13 February, 2006

Dec.23 The Bizness of Singing part 3 (college)

23 December 2005 @ 11:36 pm
The Biz of the Biz part three- College
I know, I know, I shouldn't assume that the majority of people in the US go to college. But I am hoping that if someone reads this and is looking for singing advice, that they would consider that their education- both on stage and off- has a lot to do with what kind of training they get.

Now, I am a product of a unique college experience. When I was a highschool Junior (let's be honest here, more like Sophomore who really really liked to plan ahead with charts, graphs, internet material and lots of email inquiries), I was not sure that studying music was for me. Actually, I thought I was better than "just" a music degree. I loved academics. Loved languages, political science, English, writing, history- anything that was social sciences based. And I excelled at those subjects as well. Unfortunately the math-music connection didn't do me very well in calculus. I didn't want to 'throw' my higher education away by majoring in measly music- or worse- voice. What would I get in a voice degree? Lessons, music history, theory, solfege, perhaps a bit of piano, and chorus. Right? Of course, it MAY prepare me for a career in music and give me some experience that would look good on a resume. Yes, one would assume that going to a music school or conservatory would have the best resources in terms of coaching, teaching and growth as an artist. But I was not sure about that, and I was not sure about my career path.
I had a passion for music, but also many other things.

My choices to narrow down from thanks to standardized testing, AP scores, grades, and volunteer work:
A large university with an excellent music school that I could double major in something "real" and music.
A very small college that excelled in liberal arts, may not have the best music program, but was a great academic degree
A conservatory where I would only study music and get basic liberal arts classes (2)
A conservatory/University program where I would be shuttling between 2 schools, earning two degrees at the same tame, working twice as hard as my friends to pursue both music and something that could get me by in the real world.

There are many schools that fall into each of these categories. And one by one, I narrowed them down, choosing about 2-3 in each category that I thought I could get into. I applied to 12 schools for undergraduate. One was a big university with a great music program that I KNEW I could get into (safety), the rest were reaches or near-matches with my qualifications.
There were four double degree programs that I was looking at during that time, and I applied to all of them and got into 3.
I did get into one small only liberal arts college that was 'academically' rated higher than any other school I applied to.
And I got into the "reach" big Universities with the big named music and politics programs.

I decided to push myself and be one of the seven entering students in the double degree program. I had 5 years to do the requirements of 2 degrees. I feel as if I got the best of both worlds in terms of music, and the college experience. Of the 7 who entered the program with me, only two others graduated on-time, two dropped out, and two finished the program late. It was rigorous and busy to say the least.

Which route should a highschooler choose?
Well, here are a few things to consider.

Are you interested in studying ONLY music? If so, then that may narrow your choices to only conservatories or only Universities with great music programs.
Are you interested in other academic pursuits MORE than music? If so, you may want to minor in music, or double major, while having the luxury of staying on ONE campus, having a fun, real, college experience, and still continuing to study music, but knowing that you come out with a degree in something that you could get immediately paid to do (hopefully, unless you're an ENGLISH major or something!! Just Kidding).

Money- My parents, the saints, took out LOANS. MANY LOANS. I am responsible for paying them all now. By myself. We decided that because of the rigorous program I was pursuing that there would be no time for me to get a job and be in school. Therefore, LOANS. I pay 356 dollars a MONTH now to pay them back, and have about 50thou to pay off. It WILL be ok. I can survive on what I earn AND pay back the loans, but it is a huge burden to consider. If I had that extra 350 a month I could have HEFTY savings and investments by now.
In the money category- if you can't pay the insane tuition of, oh say, a conservatory that costs around 32 thousand or MORE a year (not including housing in the major city where it is located), think of State schools and larger universities- Cheaper.
I will never know if I made a mistake in NOT accepting the nearly FULL ride I got at Eastmann/Rochester double degree program. I would have gone to a great conservatory, a pretty good university, gotten 2 degrees, and had no debt.
(I would have frozen my booty off for 4 years too, but that's another story).

BUT- on the side of loans and expensive schools, what's in a name--well, some people in your future musical life WILL recognize a big named conservatory over a small college or university with perhaps an unknown musical faculty and center.

I think that in undergrad (whether you're planning on going to grad school or not) it's worth it to take out the loans to get the best collegiate education that you can. The success you have will give you a leg up on your first job, or into your graduate program. When it comes time for grad school- THAT'S when you want to be thinking about that full ride- or a stipend for working in the music department.

That still doesn't answer the question of what to study.
If you have another love- go for it.
Good in French? DO it! It will NEVER hurt to have a strong academic background no matter what you are interested. Heck, major in Biology and keep taking voice lessons in the music department. Audition for the shows and maybe try to get into the opera scenes or drama class.

What I appreciate most about the program that I chose:
I got to live among 1500 other Freshman my first year, in a real college dorm (not in a 200 person consevatory tiny building where everyone knows everything about everything), experience the normalcy, the jocks, the geeks, nerds, international students, extracurricular clubs and activities, dining halls, Xtra long twin beds, the a capella groups (huge in the northeast), the amazing professors from all over the country and the world, the first-class libraries, the academic challenges and social milieu of a Liberal Arts College.
I also got the small conservatory, professional voice teacher and coaches, music history, theory, solfege, chorus, singers and musicians all around me, artistic growth, artistic inspiration, zeroed in studies of music, music and music as a career, profession, more than a hobby, something is riding on the fact that I was one of X number of freshman sopranos at the conservatory.

That's not for everyone. Although I had a college experience for sure, I did NOT have as much free time as any of my friends. I just had to be more places more often than them. I had to plan my classes around 2 schools including the 30min. commute between them, had performances or rehearsals at night, chorus bright and early in the morning, and in between fit in my politics, english, french, italian, german, math and science requirements..etc. Needless to say, I am more inspired by this kind of environemt. It fuels me to work harder, rather than taking its toll, as it did on those who dropped the program.
However, there was not ONE weekend where I would not cherish my sleep, since I got so little during the week. My ringer was OFF, there was no rousing me before noon unless there was a fire drill or a performance I had to be at.

All this talk about the choices of college/university/conservatory, and I have not really spoken about how to get INTO these places.
Well, if you follow the handy dandy Highschool recommendations, you're on the right track.

IN ADDITION to the good grades, and everything that it takes to get into any regular college for liberal arts studies you need:
A GREAT, not just good, GREAT recording. Usually the requirements vary for departments, but it's always at least 3 or 4 languages through 4 or 5 art songs, maybe one aria and one oratorio are allowed.

People, this is not about impressing with repertoire. This is about singing the CRAP out of what your best piece is. I don't care if it's caro mio ben. DO IT if it's the best thing you do.

If you don't know what to put on the CD, take a look at what the graduation requirements are for that undergrad vocal program. Probably you do a Jury every semester that requires songs in every language and at the end your recital will require different history eras- baroque, classical, romantic, contemporary.
IF you have this repertoire already secure, (or ONE example from each category), they will see that you are already on the right track in terms of what you are learning. They will see that you are already smart enough to be singing not just arias that are inappropriate, but a good mix of Handel and Bach to increase agility, Mozart for standard repertoire, Debussy for artistry, and some crazy piece in a non-key because you challenge yourself to do it!

Please, please don't make the CD at your voice lesson. Go to a church, a hall, a rehearsal room- anywhere but the porch of a house that's been converted into a studio.
Minidisks are wonderous things, and I have gotten amazing quality from my recordings. You don't need to spend a thousand dollars at a studio to do this, but make sure what you send represents your voice RIGHT NOW (not 6 months ago at a concert with clapping in the ends of the tracks), especially if you're a soprano and there is a pre-screening process.

The rest of the application:
Well, I'm assuming you'll need a resume and a repertoire list. You may not have a long list of either of these, but try to make whatever you have work for YOU.
If you don't have operatic performance experience, don't list that first on your resume.
Instead, list the choruses you have been involved with, and how long.

No one is expecting an undergraduate to have sung in anything but MAYBE a soloist in school or community chorus, a short recital, and perhaps some opera scenes if you did a summer program.

DO put your language studies on there. DO put other relevant skills like instruments played and how long.
DO put dancing and acting experience and for how many years.

The Essay:
If you're applying to a conservatory they will invariable ask you in some sort of covert way why you want to be a singer.
The question could be name one piece (book, music, movie) that has had influence on your artistic career and why, or it could be why do you want to pursue music?
Don't say you have a passion for music. Don't say you've been singing since you were three in your crib.
Think about this question seriously.
What event in your life has led you to the decision to pursue music as more than just a hobby, and in fact, as a possible career?
Is it your love of studying everything that has to do with music? Languages, stagecraft etc?
Is it the mentors you have gained from this study?
Is it how the art "moves" you or others ? (OK, try to shy away from this as well).
Is there one experience, musical or not in your past that you feel was the decisive point of entry for you in the pursuit of these studies?

If you're applying to a university and there is a general essay or personal statement, find a way to work music into it if that is your passion. (Of course also cleverly discussing your previous experience as a lifeguard and how when you almost saved that little kid who fell in the pool you knew from then on that you wanted to "help people" is a good story too).
Or, don't write about music at all. Personal statements are clinchers. You need a great start and a great finish, and somehow to tell the reader the important things you have participated in during HS, and how those things influenced your decision to apply for X university and study Y.

So, to sum up APPLYING to colleges:
You have choices about where to study.
You have to sit down and make a priority list for yourself- it may include considerations like Money, type of school, type of degree, courses of study, location location location, teachers, and much much more. If you write these out and really look at what schools and programs have to offer, you too can narrow down the seemingly endless list of colleges and universities that you can apply to.
You have to be prepared to send in your BEST in the form of a paper application (with CD). A well written essay, well presented resume and repertoire list, and most importantly a GREAT, not just good, CD.
Then, yes, you do have to give a good audition and impression if you get a live audition, but that is talk for another day.
There are some great choices out there in terms of schools.

Most of all, you have to go where you think you'll be HAPPY. Not the big name school because you think it will get you somewhere.
Not the big fish in a little pond because you think you'll have a leg up with more roles under your belt from a small small school than those in the 'famous' big schools or conservatories.
This will depend on climate, who the students are, where they come from, what you can study, how the campus LOOKS!
Take time to gather the information and your choice will be more clear.



Laura said...

Miss (or should I say MRS, now?!) Coloraturaaaah, Thank you so much for these articles! I'm working on putting my Young Artist's Corner stuff into a book and wanted to see what else is out there. Your site is wonderful and insightful about what is going on THESE DAYS in a young artists' career in the business. Since I started so young and that was - ahem - a while ago, it is great to be able to see what it's like these days out in the trenches. You've given me food for thought.

I wish you all the best in your career. You sound like one smart cookie, so I'm sure you won't need any luck at all to keep doing well. Thanks so much for sharing the journey!!!
Best wishes,
Laura Claycomb

coloraturaaah said...

Thanks for your comment, Laura- wrote you a little note in your guestbook :)