Musings on the Undergrad Audition Process

MUSINGS ON THE UNDERGRAD AUDITION PROCESS

My name is Maddie Pelkey and I want to teach music. I’ve played oboe for eight years and English Horn for three years, have sung in various choirs since I was in fourth grade, and have studied soprano voice privately for about two years now.

Despite being surrounded by music my whole life, I was adamantly against the idea of following in my parents’ footsteps until about this time last year, when my choir director at school set me up with a paid oboe gig. The gig involved accompanying a chorus from Jacksonville at Florida State-MPA (Music Performance Assessment). Because I was only needed for one song, I was able to sit and listen to all of the other state-level choruses perform. They were phenomenal.  When I left the church sanctuary where the event was held, I knew that music would always be my passion and my language. I finally knew that I was meant to share this love with others.

Of course, this was the spring of my junior year in high school. I had a lot of work ahead of me if I wanted to be ready for college auditions in less than twelve months. Thankfully, I was living with two of the best people to teach me the in’s and out’s of auditions: my mom and dad—my coach and my accompanist, respectively.

You may have read my dad’s blog post earlier this fall, which gave tips on how to get through auditions and become a music major. If you need a quick refresher, he made four major points: get some rudimentary theory training, get piano lessons, be comfortable using your voice, and learn one of the music notation software programs.

All of these points proved to be super important in my audition process. (Thanks, Dad.) Of course the adjudicators are primarily listening for the quality of your performance, but having experience in theory, piano, and singing gives you that much-needed upper edge as admissions decisions are made. This makes an especially important difference when auditioning for higher-ranked schools. Any experience in theory, composition, or music activities outside of your primary instrument will spark conversations with your adjudicators and help convince them not only to admit you to the music school but to give you financial aid, too.

This January and February, after months and months of arduous preparation, I auditioned for a spot in the Music Education Program at four different schools: one in Florida, and three in New York. These four schools ranged from private to public, big to small, and rural to urban, so, of course, my audition experience was different at each school. But there are a few over-arching tips, in addition to what my dad wrote in his previous article, that I would give to a future auditionee:

  1. Don’t be afraid to brag about yourself during the interview process. It’s okay. This is one of those crucial times when you just have to advocate for yourself, even if you’re shy or nervous. If you’re worried about coming off as arrogant rather than confident, just be friendly, smile, and remember to listen as well as speak.
  1. Have one or two of your own questions prepared for your adjudicators, even if you’ve read their music school web page so many times you have all of the information memorized. At all four of the schools where I auditioned, there was a small interview-like session after my audition. My adjudicators reviewed my application and asked a few questions (usually why I wanted to come to New York, or why I was choosing to study voice when I had eight years of oboe under my belt). At three of my auditions, the adjudicators asked me if I had any questions once they were done. I would ask things like, “Are there ensembles I can be in as an oboist even though I’m a voice major?” My friend who was auditioning for music industry and sound recording technology, on the other hand, asked questions about the school’s equipment and opportunities to run tech for performances. The questions you prepare should be specific to you. Show your adjudicators that you’re interested in their school, and they’ll be more interested in you.
  1. The only variable you can control on audition day is your own preparedness. Practice, practice, practice. If you’re auditioning on voice, get with an accompanist as many times as you can before your audition. Memorize your music way I forgot some of the words to a song at my first audition, and the adjudicator cut me off instead of letting me finish the piece. I was mortified, but you can bet at my next three auditions I didn’t mess up a single word of my repertoire. Practice until you feel confident.

I ended up making the cut for all four schools, and now comes, arguably, the hardest part: making a decision. But hopefully these tips and my experiences will help those who, like me, only decided to follow the music path junior year. It is possible and you can do it, it just takes a lot of dedication and preparation. Good luck!

Maddie Pelkey

First posted on March 17, 2017