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Helping Students and Parents Enjoy the Competitive Journey: Part I, The Application Process for Competitions

Amy Beth Horman

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Published: July 22, 2014 at 4:00 PM [UTC]

I am sitting on a beach vacation a lot this week and am finding myself physically and mentally preparing for the next competition calendar. Some time off allows lots of brainstorming and much needed reflection on how to make next year's competition season more rewarding for my whole studio. So I am starting a blog series both to focus my thoughts and hopefully give some new insights to other teachers who find themselves in my position. Click here to read Part II, Managing Expectations and Part III, Preparing for Final Rounds.

I see multiple challenges inside of my studio's competitive calendar each year but the first challenge is perhaps the most important one of all: the application process.

Last year, I dealt with international, national, and regional submissions on 14 competitions. Just when I thought I had a full list, another parent would chime in with a new possibility that seemed too good to pass up. Getting the applications in and filled out correctly felt like a major accomplishment. Most competitions now have even added a polite but definite threat saying if we made a mistake in our applications, our submissions would be discarded. This is their right and even makes sense on an administrative level from their perspective but nothing springs fear in our hearts like this line in print. While the applications are similar they are also murderously different on some subtle level seemingly to confuse us....cue lots of sleepless nights and late night emails from parents! One had a word count maximum for bios, another needed specific format I didn't have on my computer. Then the referral letters. One from me and one from a reputable violinist… but which one? Signatures, bios, letters, repertoire lists, performance experience.... and that is just the written portion of the application process. Many parents are applying for things for the very first time and seeking assistance or advice, nervous they will misstep. Others have done this before and learned from it but even a veteran competitive parent can fall prey to multiple application processes.

The written apps would have been almost manageable. But then there is the media content. Who knew I needed a technical degree in computers and recording equipment to run a competitive violin studio? Where should we record and how many sessions would we need? What equipment do we use? Do we do it ourselves or hire an engineer? Some needed photos in different formats… press quality, different sizes, black and white versus color… names or without names. Then the obligatory attaching/uploading/entitling files, using new file sharing services, or registering on youtube. I found myself enjoying a glass of wine more often after long hours of teaching. So much to keep track of that my conservatory degree just didn’t cover!

In the end I consulted with friends, rallied in expert parents who worked as engineers, borrowed equipment, and for our international submissions got engineer referrals and an acoustic space, even managing a group rate. The administrative work involved was kind of staggering. But by the time everything was submitted, we had become a team in this process. We were fortunate after countless hours of recording, emails, and coordinating to reach the finals in all of our competitions except the international competition and the parents were thrilled. I figured things out as I went along. And I learned a lot about how I want to accomplish next year so that all of our lives are simpler.

Here are the tips I gathered for simplifying or streamlining the application process:

• communicate with parents to choose appropriate competitions and repertoire letting them know of your system so they are well prepped for how you like to organize and apply for things.

• use your (google) calendar and put it on your website for all parents. Pinpoint the 2 weeks before any deadline, the deadline, competition finals, and when results come. I color code it. Copy website, application info, competition organizer contact info, and how and when results will be posted for the “description box”.

• print checklists for each of the competitions to place on a stand as parents walk in and designate 5 minutes of every lesson to check on progress.

• identify the parents that can help with technical issues and let them know you may need their help.

• talk to parents about a visit to the luthier to troubleshoot any and all problems with violin and bow before recording.

• as soon as the final round info is posted, book a pianist and only use that person in rehearsals in the month prior.

• instruct parents to record at any performance opportunity just in case they catch something on their own.

• know your equipment and do test runs on how it works. Have parents bring at least one form of back up equipment just in case you have the perfect "take" but an issue with your method of recording.

• if you are there, take notes on top of a clean score in recording sessions that can be sent by scan to the student to apply to help in the next session.

• identify who has heard students in the past 6 months and could supply a great recommendation letter. Write them and ask them in advance if they would be willing so they see it coming.

• make good and polite contact ahead of time with each competition organizer for repertoire exceptions, eligibility concerns, and know their name, contact info, and background.

• as components of a strong application are completed, build a running and updated competition file for each student. Best video or audio takes, publicity photos, updated bios….keep at it. Soon they can apply for things quickly as all things are at “arms reach”.

In the end, if the application isn't done correctly or doesnt represent the students or the teaching effectively you have wasted a ton of time and energy. We are stopped dead in our tracks. So this is where my brainstorming starts this week. As a great new friend of mine said - "It's such a privilege to be in the arena!". But to be invited into the arena, the application process has to be successful! The more we organize this process and streamline it, the more energy can be placed into music making and coaching. And if that doesnt help our chances, I don't know what would!

Next in this blog series: Managing Expectations, Preparing for Final Rounds, Competition Etiquette, Carrying the Experience Forward

Posted on July 22, 2014 at 7:21 PM
Bravo Amy Beth! Your passion for teaching, your thoroughness and scrupulous attention to details that the rest of us never even thought of, all show why you are one of the outstanding teachers in the Baltimore/DC area!
From Paul Deck
Posted on July 22, 2014 at 7:42 PM
Do you charge your students for all of the additional effort outside of their regular lessons that all of this must require? It sounds like you could make a bundle consulting for parents whose children are in studios where the teacher lacks the knowledge or experience necessary to guide them through the process.
From Amy Beth Horman
Posted on July 22, 2014 at 8:57 PM
Thanks Paul. I don't charge extra currently for the administrative work involved as I think it is part of leading a high level studio. On occasion, the parents will offer and if it has really involved many hours off our schedule, I will consider it. I want the students to only have the music to worry about and to try and facilitate the rest. My biggest challenge last year was to try and streamline the admin work for myself and the parents. The more I do that the more I can concentrate on the music:) while reducing off hours work. I am very glad I took notes along the way because we all learned quite a bit. I will be using what we gathered as we move forward while continuing to tweak and use new technology. As for consulting - I am so busy with my own students and family I don't think I can do that right now:) but I think as I get older it is a wonderful suggestion.

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