on closed doors

15BRUNI-blog427

Hello again, dear readers! I’m back to posting after taking a month off to focus on auditions, and I know many of you have just finished the same process. Admissions decisions will be rolling in within the next few weeks, determining where we will be for the next 2-4 years–but unfortunately, for many of us, there will inevitably be some rejection letters in the mix. That’s why I wanted to re-share this article, published almost a year ago exactly, in which Frank Bruni raises some excellent points on the benefits of taking second-choice paths.

People bloom at various stages of life, and different individuals flourish in different climates….For every person whose contentment comes from faithfully executing a predetermined script, there are at least 10 if not 100 who had to rearrange the pages and play a part they hadn’t expected to, in a theater they hadn’t envisioned. Besides, life is defined by setbacks, and success is determined by the ability to rebound from them. And there’s no single juncture, no one crossroads, on which everything hinges.

This goes far beyond easing disappointment with “sour grapes” excuses. Personally, I think rejection has been one of the most strengthening elements in my life. Sure, it sucks in the moment–but it teaches you resilience; it gives you the assurance that you are pursuing your passion for the right reasons, and not because of any external validation; it trains you to face reality and accept all its good and bad parts with open arms.

Best of luck to all of us. Read the full article here.

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applying for grad school: timeline and resources

So you’re thinking about taking the next academic step in pursuing a musical career! Good for you! There are some big factors to keep in mind when deciding to apply for a master’s degree in music:

  • applying during your senior year of undergrad allows you to take advantage of the momentum you have while still in school.
  • taking a gap year allows you to prepare for auditions/work and save some money/explore new things. As my friend Emilie says, “Applying is a long process of both physical and mental preparation. Taking a gap year is okay because it might make your audition way better and you won’t be so pressed for time. But don’t force yourself to apply right now just because you decided you wanted to go to grad school.” 
  • money for grad school–both applying and attending–is a very real and practical concern, and grad school may present some different financial situations. Emilie: “Different for different people, but maybe it’s more expensive (like if you go from public university to conservatory, or move out, or parents stop paying for your tuition). Application process is expensive – $85 app fee + prescreening fee = over $100 per application – choose wisely!

Once you’ve decided to move forward with your decision to apply (exciting!), here is a general timeline, list of documents you will probably need, and resources to make your application process a little easier (i.e., keep you from tearing your hair out and sinking into a puddle of depression and Doritos).

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“Can’t act. Balding. Can dance a little.”

Bob Landry, Fred Astaire in “Puttin’ on the Ritz” (1945) (source)

The quote in the title of this post is probably one you’ve heard before–it was supposedly said about Fred Astaire in one of his early screen tests for RKO Radio Pictures. Little did RKO know at the time that Astaire’s career as a Hollywood star would soon skyrocket.

Music is like any other art: if you’re putting yourself out there, you will likely face rejection and elimination far more often than you will face acceptance letters and first prizes. But this list of rejection letters–to artists, musicians, and writers whose works are now known worldwide–may boost your morale by providing behind-the-scenes perspective to modern success stories. This isn’t an unrealistic, feel-good, overblown motivational speech with the message of, “Keep trying! You could be the next Evgeny Kissin/Meryl Streep/Joshua Bell/Jackson Pollock!” But it should encourage you to know that even the best of the best face rejection and failure. It should motivate you to know that, despite the fact that some people may not appreciate what you have to offer, you can make it work for yourself in your field, with enough determination, creativity, and flexibility.

Fall seven times, get up eight.

Audition advice.

Rodgers, Berlin, Hammerstein, and Helen Tamiris, watching auditions at the St. James Theatre (source)

Many student musicians are now feeling that heart-quickening mixture of excitement and dread as they enter the school audition season. They pack their best clothes and travel to strange cities to play in front of strangers for fifteen minutes…and then return home to await the answer, all the while praying fervently for a positive one.

Auditioning for schools isn’t an easy process, but there are some things we can do to feel more at ease and successful throughout the process. I’m by no means an old hand at auditioning, but I’ve been lucky enough to have been on the receiving end of valuable audition advice.

  1. Practice the audition, not just the music. You’ve likely been investing hours into the preparation of your pieces, but hold mock auditions–multiple times–by inviting friends, family, and/or colleagues to sit in front of you and watch you play your audition pieces. Have them follow the audition process by stopping you in the middle of a piece, telling you which piece to play next, and selecting movements in random order.
  2. Visualize a successful audition. This ties into the mock audition: by imagining yourself in a strange studio or auditorium, playing in front of judges, your actual audition will seem less like foreign territory. Rather than putting energy into fears and worries about the unknown, program your mind with positive mental images.
  3. Practice calmly. Especially on audition day, resist the urge to rush through your pieces beginning to end. Play through them slowly and mindfully, start at different sections, and review problem spots calmly and carefully for confidence’s sake.
  4. Don’t apologize for mistakes. A friend once made the astute observation that competitions are about a single performance, but auditions are about potential. Teachers and judges understand that the audition process is nerve-racking, and they don’t expect flawless performances. Rather than letting technical slips distract you, accept the mistake and move on as quickly as possible. Music is a living, breathing, emotional art, and you’re not there to show that you can play a Beethoven sonata without missing any notes–you’re there to show that you’ve worked hard and that you’re passionate about and invested in music.
  5. Be memorable. The faculty might see dozens of hopeful students in a day, and hundreds of them in a month. Besides ensuring that your musical interpretation is logical, creative, and nuanced, it might help to put yourself in the shoes of a businessperson. Dress well. Show your personality. Look people in the eye. Walk with confidence and purpose. If you have the opportunity to talk with the faculty, try to ask thoughtful questions.
  6. Be an artist. Finally, remember that passing a single audition is not the final destination. What judges think of you is secondary to your own convictions about, and love for, music. One of the things that helped me the most when auditioning for grad school was hearing a friend advise me to imagine myself as a touring musician, concertizing in new and exciting cities. That image of being an established artist, sharing music in front of fresh audiences, inspired me to care more about my music, to infuse my interpretation with more personal creativity. I once heard a quote similar to: “Practicing is the work. Performing should be the enjoyment.” Imagine your audition as a performance, another chance to express yourself through art, and it will be a more positive process for you (and the judges too!).

Finally, a quote from another field which deals with auditions, on not worrying too much about the audition process and accepting whatever the outcome may be:

“They are dying for you to blow them away. They’re on your side. What do you think—they want to go through hundreds of people and settle? No. Just do what you do. Either you’re right for the part or you’re not—let them decide.” –Ian Tucker, acting coach

Further reading:
The Violin Site – Fearless Audition
Bulletproof Musician – What is the Most Overlooked Step in Audition Preparation?

What’s your best audition tip?