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Read the lines (and between them)

July 29, 2010

All of us conductors have needed to find that “first.”  That first conducting lesson, that first admission to a conducting program, that first connection to help us, that first concert, that first conducting job – they are all import and highly sought after by us.

But, is every available “first” a good thing? One of the most significant “firsts” in a conductor’s life is getting to study conducting at the university level.

Here is a stark contrast between to university’s admission requirements and procedures:


Thursday, March XX, XXXX

9:00-9:30 AM     Theatre Lobby

Introductions and refreshments with applicants, current students, and Professor XXXXXX.

9:30-11:00 AM     Recital Hall

Written examination (score-based, mainly on the audition repertoire, but including more general orchestral information).

11:30 AM-2:30PM     Recital Hall

Orchestra Session-All applicants conduct excerpts from Copland Suite from Appalachian Spring. Original Version for 13 players: Rehearsal Numbers Opening to 16, 23-38, 41-51, 67-71.

2:45-3:30PM     Rooms  2058

Conductor’s Aural Examination-All applicants will be evaluated in their ability to identify errors in musical performance.  Aspects may include rhythm, balance, notes, intonation, tempo, and ensemble.

4:00 PM     Posting of interviews for invited candidates with Prof. XXXXXX.

4:00-5:30 PM     Interviews with Prof. XXXXXX.Individual appointments for aural skills evaluation. 

7:00 PM     Target time for announcement of selected applicants who will audition the following day. 

There is no guarantee of conducting on Day Two, Friday, March XX.

Friday, March XX, XXXX

10:00 AM      Room 2255

Meeting of applicants invited to audition with the University Symphony Orchestra (USO).

10:40 AM-12:30PM     Rehearsal Hall

Auditions with the USO

  1. Moussorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition: First two movements — Promenade and Gnomus
  2. Beethoven Symphony No. 5 First movement, Beginning through m. 252
  3. Debussy Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun


The basic audition day schedule is as follows:

  1. Individual meetings with Dr. XXXXXX – in his office (Music Bldg. 202)
  2. Group meeting and tour of Music Bldg. starting at 10:30 – meet at Music Bldg. 202
  3. Lunch c. 11:15
  4. Symphony Orchestra starts at 12:45 p.m. in Music Bldg. 311
  5. Audition with SO

Your individual meeting with Dr. XXXXXX is scheduled from 9:30 – 9:50 a.m. in his office, Music Bldg. 202.

Your individual audition with the SO is scheduled from 12:50 – 1:05 p.m. in Music Bldg. 311.

The audition repertoire is the Verdi Requiem. Candidates will be asked to conduct selected portions from the entire work, so prepare all movements. 

 We look forward to meeting you, visiting with you, and watching your audition.  Please confirm, once again, your commitment to this audition process with a positive response to this email.

*** End Examples***

So, what does this contrast mean?  It depends on your needs as a student of conducting.

I cannot imagine Example One being a place that is student-centered by reading the enormity of the procedure just to get a chance to audition with the University Symphony Orchestra. Think about this further.  You, as a potential student for Example One get offered a spot to come audition for them. You pay for your own travel, housing, meals, and you have no guarantee that you will get to conduct the large orchestra! Not only is there no guarantee of conducting on Day Two, but you have to take a battery of tests, and perhaps get to have a personal interview. (If you read closely, it looks like the interviews are not for all candidates.) The whole process of Example One smells of ego, high maintenance, and a stifling learning environment. 

Now, what is there to read into Example Two?

The format of this missive is short, sweet and clear.  The tone is polite and professional. The trip could even be done without a hotel stay. Example Two tells me: “We have vetted our candidates to the best of our ability. You made the cut. So, come here and impress us and we’ll talk turkey.”  No tests, no games, just the facts. Can you conduct an orchestra? We shall see. Can you make an impression in your interview? You’ll get a chance.

The only question mark? The ENTIRE VERDI REQUIEM!  It’s daunting for any conductor to try to study an 80 minute work with any eye toward making a 10-20 minute audition impression.

Whether or not you prefer the rigors of Example One over the almost skeletal Example Two is a matter of your taste. But, the important thing is to read the lines. And then read between the lines. And then figure out what might work for you. Understand what you are getting into with an audition procedure and expect their reality, not yours. Furthermore, the audition procedure speaks volumes about how the program is run at that institution.

All “firsts” are important for every conductor. But, let those “firsts” count for as much as possible for your very best opportunity to grow!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Linda Bennett permalink
    July 30, 2010 1:03 am

    Great article Brian. Example 2 seems vaguely familiar to me.

    • Brandon M. permalink
      July 31, 2010 10:54 pm

      Back in the deep recesses of my memory, I remember watching some conductors in an audition much like number 2. And I’ve also been subjected to something quite similar to number 1.

      BTW, my version of #2 was to prepare all of Mahler 2. *Gulp*

  2. j_oft. permalink
    September 6, 2011 7:00 am

    Sadly, example 1 is absolutely familiar to me – it’s a typical procedure to get into any undergraduate (!) conducting program in my country (differences include easier works typically conducted and you’re conducting two pianists, not an orchestra. Same with Graduate and Postgraduate admissions. You know, here, we don’t believe that orchestra is really needed for orchestral conductor. It comes around as a bit of a fancy). And then you look at three years of completing a conducting degree and not seeing an orchestra once (okay, maybe once. If you’re lucky). Of course, afterwards you get to be an expert in advanced Aural Skills, atonal dictations, Harmony and conducting two pianos – all, of course, skills much more needed to be a successful professional conductor than actual conducting, musicality, leadership abilities and working with an ensemble.

    And the learning environment is as stiff as it gets. “Ego driven, high-maintenance, focused on procedures and student-hating”, as well. Oh, and the results are tragic.

    So congratulations on well-developed intuition on your side. 🙂

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