As a professor, performer, and life-long student of music, I am completely empathetic to the rigors and stresses of college and conservatory auditions. Their requirements and deadlines vary from school to school which only adds to the complexity of the student’s first interaction with many of these musical institutions.
In listening to undergraduate auditions, I try to assess natural ability, level of training, aesthetic, emotional relationship to repertoire, and performative acumen. I am frequently asked about the importance of repertoire selection for auditions. The Jacobs School Viola Department has repertoire guidelines that are not so restrictive. For instance, in regards to incoming freshmen, we ask them to prepare two contrasting pieces. Transfer students are asked to prepare two movements of a solo Bach work and another solo of their choice.
A challenge for high school violists is finding this “sweet spot” of balancing one’s level of playing accomplishment with music selection. Our major twentieth century viola concertos, Walton, Hindemith, and Bartok, require a very high level of technical and musical sophistication. I believe that it is much better to give a commanding performance of repertoire that is less challenging rather than pushing through a harrowing attempt of music that stretch the bounds of an applicant’s abilities. At an undergraduate audition, I am looking for elements to build upon during the typical four-year degree program.
At the graduate level, one begins to look for musical promise for future successful work in the profession. At this point, the audition requirements are much more demanding. Technical abilities, musical accomplishment, and personality are important for review of a graduate level student. Repertoire selection that reflects the standard fare and also that reflects the unique musical tastes of the applicant is important.
Another important part of our application is the written essay. My colleagues and I read this carefully during the process to gauge an applicant’s character and personality. After all, we are training complex young people with which we will have contact on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. I am particularly drawn to students who express their originality, interests, and drive.
Personally, I have been committed over the years to recruit, teach and mentor underrepresented minority students. At the start of their college journey to become their best selves, these students frequently encounter unique socio-cultural and socio-economic barriers. Providing all students support and encouragement enables the development of effective leaders, diverse perspectives, and successful performers. All are critical in sustaining classical music’s relevancy and responding to the culturally diverse needs of the world around us.
The applying, auditioning, and entering an undergraduate or graduate school is an ever more complicated and protracted endeavor. Just know that the faculty who adjudicate these auditions were once students themselves. I can say that everyone involved wants you to do your best and fulfill your promise.