Thursday, April 2, 2015

Final Oral Exam Study Tips for Music Students

The final requirement of my graduate music degree was to pass a final oral examination, which I did one year ago yesterday! In honor of the occasion, I thought that I would share my experience and some advice for students who will be taking their final oral exams over the next few weeks.

At my university, the final oral examination consists of a two hour session with a committee consisting of your applied faculty member (in my case, my oboe professor) and two other professors of your choosing. During these two hours, the committee asks you a variety of questions about your instrument and its development, orchestral repertoire, solo and chamber repertoire, music history, music theory, and more.

I passed my final oral exam on April Fools' Day 2014, and my experience was actually really positive. The exam covers a lot of information, and it was a little intimidating to even think about at first. However, preparing for the exam showed me how much I had learned and grown during my graduate study. I knew more than I thought I did, and it gave me a heightened sense of confidence in the value of my degree as I graduated and moved on to the next big thing.

I plan to write posts about some of the questions in the future -- for instance, my approach to recital programming. For now, I thought I would offer suggestions about how to prepare.
  1. Schedule your exam EARLY. I knew it would be difficult to get all four of us in the same room at the same time, but I didn't realize just how difficult. Allow yourself plenty of time to confirm committee members, compare schedules, confirm a date and time, and then confirm a place.
  2. Speak to your committee members about their expectations for the exam. All of my faculty members had outlines of material that they expect students, as soon-to-be recipients of a graduate degree, to know. While these outlines won't always go into enormous detail, they can point you in the right direction of topics to study.
  3. Practice with a friend. I don't usually study with a partner, but I cannot recommend it enough when preparing for the final oral exam. You need to know the information, but you also have to be able to verbalize it in an articulate manner. Have a friend ask you open-ended questions from your study guides, and practice speaking your answers out loud and interacting with your questioner. If you don't know the answer, practice redirecting the conversation to something that you do know!
Suggested topics to study for a graduate performance degree:
  • Repertoire. You should know solo, chamber, and orchestral repertoire. The most helpful piece of advice that I received was to study repertoire in a couple different ways: by period (classical, romantic, etc.), by type (concerto, sonata, etc.), by composer (Mozart's symphonies, operas, concertos, etc.), and so on. As an oboist, I was also expected to know the oboe instrumentation for the major Bach compositions (St. Matthew Passion, St. John Passion, Christmas Oratorio, etc.).
  • Your recital repertoire. At the very least, you should know when all of your pieces were composed, each composer's dates, and a few interesting tidbits of information about each piece (the circumstances surrounding its composition, who it was dedicated to, etc.).
  • Orchestral excerpts. Know the ten or so excerpts that are most commonly asked for on auditions, as well as what each excerpt is meant to evaluate (musicality, technique, etc.). Know which excerpts will lose you a job, and which excerpts will win you a job.
  • The history and development of your instrument. Know the early history of your instrument, the order in which keys were added, and when the modern instrument came to be. As an oboist, knowing the history of the Loree company was also very important.
  • Pedagogy. Be prepared to explain how you would teach different concepts, such as embouchure, vibrato, and double tonguing. You should have a suggested sequence of method books to take students from beginner to master's level, and you should also know a few solo pieces appropriate for each level.
  • Music history. You should know the major musical eras and their dates, characteristics of each era's music, major composers, and historical events of influence.
  • Score identification. You may be shown a page or two from several different scores and asked to identify the musical era and composer of each. You have to be able to "think out loud" and explain to the committee why you believe it's from a particular period, in a specific form, written by a certain composer, and so on. This was a bit of a challenge for me because I recognized a lot of the pieces instantly from my library work, but even if you can name the piece on sight you still need to be able to go through this "thinking out loud" process and justify your response.
Again, these suggestions are based on my own experience. Have anything to add? Tell me in the comments!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Book Review: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

As a musician, I'm prone to wondering why some people succeed and others don't. Malcolm Gladwell does a wonderful job of explaining that it's not purely a matter of talent, or even of hard work.

For instance, the first chapter discusses the fact that most Canadian hockey stars are born in the first three months of the year. Coincidence? Nope! Canada's hockey leagues run according to the calendar year, which means that a boy born on January 1st will play in the same league as a boy born on December 31st. The boy born on January 1st will be bigger, and his size will give him an advantage early on. This advantage will in turn give him the chance to get more time on the ice, get into better hockey leagues, play against better opponents, play more games, practice more, and ultimately have a greater chance of success, while the younger, smaller boy gets left behind.

Gladwell stands by the "10,000-hour rule," which states that 10,000 hours of focused practice is required in order to become an expert. Achieving expertise is not reliant on natural talent, but on putting in the required 10,000 hours. In this book, he aims to prove that certain conditions and circumstances (such as birth date) make completing these 10,000 hours of practice more accessible early on to those who succeed. Each chapter discusses a different success story, including The Beatles and Bill Gates.

While some may criticize Gladwell's ideas regarding the relationship between chance and success, I find them comforting. Yes, chance provides some of us with the opportunity to achieve those 10,000 hours of practice earlier than others, but the key word in that statement is earlier. Ultimately, it's putting in those 10,000 hours that really counts. If we're motivated and willing to put in the time and do the work, despite any obstacles that we encounter along the way, it is still possible for any of us to become experts -- it just may take us a little longer.

Friday, September 5, 2014

"Art Lives Here," Take Three

"Art lives here." This is Interlochen's motto, and for good reason. There are literally hundreds of performances that take place during the camp season. No matter your interests, there's something for you at Interlochen. Below is a list of what I was able to experience this summer :)

6/14: Oboe faculty recital (Linda Strommen and Dan Stolper)
6/15: Oboe faculty recital (Mary Lynch)
6/22: First Gathering
6/25: Air Force Band: Airmen of Note
6/26: Air Force Band: Airmen of Note masterclass
6/27: Faculty Recital
6/28: World Youth Wind Symphony
6/29: World Youth Symphony Orchestra
7/2: Intermediate Wind Symphony & Intermediate Symphony Orchestra
7/2: High School Jazz Ensemble & Jazz Band
7/5: Interlochen Shakespeare Festival: The Tempest
7/6: World Youth Symphony Orchestra
7/7: Collage
7/8: Collage
7/13: World Youth Symphony Orchestra
7/20: Interlochen Philharmonic with Festival Choir
7/20: World Youth Symphony Orchestra
7/23: Intermediate Wind Symphony
7/23: Faculty Recital
7/24: Faculty Jazz Recital
7/26: Singer-Songwriter Recital
7/26: World Youth Wind Symphony
7/27: World Youth Symphony Orchestra
7/31: High School Musical Theatre: Les Miserables
8/3: World Youth Symphony Orchestra and Les Preludes
8/6: Adult Band Camp faculty recital
8/7: Adult Band Camp (Terry Riley's "In C")
8/9: Adult Band Camp chamber recital
8/10: Adult Band Camp

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

WYSO 2014

Another amazing summer completed!
So proud of these kids. They accomplished a lot in a very short amount of time.
Here's a quick rundown...

Week 1

Jung-Ho Pak, conductor

Williams: Happy Birthday Variations
Hanson: Symphony No. 2 "Romantic"

WYSO led by Jung-Ho Pak

Week 2

Carlos Kalmar, conductor

Dvorak: Carnival Overture
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1
Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances

WYSO led by Carlos Kalmar, with soloist Alessio Bax

Week 3

Erik Nielsen, conductor
Joshua Bell, soloist

Humperdinck: Hansel and Gretel Overture
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto
Debussy: La Mer

WYSO led by Erik Nielsen, with soloist Joshua Bell

Week 4

John Axelrod, conductor

Brahms: Symphony No. 4

WYSO led by John Axelrod

Week 5

JoAnn Falletta, conductor
Ani Kavafian, soloist

Saint-Saens: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5

WYSO led by JoAnn Falletta, with soloist Ani Kavafian

Week 6

Jung-Ho Pak, conductor

Glinka: Russlan and Ludmilla Overture
Strauss: Death and Transfiguration

Jeffrey Kimpton, conductor

Liszt: Les Preludes

Les Preludes rehearsal

And how much work did all of that require of me, their librarian?

Let's just leave it at "a lot." It was a ton of work, but it was 100% worth it when I got to sit backstage and watch this orchestra make such beautiful music.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Interlochen, Year Four

This summer, I am once again up at Interlochen to work as an ensemble librarian! Working at Interlochen has been a great way to spend my summers in grad school, and I'm so excited to spend one more summer here.

There are nineteen ensembles at Interlochen: seven orchestras, six bands (including both concert and jazz bands), and six choirs. There are seven ensemble librarians, and each of us is responsible for two, three, four, five, or even six ensembles. All of the ensembles have very different demands, so having more ensembles isn't necessarily more work.

This summer, I am once again working with the World Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Reading Orchestra. Ensemble groupings change a bit from year to year, so my position isn't exactly the same as last year. Festival Choir now falls to another librarian, but this will be my second summer with both WYSO and Reading Orchestra.

The World Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO) is the top high school orchestra. WYSO has new repertoire every week, two and a half hours of rehearsal six days a week, and a concert every Sunday night. This summer, conductors will include Jung-Ho Pak, Carlos Kalmar, Erik Nielsen, John Axelrod, and JoAnn Falletta, and featured soloists will include Joshua Bell, Alessio Bax, and Ani Kavafian. As of now, repertoire will include:
  • Brahms: Symphony No. 4
  • Debussy: La Mer
  • Dvorak: Carnival Overture
  • Glinka: Russlan and Ludmilla Overture
  • Hanson: Symphony No. 2 "Romantic"
  • Humperdinck: Hansel und Gretel Overture
  • Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor
  • Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances
  • Saint-Saens: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso
  • Strauss: Death and Transfiguration
  • Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1
  • Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5
  • Williams: Happy Birthday Variations
Reading Orchestra (RO) is a volunteer orchestra consisting of faculty and staff, although we do invite high school string players to attend to help us fill those sections. RO usually meets three times over the course of the camp, and repertoire is determined at the beginning of the summer once conductors are confirmed. Some conductors want to play a particular piece because they are preparing it for the upcoming season, while other conductors ask us to explore the library's holdings and offer a few suggestions of our own. After conductors are secured and repertoire is determined, RO is pretty low maintenance. As the name suggests, the orchestra will just read through the music once for fun, so it nicely balances out the extremely demanding workload of WYSO.

The first day of rehearsals was yesterday, and camp is now in full swing. Hopefully I'll find some time over the next few days to update again soon!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Getting the Most out of Conferences

I didn't really ease in to the conference scene. The very first professional conference that I attended was a national conference that took place on the opposite end of the country, during which I completed a joint presentation with two experienced librarians. It was a completely new experience and, looking back, I don't think that I really knew what to expect.

So, what would I recommend to someone attending their first conference?

Look at the conference schedule before leaving. Identify any sessions that you absolutely need to attend due to professional or personal commitments. This should include, at the very least, your own presentations and the meetings of the committees, round tables, and interest groups of which you are a member. After that, identify sessions that are relevant to your current work or special interests, as well as your future goals. These are sessions that you're not obligated to attend, but that excite you and that would benefit you. If you hope to eventually join a particular committee, their meeting would also fall under this category (if it is open to non-members). Finally, identify the gaps in your schedule and select a session to fill each one.

With that being said, prepare to be flexible. Have a plan, but don't let it rule you. If you run in to an old friend, take a break to go for coffee. If a former boss invites you to dinner, go. If you're exhausted and simply need a break, take it. I've never regretted saying yes to one of these spontaneous outings, and in some cases they have turned out to be one of the most memorable parts of the week.

Network, network, network. This can be difficult, but be willing to push yourself out of your comfort zone. If you know someone else at the conference, ask them to introduce you to someone (their boss, friends, colleagues with similar interests, etc.). Sit next to someone who is alone at a session, and introduce yourself before it begins. I've actually managed to meet people face-to-face because we had previously "met" by following each other on Twitter. You can learn a lot from these connections, especially early in your career, so don't let fear get the best of you!

Take notes. Some organizations and presenters make slides available after the conference, and some provide handouts containing all of the important information, so use your judgment about how much you need to write down to revisit the subject later. Don't rely on your memory, because you will have a lot of information coming your way throughout the week. At the very least, I recommend taking a minute or two after each session to reflect on the experience and jot down a few sentences. What were your main takeaways? Was there anything that you would like to try in your own library? Was the session particularly good or bad, and why?

Use social media. I personally think that one of the best uses of Twitter occurs during professional conferences. More and more conferences are promoting official hashtags, making it easy to share ideas and see what others are saying about the conference. Using Twitter at conferences has filled me in on sessions I couldn't attend, introduced me to others at the conference, and even helped me find great local restaurants through others' recommendations. Additionally, Twitter can benefit people who could not attend the conference by sharing the knowledge gained throughout the week in the form of real time updates.

Plan ahead when packing. Pack professional, weather-appropriate clothing for the conference, as well as something more casual for traveling. Bring comfy shoes, because you will be in them all day (depending on your conference location, you may also be walking some distance in the city for meal breaks). Bring Ibuprofen or Tylenol just in case. I also suggest bringing something to snack on -- I usually bring along a box of Nature Valley granola bars to hold me over in case I need to have a later lunch or dinner.

Explore the area. When I go to a conference, I usually try to do at least one tourist-y thing. The first conference that I attended was in California, and the Local Arrangements Committee had actually planned a few optional tours to take place the day before the conference began. I had never been out west and I had never seen the ocean before, so I went on a whale watching tour in Monterey Bay, and it was an amazing experience. I haven't traveled a lot, and conferences, in addition to helping me grow as a professional, allow me to see and experience more of the country. We go to conferences to learn and make connections, but it's also important to take some time to have fun and gain new experiences.

Do you have any other conference suggestions? Leave them in the comments!

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Things We Find in Music #2

When you spend hours preparing a single piece of music, you're bound to encounter some rather interesting markings left by previous musicians. My first post on this topic is one of my most popular to date, so I'm going to try to continue the series!

Here's a cute little drawing to start you off...



...followed by a polite request to one's future self.



Next, we get some conductor quotes!

Left: "It doesn't do any good to stand there like you have a big old broomstick up your butt."
Middle: "You're like a bride who didn't quite reach her wedding weight."
Right: "Clog dance. My name is Helga. I vill be your vife."

 Some musicians, like the one below, genuinely feel bad when they hurt their music and try to make amends.


And some have some very high aspirations. Dream big, buddy :)