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. Check out part two which covers questions and considerations on musical, mental, and application preparation in the months prior to your audition!

Alan Baer Masterclass

Recently I had the opportunity to hear Alan Baer, Principal Tubist of the New York Philharmonic, give a masterclass at the Army Tuba and Euphonium Conference here in DC. I will keep my own anecdotes short and simple, but I must say how down-to-earth Alan was; if he cracked a note, he blew it off or laughed saying “even the best of us do it”. His masterclass focused on orchestral audition preparation and repertoire. As he said “We play for these auditions, and 99% of the time, we are the only tuba player in the room. But now I’m playing for all tuba players… so I’m kind of nervous.”

Alan Baer Masterclass

– Realize that the excerpts are easy; it’s just a matter of control.

– The hardest thing is to get over your ego.

– Naked Tuba

– What do we want the tuba to sound like?

– We play for these auditions, and 99% of the time, we are the only tuba player in the room.

– Think of the committee as complete children. You have to speak so clearly that they understand.

– So much is lost beyond the stand.

Meistersinger

– The horn is so efficient that you don’t have to beat the hell out of it. You can really relax.

– Practice with the drone.

– Use a metered trill to practice.

Damnation of Faust

– Once you play those first four notes, you cannot change.

– On the ascending line, keep going to the high F, so that you ear train it. If the lines goes up, follow it.

– Play pretty.

– The committee does not want to hear you play the ride as loud as you can, they want to hear if you can play in tune and balance the section.

– Use a drumbeat in your practice. It’s doing the subdivision for you.

Prokofiev 5

– I advocate going back and fourth between the F and C. Match mouthpiece rims as well, otherwise you are confusing.

– Get yourself used to the multiple valve combination.

– Use the aperture and embouchure from a Db to use with an F# so that you do not overcompensate.

– Learn how to breath before you start something.

– There is a fine line between when your chops want to play, and when you want your chops to play. Always practice in time so they work when YOU want.

– Think about being on a committee, and listening to 100 guys play this slow, you are going to be pissed.

– Listen to the strings and how they move.

– I try to be as close to the fourth trombones sound as possible. I think ‘clarity for the basses and the mass for the trombones’.

– Get your valves vented.

– Not too loud, pretty.

– Make your music satisfy you.

– All of these loud excerpts, I practice at a comfortable mp or mf, so that you can make it pretty.

– Everything that you play, play with intent.

– “Now I’m going to play everything like the second movement of the Vaughan Williams”

Mahler 1

– “I don’t think of it in 4, I think of it in 12/8″.

– Thick is the thing to think here.

– Use 3 for the A and 1-2 for the D, if on F tuba.

– Whenever we miss a note, there’s a reason. Start looking for a reason.

– Do this one when the horn is absolutely cold, because that’s the real situation.

Fountains

– Only breath after the Low E, excerpt for pickups into 12, to show phrasing.

– Drop the wrist to make sure that the 4th valve goes down first.

When it comes to auditions

– You need to sell your product, and you have to believe in it. You must go in and show them, this is what you want.

– Stop drinking a month before an audition

– Next time you’re practicing a passage and you are just getting worse, take 5 minutes and do pushups, dips, and go back to it.

– No carbs before you are going to play.

– Protein bars and protein shakes.

Alan Baer

Alan Baer