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Childhood Now, Audition Later

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Dear Greg,
My daughter is 9 years old and has been playing since she was 5. Her current teacher is a young woman who is a graduate of Juiliard. My daughter practises 3 hours a day, 7 days a week and loves her music. Her current pieces are Mozart Sonata K333 1st Mvt, Bach Sinfonia #13 and Rachmaninoff OP 32 Prelude No. 5. She is home schooled which gives her the freedom to work on her music. When she was 7 she was the youngest winner of The Bradshaw and Buono Piano Competition in New York We flew from California and she and some other young students played at Weil Recital Hall in Cargnegie Hall. She is very confident on stage at such a young age. It took her many months to bring the Mozart Sonata up to a level that her teacher would let her play it in a piano festival performance. Her teacher is quite strict about finger numbers etc. The Bach Sinfonia was easier becuase she had played many Bach pieces before it. I hope that someday she may make it to a music school like Juiliard if that is what she wants. I have researched the undergraduate audition requirements for the school. Is it too early to begin thinking about the pieces that she must be able to play for the audition and ask her teacher to lead her in that direction? I know that it takes alot of time before a student is ready to play a substantial composition by Chopin, Schuman, Brahms, Liszt ,etc as Juiliard might require. A concerned parent,
 - William

Dear William,

I have rarely been as confident when answering a question on my website as I am answering yours.

Yes, it is too early to begin thinking about your daughter's Juilliard audition repertoire. She is nine years old! Good grief, I didn't even start playing the piano until I was eight! My parents wanted nothing more than for their three sons to be "well-rounded," happy children, and I believe it made all the difference. I certainly wouldn't be the pianist I am today without having spent all that time outside building tree forts, participating in the science clubs, or visiting the public library on a weekly basis.

I know plenty of nine-year-olds who are instructed to spend four hours a day practicing, but I think it is unnecessary. There are so many child prodigies out there, and although several hours of daily practice may give the child early fame and a host of compliments, it will do very little to provide any sort of career later on. Besides, I've seen one too many child prodigies turn into unhealthy adults to ever recommend such a life upon anyone.

Invest in her childhood now, and you'll have plenty of time to worry about her Juilliard audition later.

- Greg

"Novel" Audition Repertoire Suggestions

Added on by Greg Anderson.

Hi Greg,
I am writing a novel in which a character is auditioning for Juilliard. She is a pianist. I have all the information on requirements, but I'm looking for specifics on what audition day is like...ie how is the panel, etc. I also need suggestions for the pieces she might play, particularly categories 3 and 5. If anyone can help me out, it would be much appreciated.
Thanks, Laura Covault

Dear Laura,

My perception of my Juilliard audition is likely very different from what actually happened. In reality, the jury is filled with nice, intelligent, and compassionate faculty members. (I'm serious, they really are.) From the piano bench, they appeared larger-than-life... terrifying... crotchety. In reality, the process is as fair as it could be -- there are multiple rounds (a tape round, preliminary round, final round, and a brief interview), and several faculty members are on every panel. It is incredibly time consuming and stressful for the faculty to sort through the hundreds of applicants, but they do a thorough job because they are genuinely searching for the most talented of the bunch. They do it with humility, however, because they've all been through it themselves; they are fully aware of the hopes and fears most applicants harbor. From my perspective, of course, things didn't feel so fair. "I didn't get to play the development of the first movement -- that was my best part!" "They asked me to start in the middle of the piece; I wasn't expecting that!" "I had to wait outside the jury room for 20 minutes; my fingers got cold!" "The interviewer asked me trick questions!" The call-back process draws the day out pretty long. It's terrifying enough to walk into a large room -- a piano on one side and a lineup of highly respected individuals on the other -- and prove yourself in a mere 10-15 minutes. But then you must wait several hours for the call-back list to be posted (terrifying! -- it's out of your hands at that point!), and if you're lucky (?!@#$%), you get to do it again later that evening.

I've written about my audition repertoire elsewhere on this site. I'll repost it here:
 "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."

I hope that helps you!

 - Greg (Jan. 10, 2009)

Going Pro Late

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Hello Greg!,
You are such an inspiration for me! I've been playing piano since i was 8 and i am now 13 years old. Just a couple months back, I was thinking about my future, and I finally decided that I wanted to become a professional pianist. I know it would take a lot of dedication and time, but I have decided that once I get out of High School I am also going to be a Lawyer or Doctor, and I plan to make time for piano. I dont know how well that would go, because my mother does not approve of me becoming a professional, so she won't let me attend Julliard. So, do you have any advice to give me?..Do you think I would be able to become a professional after years more of training? I mean, I would like to perform, but not to big audiences and not at concerts...just at small things like Church, or weddings or such. I do not plan to travel the world and spread my piano playing. My teacher has told me that for the last two years i have been playing extraordinarily well! and he says that he is proud of me for that, but do you think with all my lawyer and doctor stuff that i'll still be able to become a professional? Once again, I dont want to be known worldwide or nationally..i just want to have the ability to play the most advanced piano pieces...thank you Greg! I hope you reply to this message!
 - Catherine

Dear Catherine,

Wow! You have big plans! ... a doctor, a lawyer, a musician! Good for you. The description you provided in your question sounds entirely reasonable. Unlike becoming a pianist, becoming a doctor or a lawyer does not require decades and decades of training. In other words, you can start training to be a doctor when you're 30, and you can still make a career out of it; it is highly improbable that someone could start playing the piano at age 30 and make concertizing their career.

I know dozens of medical and law students at Yale who majored in music before coming to Yale -- no pre-med degrees, no science degrees, no political science degrees before coming -- just music degrees. The medical school at Yale is so supportive of music that they have a full symphony orchestra; they had over 200 medical students and residents audition for the orchestra last year!

Practice hard and have fun. There is no need to stress out; with your goals, you should be able to do it all.

- Greg (Oct. 25, 2009)

My Class

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Hi Greg!
I have stumbled upon a BBC documentary called "Imagine Being a Concert Pianist" and it features your piano class of 2004. From what I've understood from your teacher, Veda Kaplinsky, who is also featured in the documentary, every student in your class was (is) an exceptional talent however, she could not teach any of you how to become an artist, because the making of an artist has nothing to do with your teacher, regardless of which top-tier school you're going to. I'm not really sure what she meant but out of curiosity I looked up a few people from your graduating class and, with your exception, couldn't find much - does that mean that all these exceptional students could not find the "artist within" despite years of exceptional musical training? I see you found your path as an artist but I was wondering what happened to the rest of the bunch? I am quite aware that statistically, the chance for every piano student to be a concert pianist is very slim so I'm just curious what happens to an exceptional student who received an exceptional education yet did not have the making of an artist. Thank you so much and good luck!
 - Andrea

Hi Andrea,

I'm so proud of my piano class! Here's a quick rundown of the current activities of the other 14 members of my undergraduate piano class of 2004:

  • Brian, Hitomi, Joo-yeon, Teddy: still in school, working on their doctorate or artist diploma degrees in piano performance (they are performing and/or teaching as well!)
  • ChenXin: performing and teaching, director of NY Music & Arts
  • Elizabeth (my lovely piano duo partner): performing and teaching - www.elizabethjoyroe.com and www.andersonroe.com
  • Greg and Melody: touring and recording regularly as members of The 5 Browns - www.the5browns.com
  • Helen: performing and teaching - wikipedia
  • Hilary: Ah! Not sure what she's up to. Let me know, Hilary!
  • James: member of Les Deux
  • Michael: performing and teaching -www.michaelberkovsky.com
  • Orion: performing - www.orionweiss.com
  • Rui: performing and teaching

(If I've misrepresented any of you on this list, please let me know!)

- Greg (Nov. 6, 2009)

Balancing a Professional Career

Added on by Greg Anderson.

Hello Greg!,
You are such an inspiration for me! I've been playing piano since i was 8 and i am now 13 years old. Just a couple months back, I was thinking about my future, and I finally decided that I wanted to become a professional pianist. I know it would take a lot of dedication and time, but I have decided that once I get out of High School I am also going to be a Lawyer or Doctor, and I plan to make time for piano. I dont know how well that would go, because my mother does not approve of me becoming a professional, so she won't let me attend Julliard. So, do you have any advice to give me?..Do you think I would be able to become a professional after years more of training? I mean, I would like to perform, but not to big audiences and not at concerts...just at small things like Church, or weddings or such. I do not plan to travel the world and spread my piano playing. My teacher has told me that for the last two years i have been playing extraordinarily well! and he says that he is proud of me for that, but do you think with all my lawyer and doctor stuff that i'll still be able to become a professional? Once again, I dont want to be known worldwide or nationally..i just want to have the ability to play the most advanced piano pieces...thank you Greg! I hope you reply to this message!
 - Catherine

Dear Catherine,

Wow! You have big plans! ... a doctor, a lawyer, a musician! Good for you. The description you provided in your question sounds entirely reasonable. Unlike becoming a pianist, becoming a doctor or a lawyer does not require decades and decades of training. In other words, you can start training to be a doctor when you're 30, and you can still make a career out of it; it is highly improbable that someone could start playing the piano at age 30 and make concertizing their career.

I know dozens of medical and law students at Yale who majored in music before coming to Yale -- no pre-med degrees, no science degrees, no political science degrees before coming -- just music degrees. The medical school at Yale is so supportive of music that they have a full symphony orchestra; they had over 200 medical students and residents audition for the orchestra last year!

Practice hard and have fun. There is no need to stress out; with your goals, you should be able to do it all.

 - Greg (Oct. 25, 2009)

Juilliard Acceptance

Added on by Greg Anderson.

Hi Greg!
I am fifteen years old and I deeply want to study piano performance along with composition and theory at a university level by the time I am finished with my high school career. I understand that every school is different in its standards, but I can't help but ask: How tough is a Julliard audition and gaining acceptance? I ask because you've been a massive inspiration to me and my "quest" in studying at a university level.
 - Chad Aboukaram

Hi Chad,

Ummmmmm..... I'm not sure how to answer that question. :-) "How tough is a Juilliard audition and gaining acceptance?" The answer is very subjective; for some people it's a piece of cake, for others it's more akin to eating a bed of nails.

The acceptance rate for the school is somewhere close to 10%; the acceptance rate for the piano department is lower, closer to 5%. This is what I've heard, though I don't have the evidence to back up those figures.

Thank you for your nice words, and I wish you the very best!

 - Greg (Oct. 25, 2009)

Developing Your Ear

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Hey, Greg!
Not really a pianist. But I am planning on studying music. I'm a junior in high school and have played the trumpet for about 8 or so years. Right now I have my sights set on Duquesne University's music school for music technology. In the audition, you have to pass an aural musicianship exam. I'm told I have a good ear, but I just need to develop it. ...How exactly does one do that? What would you say is the best way? Any help would be greatly appreciated!
-Rachel

Dear Rachel,

The best way to develop your ear is to learn to identify and sing intervals - in fact, I'll bet that's exactly what they'll test you on. First practice with a friend. Have him or her play a scale at the piano and then play a note against the tonic pitch. Example: your friend plays a D major scale and then plays a "D" with the "A" above it. Your challenge would be to identify the interval (a fifth). Practice this until you can nail it every time. Then switch it around. Have you friend play a scale and ask you to sing an interval above the tonic pitch. Example: your friend plays a D minor scale and then plays the "D" and asks you to sing a minor third above that. Your challenge would be to sing an "F." Eventually you should be able to get rid of the reference scale beforehand and simply be able to identify and sing random intervals.

Best of luck in your audition!

-Greg

Top Schools

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Greg,
I'm only 13 but feel the need to start thinking about college. And while at the moment I'm not a spectacular pianist, i love playing soooooo much. I think I want it to be my career. Do you have any suggestions for music schools (all i know of is Juilliard) and how do go about auditions when I'm a bit older? thanks.
 - Caitie

Dear Caitie,

Thirteen-years-old. You still have plenty of time! Make sure you continue to pursue all the things you love for the next couple years. If you still decide to audition for music schools later on, just focus on your auditions and you should be fine. No matter what people may tell you ("take lessons with the teachers in advance," "go to pre-college music schools," "win lots of competitions"), all that really matters is that you play well in your audition.

There are plenty of good schools with music programs, some are a part of universities and others are music conservatories. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, depending on the person and their needs. A list of the top MUSIC schools in the US would likely include Oberlin, Yale, Eastman, Peabody, Colburn, Curtis, Juilliard, Manhattan, Mannes, Rice, USC, TCU, Indiana, Cleveland Institute of Music, New England Conservatory, San Francisco Conservatory, and Northwestern. There are other schools with great piano teachers, so don't feel obligated to limit yourself to that list!

Good luck, and remember to hold on to that love you have for the piano!

- Greg