Hi everyone. I am so thankful for any guidance! My son is a junior in high school and we are narrowing down his choices of where to apply as well as figuring out what pieces he will audition with and I have questions. A little background: my son has been playing piano since he was 4 and violin since he was 5 (he begged me, no professional musicians in my family). He auditioned for and was successfully accepted to play with the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra at 6 years old and has been with an orchestra since. He will be auditioning on the violin, which is his preferred instrument, although he still plays the piano currently and receives lessons. The last piece he played was Hayden Concerto in G major with a string quartet (his teacher and some adult players of the community orchestra he is a part of). I asked him how long he prepared the piece and he said 6 months, during which time he also played three orchestra concerts, a fall music festival and a recital. He is the most advanced student his current teacher has had and the music teacher has a PhD but didn’t decide to major in music until he was in college so has no experience with undergraduate auditions and told me my son would have a hard time getting a seat at a large university orchestra because he would have to compete with graduate students who are tons better. (I can only imagine this to be absolutely true.) I’m just curious if my son would even be competitive among freshman at schools like Lawrence University or Vanderbilt’s Blair school of music. I’ll say, he probably doesn’t practice as much as he should, but always practices enough to play well when he needs to. I really just want to know if he’s at all competitive for a music school, and am not sure what information might help you make that determination. Again, thank you so much for any guidance you can provide.Tweet
What is it that your son imagines himself doing in music in 5 to 10 years? A career as a high school orchestra director is eminently attainable; a career in performance is going to require a lot of catching up and a steep learning curve just to be competitive, no success guaranteed.
By way of comparison, last year I had two students who successfully auditioned for the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas, a competitive music school but not top-tier. One played the first movement of Saint-Saens #3 and the other played the first movement of Wieniawski #2. Both played the Adagio from the Bach g minor solo sonata.
It might be helpful for your son to play for a teacher who has experience preparing students for auditions, to get informed advice. It’s nearly impossible to give specific advice without hearing him play.
My daughter’s violin teacher is successful in getting his students into highly competitive schools, both for music and non-music majors. The kids going in as non- music majors (for instance one went to Princeton for Physics), submit a highly polished piece as a supplement. Whether it helps us somewhat dependent on luck. If the school needs oboe players to round out their entering class, the kid would be out of luck, but not if they’re looking for a violinist or violist (possibly).
Doesn't look like a performance audition i.e. Bach, concertos etc. But I expect the same general advice about working with folks who are experienced with students entering conservatory for composition would apply, as well as relevant experience, summer programs, etc.
Makes me wonder if many/most composers these days are also performers at least in the early part of their career. My daughter's teacher's husband is a fairly well-known composer, and that has me wondering if composers mentor high school students the same way that instrumental teachers teach playing, or if it is an entirely different world.
Interesting topic that I obviously know nothing about!
We have just gone through the whole audition process for violin, and I will tell you it is definitely not for the faint of heart. It is also very costly. If he truly wants to do this, you need to start the process NOW, and I would start that by getting a new teacher who knows how to navigate the process. Another really helpful thing is the book College Prep for Musicians (Bosler/Greene).
Most kids start their audition repertoire spring of junior year, because it needs to be recorded and submitted by 12/1 in most cases. The requirements vary by school, so you will have to look closely at the schools you are interested in and figure out what is needed. Standard is 1 movement of a concerto and 1-2 movements of solo Bach. Many schools also ask for an etude/caprice, a movement of a Mozart concerto, or a modern piece.
I'm not entirely clear on your son's level -- Haydn is a piece usually played by elementary and middle school kids, and the etude you mention is not standard rep, so hard to assess. If you can post his playing or a list of what he has played recently, that would help.
There are threads on here from the past that talk about the various Tiers of music schools, of which there is little agreement. But if Haydn is truly his most advanced piece, you are probably looking at non-flagship state schools in level. The better state schools would probably be closer to the level of Bruch concerto 1st movement at minimum. In my son's studio, one kid applied to Lawrence with a solid Saint Saens concerto and was very competitive. The kids I know who have been accepted to Blair recently were a higher level than that -- one played Brahms, the other Sibelius, though I feel like they are some of the better players there.
Your son is pretty far behind in planning (and possibly playing -- hard to know), and you might consider a gap year so he can study with a quality teacher next year and then apply the year after that.
Your guidance has been invaluable. Thank you!
The thing about the computer music is funny. A classmate's son started recording music for Roblox games in 7th grade and after he finished high school it is his full time job. It's certainly a different world...
Go to college for electronic music and music production and computer science. Consider Virginia Tech. It's not that hard to gain admission here in music (a LOT harder in computer science, just to warn you) and I think we have a decent program -- in that area of music. While he's here he can explore violin lessons with our violin professor or piano lessons with one of our piano professors. Our program is not pumping out orchestra section players.
Freshman (9th grade): 14-15
Sophomore (10th grade): 15-16
Junior (11th grade): 16-17
Senior (12th grade): 17-18
(just reflecting on my own unwritten "memoir.")
Paul also made a good suggestion about electronic music, music production, etc. Our local community college has a commercial music program that turns out high level working professionals who, again, don’t have to cobble together a living sans benefits as many traditional musicians do.
I understand why children are driven so hard to get to a professional level by the time they're teenagers. If you want to be a professional classical musician, you'd better be on your way by the time you're in second grade, I get it. But there's an interesting consequence for driving children that hard, which I saw in my years of teaching music at the university level.
When I describe the pedagogy as "medieval," what I mean is that all of the training/information is installed by adults into children. I was always struck by the fact that music students expected their teachers to tell them everything they had to know, at the expense of their own creativity and imagination. It really hit me, reading Stan Yates' comment about what a composition student applying to Julliard is supposed to provide for admission. The only thing I had to do to become a music major (because I started a semester late) was that the chair of the department handed me the final for the first semester of music theory and said I had to get a passing grade. I got 100%, so I was in. Now, when I was growing up, my piano teacher was a garden-variety sort who wasn't producing concert pianists and was confused by the fact that I just assumed that I should be composing music, even at age 7. As for the violin, I was forbidden from having/playing a violin in the house (my dad was not a music fan), and so I bought one from a friend in high school and taught myself in secret, only playing when I was alone at home. Boy, were my parents surprised when I was packing to go to college, and pulled out my violin and started playing! By the time I went to college, I could play piano, violin, flute, trumpet, guitar, banjo, and mandolin. I was going to college to be a lawyer though, so they were relieved that at least I wasn't going to be a musician (haha). Until I announced at the end of my first year that I had switched my major to music composition. That was fun.
I was surprised at how conservative the other composition students were. They jumped through all the hoops their teachers put in front of them, never listened to or studied popular music, or other oral music traditions, and my interest in American vernacular music seemed strange to them (and my teachers), but at that point I was playing the entire Scott Joplin oeuvre with forays into Gottschalk and James P. Johnson. I took a semester abroad in Ireland and got started on Irish traditional fiddling. I assumed that the study of music was the study of ALL music, but that is not the case of course. Nevertheless, students who had been going strong at age 5, and were skilled at jumping through whatever hoop was put in front of them, certainly did well in the classical music scene, but they were almost incapable of thinking for themselves. You say to one of these kids--"Can you improvise a twelve-bar blues?" and a look of terror washes over their face. Critical thinking is not a strong suit in the discipline, in my opinion.
This may not matter much to a virtuoso who is trained to play anything put in front of them, but it sure explains why "new music" is generally, uh, problematic for audiences. The composers I went to school with, especially in grad school, were very smart and capable but they were encouraged to compose music in the mold of contemporary academic composition, not be creative artists in their own right --they were skilled mechanics who could execute what their teachers provided to them as tasks. I quickly saw what was necessary, and delivered my "assignments" but my actual artistic work was on my own time. And at that point I was a pro who had released records and such, so yeah, I resented that a little. Of course, most of my teachers had themselves been through this same process, as had their teachers. This is not a group who questioned authority. They assumed it.
Fast forward to my teaching world music courses and my other role in the department--any strange music student in the program would be sent to me--a songwriter, say, or a blues guitar player, or any other musician who wasn't a classical virtuoso or jazz player (and don't get me started on the destructive influence classical pedagogy has had on jazz). Often I worked with other professors outside the music department (theater, creative writing, etc.) to build a program for those students. At first, the courses I taught were not exclusively for music majors, but then eventually the accrediting organizations required my university to include "world music" in the curriculum, and that became my job. Most of my students were so poorly educated (as were their teachers) that much of what I presented was deeply disturbing to them. My first "module" was presenting the essential (in a traditional global sense) roles of musicians as shamans (who connect the human and spiritual worlds) and bards (who remember history, cultural information, and thus are extremely important in their cultures). I had students complaining that I was teaching Satanic rituals in my course, and their teachers uncritically accepted their stories. I was called into the chair's office and confronted with a rumor that I had said in my class that I didn't like classical music. I laughed and told the guy that he must have heard this from our flute professor, who was deeply alarmed by the content of my world music "module." I told the chair that we have the First Amendment in this country and I can say whatever I like in my class, and he would be more than welcome to visit (none of my colleagues had ever seen me teach), though I hadn't said this (I believe it was a twisted version of my observation that European music values what can be notated over what cannot, so the emphasis is on architecture and harmony, in contrast to other music traditions)--this was before Ron DeSantis of course. I said that I would leave his office, and we would never talk about this again. And the next semester I was let go after teaching for them for a couple of decades.
Still, for training classical virtuosi, the system works great. As for making them relevant outside their field... not so great. And if you wonder why "new music" reaches such a tiny audience, there's the reason. And this is why I say that academic music is a sick puppy, and seems doomed never to reform itself. We still insist on teaching dodecaphonic analysis and composition, for example... not because it's relevant but because it has numbers and so looks like "science." And of course, our teacher's teacher had to learn it.
As for Eliza Clark's son, it sounds like you are making good choices. My son is an accomplished guitarist, but he went to college for another course of study. They have a wonderful jazz guitar teacher, though, and my son has flourished as a player with this guy, but he is freed from the hoops that the music students must jump through, and as a result he is far beyond them as a jazz musician.
I think excluding so much music from serious academic study is deeply problematic, because it excludes large groups of people without access to the preparation that is deemed necessary. I mean, how many kids have access to the means to fill that portfolio to study composition at Julliard? It doesn't affect classical performance so much, since that requires that preparation, but I think it hamstrings the study of composition--which in most academic settings is not a very creative environment for experimentation as well as education. I always envied the creative writing, visual arts, and theater fields in that way, but they have led the way in being open to more diverse traditions, expressions, and individual students. Music evolved in academia to be the study of European music, and in general has held tightly to that agenda. I see cracks open up here and there, and am hopeful for some reform in the music field. We shall see.
Regardless, there's a vast gulf between a person who says "I can't imagine music not being a part of my life" and someone who says, "Music is the reason for my existence."
An intermediate-level violinist is probably like an intramural softball player, from the standpoint of college admissions. Nobody much cares, other than in the context of maybe demonstrating some broad extracurricular interests (but not particular ability, since 10 years of serious playing without much achievement isn't necessarily going to be regarded as a positive mark).
However, an intermediate-level violinist can enjoy playing in a community orchestra, playing in quartets (likely as a second violinist), and so forth, as an adult amateur. A high schooler at the intermediate level can benefit from continuing to take lessons in college (or resuming lessons in adulthood) in hopes of continuing to improve technically and, ideally, becoming an advanced player.
Scott Cole here likes to say that you shouldn't ruin a perfectly good hobby by turning it into a profession.
Look for a school where there's good teaching and music participation for nonmajors (i.e. they can study with a prof and not just a grad student).
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