Auditioning for college acceptances

By Jamie Kim

At the beginning of fifth period, Caroline Chien ’09 begins to unpack a cello on the bottom floor of Chalmers. In a small practice room labeled Studio 2 usually reserved for small jazz sectionals, Chien practices for two straight periods. On her stand rests a pile about an inch thick of sheet music. Bach solo suites, the Haydn Concerto in C Major and Piatti caprices round out the repertoire she has prepared over the course of a year. Chien actually doesn’t need any of the papers; she plays from memory. Even if she doesn’t need more practice, Chien is willing to put in the extra time because she will spend the next two weeks flying all across the country for eight live conservatory auditions.

Chien, along with Andy Alden ’09, Jack McFadden-Talbot ’09 and Liam Allman ’09, is among a relatively small group of students who has applied to art schools or music conservatories. While the rest of their peers have already finished their applications, Alden, Chien and McFadden-Talbot still have auditions ahead of them.

Although accredited art or music schools offer liberal arts classes, usually based in the humanities, they often have limited academic requirements.

The audition is often the most crucial part of an application.

Chien, Alden, McFadden-Talbot and Allman all see music or art as playing a big part in their futures. But all have applied to other colleges in addition to conservatories or art schools, and none have decided that they will absolutely attend a conservatory. They agree that there are pros and cons to both conservatories and colleges.

“In my case, the biggest plus [to a conservatory education] is that I’m going to be surrounded by a lot of talented musicians,” Alden said.

Alden, who was accepted early action to Yale last December, has applied to Harvard and the New England Conservatory. If he is accepted to both schools, he may choose to participate in a five-year dual program to earn two degrees, one in composing, and one in biology, his primary academic interest.

“If I went purely to a conservatory, I would miss out on a well-rounded academic experience, and the possibility of studying other subjects,” he said. “[Yale] is a fine way to go, it’s just that conservatories tend to be more career-oriented for performers. But me, not primarily being a performer, I think it’s easier, or potentially a better idea to go to an academic institution.”

Allman also seeks balance between intellectual and musical education.

“Ultimately, I’ve only applied to art schools where I think I can get a decent liberal arts education, because I still want that college experience,” he said.

Allman said he is only looking for his best fit.

“I loath to say I’m professionally oriented,” he said. “However, the fields of art that I’m interested in — animation, for instance — are fairly commercial, so I don’t think I would do as well in the industry if I had had a lot of psychology or English. Frankly, I just don’t think that the levels of education [at an art school versus a liberal arts college] can quite compare,” he said.

McFadden-Talbot has a slightly different take. For him, the biggest benefit of attending a conservatory is the opportunity to devote himself completely to music.

“[Right now], because I have to juggle academics, composition and violin, I end up not being able to spend as much time as I want on each thing,” he said. “What I should be able to do is have a four hour chunk for violin and a four hour chunk for composition built into my day, but that’s just not the way it works. At a conservatory, I would get that opportunity.”

McFadden-Talbot described the amount of work he’s done on his eight conservatory applications as “pretty ludicrous.” Since he wants to study both composition and violin, he submitted separate applications for each school. He, like Chien, has eight live auditions to complete this month.

McFadden-Talbot has prepared the violin repertoire for his conservatory auditions for about a year.

Allman began preparing his art portfolios, compilations of about 20 slides on average, last November, but the art was the outcome of years of work.

Although some students who have applied to art and music school would strongly disagree, Upper School Dean Beth Slattery, who helped two students apply to art and music schools this year, believes that while the application process may be slightly longer than for universities, it is not necessarily more arduous or complicated.

“Conservatories require auditions, but many places don’t require essays,” she said. “If anything, I actually think it’s more straightforward because you either pass the audition, or you don’t. Of course, for the deans, that’s hard to predict because it’s based on talent and ability.”

Slattery said that, depending on the type of school, the emphasis put on academic record relative to an applicant’s music record will vary.

A conservatory within a larger university, like the University of South California’s Thornton School of Music, focuses more on academic record than small college-level conservatories such as Juilliard.

Juilliard states on its website, “Transcripts are reviewed to determine the general background of an applicant…There are no specific courses, GPAs, or class rank required.

The greatest importance is placed on the required audition in which the student performs in front of Juilliard faculty.”

“They just don’t want someone who has no academic record at all. It would be difficult for them to keep up at any school,” Chien said.

At the same time, she thinks no conservatory will stress academic record more than the audition.