Should I submit arts supplement to Harvard?

Edited: June 14, 2020, 6:48 PM · Hi all,

I am planning to apply to Harvard later this year, and I was think about submitting an arts supplement along with the rest of my application.

Any idea of the rough standard of violinists who submit arts supplements? I read somewhere that in order to be competitive and evaluated favourably by the Harvard Music Faculty members, one has to play on the level needed to get into Julliard and NEC. If this is true, will recordings of Ysaye's Obsession and Brahms' Sonata No. 3 (4th movt) be of a comparable level?

The reason why I am unable to submit a concerto movement or showpiece is the lockdown restrictions in my country, which means that it will be impossible to do a recording with an accompanist in the next few months at least (the Brahms 3 is an old recording)

Replies (24)

June 12, 2020, 9:52 PM · Considering the circumstances, I think solo Bach would be a better choice than either Ysaye or Brahms. A couple of movements from the G minor Sonata perhaps. Good luck with your application.
Edited: June 13, 2020, 12:32 AM · > Any idea of the rough standard of violinists who submit arts supplements?

Do you mean the violinists who are admitted, or anyone who decides to apply? They're different.

For Harvard, the general advice is to submit a supplement only if you are nationally or internationally competitive. If your lists of musical activities and awards sound more impressive than your recordings, then it may not be helpful to send a supplement.

I have friends who sent in a supplement and were admitted, and I know what they recorded. Ysaye and Brahms are fine as long as you play them well.

June 13, 2020, 8:18 PM · Thanks for the responses!
June 13, 2020, 8:18 PM · @Frieda I meant anyone who decides to apply
June 13, 2020, 8:20 PM · @Frieda when you say "nationally competitive", does that also to international applicants like me from other countries?

Also, if you don't mind sharing, what repertoire did your friends who got into Harvard play?

June 13, 2020, 9:22 PM · What is an arts supplement?
June 13, 2020, 10:28 PM · Basically, when you apply to a US college, you are allowed to submit a supplementary portfolio. For instance, you can submit a portfolio of art, or recordings of your playing, or a book of poetry, or things along those lines.

I would agree with Frieda that if you're going to submit, it should be top-tier stuff -- at the level of a student going to a top conservatory. I would put it another way: You want to demonstrate that you play at a level where the orchestra's conductor says "Yes, I want this kid as the concertmaster of our orchestra". You would probably need to demonstrate that you play at a level where you could qualify for NEC entrance and the Harvard/NEC joint program. Even if you don't intend to do that joint program, there might be numerous other applying violinists who do intend to do that joint program, so that would set the bar for the level of playing.

It's not what you play, but how you play it. Obviously, a superb Ballade is going to be more impressive than a superb Obsession, though. Don't you have previous performance recordings that you could submit? There's almost certainly no requirement for it to be accompanied.

June 13, 2020, 10:51 PM · Thanks for the advice Lydia! Yes I do have some recordings of unaccompanied Bach, Mozart 5, and the Brahms d minor, but none of them really demonstrate my technical standard at the moment.

That's why I'm planning to record Sarasate's Carmen Fantasy, but unfortunately Covid came in the way and I'm worried that playing it unaccompanied will sort of undercut my arts supplement

June 13, 2020, 10:55 PM · On a separate note, Princeton's arts supplement requirements state that chamber ensemble recordings can be submitted if there is "a prominently featured solo". Does Arensky's Piano Trio (4th movt) fit this requirement?
June 13, 2020, 11:13 PM · For a virtuosic work, I wouldn't worry about accompaniment.

I wouldn't think so, regarding the Arensky. I suspect that's more intended for, say, the movement of the Beethoven Septet that's practically a violin concerto.

Also, given the high likelihood that they're likely to sample -- listen to a minute or two -- I'd look for something that starts impressively.

Edited: June 14, 2020, 12:45 AM · Joel,

The joint NEC/Harvard program is traditionally more competitive than applying to only NEC or only Harvard.

By “nationally competitive,” I meant that one would be a plausible candidate for a top conservatory in the US. That would include international applicants.

My friends recorded the usual audition repertoire: a movement (or two) of a standard concerto and solo Bach. They were a range: Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Bruch, and a Sarasate showpiece. I think there was also Ysaye. I don’t know if all of the supplements were judged favorably. The players were competitive with peers who went to conservatories, though not all of them were at the caliber of the joint NEC/Harvard program.

Look up “HarvardArts” or “Music 189r” (their chamber music class, I think) on Youtube to get a sense of the playing level of people who probably sent in supplements. Also keep in mind that Harvard/Princeton/Yale have had no problem filling their main orchestras with advanced violinists.

June 14, 2020, 2:11 AM · Stella Chen, a former Harvard/NEC program student, won first place in last year's Queen Elizabeth competition. She was a psychology major at Harvard. https://stellachen.com/
June 14, 2020, 3:31 AM · @Lydia oh wow that is sure impressive! If every year there are a few potential Queen Elisabeth Competition winners submitting arts supplements to Harvard, perhaps I should just give up the prospect of submitting my recordings already haha
Edited: June 14, 2020, 4:02 AM · Maybe I'm too idealist but I say let the colleges get to know you and if violin is a big part of your life then why not?

Unless, your playing is really horrible and you are clueless about it. THAT can hurt you. I'm sure that's not the case here...right?

June 14, 2020, 5:31 AM · Frieda, great to have someone so knowledgeable on this forum, just curious, are you a violin faculty somewhere, or something of that kind? (Your v.com bio info is empty.) Sorry to be curious, just ignore my question if you think it's none of our business :-)
Edited: June 14, 2020, 8:12 PM · You don’t need to be a future Queen Elisabeth winner to submit a supplement and get into Harvard. It’s an academic institution and not Curtis. You’ll be judged on your grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, personal essay, and teacher recommendations.

In general, showing leadership and commitment in any activity is good for a college application. Playing for four years in your school orchestra and serving as concertmaster in your senior year are viewed just as positively as being the captain of your school’s debate team or volleyball team.

Admissions officers have mentioned that the only way they can know where you stand musically is to send a recording. I don’t know if it would hurt to submit a recording - except if you sound much worse and you cluelessly write an essay about how the violin is your whole life. But it won't be terribly helpful at Harvard if the faculty conclude that your playing wouldn't pass the audition for their main orchestra, whose violin section is full of ex-high school concertmasters and includes some nationally competitive players.

June 14, 2020, 12:24 PM · It cannot hurt to submit a recording. It will show that you are not just a bio medical nerd.

You realize that the acceptance rate at harvard is about 6%? What other universities are you applying to?

June 14, 2020, 12:33 PM · I know a violist who applied to Princeton, was borderline academically, and was about a Book 6 level and viola got her in. You never know. I really think it can't hurt to submit it.

Also, at good schools (non-Ivies), you will often get more scholarship money if you submit recordings or do an audition (depends on the school how they do it). I know an oboist who got a full scholarship to a state school if she agreed to play in their orchestra.

June 14, 2020, 1:57 PM · And if you are a wizard at an instrument they might really need a player for -- bassoon, for instance -- your odds of getting in and getting a scholarship will be much higher (though they might ask you to commit to playing in the orchestra). If you're not a music major, be wary of how many hours a week such commitments end up being. (Sometimes it can be better to get a job, money-wise.)

Note that schools that offer a major in performance, or that have a joint program (like Harvard/NEC) will tend to attract a higher caliber of musician into the student body and thus the applicant pool.

Edited: June 14, 2020, 8:12 PM · Also, to answer the question about whether the Arensky trio would be appropriate, it's probably OK. (The first movement would probably work better.) They just want to know how you play. There are applicants who send in videos of themselves playing somewhere in the violin section of a chamber orchestra, or like being the 4th violinist in the Mendelssohn Octet. I think they're trying to steer people away from that.
June 14, 2020, 10:51 PM · Strictly speaking, most liberal arts schools in the US don't do merit scholarships. Conservatories and trade schools, yes. But until recently, it was considered infra dig for ladies' and gentlemen's schools to compete beyond giving financial aid to those who needed it.

That said, there are quite a lot of good places that are doing this now-- certainly more than before. And the pandemic has spewed all kinds of chaos on schools trying to figure out budgets and role in the marketplace next year.

Even without scholarships, though, there will be a moment where some music director wants a good bassoonist or even an adequate violist. And just showing that you're not selling yourself only on test scores has its own value.

June 15, 2020, 7:26 AM · Bruce wrote, "It cannot hurt to submit a recording. It will show that you are not just a bio medical nerd."

Yes. These colleges want to know that you're not a one-dimensional person. That's not true of just Harvard, but obviously their higher standards apply across the board to all aspects of your application.

One more point -- not for Joel, perhaps, but for others reading this thread -- is that smaller institutions that have trouble populating their ensembles with music majors will often offer a scholarship in exchange for agreeing to join the orchestra. I had one of those (for piano) and my daughter was offered one for violin. But they're not large enough to offset the much higher tuition and fees at those places, which are generally private colleges.

Where I teach the string sections of the orchestra are populated mostly by engineering students. Some of the best ones auditioned with Sibelius, etc. The conductor (himself a fine violinist) told me that the (freshman) concertmaster's Tchaik exposition was "impeccable."

What Harvard wants to know, when they read your application, is whether you're the kind of person who, after graduating, will either raise the reputation of the institution with your accomplishment or raise the balance of their endowment with your disposable income.

Edited: June 15, 2020, 11:44 AM · Sometimes by implication they wonder not only if you're going to play in the orchestra but if you're going to be enthusiastic enough to also do other musical things on campus -- to go play in the pit orchestras, to play chamber music for fun, to participate in talent shows or intramural music, to volunteer to teach music to kids in the outreach program, and so forth.

In other words, is your violin-ing turned inward or outward?

June 26, 2020, 9:11 PM · When I applied to Yale undergrad, I sent in supplemental recordings. I have no way of knowing whether those helped me get in, but I'm sure they didn't hurt. If my memory serves, I either sent in some movement(s) of Bach Violin Sonata in D Minor or the 1st movement of the Vieuxtemps Violin Concerto No 5. With academic schools, quality is the most important thing and far outranks quantity. Overall, I'd just say that you should send in a tape that you feel represents you well. It doesn't have to be top-tier conservatory-level, but it should show the music faculty that you can hold your own as an instrumentalist and have something unique to offer.


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