Audition feedback — TMI?

February 8, 2007

I thought it would be of interest to report the feedback I got from our “honest interviews” last week. One student had an audition, and it was not a good one. He could not identify intervals, chord qualities and their inversions, couldn’t sight-sing a melody, and knew very little classical repertoire. I held up the mirror and told him as gently as I could, what he needs to work on if he truly wants to get into a music school.

Two days later, I got an email from someone, perhaps a friend, that ripped me to shreds. “You don’t deserve Max.” My screen was smoking as I read the letter. It occurred to me later, that high school students may not always have the maturity to be hit in the face with their shortcomings. Nor do I trust them to report to their parents what actually was said.

In retrospect, in situations where we want to tell the student what they need to work on, it is probably best done in the presence of the applicant’s parents.

We can afford this luxury as we only interview approximately 15 students from our applicant pool. Doing this in a “cattle call” audition or one where large numbers of applicants are involved is clearly NOT practical. But in smaller situations, I still feel that helping your semi-finalists, or even applicants who are deluded as to what is involved in a music school curriculum, IS useful.

Here is a redacted copy of the letter I sent to Max’s friend and parents.

Dear Friend of Max,

Thank you for your honest reaction to Max’s report about the audition. Although I don’t know who you are, I’m actually glad to hear from you and ask that you send this email on to Max’s parents. I wish that I could have met with them after the audition but time did not permit.

Max is clearly a passionate musician with a great heart and a drive to become a songwriter composer. We did not advise him to abandon his interests in music, or tell him that his compositions were bad. The bulk of the audition was devoted to testing musical skills. We were honest with him in our evaluation. Our suggestions as to how to be better prepared for any future audition were straightforward:

He needs to be able to sight-sing.
He needs to work on hearing intervals, as well as chord qualities and their inversions.
He needs to know more about classical music.
He needs to be able to clap a notated rhythm.
He needs to have a portfolio with music that is in line with what we actually teach.

Our audition is NOT a performance audition, we simply wish to know at what level the student is. We tell all students that we will only be listening to brief passages of their performances. Max was no different.

To be clear, these prerequisites are the same that we hold up for all entering applicants. If the applicant can not do the above mentioned things, they cannot survive as a music major in any music program. We told him what he needs to work on if attending a music school that teaches CLASSICAL musicians is his life goal. I’m sorry if this hurt him, but it is simply true. We made a choice to tell him what to work on, rather than smiling, giving him no feedback, and then later wondering why he was not admitted.

If Max wishes to grow and compete in the world of popular music, no training whatsoever is required for that path, simply determination and music that people want to listen to. The ability to read music and know about classical music is NOT required. The only school that applies to this path it the school of hard knocks.

Max’s musical interests lie primarily in popular music and film music. Unfortunately, we do not offer majors or courses in either of these areas. Max was auditioning for enrollment into a department that is oriented toward traditional classical music: not jazz, pop, or film music. The only school I know that could help guide this interest is Berklee School of Music in Boston, which is excellent. All other music departments, schools and conservatories will require a basic entry level in music knowledge and performance skills.

Please tell Max that we are not the arbiters of taste, but we are certainly qualified to evaluate basic musicianship, and know from that evaluation who will survive in our program and who will not.

Professor Roger Bourland
Chair, Division of Composition
UCLA Department of Music

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