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College Audition Preparation

May 29, 2017

So your student claims they want to be a music major? Never fear! This isn't a dead-end job, they aren't going to starve, but there is a lot of work to be done to make sure that they are set up for success.

 

The most important thing you need to know is that I do not attempt to prepare students on any instrument other than oboe for college auditions.

 

I do not want anyone to be surprised when we start talking about college possibilities  for music majors and I am giving you referrals to other professional teachers/performers in the city. It is important that if your student doesn't play oboe, you listen to this advice. I know my limitations, and preparing for college is an important step that I can only help oboists with.

 

On the other hand, if your student wants to be a music minor, or continue to play "for fun" in college, I will be happy and honored to continue teaching them.

 

Everything from this point on describes the audition process for Oboists, and everything (other than repertoire) will apply to the other instruments as well.

Timeline

 

To give our kids the best chance at college audition success, we need to make the decision to pursue this course at some point during 10th grade. We need all of 11th grade and most of 12th grade to prepare the repertoire required for the entrance auditions. In many cases, the most dedicated students will be talking about pursuing music as a career long before the age of 16, but if the decision isn't made before the start of 11th grade, there just isn't enough time to prepare or accumulate enough experience to compete with the other candidates.

 

*For perspective: by the age of 16, I had already participated in music competitions & festivals since 4th grade, I was playing in two woodwind quintets and was in youth orchestra. I'd had private lessons since the age of 4.

 

Count on your student having to practice 1 1/2 to 2 hours per day to prepare for auditions.

 

  • 10th grade: decide to become a music major, Barrett Etudes (up to #6) & learning all major & minor scales, chromatic scale, Marcello Concerto (movement 1)

  • Summer between 10th & 11th grade: Marcello Concerto (movement 3), Barrett (up to #15), daily sightreading in Sellner Method

  • 11th grade: Begin Ferling Etude book (up to #10 by the end of the year), Vivaldi Concerto (fall semester), Haydn Concerto (spring semester), all major scales with arpeggios

  • Summer between 11th & 12th grade: Ferling up to #15, all major & minor scales with articulation patterns, arpeggios, finish Haydn, begin selected orchestral excerpts

  • 12th grade: Ferling #19 & #20 for auditions, Mozart Concerto (movement 1), repeated practice of Marcello, Vivaldi, Haydn, scale drills with arpeggios, 2 Barrett Etudes to polish, orchestral excerpts (one to memorize), sightreading work in Sellner Method

  • Auditions are usually held between November and March of your senior year, so all this work must be completed by October

Etudes & Scales

 

Oboists need to be able to play several Barrett Etudes by the time they begin auditioning. On the other hand, it's not required that they get through all of the Ferling Etudes. Usually, kids will make it to #20 by the time they audition. This is assuming they practice diligently every week and can keep up with the workload.

 

Most kids give up on becoming music majors when they realize the amount of practicing required, and become frustrated when they find out etudes are a huge part of the audition. You will have to play at least one etude at your audition. If a college still requires a separate scholarship audition, you may be required to play two etudes for that.

 

All music candidates are able to play all the major and minor scales with their arpeggios, and a chromatic scale over the working range of the instrument. You will be asked to play many scales & arpeggios in the audition.

 

Repertoire

 

All prospective college students will have to play the Marcello Concerto in c minor (1st & 3rd movements), the 1st movement of the Mozart Concerto, one of the Vivaldi Concertos (F, a or d), and all of the Haydn Concerto in C. Anything extra we work on, you can add to your audition list.

 

When you walk in to an audition, you bring with you a stack of music and the jury will decide what you will play right there on the spot. If you haven't been working on this music for the previous 2 years, it becomes difficult to play these pieces on demand and under pressure.

 

You may be asked, at some of the more serious music schools, to play orchestral excerpts. When you decide which schools you will audition, we will approach only the excerpts they require.

 

Sightreading

 

You will be asked to sightread in your audition. This is why we practice sightreading each week (by playing duets). You can practice sightreading by purchasing the Sellner Etude Book that I ask all my oboists to purchase, and by practicing the scale exercises at the beginning of the Barrett Book.

 

Do not put off purchasing the music which I assign for your auditions.

 

Auditions, on average, take 45-60 minutes, and may include a short lesson with the teacher, a coaching by another member of faculty, and may also require you to play with a staff accompanist without rehearsal.

Scholarships

 

It is true that oboists receive a large proportion of scholarships compared to the other instruments and other majors. But it is not a given that you will receive one just because you play the oboe. More important than natural talent, is exceptional dedication to your instrument, an aptitude for learning and a pleasant demeanor in your audition/interview. You may be asked, in a separate scholarship audition, to sightread; you may be asked questions about the composers of the pieces you played, you may be asked about musical time periods and basic music theory.

 

Students who decide to be music minors may also qualify for scholarships, and even those students who choose a different major can still audition for a scholarship. Most schools, though, require that you take weekly lessons and join one of their ensembles to receive and keep an oboe scholarship.

 

Financial Aid

 

As a step-parent to two college age boys, I know that paying for college is a huge concern. Loans are an overwhelming burden none of us need, yet who can afford to send their kid to college these days? The only advice I can give on this is that you research how much a school costs before your application & audition. Do not set your heart on an expensive college that you know you cannot afford if there is no scholarship or financial aid. And remember: it can also get very expensive just to apply to the schools.

 

My teachers gave me the best advice: apply to three schools 1) the safety school, 2) the ideal school, one you are sure to get in to and can afford (or get a scholarship), and 3) the dream school. Research and choose these schools carefully. You don't want your safety school to be something you'll be unhappy attending, and you don't want your dream school to be something that you can't resist despite the financial situation. Please talk to me about your school options.

 

Don't discount your ability to negotiate for bigger scholarships and awards from the schools. Two years ago, I had a student negotiate for bigger awards -- pitting two schools against each other in a competition to court her. She managed to raise the award from the school she ultimately attended to an amount that made the price manageable for her parents. Do not underestimate your power when an oboist is on the line for a school!

 

I have also written many letters of recommendation on the behalf of students looking to be music minors or to continue lessons in college. Never hesitate to ask me for more help in getting your kid into the school of their choice no matter what they ultimately choose as their major.

What major should your consider?

 

There are very few Performance Majors who actually make a living only playing their instrument. There are hundreds of talented oboists in the US working their way through music school, and vying for only a handful of orchestral jobs upon graduation. It is so rare to land a permanent position in a full-time, salaried orchestra, that you need to figure out how to support yourself in the meantime. Most musicians teach lessons to supplement their income or work at music stores, and some oboists actually make a modest living selling handmade oboe reeds. To have a Performance Degree is to make the bet that you will be a full-time working musician.

 

But for most people, this is a little too uncertain and not a risk they are willing to take. I recommend that all students, regardless of their talent or ultimate goal, apply for a Music Education Major (or a double Performance/Music Education Degree). You have all the same experiences in college (weekly lessons, membership in the orchestra/band, all the same classes in theory & history, etc.) but with the added bonus of being able to play all the band & orchestral instruments, and you will be certified to teach in the public schools (in your college's state) immediately upon graduation.

 

In the end, this is a "safer" route that leaves you in a better position to make a living while you pursue a career as a performer. I have seen many performance majors so disheartened by their lack of opportunities in music that they take a "day job" and leave music completely. Meanwhile, those who teach have the freedom to look for playing gigs without the pressure of worrying about income.

 

Please talk to me more about this because it's important you consider all the options before choosing your major. And please do not choose a major without talking to me.

Just remember: preparing for college is serious business. If your student shows a distaste for practicing or seems ambivalent toward their instrument, it's never too late to reconsider. It's better that they pursue a major in college they are passionate about, something they cannot live without doing. It's better to realize this before they start college than be trapped in a major they don't enjoy.

 

Leonard Bernstein once said that if you have to decide whether or not you want to be a musician, then you're not one.

 

Those kids who want to be music majors have a long, but very fun road ahead of them!

 

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