Auditioning to be admitted to a collegiate school of music or conservatory is a very different process than auditioning for an orchestra or to get comments or ratings. Blair has refined the audition weekend process, and, according to Dwayne Sagen, assistant dean for admissions at Blair, current students are his best recruiters.
“Our current Blair students really help to sell the school,” Sagen says. “They remember what it was like when they came, and they show [the prospective students] the ins and outs of the school.”
Early-decision students come in December to audition. Additional audition weekends happen the last weekend of January and the second and fourth weekends of February.
Prospective students play for the faculty in their particular department. Auditions are short, averaging 12 minutes for most instrumentalists, though piano auditions can take a little longer. “That’s where some of our students are at their best; they put the students at ease,” Sagen says. Blair students work shifts as runners to greet the students, get them to their practice rooms and then to the audition.
“They get the student and take him or her where they need to go, and they can also calm them down,” Sagen says. “They may say, ‘What are you playing? Oh, the Hummel trumpet concerto—I played that last year.’”
At the audition, preparation is key. “I understand that people get nervous and make mistakes. I look past mistakes quite a bit,” says Jared Hauser, assistant professor of oboe. “However, if they seem unprepared, that’s different. I also listen for musical spark,” he says. “Does this person speak to me?”
After the audition, faculty members will take the students to their studio and talk to them one on one or give a lesson.
“The personal interaction in the lesson and their growth in the lesson is sometimes more important to me than the audition itself,” Hauser adds.
The audition weekend also includes a Friday-night dinner where prospective students and their families can meet faculty and hear Blair student musicians perform. Often they attend a recital afterward where they may hear a Blair faculty ensemble or a student group such as the wind ensemble, choir or orchestra. They take a required music theory quiz, and at noon on Saturday, parents of current students meet with parents of prospective students, while their sons and daughters meet with current Blair students. “They can ask questions without mom and dad around,” Sagen says. “The whole point is to get their questions answered and leave with as much information as they possibly can.”
After the audition weekend, Dean Mark Wait and the Blair faculty keep in touch with students. “Dean Wait and the faculty are excellent at following up,” Sagen says. “They write them emails, call them, ask if there is anything else they need to know about Blair.”
Each year, approximately 450 students audition for one of about 50 spots in Blair’s first-year class. Though Blair does allow students who live more than 400 miles away to send tapes and DVDs or attend a regional audition site, the Blair admissions office prefers that they come in person to audition.
“That way we get to know them,” Sagen says. “The whole point of the audition weekend is for them to be a student here and get a feel for what it’s like to go to class, to rehearsals, to eat the food and walk the campus. We’ll pair them up with our students, so if they’re a trumpet player, we pair them up with a trumpet player, and they follow the student around and shadow them.
“So, the [Blair] students really help to sell the school,” he says. “We know that, because the parents tell us that. They say, ‘We didn’t find many students like that at other schools.’ ”
For more information on Blair admissions weekends and requirements for auditions, visit: blair.vanderbilt.edu/prospective-students.
© 2015 Vanderbilt University | Photo credit: John Russell