First off, thank you for what you are doing with your talent. We need to break the Victorian paradigms! On to my question: I have just turned 16 and am thinking about colleges. I would love to attend a conservatory, but am worried that it will be all piano all the time and if down the road piano doesn't work out for me, I will have nothing to fall back on. I also have the question of repertoire choices, specifically the Classical sonata. Is the Appassionata too cliched? I absolutely love the piece and think I could give a very good performance of it, but I am worried that it is so well known that everybody has a definitive idea of how it should be played, and if I play it differently, they will not like it. What did you play for your audition to Juiliard? What about other people? I know a Prelude and Fugue, Chopin's first Ballade, and his Etude Op. 25 No. 12. For a modern piece, I think I will do the Bartok sonata. Do you have any ideas on these? Any help would be much appreciated. Thank you!!!
- Jon B.
When it comes to careers, I really can't tell you what to do! One of the many great things about life is that you can often change your mind. So often we feel like we are locked in, but really, we have the ability to start fresh whenever we want. I've seen a number of inspiring forty-year-olds go back to school to pursue a different avenue in life; a friend of mine did her undergrad and master's degrees at Juilliard and now she's in dental school; Aspen Music Festival accepts adult piano students. You're in control.
You also have the power to make your college experience amazing, no matter what school you attend. Alternatively, you can find ways to waste your time at any of the most renowned institutions in America. If you want a well-rounded education, you can get that, whether you're at Juilliard or New York University. Too often I see people complaining rather than using their energy in positive and useful ways.
One word of caution: don't go into music if you want to be a "concert pianist." Even if you've got mad skills, the chances of sustaining a career are next to impossible. Instead, go to college with the dream of playing the piano for the rest of your life! There are loads of uses for pianists in the job market, and if you really love playing the piano and making music, then these can be extraordinarily fulfilling jobs. Who knows, you could become really famous and play solo recitals in Carnegie Hall or you could become an influential piano teacher; in either case, you'll be a satisfied musician. As long as your happiness doesn't rely on fame, there are loads of musically satisfying jobs you could pursue as a pianist.
As for your audition repertoire, play whatever it is you want to play (in other words, play pieces that reflect you as a musician), and when your audition rolls around, play well. That's all that matters. My undergrad audition program consisted of the following pieces: Bach's Prelude and Fugue in A minor from WTC I, Beethoven's "Waldstein" Sonata, Mendelssohn's Variations sérieuses, Liszt's Transcendental Etude No. 4 -- "Mazeppa", and Prokofiev's Third Piano Sonata. I'm not sure whether this was the greatest audition program, but I loved performing all of the pieces and I played them well.
Best wishes to you as you prepare for your auditions!