Why didn’t I get in?

February 6, 2009

A few weeks ago, an applicant to our undergraduate program in music composition emailed me, complaining that he was rejected without an explanation. I wrote him back an email that seemed to answer his questions, but I then did something I had never done: I offered him a free lesson.

He came today for his lesson. We talked for a while, I looked at some of his new pieces, and he reminded me what pieces were in his application. Here were his problems, and these problems were common to other applications:

1. He didn’t have any performances by people; all of his “performances” were computer playback. He doesn’t participate in the musical process. I told him to GO to that oboe recital instead of partying with his friends; befriend performers and offer to write pieces for those you admire.

2. Besides UCLA, he applied to three other schools, known for the modernist tendencies. I told him that it was unlikely that he would be admitted to those schools, writing the way he writes. I encouraged him to not be disappointed because the teachers he would be working with there, would not approve of the music he is writing (nor did I see any interest on the student’s part to embrace their esthetic).

3. His music had no performance detail, other than notes and rhythms: no tempo, no dynamics, no articulation. No description as to how the piece should go. I sang one passage and showed how it might be faster or slower, or louder or softer, or with different articulation to make the point; and each, a different musical utterance.

But the component most lacking, was being involved with other musicians. Music is a social art, and if you don’t like people, you are in the wrong art. Young composers can’t just sit at home at their computers, churning out music for no one. Music must be for warm bodies; for live performers who play music by living composers for a live audience.


On second thought: I disagree. Music CAN be for live people and such, but it is just fine on an iPod, a personal home sound system, or as a pre-canned soundtrack for dance, theater, movies and such. I do feel strongly that experience with real instruments and live performers is invaluable.

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Why I Didn’t Let You In « Amaranth Arthouse Music
February 15, 2009 at 2:51 pm

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