Juilliard Juries!

gavelA few days ago, I was power walking through the fourth-floor hallway, desperate for a practice studio. Every room seemed to be occupied — typical for a weekday morning. But this time I was feeling extra pressure. My jury was in an hour.

In music conservatories, students are required to take annual juries. We prepare a variety of prescribed repertoire – concertos, sonatas, and unaccompanied Bach – to perform before a panel of faculty. These juries are only ten or fifteen minutes long, but they’re terrifying. At Juilliard, juries are essentially graded auditions that determine whether or not we will be allowed to remain enrolled in the school. Although I’ve never heard of anyone being kicked out for a sub-par jury, it’s scary to think that it’s possible.

The job of the jury panel is to give the performer a numerical grade for creative expression and technical mastery. This quantitative expression makes the artistic experience feel contrived. It’s sort of a performance, but going into it, you know you’re going to be interrupted in the middle of the piece, and the whole time you’re playing, the panel is scratching down comments and critiques.

Jury week means a lot of stress for musicians. Every year thus far of my undergrad career, I have had a meltdown in the week prior to my jury. I somehow convince myself that I’m unable to play the violin, that my fingers and brain are inadequate, that my memory will fail me, that the hours and hours of practice that I’ve put in will not result in an acceptable performance. This year, three days before my jury, I gave a mock-performance for my sister, which ended with me lying face-down on the carpet, moaning, while she tried to pry me off the floor.

So, flash back to the other morning, while I was gobbling down bananas and trying to find a place to warm up. Outside one practice room, I heard a jazz drummer playing, and I had a funny thought.

I should preface this by saying that there is sort of an unfair stigma about jazz players at Juilliard, from the point of view of classical musicians, which is that they never practice. I’m sure this is an unmerited reputation, but it exists. In fact, while writing this, I realized that I used the word “playing” instead of the word “practicing” at the beginning of the previous paragraph, whereas if it had been a violinist or a pianist, I would without a doubt have said “practicing”. Why is it that they “play”, but we “practice”?

As I listened to this student practicing, playing, or in some way preparing for his jury, I said to myself, “God, jazz juries must be so fun, and relaxed. I mean, listen to the music they’re playing! They must be an absolute breeze, because jazz is, like, FUN.”

As soon as the thought passed through my mind, I began to laugh. I was being ridiculous for two reasons. The first reason is that I know perfectly well jazz juries are not all that easy. Apparently, the faculty puts 60 songs into a hat and draws them at random to determine what the student should play. Repertoire determined by lottery – nerve-wracking.

But secondly, how telling was it that I dismissed jazz juries as being no big deal on the premise that the music is “fun”, and meant to be enjoyed, instead of stressed over, whereas I thought of juries for classical musicians as a whole different process? Wasn’t my music “fun” – and: profound and reflective, buoyant and vivacious, and everything in between?

I had been agonizing over presenting myself to this panel of esteemed violin professors, and proving my worth to them – proving that I could play my octaves in tune, and give the nonuplets in the third movement of the Stravinsky concerto the fluid, improvisatory quality that they required.

I remembered, then, why I study music, and what the essence of this music is. All of a sudden, entering my jury seemed less like marching towards an execution, and more like a chance to show my teachers how I felt about the music and what I could do about it.

The moral to stories like this one is always the same, and it feels cliché to say it. And yet I find myself having the same realization repeatedly, usually when I’m so nervous about performing that I feel like I will explode. But it really does always come back to forgetting about yourself and your insecurities, and remembering the music and why you’re there to play. With this in my mind, an hour later I walked into the room to face the panel. I smiled, and raised my violin to play.

Blowing off steam after my jury!

Blowing off steam after a successful jury.

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A Gift for Map

Most of the emails that swamp my inbox daily are deleted immediately, though occasionally there is a free ticket offer or a chance to make friendship bracelets out of chocolate. (Thanks, Office of Student Affairs!) But the best news I’ve heard lately came from a Juilliard administrator. The subject, in all-caps: $5 MILLION GIFT FOR MAP.

MAP is the Music Advancement Program, the Saturday music program at Juilliard where I’ve been teaching for the last two years. MAP serves to represent the under-represented in the American classical music scene – which means most of their students are black and Hispanic, and the tuba player is a girl!

The program came close to ending in 2009, when it lost major funding. But thanks to Harriet Heyman and Michael J. Moritz, MAP, which was started in 1991 by Juilliard president Joseph Polisi, has become so much closer to becoming fully endowed.

bach-double

I’ve been coaching Claudius and Juliet in the Bach Double. Their accompanist is Hongsup Lee.

As a MAP Fellow, I work with students in chamber music and in private lessons. Herbie, my 9-year-old student from Queens, is perpetually bouncy and enthusiastic – even at the dreadful hour of 8:30, when we have our weekly lessons. Herbie is working on the second movement of the Handel violin sonata in D major, and is preparing it for a recital this month.

Herbie recently left school because, even though he had skipped two grades, the work wasn’t challenging him. On his iPad case, he has written in sharpie: “I am home-schooled, not a truant”, next to a drawing of the 1 train. He likes the subway system very much.

Caeli-and-Herbie

Me and Herbie

I invited Herbie and his mother to one of my orchestra performances at Juilliard this year (Mahler’s 1st symphony, with Edward Gardener conducting). Herbie sat on the edge of his seat throughout the concert, taking careful notes. At the end of the symphony, he leapt to his feet and clapped his hands over his head while jumping up and down. He was probably the only 9-year-old in the audience, and certainly had as much enthusiasm as the rest of the audience combined.

Students in MAP receive weekly private lessons, take theory classes, and play in an orchestra. Most of the MAP parents are very supportive, but some determined students make it there every Saturday morning without much parental involvement.

Claudius has a LOT of music to learn!

Claudius has a LOT of music to learn!

Attending a program at Juilliard is a big source of pride for the students and their families. The program has an extremely dedicated staff and faculty, and in spite of all the bleak news in classical music, it’s comforting to know this program will be educating and nurturing young musicians for years to come.
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The Music Advancement Program application for the 2013-2014 year is available online at http://www.juilliard.edu/map. The deadline is April 1st.

Audition Recording Tips

Mark Gasser

Mark Gasser (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That time of year has come and gone again – the dreary month of January, when you’re suffering from frozen fingers and the post-holiday blues, and all the while facing three more months of winter. Luckily for us musicians, this is also when we get to partake in our most beloved pastime: recording for summer festivals! Nothing cheers you up quite like the agonizing hours spent in front of that mean, little recorder and the joy of picking your least horrible take to submit.

Even though we’re all nearly done with our summer recordings, I think we’re still fresh from the trauma. So here is a list of recording tips from yours truly, to think about for next time!

EAT – but not just anything! We’ve all heard about how important it is to eat a balanced breakfast before taking the SAT. The same goes for recording: we need our bodies and brains to be fueled to work properly! Duh – but the tricky part is figuring out what exactly to eat. Before a recording session last year, I enjoyed a delicious bowl of gazpacho, my favorite cold soup (I really like cold soups…) But although it was refreshing and veggielicious, I believe the lack of carbs and protein were a hindrance to my recording session. I felt a lot slower than usual. Now I’m sure to scarf down something more substantial, not too mention SUGARY, for that extra oomph! (I recommend Trader Joe’s Molasses cookies.)

Book a space well ahead of time. Usually I am able to snag an empty dance studio at Juilliard to record (these make for good recording spaces because of their high ceilings and acceptable acoustics). This year, I casually waltzed into a room that I hadn’t booked – and was promptly interrupted right before my first note, by someone who actually had a reason to use the room (oddly, it was a drama student who needed to practice the trumpet!) I was lucky enough to be able to record in a church without previously reserving it. But book ahead, or you’ll end up dropping your recorder in the toilet while recording in your bathroom.

Perform, don’t just record. One of the worst parts of recording for me is the fact that there aren’t any real people to play for, just a little blinking red dot, taunting you, daring you to mess up. The recorder isn’t such a great audience. If you can, grab a friend and ask them to listen. It adds a more human element to the session. I asked the kindly security guard who opened the chapel for me if he’d listen to my Bach – “It’s so much easier to play for a real person!” He indulged me, and even though he was a complete stranger, having someone in the room to play for made all the difference.

Don’t set unrealistic standards. This is why I always prefer live auditions to recording – you play, you leave. But when you record, you theoretically have an unlimited amount of chances to get it just right, which puts the pressure on like nothing else. Give everything at least three takes. If it’s not perfect, don’t worry about it. In three takes, you’ll have captured your best playing that day, which is all you can ask for.

Stretch it out. On that note, give yourself plenty of time to be happy with your product. If you have lots of different rep to record, consider spreading your recording session over a few days, so you can focus on each piece more intensely on that given day.

Happy recording (if such a thing is possible!)

~ Caeli

College & Precollege

This article first appeared in The Juilliard Admissions BlogOctober 11, 2010

During my last two years of high school, I was a student in Juilliard’s Pre-College Program, which meant, among other things, getting up at 6 AM every Saturday morning to travel to 65th and Broadway from my hometown, Philadelphia. Despite the early mornings and the four hours spent on the New Jersey Turnpike each week, I absolutely loved Pre-College. I adored my teachers and made tons of new friends that shared my passion for music – and getting to spend part of my weekend in New York City wasn’t bad either. Like many of the other seniors in my Pre-College class, I hoped to be accepted to the college division and continue my studies at Juilliard.

We never saw much of the college students during our invasion on Saturdays. In fact, I’d been told more than once that they avoided the music building like the plague on that particular day of the week (which, only one month into my first year, I already understand completely). The college students always seemed to hold a certain mystique for me – how glamorous and exciting it must be to live right on Lincoln Center, and perform as a member of the Juilliard Orchestra on stages such as Avery Fisher Hall (and even Carnegie Hall!) I looked up to these alluring, accomplished individuals and hoped to become one myself. Even though I came to the school every week, I had a feeling that being in the college was a completely different experience. And I was completely right.

My first days as a college student at Juilliard were formidable, but once I settled in and made some new friends, I felt right at home. Getting to know the other students in the dorm was one of the best parts of orientation – now my friends included not only musicians, but dancers and actors as well! My roommate and I (we live the 23rd floor of the residence building – with a great view!) bonded quickly and have a ton of fun with the other girls in our suite. But my fabulous colleagues are only one part of what makes Juilliard so great. As part of the Juilliard Orchestra, we have the opportunity to work with incredible guest conductors such as James Levine and Alan Gilbert (I’ll be playing Mahler’s 9th symphony under him next spring). Later this month, students from the Sydney Conservatorium will unite with students from Juilliard for a special joint performance in Alice Tully Hall.

As for location, you couldn’t ask for a better place to live as a young, developing artist – we’re surrounded by the New York City Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera, and the New York Philharmonic – and it’s easy to get cheap, student rush tickets to incredible performances. And there are, of course, tons of other perks to living in Lincoln Center – within my first month, I’ve already gotten to see models strutting around during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, and caught glimpses of Blake Lively and Leighton Meester while Gossip Girl was being filmed outside of the Met, right next door!

My perspective of Juilliard has completely changed as a college student. The offices, hallways, and classrooms that I hadn’t used or known about at Pre-College had before seemed daunting and scary. But I quickly realized that the entire administration is made of friendly, helpful people, and that fellow students are exactly the kind of people that I always wanted to be around in college – wonderful, talented individuals who are wholly passionate about their art.

I know there are many Pre-College students in their senior year of high school who are interested in applying to Juilliard, and I couldn’t encourage you enough. However much you may love Juilliard now, it won’t compare to your experiences as a college student. Now that I’m here as one of them, I can’t imagine myself in a better place – and I couldn’t be happier!