Preparing for Graduate School Part 1: Why and Where?

Recently, I have finished auditioning for graduate schools pursuing a degree in music performance. After the exhausting process I reflected on what I did right, what I wish I knew, and how others could be more prepared and know what to expect.

The process of applying and auditioning for a Master’s program can be extensive, but with the right preparation the audition process can be a simplified and encouraging experience. The first of the four posts I will write on graduate auditions will focus on what you want to get out of a graduate degree, whether or not it is right for you, and where you should apply and focus your energy.

Why?

  • Do you hope to land a job with an orchestra, a service band, as an educator, entrepreneur, etc.?
  • If so, which degree will help you achieve these goals?
  • Where should you apply and why?

Generally, a performance degree will prepare you for the world of orchestras, service bands, chamber groups, and equip you to be competitive in professional auditions. For this reason, I chose to apply for a Master’s in Music Performance in order to pursue a career in a service band, and also to continue my education in hopes of becoming a college professor.

When choosing which degree you want to pursue, ask yourself this: “What do I want to get out of these two years, rather than “What can this degree do for me?” You will have a much more proactive experience in your college career if you seek out and make your own opportunities rather than waiting for employment to come your way.

Now, where?

This requires careful consideration but most of all, requires that you learn about the main professor of study and if possible meet/take a lesson with that person. Always ask even if you may not get the answer you want. Things to consider when choosing where to apply:

  • Who is the professor? What is their performance and teaching experience like? Is it similar to what you hope to attain?
  • Do you see your relationship with your professor being professional and encouraging?
  • What are the performance opportunities like in the city/town?
  • How are the ensembles?
  • Is there a Teaching Assistant or Fellowship position? Scholarships?
  • What is the studio like? Size?
  • Does the school specialize in orchestral music, band, performance, education, etc?
  • Who is on faculty? Do they match up with your ideals for a career and music education?
  • How are the facilities? Practice rooms?
  • Finally… is this a place I’m gonna dig? There might be a school with great faculty, professor, facilities, but if you don’t see an enriching environment with students and faculty members sharing positive attitudes, take that into consideration. After all, this is a time of development and refining of skills and attitudes.

All of these questions are meant to aid in successful preparation for your audition and help make the graduate process much smoother. The next post will cover questions and considerations on musical, mental, and application preparation in the months prior to your audition!

Disney All-American College Band: First 2 Weeks

A few months ago I had the opportunity to audition for the Disney All-American College Band with a few colleagues from George Mason University. Among many qualified candidates, I was fortunate to be accepted into the program.

Now it is 4 months after the audition, and I am in Los Angeles for the summer performing with the greatest musicians I have ever had the pleasure to work with. In the following posts, I will chronicle my experiences and hope to give some insight for future students auditioning into this wonderful program.

Upon arrival in Fullerton CA (where our dorms are located at Cal State Fullerton) I moved into my room with 4 other members of the 21-piece band. After a few days of Disney orientation, we began our first day of a 2-week rehearsal period. The mornings began with a few hours of music rehearsal with Dr. Ron McCurdy. After the morning music session comes the rigorous 6 hours of choreography rehearsal. We are required to have the “book” (our music for 4 of the 5 shows of each day) memorized upon arrival in California. It is a daunting task for anyone but it can be done.

After syncing the music with our newly learned choreography, the polished show is brought to the overnight rehearsal. This is the only time the band can rehearse in the park without guests being around. We arrive at Disney at 11pm, down some cups of coffee, and prepare to run and clean the shows in the park until 7am. After a much needed day off, we are onto our first performance!

What has amazed me so far is the level of musicianship and attention to detail that each individual has displayed. Despite hours of rigorous rehearsal and focus throughout the day, we return home to our dorms weary and continue to practice, and refine. Our director, Dr. McCurdy always says “we are not perfect, but striving for perfection”. We will continue to perfect until our last day.

©2014 Andrew Dougherty

©2014 Andrew Dougherty

Performance Majors: Sound

During a recent lesson I had with one of my professors, we discussed the expectations that should be held for performance majors. One idea struck me as so simple but something I believe is often overlooked.

This little nugget of wisdom was as follows: the sound out of the horn should always be recording quality.

That is not to say that every note, rhythm or articulation will be spot on every time, but that the tone remains of utmost quality during practice or performance. This kind of dedication to great sound will often strengthen other weaknesses in playing.

What other expectations should be held for performance majors?

Always knew it would help me play better. ©2014doughertytuba

Always knew it would help me play better. ©2014doughertytuba

Virtue Series: Originality & Energy

“There is no art without intention. You have to play with intent to commit something.” – Duke Ellington

Originality and passion in what you do is something I feel very strongly about. We have all been told to imitate before you create, but maintaining individuality and style is what makes music so diverse and interesting. The virtue of energy in your work is imperative; be passionate about your efforts, and you will have success.

What is the point of doing something if no passion exists in it? Be it a mundane task or something more lively, if the energy is not in the product or the work, the outcome will suffer. Let your work inspire and be inspired by others.

In short, creativity is multiplied with energy and passion. Pursue new outlets or styles, and always learn, for every experience has value.

How has creativity changed your work/product?20130712-113328.jpg

Virtue Series: Teamwork/Collaboration

As the second installment in the Virtue Series, I will be focusing on the great teamwork I experienced at the Savvy Musician in Action Retreat, and how that collaboration helped me grow and lead our team to create an idea much larger than any individual ever could have developed. This virtue is one I cannot oversell; the ability to work as a member of a team and collaborate effectively is vital to career success.

Teamwork/Collaboration

As mentioned in the first Virtue post, Virtue Series, during the retreat, teams were challenged with building a functional and sustainable business model in 2 and a half days. In order to complete this task and yield a quality product, using each unique trait all six of us brought to the table was paramount. While I may be able to operate a blog, my tech skills are quite limited, while another member of the team was an IT specialist by day. With an established composer on the team, we had extensive knowledge of the market for our product, and the financial whit of a chamber ensemble leader.

Each member of the team offered a unique perspective to each problem and played a vital role in each solution. The virtue here is teamwork. Oftentimes the best solution can be reached by the most diverse group. To best summarize how effective collaboration can be done, I have included bulleted points, merely suggestions.

  • Listen to everyone, respect what they say
  • Include your thoughts, but be respectful
  • When a fork in the road is met, do not be afraid to pivot
  • All ideas are worthy of further thought
  • Delegate and do your part

The more you put into life, the more you get out.

How else can musicians collaborate with eachother? Classical, Jazz, Rock, etc?

The LinkNewMusic Team at our presentation.

The LinkNewMusic Team at our presentation.

Virtue Series

Recently, I had the fortune to attend David Cutler’s inaugural “Savvy Musician in Action” retreat where 57 musicians, entrepreneurs, and educators gathered to collaborate and learn about arts entrepreneurship. The knowledge and experience I gained are vast and will continue to influence my career.

This is the first post in a 5 part-series called Virtue Series, where I will detail the highlights of what I learned at the retreat: patience, teamwork/collaboration, originality & energy, inspiration & creativity, and networking & marketing. Each of these will be contextualized for the modern, aspiring musician. Look for each virtue to be published weekly, on Thursdays.

Patience

The core task arts entrepreneurs were faced with at the retreat was to develop a viable business model to fill a niche in the market. With only 2 days to develop, prototype, present and prove functionality of the business, teams were forced to operate rapidly. However, patience was absolutely imperative in finding the niche to be filled and how the business was to function effectively. The development of a poor idea due to impatience and hasty action is finite.

This virtue is true for all musicians, not just entrepreneurs. Patience and persistence in the practice room yields positive results. I have often witnessed that the jump in progress comes just after I nearly lose my patience. Next time you find yourself at your whit’s end, be patient and persist, a solution might be right around the corner.

What other benefits does patience have? How can you implement these in your career?