Larry Krantz Flute Pages: College Auditions

Thoughts About Preparing For College Auditions
by Dr. Ed Lacy

In the spirit of helpfulness, here are a few thoughts for all you high school students who are preparing to do auditions for admission to college. Just a few minutes ago, I sat on an auditioning committee for a student who was playing her audition. Several things occurred to me which might be useful, and I present them for your consideration.

First, it goes without saying that you must carefully prepare the materials you are going to play. Remember that what the committee wants to know about you varies from school to school, but generally, they want to try to determine if you will be able to learn in a four-year period what they want to teach you. Almost always, being able to demonstrate satisfying tone quality, good intonation and musical expressiveness will be much more important than fast fingers. Don't feel that you have to play a technically perfect performance in order to be accepted. If you were already a professional, they wouldn't have anything to teach you.

These basics out of the way, most of what I would like to say relates to more incidental matters, but important ones if you are going to be able to present your abilities in the best light.

  • 1. Find out what the audition requirements are for the school or schools to which you are applying. If they want a particular solo piece, or etudes, or certain scales played in a certain style or speed, know that before going into the audition room. This information is not secret, and every good school will be pleased to tell you that in advance. If given free choice, get the advice of a good teacher and make appropriate selections. Do not take something like the 3rd clarinet part or the 2nd bassoon part of a work from your band or orchestra folder as audition material.

  • 2. Take care of the fundamentals. Make sure your instrument is in good condition, and if you are a reed player, that you have a reed which works reasonably well. Warm up properly before going into the room, but by no means make the auditioning committee wait for you while you try to get in a little last-minute practicing. Be on campus early enough to find out where the audition room is. Be on time, or a few minutes early.

  • 3. Dress appropriately. Jeans, shorts, short skirts, sandals, T-shirts, etc., do not help make a good impression. Don't have your hair made over into a hip, movie-star or starlet style, and don't wear extremely heavy makeup. Be business-like. Dress comfortably, but presentably. For women, high heels are almost always a bad choice. If your knees begin to shake a little, this lesson will be brought home in a very real way.

  • 4. Remember that you are being assessed in many ways in addition to the evaluation of your musical performance. Be straight-forward, respectful, direct and congenial, but not overly familiar. Try not to convey arrogance, fear, resentment, conceit or too much nonchalance. If someone offers their hand, shake hands firmly - no "dead fish" handshakes, please, and no "vise-grips." Smile!

  • 5. Focus on the task at hand. Don't devote any mental energy to wondering what the auditioners are thinking about what you are doing. Stay in real-time. That is, don't think about any mistakes you may have made in the music, or any difficult passages coming up. Enjoy the music you are performing.

  • 6. If the auditioners ask you any questions, answer as completely but as concisely as you are able, in a firm tone of voice. Look directly at the person to whom you are talking. You can't be prepared for any and every question you may be asked, but prepare a little. Have a copy of your high school transcript or resume at hand. Prepare a repertoire list. Know the name and something about the background of your private teacher back home. Be able to pronounce correctly the title and the name of the composer of the music you are performing. Know what to say if asked what make and model of instrument you play, what kind of mouthpiece or reed you are using, etc.

  • 7. When you have finished and are excused, smile and say, "Thank you."

  • 8. If you 'really' want to make a good impression and be thought of as a truly special prospect, when you get home, send a brief note to someone at the school, perhaps your prospective major teacher, the head of the music department, or someone in the admissions office, thanking them for listening to your audition and for making you feel at home (if they did so.) 'Very few' students do this, and it can make you stand out in their minds.

  • 9. Remember that those listening to you want to make you feel comfortable and at ease. If you feel that they are talking or laughing too much, they are probably trying to break the tension for you. They have their job to do in the audition, just as you do. It is not their intention or in their interest that you fail to do as well as you are able. They are on your side.

  • 10. Remember that the audition and acceptance process is a two-way street. You are auditioning the school as much as they are auditioning you. The whole purpose is to make a proper match between students and schools. Try to find an opportunity to establish communication with the person who may become your major teacher, as this person will exert a profound influence in your life.

I hope you find some of these items helpful. Good luck!

Dr. Edwin Lacy
University of Evansville
Professor of Music

Thoughts on Careers for Flutists (and other musicians)
by Ed Lacy

    1) How many colleges in the United States have music programs (i.e. how many colleges/universities employ flute teachers)?

I don't know exactly how many degree-granting institutions there are in the US, but there must be at least 3,000 which have some kind of music offerings, although in a large percentage of those, the music faculty consists of only one or two people, often part-time faculty members, who teach courses like music appreciation and music fundamentals for non-music majors. The last time I checked, there were just under 700 schools which were accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music.

    2) On average, how many flute teachers are there per school?

Less than one, because in the majority of those 700 schools, the flute teacher is either a part-time faculty member, or also teaches other courses as a part of the teaching load.

    3) How many years does the average flute teacher teach at a school?

I don't think there would be any way to find out. It ranges from one year to many, many years.

    4) How many applicants per opening?

It depends on the type of position. If it is a full-time position, teaching nothing but flute, there could be hundreds of applications for a single position. At the University where I teach, our flute position in recent years has been a part-time one, with duties shared with the local orchestra and other teaching responsibilities, and we have had as many as 60 or 70 applicants.

    5) How many people are getting Master's Degrees in flute?

Far more than can be accomodated in all the university teaching positions and the orchestra positions combined. How many full-time flute positions are available each year? Perhaps 10? 12? 20? I can name four or five large music schools which combined are awarding more than enough master's degrees in flute each year to satisfy that demand. And, of the 700 accredited NASM schools, probably about 250 have graduate programs, and all but a handful of those have a master's degree program in performance. In these programs, flute is likely to be one of the most prevalent instruments. I would speculate that there might be well over 100 master's degrees in flute performance awarded each year, in addition to several doctorates in the same field. If my guesses are anywhere near on target, that means that more than 80% of those graduates won't get jobs, at least in the year in which they graduate. Further, upon receiving their degrees and entering the job market, they find themselves immediately in competition, not only with their fellow graduates, but also with the huge backlog of people who received their degrees in previous years but who have not yet been able to get jobs.

However, there are other factors. Some of the people who get college flute teaching jobs and some of those who get orchestra jobs do not have master's degrees in flute performance. They may have bachelor's degrees, degrees in other fields of music or in areas outside of music, or they may have no degrees at all. On the other hand, some of the crop of applicants each year will already have completed doctoral degrees. Again, some of those doctorates may be in flute performance, while others may be in another field entirely.

For anyone considering embarking on a course of earning a master's degree in flute performance with a view to eventually teaching at the college level to investigate very carefully the field they intend to enter, and to prepare realistically for the types of positions which are likely to exist. First of all, it would be well as quickly as possible to rid oneself of the notion that the process consists of getting a master's degree in flute and then immediately sliding into a cushy college teaching position. That essentially never happens. Most of the people who are getting the jobs in the larger universities have put in apprenticeships ranging up to 10 to 15 years or longer. These "apprenticeships" usually consist of gaining performance experience in an orchestra. And, unfortunately, these jobs are no easier to get than are the university positions.

Second, it is a very good idea for anyone desiring a college-level position to prepare themselves to teach more than just flute performance. What are your other strengths? Could you teach flute and music history and literature? Flute and music theory? Flute and humanities? Flute and music education? Flute and other woodwind instruments? Flute and jazz? Flute and electronic music? Any of these combinations, or flute in combination with two, three or more, will make a candidate more marketable.

Third, I always recommend that anyone embarking on a career in music, especially those parts of the music profession in which the supply of candidates far outstrips the demand, should have their alternative plans in place. If you have a dream, a burning desire to enter a certain facet of the profession, you should go for it. If you don't you will never know whether you could have accomplished your goal. There are going to be some positions open each year, and someone is going to get them. However, given the realities of the situation, it only makes sense to be prepared for whatever you are going to do if you aren't one of those few people, or if reaching your goal requires much longer than you had planned. Having these alternative plans ready does not equate with admitting defeat. However, it must be remembered that when job vacancies occur, some of the people who are competing for them are very talented musicians who will have been devoting themselves 100% to performance on their instrument, sometimes for periods of well over 20 years.

Some of the most unhappy and frustrated people I have ever met are musicians who thought that all they had to do was get a bachelor's degree in performance, then a master's degree in the same field from a major, prestigious conservatory, then practice their excerpts and take auditions for a short time until they landed that job as principal player in a major symphony orchestra or as a professor of flute. Then, if things don't work out that way, they feel that they have failed at life, and don't know what course of action to pursue at that point.

Unfortunately, there are some universities and conservatories which are so anxious to enroll as many students in performance as they can that they never mention to students or prospective students that limiting oneself exclusively to the study of performance may not be a practical course of action. In some cases, these institutions feel a need to have as many performance students as possible, sometimes to keep their professors supplied with students to teach and satisfied with the quality of their students. Another factor is that of the prestige of the school, or at least the reputation as perceived by the school itself. ("We have X times more performance majors than Y university, so we must be X times better than they are.")

However, fortunately, orchestral performance and college teaching are not the only ways to make a living in the music profession. There is also private teaching, performing on a free-lance basis, public and private school music education, music therapy, the retail and wholesale music industry, orchestra management, arts administration, music librarianship, the recording industry, church music and many, many more, as well as various combinations of these. A person who is talented, well-trained, motivated, organized, and hard-working can create a good career for themselves in a number of ways. Those who work the hardest often find the most success, because they are in a better position to avail themselves of opportunities as they arise.

The music profession can be a truly satisfying and rewarding one if musicians will take a realistic view of it.

Dr. Edwin Lacy
University of Evansville
Professor of Music

A View from the audition committee

The other day I was sitting on an audition committee listening to flute auditions. I always find it very enlightening and instructive for my own playing and thought I might pass some observations along. I think these are relevant at any level.

    1) If you are going to do any sort of warm-up on stage, please know that EVERY note you play is fair game to be judged. I think it's best not to do it at all.

    2) Over exaggerate all dynamics and phrasing. Especially p. I think it might be impossible to play too softly at an audition. I heard people trying to make phrases, but you had to really listen for them. Don't make the committee do that. I remember something John Krell used to tell me: Phrasing and dynamics are like stage make-up, it can seem grotesque close up but on stage it looks perfectly natural. The exaggeration is needed to project your intent.

    3) Take care of details. Ends of notes, separation of notes, etc.

    4) Pitch, pitch, pitch. It was the first thing that knocked some people out. Tape yourself. Be ruthless. The committee will be.

    5) If you are playing the Mozart D, please hold the long D for the full value. We know that music, we are hearing the accompaniment in our head. Also, as regards that D, see # 4. Yikes!

    6) (This is more for the younger, less experienced players) Listen to several versions of the excerpts so you can make a good judgment as to how they should go. The one recording you listen to and study from could have some very idiosyncratic playing that might be taken as inexperienced when you do it in an audition.

Please remember, we want you to play well. We want our job to be made easy. And good luck!

Ellen Waltham

Choosing a Music School
Joanne Lazzaro

Picking a school can definitely be an overwhelming process - it was for me. I too was very concerned about my experience as a flute player. What turned out to be more important, in the long run, was my experience as a musician, and the potential to be successful in the career of my choice.

From your question, I am going to make a couple of assumptions: Your parents are not professional musicians, and you are probably going to be concerned about financial aid, and getting a job after you graduate.

There have already been some excellent posts on this question, so please put this advice in the context of all the others. I'll share what I have seen both in the careers of friends, and from on the "inside" as a university employee.

Choice of major, double major, major/minor.

Music Ed/ Performance can be a tough double major. Both areas of study have a high number of required credits, and music ed will require a semester of student teaching (during which you will not be able to take any other courses). For any double major, be prepared to spend additional time and/or money, either in summer school or on credit overload during the semester. If you choose to go on credit overload, there is usually a minimum GPA required. You can reduce some of the summer school and overload by taking college courses in high school at your local community college, taking advanced placement classes and passing the AP exams, and getting college credit for some extracurricular activities, either in high school or during the evenings/summers. If you do not already have strong piano and vocal skills, stqrt now (take piano and join your high school choir).

What to ask each college: ask to see the course catalog for music majors, and a copy of a recent course bulletin. Read the course requirements for your two majors, and check the course bulletin. At some schools, especially smaller ones, some required course are held simultaneously, so that you cannot take the required courses for two majors in the same semester (this, along with the teaching internship, often prolongs your degree to 5 years instead of 4). You might be able to check some of this online now...

Other choices of major:

Music ed is a great choice if you love working with children, enjoy piano and voice, and learn other instruments fairly easily.

However, if you don't already have a strong inclination towards teaching, consider other double majors that have ties within the music field. Would you enjoy being a music publisher, recording engineer, librarian/copyist, film scorer, music promoter, accountant for an orchestra, tax preparer for musicians, music therapist, sign language interpreter (use your imagination). A double major in business (or accounting, occupational therapy, recording arts, foreign language, etc) and music performance can combine two skills that will enable you to work with and for musicians (as well as continue being a musician yourself).

Another direction to consider, if you're good at picking up other instruments, is being a woodwinds performance major (instead of flute only) rather than music education. That opens up quite a few job opportunities, and broadens your musical experience as well. If you choose to do that, I would not recommend a double major (you will need to spend a LOT of time practicing) but another minor may be possible.

Choice of teachers:

When you visit a school, ask whether you will have your choice of flute teachers. Some schools assign the students to a specific flute teacher, according to major (i.e. all music ed students go to teacher A, and all performance majors go to teacher B). If you prefer the other teacher, you may not be allowed to switch. See also the comment below about "warm auditions".

Cold auditions vs. warm auditions (and what you will learn about the flute teachers).

Cold auditions: This is what most undergrad applicants go through - the day of the audition is the first time they ever meet or play for the flute faculty. What you will learn/observe: pay attention to how the flute faculty treat you, do they smile, say things to put you at ease, express concern for your comfort (room temperature, stand height, etc)?. When they discuss elements of your playing, does their tone of voice and manner of talking make you more able to play what is requested, or does it strike terror in your heart, and make you more nervous? Do they seem to take a personal interest in you, your playing strengths and weaknesses? The way the audition panel treats you during the audition is the way the faculty will treat you in lessons and classes......

Warm auditions: These are cases when you have had the opportunity to take lessons (or played in workshops, masterclasses etc) with one of the flute faculty, and he/she has already said that they would be interested in having you as a student, if you attend that college. These usually go much better, you will feel more at ease, and your acceptance to the program is not riding on that single 20 minute block of time. However, this is still a good time to pay attention to the rest of the panel - do they seem to be agreement with your future flute-teacher-to-be, treat you with the same courtesy and respect, or do they say or do things that make you more uncomfortable? Go with your gut instinct, if the flute teacher makes you feel really uncomfortable the first time you meet/play for him/her, chances are good that there is a not a good personality fit for you.

Geographical location:

You are going to spend 4 years (or 2 plus 2 if you choose a community college first) building up a reputation in the geographical area of the college. Remember what I said earlier about experience as a musician being important? Consider a school in an area where will you get plenty of opportunity to play, both in campus groups and off-campus in the local community. You will play for community orchestra concerts, musicals, casuals, parades, etc, plus do your student teaching internship at a local elementary or high school. Chance are, if you're doing well, you will get continuing job offers from local schools or music establishments. Consider choosing a college in the geographical area in which you would like to get a job after college. Also consider, do you expect your first job to be as a local music teacher/music industry/singing waiter, or are you planning to go audition/interview all over the country for whatever you can get?

What to ask the college: What is the placement radius for recent graduates? For example, the undergrad school I went to had a very strong placement within approximately 250 mile radius of the college, and extremely high within 50 miles. In the state I live in now (and moved to right after college ) there are less than 5 music alumni from my undergrad school, and none of them still in music ed (as far as I know).

Buying another flute:

This is a very personal matter. I made it through my bachelor's degree in a fairly inexpensive student flute, and still placed well in seating auditions. However, I spent a lot of time on the college's piccolo, a professional Haynes that was unearthed in a closet while cleaning out a former professors office, so I had access to a professional handmade instrument for most of my college years. For my master's degree, I was told flat out that a better flute was required, and bought a professional flute during the first month.

If you get questions during the audition that express concern for the quality of your current flute, or if the flute teachers ask to play it to see if there's anything wrong with it, that's a good sign that the flute may be holding you back musically. You will want to discuss this with your flute-teacher-to-be, who will guide you through this process during lessons, helping you choose the right flute based on days or weeks of testing the instruments under consideration. The best flute for you is usually the one you sound best on, within your price range, and still has room for your playing style/technique to "grow". The flute you get for this time period may still be a "transition" flute, and as your playing matures you may discover that an different flute or headjoint gets better results.

Financial aid:

Ask to see a sample financial aid package for music students. If you add up the total loan portion of the package for 4 (or 5) years, what will your student loan debt be, in total dollars, when you graduate? How long is the deferral before payback begins? A word of caution - just because a student may qualify for the maximum (100%) financial aid package, does not mean that your level of debt will be manageable when you graduate. This is often a particular problem for flutists, as there are many of them trying to get into each school, and not enough scholarship money to go around. You will want to have as low a level of debt as possible upon graduation. It is very easy to wind up with a student loan equal to 100% (or more) of the total annual salary that you could expect to earn your first few years after you graduate. This ratio is too high, look to keep your student loan debt below 50% of your first year's salary. If your parents are able to pay most of your college costs, buy you a flute and a car, and support you while you job hunt, that's great, but if not, and you're going to be the one paying off everything, watch the student aid packages carefully.

BTW, a portion of your student loan money can be used to buy a new flute (I bought a cheap used alto and cheap used bass flute with some of mine)-something to keep in mind.

A last word of advice, keep your academic grades up in high school. It is unfortunate to be in a position where you could be accepted into a college's music program, and highly ranked, but your academic test scores put you at the bottom of the college's acceptance list. I've seen it happen.....

Joanne Lazzaro
Los Angeles Flute Orchestra

Reprinted from FLUTE with permission of the authors.
Return to Careers/College Prep/Auditions page