time.
Big question: do I attend a school I don’t like or risk taking out big loans just to get my MM over with as quickly as possible? Or should I simply keep my job and wait a year, and start preparing to reaudition now? Or enter a program and re-audition and see if I get a better offer somewhere else?
I am inclined to choose option #3, since I think part of the reason I struggled to prepare in time, besides the injury and starting late with all new rep was not having regular lessons.
In your shoes I think I would keep my job and re-audition when I was healthy. I assume you don't have a high-level job already, because if you did, I can't imagine that quitting to go to grad school would be an appealing option. So I am guessing you have the kind of job that either does not pay very well, or is not stable, or both. That would strongly suggest that you already know that taking out big loans to go to grad school would be extremely unwise.
The orchestra I play in doesn’t pay much and is not someplace I want to stay long-term. Eventually I want to take auditions for bigger, better orchestras or try to create a professional quartet, but I still have some kinks I want to work out in my playing, which is my plan for grad school.
I don't know a tiny fraction what Mary Ellen knows about this, but her advice sure does sound level-headed to me. If you know you've got the goods for one of those top programs when you're in top form, why wouldn't you hold out for that? Your strategy of using one of the lower-tier programs (lower than Jacobs and USC is what I mean) as a stepping stone seems okay to me -- but in music is that done with any regularity? In my field the higher-tier program doesn't want to be seen as predatory toward the lower-tier program unless it's totally obvious that the individual needs to be in better surroundings, and lower-tier programs won't take you if they get a whiff that that's what you're about.
Does anyone know if this is a thing in music school admissions? Would a grad program turn me down if they saw that I was currently pursuing a MM somewhere else when i applied? Is it possible to apply for a MM program as a transfer student, or do you normally just end up repeating a whole year?
My guess is that it very much depends on the programs involved. Transferring in the middle of a master's is very rare. I only know one person who did it, and she changed from one Jacobs-equivalent school to another because her teacher changed jobs and she was following him. I think the greater the differential between program levels, the more likely you'd essentially be starting over, but that's just a guess on my part. I don't think you'd be turned down if you otherwise qualified for the program, though. Paul's comment about higher-tier programs not wanting to be seen as predatory really does not apply in performance. Performance graduate programs are not very much like most academic graduate programs, and by "not very much like," I mean "have nothing in common with."
I went to Mannes for my undergrad, with a 2/3 scholarship. In retrospect, I wish I’d taken the full ride at Indiana, because then I would have no loans at all : ) Mannes definitely has less money than IU.
A friend of mine who I played together in youth orchestra with many years ago, somewhat disillusioned with his graduate program, took a year off any further school activities to go and study privately with the principal player of one of the big five orchestras, one who had a reputation for preparing people superbly for auditions, while putting in 4-5 hours of deliberate, focused, daily practice for that entire year. He won his next two auditions, and now enjoys a significant, well-paid, orchestral career while constantly being courted by various schools and summer programs to serve on their faculty. I share his story as a reminder that it really isn't about the school, but about the teacher. :)
How much time to practice will a master's with a TA fellowship leave you? Will you be okay with a school schedule that could end up being busier than expected?
I believe the TA position only requires 10 hours per week, which would include teaching undergrads and perhaps some admin work. I don’t think I would be teaching any lecture classes.
I forgot to mention that I don’t think I am required to take many credits the first semester, (less than 8,) in order to be a full-time student during the first year. From what I can gather, it would not be that busy.
I think it depends on the teacher. If you apply again for their DMA program then who knows. Most of the transfers I know of were because their teacher moved to another school.
Why do you want to do a DMA? The joke goes that DMA stands for "Doesn't Mean Anything". Do you want to get a university position at some point that requires a bunch of credentials ( the prestigious positions at major conservatories tend to just go with famous not so credentialed people anyways..)? Do you want to pursue some sort of marriage of violin and scholarship? Perhaps you just enjoy school so much that you don't want it to end?
I want to get a DMA because the career market seems so saturated these days with highly-credentialed applicants that even to teach at a high-paying private school, (read: K-12,) one must have a DMA. I have been extremely fortunate to be hired for a few very good teaching positions at community music schools in the past with only a B. Mus., but I feel like part of that was the sheer luck of being in the right place at the right time when a position opened plus connections. Nearly all of the other faculty members had DMA’s! I feel like in order to have job security in the future if I plan to teach at all, I need a DMA, unless I just want to have a home studio. (And yes, I’m also one of those people who would love to just be in school my entire life, if that were financially feasible!)
I do agree that a DMA certainly isn’t necessary to win an orchestra audition or play at Carnegie Hall, though. I’m living proof! ; )
Being offered a scholarship at Carnegie-Mellon graduate school sounds pretty good to me. As others have mentioned; the critical factor is which single private teacher you might have at each school. The M.M. degree appears to be the modern American preparation for either fully professional orchestras or performance teaching at colleges. Full-time university music department teachers are also expected to teach subjects outside of their specialty; theory, history, music ed., etc. So the M.A. and PhD. route should also be considered. My story is not typical. I am teaching as a part-time lecturer at a lesser CSU music department. My only degree is the BA in ethnomusicology from UCLA.
Another factor that complicates all this is that my husband auditioned this year as well and won a full scholarship plus stipend at a midwestern music conservatory. He is almost completely convinced that he wants to go. So do I go with him and study at this less respected university, or keep my job and go long distance for a year and audition for my dream schools? (Yale, NEC, CIM, etc.)
Carnegie Mellon seeme like it would have been a great option, but it’s not clear if the professor I hoped to study with will have room in his studio for me. If he doesn’t offer me a place in his studio, I don’t think I will go. Also, I just met two violinist friends of mine who study there now. They told me, ‘don’t go!!’ and said that the overall level of the school (orchestra, string players, other instruments,) has been extremely disappointing for them. Again, this is just their personal opinions. Not trying to bash CMU or anything. I have also known some fine players from CMU, personally. It did spook me that they said that, though, since chamber music is something I’m passionate about and want to pursue seriously during grad studies.
Your husband is a serious complicating factor, since if you're headed for a DMA, you're looking at not just this year, but an additional 4 years apart. And then there's the question of what happens after that, if you don't both win jobs in the same city.
How bad would a MM degree from U Cincinnati, Carnegie Mellon or CU Boulder look on a resume if I eventually want to apply for college teaching positions? (Not at places like Juilliard, more like state schools and less prestigious music programs.) I could potentially graduate with no debt from one of those schools . How much better does a degree from NEC, USC, CIM, IU, Peabody or MSM look? If I got in and got a 50% scholarship, would it be worth going and taking out loans for the name?
I should add that I have a teaching job at a private school right now which pays quite well- about $88/ hour. No health insurance, though. I would have to leave the job to join my husband in the midwest, and am not sure what my work prospects out there would be. On the other hand, my living expenses are currently very high because I live in a major NE city.
Are you planning to get another full-time orchestra job after grad school? I imagine that what they're looking for in artist-teacher adjunct faculty (i.e., a teacher attached to a big-name orchestra) is different than the credentials they want in tenure-track faculty.
It's a bit unclear what you hope to gain, career-wise, from getting a MM. Do you want to get yourself in a better position to win an orchestra job? Do you want the piece of paper to start teaching in institutions? Just nebulously "improve my playing"?
If you're hoping to apply for college teaching positions, then where you get your DMA (I agree with the "doesn't mean anything" outside of pure academia) matters more than where you get your master's. But tenure-track teaching positions, in my opinion, are harder to get than good orchestra jobs. Many schools are using adjuncts as a way to lower costs, and honestly you could make more money with a successful home studio than you would make as an adjunct. Job security is not really a thing as an adjunct, either.
I’m planning to possibly audition for big-name orchestras, but also want to explore the possibility of starting a string quartet. After playing in a full time orchestra, (which resulted in developing tinnitus, a huge psychological and emotional roadblock which took a lot of time to get past,) I’m not sure if I want to go back to playing in an orchestra because of the noise level.
Mary Ellen, if this is true: “If you're hoping to apply for college teaching positions, then where you get your DMA (I agree with the "doesn't mean anything" outside of pure academia) matters more than where you get your master's.” In this case, do you think getting an MM from a smaller-name school like Cincinnati (with full scholarship) would not be that bad if I can get into a prestigious DMA program? (That’s where my husband got the scholarship, btw.)
Irene, my purpose in obtaining a MM is all of the above that you mentioned: improve my overall playing, increase my chances of winning a better orchestra job, open up the possibility of being able to get some kind of college teaching job.
Cincinnati is a perfectly reputable music school, and an MM from there is not going to hurt you at all.
"Why do you want to do a DMA? The joke goes that DMA stands for "Doesn't Mean Anything". Do you want to get a university position at some point that requires a bunch of credentials ( the prestigious positions at major conservatories tend to just go with famous not so credentialed people anyways..)?"
If I had the opportunity to study privately with a member of one of the top string quartets in the world, but at a small, relatively unknown school, with a full ride, would it be worth it? What if the overall playing level of the students was quite low? Would it improve my chances of starting a successful quartet of my own at all?
I don't know if this is still true, but once upon a time Cincinnati had a ton of German students, mainly (I suppose) because of the LaSalle Quartet's presence on the faculty.
I think the Ariel Quartet is the quartet in residence now.
I live in a college town where the school's music program is not ranked very highly. There is work for private violin teachers here because of all the children of professors of diverse ethnicity who want lessons for their children and can afford to pay for them. The nearest pro-level orchestra is a freeway phil (an hour away) that has no significant bearing on the local teaching market. Public universities are very strong economic drivers and wellsprings of opportunity generally. Cost of living here is pretty low too.
Now I am curious as to what this relatively unknown school is where the playing level of the students is quite low. Violin pedagogy has advanced so much in recent decades that I would think you'd have to drop several tiers in music schools to find one where the overall playing level of the students was not very good. At any rate, I am sure that gaining admission to the studio of a member of a top string quartet is very competitive so there would be other excellent players there.
I would second that demand for *good* private violin teachers is very high in college towns.
She sounds fantastic!
Mary Ellen- the small school I am talking about is CU Boulder, where the Takács is. Not actually a ‘small’ school physically, just not as well ranked for music. The campus is actually enormous and very beautiful. Of course, it would be wonderful to work with the Takacs, but I can vouch from my experience there during auditions that the overall playing level is quite low, especially for strings. I slinked around and listened to students practicing, also heard the finalists in the concerto competion. I worry that in a program like that there will be no other good players to form a quartet with.
In state universities like that, you may have a lot of non-music majors hoarding up the practice rooms on that particular day...the quality of concerto competition finalists is harder to explain away.
I was wondering if you'd meant Boulder. I just heard the Takacs a few nights ago. They've got a lot on the ball, but I'd also guess that part of the experience is knowing how good your best peers can be.
Sure. How much does that aspect matter, the quality of your colleagues in school? If it is very important, I might be better off at Stony Brook, where I know the level of the string players is exceptionally high. I even met (and observed) one DMA student there who has won a prize in nearly every major international violin competition there is. Stony Brook would be much more expensive (than a full scholarship,) since they didn’t give me much money, and living in Long Island is extremely expensive.
The quality of your colleagues in school matters a great deal although not so much because you're hoping to form a quartet from them. It's human nature to work harder when you're surrounded by people better than you than when you're the best one there.
Has anyone studied with any of the following professors? Any idea about how they work during lessons? (If they tend to have students play a lot, if they talk a lot, if they focus mostly on technique or on more abstract concepts, if they demonstrate a lot in lessons, etc)
I don't know what Giora Schmidt is like as a teacher, but I've seen him give a few masterclasses. I would say that he has a special talent for this. He listens really intently and then focuses on whatever is the student's main weak point for the particular piece, whether it be technical or musical. He gets his points across clearly, and is very good at demonstrating, so that the student knows what to do. Somehow, although he is so direct, he also manages to inspire the students at the same time, making the masterclass a positive experience. He usually gets results, and also often gives clear advice about how to continue improving in future.
Great! That sounds really encouraging!
I think I am leaning toward Stony Brook, but that would mean taking out more than 20k in loans. Is it worth it, or should I simply re-audition next year? Is it worth having 20k in loans for a school like SBU? Would it make more sense if it was Rice or IU? Thoughts?
I would never recommend to anyone to take out $20K in loans to get a performance degree. Jobs are few, mostly do not pay well, and can be unstable (ask me how I know*). I would suggest that before you borrow any amount of money, use one of the amortization calculators available online to see what your monthly payments would be over various periods of time. Only you can determine your risk tolerance, but keep in mind that borrowing now can add stress to your audition experiences later, and/or can postpone (or eliminate) the possibility of buying a house, upgrading your instrument, starting a family, etc., etc.
This is good to know! So perhaps I should take the scholarship from Carnegie Mellon or Cincinnati and run? Or re-audition next year and hope for more scholarship?
I can't advise you what to do, I can only say that in your shoes I would be seriously considering only those options which did not require significant debt. That's my older and wiser, parent of current college student, long-term sufferer in an artistically satisfying orchestra with chronic financial difficulties, viewpoint. I don't know what I might have considered when I was young with stars in my eyes--I was extremely fortunate to have parents who covered whatever costs my assistantship did not. In retrospect it was a very good thing that I did not have student debt.
Thank you for all your advice!! I truly appreciate it!
Axel is truly a wonderful teacher, coach, and soloist, someone who has everything calculated and measured.
Another idea my husband and I had- he got into IU with a pretty good scholarship (about 2/3.) We both feel that the level is much higher at IU (than at CCM.) He is trying to negotiate for more scholarship at IU, and I am thinking of keeping my job and applying next year so we can be at IU together. Is that crazy?
I think that makes more sense than some of your other hypotheticals.
Sounds like a great idea to me...
My impression on this issue of looking for a school comes from talking with students and teachers from a variety of places, in the context of doing my job, and that is that the most focused students find schools by chasing specific teachers, not institutions. First they find the teacher they get along with who has something they want, then they go wherever that teacher is, often changing schools when/if the teacher moves.
Good News Update:
I am really happy for you and your husband! Sounds like it was meant to be.
Congratulations to both you and your husband!
congrats! Cincinnati is a very pleasant place to live, by the way. and, the zoo is a true Garden of Eden, be sure to become a member, it's great to just be able to walk in there for half an hour or so.
Yes, just confirmed with Giora Schmidt that when he is away performing, I will be able to teach students from his studio. He even said I may be able to teach some masterclasses on technique/etudes while he is gone. Cool!
Perhaps you can eventually connect with the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra?
Sounds like you will have an income close to the subsistence level with your husband's fellowship, especially if you get a TA too. Be sure to find out what kind of health insurance options the university provides and take advantage of that. Being debt-free is a good thing, but if things get tough for you, there really isn't any harm in taking out a few thousand in Stafford loans just to keep yourself from having to decide between food and transportation.
Hahaha thanks! I have been warned about the infamous Cincinnati chili...
$1400? Hock your diamond. Now that you're hitched you don't need it any more.
Yeah I do too. Seem like the type that make decisions the right way.