Looking at Universities/conservatories to apply for (Currently a grade 11 student)

April 17, 2017 at 05:18 AM · I am currently a junior in high school, planning on pursuing violin performance post-secondary. I started playing the violin at age 5, participating/winning in local competitions, and winning 2 orchestra concerto competitions. I have been debating about what schools I should narrow down to auditioning/applying for, but it’s been very hard to.

Some of the most recent pieces i’ve been working on are:

Sibelius violin concerto

Vieuxtemps concerto no. 5

Beethoven sonata no. 2

Saint Saens Intro and Rondo Capriccioso

Bach Sicilianno Sonata no.1

In the past, I have performed the mendelssohn concerto, and saint saens concerto no. 3 mvt 3.

Also, here is a link to my latest recording of the Vieuxtemps, https://youtu.be/GTlrqDMA8Vc which I’m still working on, and a link to Bach sonata no 1 adagio and fugue https://youtu.be/DCRWUd7soeE.

Since I am from Canada, my safe choice, but still a very good option for me is the Mcgill schulich school of music. I’ve had lessons with Axel Strauss in the past, and this coming summer I will get the chance to play for him, as well as 2 other Mcgill professors.

The second main school I am interested in at the moment is Carnegie Mellon.I'm interested in one of the faculty members that will be joining this fall, whom I've worked with in the past. I do think the teacher will be a great fit for me, but I'd like to know what the other students/teachers there are like. Other schools i’ve been looking at include Jacobs school of music, NEC, Cleveland, and Toronto.

What is the level of playing like at each of the schools? How is the atmosphere? How would you describe the communication between the student and professor?

My main concern is the atmosphere, and opportunities given to students. Of course at a bigger school, you will get less chances to be in the spotlight, but is it still worth it to attend such school? I personally enjoy being surrounded by more people, as I feel very inspired to work hard around those who are better than me, but I am also afraid that I will be engulfed by others.

Do you think my level of playing would suffice for the schools above that I have mentioned? If you have any sort of feedback on my playing, or on any schools you think are very beneficial, please let me know! Thanks so much.


April 17, 2017 at 05:36 AM · I think you should come to the conservatory on a holiday. I mean, you should check the conservatory by yourself, you know, by coming there, you could consider too whether you want to study there or not. Because it's quite hard to say is the atmosphere good or not, because good and bad are relatives

April 17, 2017 at 11:24 AM · Yes, I do plan on visiting during the summer! Atmosphere wise, I intended to mean the atmosphere of the students, and less of the city/ campus itself if that makes sense.

April 17, 2017 at 12:14 PM · There are probably websites or facebook groups where you might find good information from current students about each of the schools you mentioned. Collegeconfidential.com comes to mind as one possibility.

The level of playing at Indiana, Cleveland and NEC is very high. I don't know much about the range of playing at Carnegie Mellon but I do know some very good players who went there so I would assume it is high also.

I did my master's at Indiana but that was over 30 years ago so my recollections are not likely to be very useful. It is big. I enjoyed my time there and learned a lot.

April 17, 2017 at 02:21 PM · At CMU, Cyrus Forough is a very fine teacher. His style is distinctively Franco-Belgian and very elegant. You can find masterclass videos from him online (YouTube, but also on other sites), also.

April 17, 2017 at 03:33 PM · I'm still listening to the Fugue from your Adagio & Fugue video--you play very well. However, you play a glaring wrong note in the Fugue, measure 6, beat 3: the three-note chord is D on the bottom, C natural in the middle (you played A), and F# on top. Please fix this. It was clearly intentional on your part, and anyone who knows the piece will sit up and take notice immediately.

Good luck to you--you obviously work hard and have a good teacher, and you have a nice sense of musical style.

Edit: Bar 60, 2nd beat, 2nd 8th, is C natural. I can't tell if you intended to play a C# or just hit the C natural too high--really, your intonation is quite good overall, with the occasional slight miss, and I couldn't tell if this was a miss or an error.

Bar 82, beat 3: This is the same error that you made very early on, playing an A instead of a C natural in the three-note chord. The voice leading of the middle voice makes no sense without that C, and it sticks out to anyone who knows the piece. If you're using this movement for auditions, you're not likely to get this far anyway, but you really need to fix this.

April 17, 2017 at 07:32 PM · You play extremely well and at your level attention to certain details can make a great deal of difference in the artistry that you project. I would single out one aspect of your playing which could be improved to great effect. This is your use of vibrato.

For instance in the first arpeggio of the Vieuxtemps, you start your vibrato late rather than at the beginning of the first note. Then you neglect to vibrato on the 4th note(4) and the 6th and 7th note. Thus you lose the legato effect of the left hand.

There is a simple remedy for this. Playing in a quarter note rhythm, play the first A twice, then slur into the B flat, repeat the B flat slurring into the D, and so on. So you have A A B- B-D D F F A A B- B- D D F F A A B- B- D D F. Since you get an up beat feeling from note to note, this encourages the vibrato to connect. You will find that when you play the passage normally the vibrato may become continuous, and also your hand will feel looser. You could use the same practice method in the melody starting in measure 16. Now, if your hand becomes looser, you may fear that your intonation will go out the window. However, if you can get used to this, then you will actually will find that intonation will improve, since at this point I believe you are using far too much left hand finger pressure. I sense that you think that intonation is your greatest problem, but I may be wrong.

Your teacher might have already mentioned that you need to vary your vibrato to achieve better expression. You can create a greater awareness of how to accomplish this again by a simple practice method. Using the melody starting in measure 16 (with pickup), pick a single note, let’s say C natural on the D string. Play the melody only using this single note but hear the notes changing in your head. You will immediately notice that you are changing vibrato speeds, since you have limited your expression to vibrato speed. You may also notice that this can help with bow expression.

April 17, 2017 at 08:53 PM · Thanks everyone for the feedback. I'll try to reply to everyone in order.

Lydia- thanks for that info!

Mary Ellen- Thanks so much for the advice. I recorded this piece as a practice run for later performances, so the mistakes you mentioned, I fixed :) I dropped the piece right after June of last year (after competitions), but I may use this piece/movement for the audition. I will be careful in making sure I don't play the notes wrong!

Bruce- Thank you. I have been struggling with the consistent use of vibrato, as well as using more variety, and it is definitely an issue I work on with my teacher.

Anne- It was for sure a mistake on my part, since I had only been working on those movements for a short amount of time before this recording. I used the International Music Company version, but in the future I do plan on using the Barenreiter edition!

It is definitely a bonus to be studying with someone who can give me more attention and time. But personally, working with TAs sounds just fine to me. I'd prefer to be a smaller fish in a big pond, if it allows me to grow more. The only concern I have with being in a school where there are limited students is that I won't feel the need to work as hard, since I already feel comfortable at what level I am. I've never thought about leadership courses! That definitely interests me, and I'll definitely look further into that.

At the moment, I only planned on having lessons with teachers from CMU, Toronto ( I already have), Mcgill (I will this summer), and Indiana, where I will be spending 4 weeks at their pre-college program. For NEC and Cleveland, I'll for sure have to contact some teachers to have lessons with!

April 17, 2017 at 09:53 PM · Wow! You're amazing!

April 17, 2017 at 10:10 PM · Thanks David!

May 3, 2017 at 01:15 PM · It's been literally decades since I've attended music school (and it wasn't for violin), so my comments on particularities won't be useful. But for generalities:

1) There's quite a difference between a University and a Conservatory. The former is a large interdisciplinary institution that hopefully has a good music program; the latter is more of a vocational school solely for musicians. Would you prefer to have the opportunity to explore other subjects you may be interested in, or do you want to have a laser focus only in music?

2) The location of the school is important. At your age, you can learn quite a lot outside of a classroom. Studying at a school in a major urban area with an active music scene offers many opportunities to hear great music, as well as perhaps to find some paid performance gigs outside of school. A large university in a less urban setting, however, probably only offers the concerts it sponsors, and may have many more students looking for gigs than those available locally.

3) A larger school may offer more ensembles for you to play in, with a variety of repertoire. How many orchestras does the school have? Do they have an opera program with full productions? Will you have trouble finding chamber music groups to play in?

4) Finally, outside of your immediate violin teacher, what sort of connections can you make at the school? Don't ignore the fact that as a musician, you'll need to network to survive. Getting to meet established or rising conductors or composers can lead to playing opportunities beyond school. You can be a great violinist, but you also need to be noticed if you want to perform professionally.

May 3, 2017 at 01:30 PM · Mostly very good advice, but I have to say that networking is of limited benefit to someone who wants to win a job in a professional orchestra. Yes, it might help with getting into a music festival, but professional orchestra auditions are screened, at least for the first round and sometimes all the way to the finals. If your resume gets you in to the audition--which it will if you do well at a first-tier music school--everything else is on how you play, not who you know. (Yes, I know there have been "fixed" auditions but those happen less often than one might think. The only truly questionable results I've heard about involve several people with the same last name in one of the top orchestras in the U.S.)

May 3, 2017 at 01:48 PM · True, but not all gigs are permanent chairs in a major symphony orchestra. Orchestras need subs or extras, traveling shows and pit orchestras need players, etc. and for freelance work it's usually more a matter of knowing who is doing the hiring than submitting a resume or audition (provided you do well on the jobs when you're offered them).

May 3, 2017 at 10:17 PM · Thanks for the advice, Madeye! I think I do want to solely study music, as I don't have any other strengths really. I am getting a business specialist high skill major from my high school, but that can only really apply to the workforce, if I ever have to turn to that path..

My goal that I am aiming for is to join an orchestra with good pay, possibly pursue chamber music, and teach privately on the side (or fully, if thats how things turn out), as I am already at the moment. For sure location is a huge factor, and I want those opportunities to play in gigs, and go to concerts.

May 3, 2017 at 10:20 PM · As a Canadian, perhaps my best chances at connections with the ones I already have, and may have in the future will best serve me if I attend a Canadian school. Perhaps connections are best made during a Master's degree?

May 4, 2017 at 12:25 AM · Where do you hope to settle after college? In Canada, or elsewhere? If in Canada, in someplace close to your hometown, or anywhere?

May 4, 2017 at 01:24 AM · I was planning on settling down depending on where I go to school, and where I have the best connections. I don't plan on staying in my hometown.. I suppose it'll have to be wherever I get my job! If I do end up going to Mcgill, I may try to stay in Montreal.

May 4, 2017 at 02:06 AM · That does seem to suggest that you'll want a place with vibrance and opportunities, then, where the network is readily accessible to students.

May 4, 2017 at 02:26 AM · "My goal that I am aiming for is to join an orchestra with good pay"

Aren't we all.

If you really want an orchestra job, you won't have the luxury of deciding where you want to settle down. Wherever you win a job, that's where you'll live. If anyone had told the teenage or early 20's version of me that I would be spending virtually my entire adult life in Texas, I never would have believed it.

May 4, 2017 at 06:56 PM · Yes, I think that too. I don't have any specific place in mind on where to settle down, it'll be all depending on where I can land a job, if I am lucky enough and work hard enough.

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