Honest auditions?

February 5, 2007

We have just finished auditioning potential students for our undergraduate composition program at UCLA. Traditionally, at the end of the interview, we have not told the students our assessment of their audition. They simply found out later that they were either accepted or not. This year, I decided to give students who were way off the mark, exactly what they need to work on in order to get into music departments.

You need to know more Classical repertoire.
You need to be able to identify chord qualities and their inversions.
You need to be able to hear intervals.
You need to be able to sight-sing.
You need to work on your sense of rhythm.

The alternative is to say nothing, and then the student only imagines what was insufficient in his or her audition. The force of one of these criticisms can be devastating to the applicant. It hurts hearing this news. Dreams of being a musician can sometimes evaporate with “You need to be able to hear intervals.” We, the auditioners, are only holding up a mirror that the student needs to see. But this is delicate business: auditioners, if they choose to hold up this mirror, must be sensitive, compassionate, and firm.

I had a teacher once who advised a student s/he had no business going into music. The next day, the student committed suicide. The university, known for good lawyers and liberal attitudes, scolded him, but he kept his job.

I’m not paid enough to tell ANYONE that they have no business going into music. Academic freedom affords me the option of smiling to an auditioner, saying “thanks for coming in,” or being honest and saying “You need to work on your sight-singing.”

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rogerbourland.com » Blog Archive » Audition feedback — TMI?
February 8, 2007 at 12:01 pm

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cs1966 February 6, 2007 at 10:20 am

Roger –

Excellent points about auditions and rejections. I remember being rejected for primary piano study at a very competitive conservatory and was distraught about it. It had me distrust any future teachers I had because when I was a child all my mediocre teachers inflated my level of capability because I showed much “talent.”

At 40, I still have this insecurity even though I am studying with two good teachers. One of the greatest technological tools (IF USED WISELY!) to address this partly is the tape recorder. I think that any young, intermediate student serious about music should tape record themselves and play it to others early on. This can save much time and money with well-meaning but mediocre teachers or with ones’ own wasteful and harmful practice techniques.

When I heard a recording of my organ playing recently I heard some good things but also was shocked by how variable my tempi were on some works due to either unnecessary tension about a “tough spot” or lack of feel for the musical pulse. This is a bit off topic but for many musicians the feel of the musical pulse is sooo important but usually takes much time to communicate. After the notes and their values are learned with proper articulations and dynamics, often the musical pulse suffers due to myopia from focus on these details. However, I find everything falls into place and any true problem points are easily identified once you play or sing a work with the correct pulse or “tactus” as my teacher says. A great example is Howell’s choral anthem My eyes for beauty pine (or, many Howell anthems which sound easy in performance but are not)where the accompaniment provides many quarter notes while the meter alternates between 6/4 and 7/4. The only way to play it is to communicate the alternating half and dotted half note pulses throughout. Not easy.

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