College audition - Bach D minor Allemande??

December 21, 2015 at 10:05 PM · I am having a dilemma. I am preparing a recorded audition for University of Wisconsin - Steven's Point, to major in violin performance. I can send it in any time between now and the end of February. The repertoire requirements are simply two contrasting pieces. I chose two pieces that I enjoy playing and that I think I can play my best, the 1st mvt of the Mendelssohn violin concerto, and the Allemande from the D minor Bach solo partita. I am aware that neither are impressively difficult, but out of all the repertoire I have more or less under my belt, I feel that I can put my best foot forward with these pieces.

My teacher thinks that the Allemande is too easy. He assigned the Adagio from the 1st sonata. After a couple attempts at practicing at home, I don't feel as if I will be ready to perform it well and musically in two months time. It hits two of my weak spots: double stops and good musical expression in such a free, improvisatory style. So, it would definitely be good for me to work on perfecting it, but I just don't feel comfortable making it my audition piece.

I am not sure what to do... Stick with the Allemande, attempt the Adagio, or maybe just choose another Bach mvt? I realize the Allemande is not technically challenging, but what if I work carefully on my style and musicality? Is that 'impressive' enough? What are they going to be looking for in my audition?

Some advice from other experienced musicians would be great :)

Replies (45)

December 21, 2015 at 10:36 PM · I also think the Allemande seems too easy alongside the Mendelssohn.

For Bach, I do not think of the music in pieces, but as a kind of dance that flows via

the continuing overlap of basso continuo and

melody.

This thinking may help with interpretation. :D

My advice for pieces with freer style is to

spend your "empty thoughs"

(while walking somewhere, etc) time to hear the

piece in your head and tweak

it with rubato and dynamic changes that occur

to you. It has helped me

come up with some variations of passages that I

REALLY ended up being

happy with having though of. :)

For double stops, the main issue usually seems

to be getting the right "grab" on both strings

and then maintaining it as the notes are

played.

For practice, slowly play 2 open strings

together while maintaining

perfect tone and evenness of both notes. Then,

add one fingered note

and repeat as above. Last, do the same, this

time with both fingered

notes. Once the double stop is perfect at a

slow tempo, SLOWLY work it

without any compromise of tone. If a certain

speed becomes difficult,

start at that speed with 2 open strings... you

know the rest. :)

December 21, 2015 at 11:29 PM · My advice would be to go for the Adagio but to keep playing the Allemande just in case the Adagio isn't ready by the audition deadline.

December 21, 2015 at 11:53 PM · Why not the Sarabande from the D minor Partita? Or a movement from a Telemann Fantasie?

December 22, 2015 at 02:56 AM · The Allemande is too easy and does not pair well with the Mendelssohn in terms of difficulty. If you don't feel capable of learning the g minor Adagio in a couple of months' time, what about the Preludio to the E Major Partita? I used that for a pro audition as my Bach movement and won the job. If the Preludio is not enough contrast, what about the Loure from the E Major Partita? I think it's harder than the d minor Sarabande

December 22, 2015 at 04:23 AM · Greetings,

I wouldn't recommend the Allemande either. Aside the from the mismatch of levels between that and the Mendelssohn it is potentially a somewhat polarizing work. That is to say, a wide diversity of tempo is possible and although personal prejudice should not be a factor , a teacher who likes it at a fairly brisk tempo might be put off by a slow version and vice versa. There are different preferneces for bow articulation as well. The e major prelude is an excellent suiggestion which wont have the same issue , unless you choose to platy it all spiccatto....

Cheers,

Buri

December 22, 2015 at 05:32 AM · Great pro advice here, I wonder if the b minor sarabande or e major gavotte or a minor andante are good enough, or may they can recommend something non bach.

Stevens Point is not Juilliard.

December 22, 2015 at 06:18 AM · Juilliard requires a heck of a lot more than two contrasting pieces of the applicant's choice, and nobody is suggesting any movement that would be of Juilliard level anyway.

Since both the OP and her teacher are leaning towards Bach as the contrasting piece to Mendelssohn--and honestly that is what I would encourage a student to do also--we are suggesting alternate Bach choices that are harder than the Allemande and easier than the g minor Adagio.

December 22, 2015 at 08:33 AM · The Adagio would be a big challenge. Even if you hit all those notes with perfect intonation, there is the rhythm to consider. If you can break down all those infinitesimal beat patterns into ratio-based rhythmic sense (there's a reason Bach wrote out all the ornaments and it seems evident he cared about the pulse if he was willing to painstakingly write in all those 64th notes) there are still chords and bow patterns and fingerings to consider--how to avoid "double crosses" and such ...

If played with total mastery, nothing is "easy."

Good luck!

December 22, 2015 at 10:48 AM · Thanks so much everyone for your advice, this is extremely helpful. It's good to hear many in agreement that the Allemande is too easy.

Buri, good point about the range of preferences interpreting the Allemande... It rings true for me since even I often don't quite like how I hear it played, even when it's really very well played... (Maybe that's why I like playing it myself)

Thank you for the suggestions of other Bach movements that would be an acceptable level of difficulty. (I do want to choose a Bach mvt for the contrasting piece) I'll be considering alternatives and hopefully finding a movement that I feel comfortable with preparing.

December 22, 2015 at 10:59 AM · Of course, if you do the emajor prelude and the e minor concerto you will have to remember to pull a finger back....

December 22, 2015 at 01:58 PM · Sarabande from the Viola Pomposa Suite ("6th 'Cello Suite") in D major, at the pitch for which it was originally written?

December 22, 2015 at 04:23 PM · I think this is being WAY overthought. I don't mean to sound insulting, but I do agree with Paul--Stevens Point is not Juilliard. It's not even Madison. The Allemande is perfectly fine if you phrase it convincingly, and any trained string player will recognize the difficulty in that. I've had any number of students play it, and few of them do it well. It takes real maturity. And if you can play the first page of Mendelssohn well, that's quite something as well.

Years ago, the Oregon Symphony had its applicants play a couple of opening lines of the Romanza from Mozarts Eine Kleine. They could have chosen any number of finger twisters from the repertoire. But sometimes all it takes is something simple to reveal the truth.

December 22, 2015 at 04:47 PM · My question is, why are you not going to the university for a live audition. A live audition is taken much more seriously than a video. You also get to know about the atmosphere of the institution.

December 22, 2015 at 05:37 PM · @Scott Cole: Amen.

December 22, 2015 at 07:09 PM · I live in California and can't get time off work for a trip out there, otherwise I would be going in person. I think they have a second audition once I arrive.

@Scott Cole: You read my mind. That's exactly what I've been thinking...guess I'm not crazy.

Honestly, I'm not very self-confident, after spending two years at a private liberal arts college with no teacher, not much of a music community, and little practice. I don't think I actually lost much ground, but I didn't gain much either, and became very self critical. I don't know who to believe any more, because I tend to depress myself by being overly critical, but I have a hard time believing when others tell me I'm doing well. Anyway, I guess what I'm getting at is that I feel very unsure of what would be expected of me in an audition, because I don't know where my own self expectations line up with...anything really...

December 22, 2015 at 08:40 PM · :-) The Allemande is beautiful and I wish you well as you perfect it. Keeping the voices distinct, bringing out the melody notes while preserving a pulse is enough to keep any violinist on their toes.

December 22, 2015 at 10:57 PM · My other question would be to ask you why you wish to get a degree in violin performance? Are you aware of the difficulty of landing a full time position in an orchestra? Or have you considered a BME degree with which you will have a very good chance of getting a pretty well paid public school teaching position? I ask from a position of some knowledge about this.

Dr. Bruce Berg

Professor of Violin

Baylor University

December 22, 2015 at 11:48 PM · I want to teach privately, and as I understand it (I might be wrong) music education degree programs are geared toward classroom teaching. I certainly don't want to have to spend time learning how to fumble around on all sorts of other instruments. I want to be a really good performer myself, since I feel as if that would help me teach well. I know Steven's Point also has ASI summer classes, so I hope to take some classes on Suzuki teaching.

I'm also interested in nursing and caregiving and hopefully I can make that a stable source of income when I need it (considering getting at least CNA training, perhaps LVN)

Those are my thoughts on future plans for now, but of course everything is somewhat up in the air at this point :)

December 23, 2015 at 12:36 AM · Greetings,

don't worry about things being up in the air life-wise. Having no goals or direction whatsoever can be a problem but you are clearly comsidering things carefully and have some ideas about your future direction. Just let these things unfold naturally without panicking.

Right now I am reading this very cool book by the blind (almost) Japanese violinist called Kawabara Naramichi. Just before I read your last posting I wa sactually reading the following passage.

'Even you only play a single note on the instrument, it will have a strong connection with your current state/condition. If you re feelings are vague/fuzzy/unclear, then for sure when you play in a concert/perform your sound will be vague or all over the show. On the other hand, if your ideas and feelings are clear when you perform, the sound that comes out will be likewise.'

Probably not very helpful in of itself, but the whole premise of his book is that the only way we can express ourselves with truth is turn our musical ear inwards and listen to our heart. Here is something from earlier in the book:

'When we are studying/practicing, in order to establish what kind of performance we want to give, the first thing we need to do, when we are completely alone, is to sing and see what comes out. The voice cannot lie. If we just pick up the instrument and play it with our hands/fingers, whatever we do, our prejudices/stereotypes will come out first, mastery of our skill will run away from us and the end result will collapse.'

Sorry its a bit weird. This guy writes the longest sentences on the planet after Salman Rushdie, and switching the syntax around requires more coffee than even Starbucks can provide.

Best of luck ,

Buri

December 23, 2015 at 03:07 AM · The reason I asked about what the pros thought of those other three Bach movements is because they have a lot of double stops along with the opportunities to demonstrate interpretive nuance that is common to all of the Bach S&P. Both the D minor Allemande and the E major Preludio have only a few perfunctory double stops or chords, although of those two pieces a well-played Preludio would certainly be the more impressive. The Allemande can be played beautifully but it does have kind of a stigma as everyone's first Bach S&P movement. The B minor Sarabande is rather short but it does have a Double that goes with it.

December 23, 2015 at 01:07 PM · It wasn't MY "first Bach S&P movement"! The "study" for my Associated Board Grade 7 was the E major Gigue. Next, I think, was an arrangement for viola and piano by someone called Sidney Twinn, of the E-major Gavotte, transposed, of course, to A-major.

December 23, 2015 at 02:00 PM · Yeah the E Major Gigue is easier than the Allemande. I don't see it played as often by students, but maybe that just reflects the tastes of the local teachers.

December 24, 2015 at 02:21 AM · Maybe you should take the Siciliana, the 3rd movement of the first sonata by J.S. Bach into consideration. It's not as much played as the E-Major Preludium and a little more comfortable than the Adagio, especially rhythm wise. Also a good movement depending on your strengths could be the giga of the d-minor sonata, if you can play that movement at a good speed and musically it's quite impressive and shows a lot of bow control.

In the Adagio there are some places which are quite difficult intonation wise compared to many other movements of the Bach solo works, it is often played quite mediocre because people underestimate it.

Have you thought about going with a more modern work? Maybe that would be good for some auditions as well.

December 24, 2015 at 05:05 AM · My guess is that the deadline is approaching and the hope is to use currently polished rep or find something that is simultaneously more impressive but conquerable in short order. Do I have that right?

December 24, 2015 at 05:52 AM · As it is with almost any audition, your ability to to play the instrument at a high level will supersede the choice of repertoire. Most professional players and teachers can identify quite reliably the ability of a player after the first 10-15 seconds of playing...

December 24, 2015 at 08:52 PM · @Paul: Yep, that's the idea.

I'm liking the E major Loure... My ear is also more familiar with the E major sonata than any of the others so if I pick another one it'll probably be from that sonata. What do you think of the Gavotte?

December 25, 2015 at 01:27 AM · It is, Jenny - provided you don't feel you have to keep that top G-sharp minim going while separating the two slurred quaver E C-sharp couples. I cheated on that when I performed it (Having since worked on the last movement of Mozart 4 and found that it is perfectly possible to keep the open G pedal going as written, I think I would do better now - not that I'm satisfied that I'm fully controlling my bowing properly in the Mozart).

December 25, 2015 at 08:13 PM · One thing about the Alemanda (which is my first memorized S&P) is that its open to quite a broad range of interpretation - with speed (as mentioned above) a major variable.

Since the original repeats both sections would it be suicidal to play it with a change of speeds for the repeats? Could one use it to as a plus to demonstrate facility with both the slower (Hillary Hahn) kind of calm expressiveness and the faster and more varying (I think Perlman and others) methods or would that be suicide!

December 25, 2015 at 08:47 PM · Why? To my ear it makes no sense to play the repeats the same, its boring. Maybe fast, slow, slow, fast...

December 25, 2015 at 11:21 PM · The repeats could be for improvised ornamentation.

December 26, 2015 at 01:35 AM · That makes sense Kevin - but I've never heard this done.

December 26, 2015 at 03:29 AM · Taking a big musical risk in a college audition is usually a terrible idea, sorry, and I agree that a drastic tempo change on a repeat would not go over well.

I don't think the E Major Gavotte is easier than the Allemande though it is certainly easier than the Loure. I just really like the Loure. :-)

December 27, 2015 at 02:08 AM · I am no pro, nor have I taken part in any musical degreed program, but as you have, I would ask myself, what is the purpose of the "audition"? Impress them into believing that I am already a masterful player (in which case I wouldn't need the program to begin with) or to show that I have, or not, the potential and minimum entry level skills and knowledge to successfully take part into their program? More likely the later, i.e. it shouldn't be about impressing them. It shouldn't matter if I have mastered the selected audition piece either. I'd relax, whatever the complexity of the piece and its performance, an experienced teacher will be able to answer the question they have, which I presume is: what is my potential and current performance level. In other words, if it were me, I'd concentrate on being honest in representing myself! That said, those who do have experience with music programs auditions are perhaps best to advise you, and you should certainly heed their advice.

December 27, 2015 at 04:55 AM · I'm surprised no one has mentioned the cool skip-a-line effect used by the first respondee.

December 27, 2015 at 07:10 AM · "It shouldn't matter if I have mastered the selected audition piece either."

For the benefit of any lurkers who are reading this thread for information about their own upcoming college auditions: This is very, very bad advice; completely, dangerously wrong. If you are auditioning for a college music program, you absolutely must have mastered your selected audition pieces.

The faculty listening to your audition want to know how well you play. They want to know what you sound like at your personal polished best. If you play a "half-cooked" piece at your audition, the committee will assume that you are doing what you think of as your best and that the piece is too hard for you, you did not practice for the audition, and/or you have no concept of what polished playing entails. It will not work out to your benefit.

Do not ever plan to put anything less than your best foot forward at an audition, whether it is for Juilliard or Stevens Point. That doesn't mean the world will come to an end if you make a mistake in your audition. Everyone makes mistakes. But the experienced listener will know the difference between a well-prepared performance with an accident or two, and a half-prepared performance. Nobody wants to work with a student who is perceived to be untalented, lazy, or careless.

December 27, 2015 at 05:34 PM · Mary Ellen, perhaps my statement didn't come across the way I intended, but I certainly never meant "half-cooked" and careless preparation, nor was it meant as an advice. But am I wrong in thinking that the purpose of acquiring a College Degree in Music to develop the necessary skills and acquire the knowledge (such as what polished playing entails) leading to professional Mastery level?

Your good advice makes me curious about the expectations of College entry requirements and the degree to which the "competitive" aspect plays a role in a non-scholarship-sponsored program selection. Should/can a "Mastery" level be achieved before actually entering the program? Perhaps I don't understand what "Mastery" is but I thank you for guarding against what can be construed as bad advice though it wasn't meant as such, but rather as a perspective. Like I said in my OP, I am not qualified to provide such advice. My only advice was to heed the advice of those, such as you, who have experience with music programs auditions.

December 27, 2015 at 06:55 PM · Mary Ellen is spot on. The audition will show a lot about a player and their attitude, work ethic, and talent. If a player obviously has a lot of talent, but does not prepare properly and thoroughly they will not make the best impression.

As an example a few years back we had a person auditioning with Mendelssohn Concerto. we require memorization. He started out pretty well , but things started to go downhill as he reached the cadenza.

At the end of the cadenza he looked at us with a quizzical look, which meant do you want me to stop. Seeing that, I said to go on. He was able to play about 2 or 3 lines into the next section, until he had to stop because he didn't know the rest of the movement. We did not accept him, because the requirement was to know the entire piece.

It is possible that the teacher said that he would probably not have to play beyond the cadenza. If that is the case, then the teacher was wrong. However, I will never know.

December 27, 2015 at 09:10 PM · Roger - my impression is that music differs from academic subjects in that regard.

If you go to an undergrad interview at Cambridge in most subjects, yes they are looking for potential in the subject not accomplishment.

There are however subjects where accomplishment at age 18 tells you enough about lifetime potential that you need look at nothing else. Musical performance is one (though not conducting or composition!). Maths is another, for different reasons.

December 27, 2015 at 09:25 PM · Not that I am suggesting it for Amy's audition, but since it came up in the above discussion: playing a repeat much faster the second time is something quite standard in the Bach Preludes and Fugues for piano.

December 28, 2015 at 12:57 AM · I see why it's necessary to prepare well and put your best foot forward, but isn't also true that for many people being able to pursue a degree in performance is really an opportunity for you to realize potentials which you didn't have the resources to develop while in your home town? A lot of what i'm excited about is hopefully (and if I make it) having a good teacher, opportunities to practice and perform more repertoire, and just being surrounded by musicians who are serious enough to be going to college for it. I guess some level of accomplishment has to be expected, but I don't know how I would articulate that and I feel like it's different than 'mastery', in the sense I usually think of the word...

Hopefully the faculty listening to auditions are expecting 'mastery' meaning that the student tries his own best, even if he knows he isn't perfect and has lots of room for improvement.

(Otherwise I'm toast...)

December 28, 2015 at 03:17 AM · "Your good advice makes me curious about the expectations of College entry requirements and the degree to which the "competitive" aspect plays a role in a non-scholarship-sponsored program selection. Should/can a "Mastery" level be achieved before actually entering the program?"

A candidate for an undergraduate performance program needs to be showing a high level of mastery on the violin in the entrance audition. The level of mastery required will vary depending on the selectivity of the institution. You cannot even get an invitation to audition for Juilliard if you are not already a polished performer with great technical mastery, no matter how much raw talent you may possess. Stevens Point is certainly not Juilliard but its own website says this: "The Applied (performance) major is designed for those students who possess a high proficiency in performance and are seeking careers as professional musicians or university teachers or both. Full admission to this major requires a special audition, normally taken at the end of the freshman year."

Studying violin is not like studying most academic subjects. If at 18 you are not already a proficient violinist, you won't be playing at a professional level four years later.

December 28, 2015 at 03:40 AM · "Hopefully the faculty listening to auditions are expecting 'mastery' meaning that the student tries his own best, even if he knows he isn't perfect and has lots of room for improvement."

The playing level required for admission is dependent on how many applicants there are versus how many spots are available, and I have no idea how competitive Stevens Point is. As has been already pointed out, it isn't Juilliard. I do know that my program (UTSA) will take students that Bruce's program (Baylor) probably wouldn't, but they typically are studying music education, not performance. We are very strict about who we will admit to the performance program. It is a moral issue. There are not enough jobs for the qualified; we cannot in good conscience take money and time from students who are not qualified.

To the OP: practice well, record yourself and listen to the playback as part of your preparation before making the actual audition tape, and do your best on the recording. That's the only part of the process you have any control over.

December 28, 2015 at 04:36 AM · Thanks for your point of view and advice.

I am still fuzzy on what it means to have mastery or to be proficient...

I have been listening to recordings of myself after/during some of my practice sessions. Its helpful but discouraging if I expect great technical mastery. I feel as if there will always be a finger or two a little out of tune, less than perfect bow control, less than ideal tone, etc, and it just won't always sound like it does in my head. And then I listen to Hilary Hahn and I feel as if there is no hope. Sure it's just my iPod recorder and its only Stevens Point...

December 28, 2015 at 12:26 PM · You aren't competing against Hilary Hahn, of that I am sure. :-)

Just do your best. The faculty can recognize a good player whose finger slipped.

December 28, 2015 at 04:10 PM · Amy-

I'm actually a violin performance student at UW Eau Claire. I almost auditioned to Stevens Point, but I didn't. After visiting the school I just knew that it wasn't for me (I hadn't met any of the music faculty, I didn't like the city, etc.). Their string division is definitely a little more established than ours, but I have a friend (a violist who only started taking lessons a few months prior to auditioning and hadn't yet learned vibrato) who auditioned and was accepted at Stevens Point. Also, I was definitely not perfect for my audition to Eau Claire. I was very awkward and shy in my playing (kind of quiet and not very expressive), but I had strengths in my intonation, dynamics, and rhythmic accuracy. The pieces I chose to play were prepared as well as I could make them at that point in my life, and I had already played them for a recital as well (I played the G minor Adagio, the Bruch violin concerto, and Wieniawski's Legend op.17). Your hopes for college sound exactly what I was hoping for when I auditioned for the music program. If you really do want it, it will show.

Do you currently take private lessons? If not, I suggest doing so. If there aren't good teachers in your area, you could always try skype lessons. I took a skype lesson with a violist at Julliard just for fun, and it was pretty helpful. For intonation and double stops, I suggest using Sevcik opus 9 and the Flesch scales if you don't already. And I am 100% in favor of singing your pieces- it really helps with expressiveness. For help with phrasing, listen to tons of recordings and take note of what each performer does, what you like, and what you dont like.

I hope that was helpful! Like I said, I don't know much about the faculty at Stevens Point since I didn't get to meet any of them, but if you have questions about the city itself, feel free to ask me. I've been there many times and my best friend went to school there for her freshman year.

I hope everything works out! The audition is scary and the preparation is difficult, but it's so worth it in the end! Good luck.

-Erin

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