"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)

Dealing With Acoustics

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Hello Greg,
How do you cope with different pianos and acoustics at various venues? Any advice on that? Is it reasonable to expect one to be able to give a splendid performance on a totally new instrument with little time to try it out - if it's even a decent instrument!!
- candidmanc

Dear Candidman,

Great question! Varying concert hall acoustics (wet, dry, bad projection, misleading dynamics, etc.) and pianos (heavy action, light action, uneven action, bass-heavy, weak sound, etc.) can make for some pretty horrifying experiences as a concert pianist!

Interestingly enough, the unpredictability of it all bothers me less and less with each performing experience. What's important -- what really matters -- is that I connect with the audience. Most of the time, audience members could care less about uneven articulation or bass-heavy performance, and if I dwell on the pitfalls of the circumstances too long, I lose the ability to deliver a truly engaging performance.

Having said that, of course I adopt to the particulars of the venue: more pedal in dry acoustics, slower tempos in wet acoustics, nicer tone on harsh pianos, etc. But none of this is particularly intentional or thought out. Whenever I'm performing, I do my best to *listen* to the music I'm creating -- I listen, rather than rely on any practice room plan. This ability to live in the moment completely shapes my performance and keeps the music spontaneous, and as an added perk I'm continually reacting to any conditions related to the venue or the piano.

Happy adapting!

- Greg (Oct. 23, 2009)


Added on by Greg Anderson.
Your husband to be? You guys are engaged? when's the wedding date :P
  - Claire

Dear Claire,

That's right, my "husband-to-be." :-) Carl and I are happily engaged, and our wedding is set for the end of July. It's going to be a "guys" wedding if there ever was one. We're settling down into a life of adventure, after all. ;-) We're super excited for the wedding, but more importantly, we're ridiculously, awesomely excited that we were lucky enough to meet each other.

- Greg (March 7, 2010)


Added on by Greg Anderson.
Hi Greg,
I just became a fan of yours a couple of minutes ago after watching your utube videos. I myself studied piano for 9 years, and particularly enjoyed your Mozart and Ligeti interpretations as you really seemed focussed into it. I only have a comment to make, why don't you play alone more often? I liked the girl Roe, but to be honest I think you are the star.
 - Yellow Butterfly

Hi Yellow Butterfly,

Thank you for the kind words. Regarding la lovely, literary, limber, lyrical Liz... she's awesome. We have so much fun together, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Liz and I both bring something completely unique to the table -- and by "completely unique," I mean "completely unique." I wouldn't be where I am today without her in my life. We're totally different people with a similar mission, a love for music, and a fondness for each other. Because of the mutual respect we hold for each other's differences, our time together is zany, spontaneous, and joyous. And because of our differences, our projects explode in directions neither of us could have ever imagined as individuals. There is no "star;" we're a team.

I have not abandoned my solo career. Nor has Liz. We're multi-faceted people with many passions, and we consider the breadth of our careers to be a blessing. Who knows what to expect next? We simply love knowing that we're free to do what we want.

- Greg (March 7, 2010)

The money question again!

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Hey, how's it going? I'm doing a school career report on concert pianists (and yes, I did find this site through googling 'how much money does a concert pianist make') and WAS wondering how much a concert pianist makes /year and/or /concert, but only for the report information. My teacher is making us find this, and I cand find it anywhere else. I really am interested in pursuing this as a career, but not for the money, as you said, but for the joy and experience it brings you Thanks so much...and sorry about the inconvenience!
 - Jill

Dear Jill,

Uh-huh. Here we go again. :-) For the sake of stray visitors, I'm going to do a little re-posting so that all readers are on the same page. After a reader asked me "how much money does a concert pianist make" (it wasn't the first time someone asked this), I provided a long response. My original posting is indented below:

I'm not in it for the money, and it bothers me when people become preoccupied with this facet of the profession. Every time I check this website's Google stats, I see dozens of people finding the site through some variant of the following search: "How much money do concert pianists make?" I mean, really?! For real?! If you care about money, please don't become a pianist. You may or may not make a significant amount (my income fluctuates wildly from year to year -- there's no way I could tell you my "salary"), but that's definitely not what it's about.

When a pianist seeks the fame and glory of the concert stage, he or she is probably on a path to disappointment; when a pianist is motivated by the genuine love of music, he or she will certainly find a satisfying musical career. There are countless fulfilling ways to make money as a pianist, not all of which are limited to performing on the concert stage. (Please view the "Ask Greg Archives: Career" for examples.) Yes, teaching music is one, but there are many more possibilities.

"What is it you do to support yourself financially?" The answer: I play the piano and compose.


I keep a busy concert schedule, both as a soloist and a duo pianist. My recordings are self-produced and selling well, so I actually make money when you buy one. Please buy one. I'm a YouTube partner, so YouTube pays me when you watch my videos on YouTube. Do it. Click on those ads next to the videos! :-) I receive commissions and royalties from the works I compose for The 5 Browns. Liz and I sell my piano duo scores to the public; you can buy them on the scores page. That's most of it -- performing and composing! -- although I do give lectures here and there, I'll publish my book someday (someday!), and I have other surprising plans for the future in the works. At the moment, I don't pursue any financial gain through teaching, web design, video editing, or accompanying -- with everything that excites and consumes me, I simply don't have time.

Some people think I'm savvy, but I'm doing what feels obvious to me. I'm following my mission ("to make classical piano music a relevant and powerful force in society") in every avenue of my professional life, from my performances, compositions, concert programs, and recordings to my websites, videos, and book. My mission is ever present in what I do because I believe in it so passionately. It's not like the things I do are creative, random ideas; they are born from an innate necessity -- from a desire to make what I love relevant and powerful to others.

I really believe that if you are doing what you truly love, you'll find a way to survive. I'm not prancing about in piles of cash, but I manage to find enough doing what I do to pay my bills. I wish I had more (it would go right into recordings, videos, and websites!), but really, when it comes to money, my only concern is that I have enough to keep doing what I love. If it really matters to you how much money a concert pianist makes, I recommend another profession!

(Jan. 14, 2009)

Now your teacher wants hard, cold facts. Numbers. I get it. Exactly how much money does a concert pianist make? Try asking your teacher how much he or she makes.

Actually, just tell your teacher that the question simply does not apply to pianists. It's like jamming a square block through a round hole.

Pianists don't have fixed incomes like doctors, plumbers, teachers, or astronauts do. The variety of incomes among pianists is enormous -- and for that matter, a single pianist's income fluctuates wildly from year to year. Ask yourself, "how much money does an actor make?" The answer is not so different from how much money concert pianists make. The answer is case-specific, year-specific, event-specific! If you insist upon numbers, try an annual income range of $-1,000,000 to $1,000,000. I'm not trying to be difficult; it's just that there is no straightforward answer.

From my perspective, it's a bizarre question because I hardly know any pianists who make their entire income purely through performance. I listed my multiple avenues of income in the post I pasted above. Many, many performers teach, some compose, others write, organize, accompany, conduct, direct, analyze, collaborate, etc.. It seems that a well-rounded artist can't bring him or herself to reside purely on the concert stage. It's a bizarre question because many pianists make huge financial investments into their own career -- publicity materials are expensive; so are videos, recordings, pianos, and practice spaces. Many pianists I know are severely in the red, even if they make a healthy income through performances. It's a bizarre question because many pianists are sponsored by generous individuals. Does this count as income? Sponsors allow musicians to share their talents with low-income audiences; sponsors make classical recordings possible (most classical CDs are expensive to produce, but do not sell well!); sponsors keep classical music alive. See that "Donate" button on the right? That button helps make my projects possible -- videos, writings, recordings, and more.

Okay, so how much does a pianist make per concert? Again, the answer is hugely variable. Many concerts are pro bono (performed free of charge), and some performances earn their performer as much as $100,000. This fee may or may not be in addition to the cost of travel and accommodations. Most large concert organizations can't afford to pay more than $5,000 - $15,000 in artist fees per event, and many have much, much smaller budgets.

All in all, I'm inclined to repeat my initial post. The successful pianists I know are not in it for the money, but they all find a way to survive.

One final note: before you go hammering out an hourly wage, please consider the incredible number of hours pianists spend practicing for their concerts... the time they spend on planes and waiting in security lines... the time they spend away from their families. It's a 24/7 job we love.

- Greg (March 6, 2010)


Added on by Greg Anderson.
Dear Greg,
ok i just came home from your concert at cedarhust in mount vernon illinois. and i had a question that i forgot to ask in person. i once met a vilinist that said he envyed vocalists because they got to use words to convey the message. i am preparing to be music major concentrating on voice and i have trouble with expression. this is something that you obviously have no problem with. how do you do it?
 - marlo smith

Dear Marlo,

How is one expressive? To answer that question, I'll direct you to Liz and my music listening manifesto. There are 27 tips for you, all of which apply not only to the act of listening, but also to the act of performing music. (We're so sneaky with our multi-purpose manifesto!)

Two thoughts on making our music listening manifesto apply to performance:

  • In the few instances where we literally mention listening, try rewording phrases; replace "listen" with "perform." For example, #8 states: "Listen as if it were the last time your ears could hear. Savor it." In your situation consider, "Perform as if it were the last time you could make music. Savor it." (Incidentally, this is one of my favorite points. I love savoring things!)
  • In all instances, consider the points from the perspective of a performer, but also consider the points from the perspective of a listener. A good performer is an extraordinary listener.

Good luck with your upcoming performances!

- Greg (March 6, 2010)