In elementary school, they really impressed upon us the importance of keeping our grades up throughout our high school years, because colleges look at the first three years specifically for admission. So, on the “liberal arts” side of the coin, college was always in my sights on some level. The same wasn’t necessarily true on the music end however. While my teachers definitely pushed me to increase my technical abilities and keep up my work ethic throughout high school, college wasn’t really in our direct line of sight until the latter half of sophomore year. It was during this time that my teachers, parents and I had a very important conversation.
My teachers asked me what I wanted to do. It kinda seemed obvious, but something that wasn’t as obvious was my knowledge of the amount of dedication and work it would take to achieve my goal of being an orchestral musician. Of course, I had no idea the gravity of this commitment, but after about an hour of talking, I agreed. So…we went to work. My lessons were more intense, I had more responsibility within the percussion group I was a part of, and we began looking at college options that summer.
After finding a few schools that met my teachers’ requirements, we looked up the audition requirements. Much of what was asked for the undergraduate audition was within my technical abilities at that time, but timpani was definitely my weakest instrument out of them all. So, we had extra half hour lessons on timpani, sometimes even taking the entire lesson for it. Again, this was during the summer of sophomore year. As far as the rest of the list, we looked at both the undergrad and grad lists for ideas of pieces to choose for my audition. The reason was that we wanted to see if there were pieces that either lied in between those two levels, or see if it were possible to learn the grad level piece.
Back then I was really into doing things people said I wasn’t capable of doing, so I opted to perform the grad level pieces for all instruments. I worked extremely hard, memorizing Velocities with a page a day. Practicing my tuning for timpani by singing scales every day and just working on tuning the drums at home (my teacher let me borrow his travel set). Of course, doing stick control every single day for the Delecluse etude I had to play, and for extra credit, my teachers had me prepare some orchestral excerpts as well. It took a year to feel comfortable with everything, perfect it as much as we could, and honestly avoid feeling rushed into auditioning for a four year college.
And this is the main reason I wrote this experience. I strongly believe that, to wait until junior year to prepare for college auditions is kinda late. It’s by no means impossible to do, but for me personally, had I did that, I would’ve been very anxious and felt very rushed, especially if there were tapes to be recorded by a certain time. I’d rather be way over prepared, especially for “bigger named” schools than throw something together. So if you are a sophomore, or going into junior year, I’d start thinking about where you want to go, what the requirements for the audition are, and what you’d like to present at that audition. Give yourself enough time to put together something wonderful and save yourself the hassle of anxiety or rushing things together.
In the case that you are putting something together later in the process, the big thing to do is pay attention to the details. Don’t skip or disregard nuances in an attempt to just get things done. Really go for dynamic contrasts, articulations, musical phrases, etc. Doing this shows maturity, attention to detail, a good work ethic as well as good musicianship. Even though you’re kinda in a hurry, do take the time to do this type of detailed work as much as you can.