Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Student Finance and applying in relation to Music College

The terms and conditions take a while to read through, so it is better to get your student finance forms filled out now opposed to leaving it until the week before the deadline, or before you start college/university. Particularly as it takes around 6 weeks for an application to be approved after you have provided all necessary information and evidence.

Applying for a conservatoire in terms of finance, is exactly the same as for regular university opposed to what you might think. From the UK, the link to begin applying and creating an account is here: https://www.gov.uk/student-finance

Once you begin applying, you will be asked to provide your details and you will also be asked a series of questions in relation to this to find out what evidence you need to provide (e.g. national insurance number) Your account will be clear on what you need to provide through the use of a checklist every time you login to let you know what you have left to do.

Personally, I found it quite scary to think about applying for student finance to begin with. There are so many rumours about how long you have to pay back loans, the conditions you have to pay them back, etc. But this was only delaying the process of applying, so with the help of college and research I was able to learn more about what exactly the whole procedure of applying was getting me into. And what I found was that in sixth form, there are a lot of gaps in the knowledge until you begin looking and that is the main reason we feel anxious about it. That... and it also feels like a huge step out of the present we are used to.

It took around an hour to apply, with the help of my mum, and when I began filling out the information it wasn't necessary to have all of the information straight away, meaning it was really easy to take time filling out questions and considering the answers for a while, relieving the pressure of having quick fire questions with no time to think. The website allows you to take as long as you need.

But like I said, make sure that you have your application in as quickly as possible, especially before May 31st. None of the answers are set in stone, you can go back and change them, plus it is a lot less stressful to have the work out of the way and done so you can focus on your exams. And if you are feeling the pressure and anxiety that applying can inspire despite research, don't be afraid to ask for help - whether that be from your parents, sixth form or friends.

Writing Revision Notes for Primary Written Study

When writing revision notes, it is important you bear in mind that you are not going to be able to remember anything. The Easter Holidays will soon be here and that time is valuable in providing you the opportunity to get a head start on practice and remembering things. It is also one of your last chances to get an early head start before exam season. Both of these factors suggest you should have a clear focus on what it is exactly that you intend to write, learn and read.

Revising a score, particularly that of a symphony, is much more challenging than remembering just words as you have to remember entire bars of music and what their purpose is without any means of assistance. When writing notes and practice essays, and trying to remember information for the exam, ensure that you:

1. Clear Headings and Subheadings
As you go back through the notes you have filed throughout the year, label as much as possible so that you can tell exactly what you are reading when ever you read it. This will create a system by which you categorise information in your mind as you would file them literally.

2. Colour Coding
Create a system by which you can colour code your score - the score itself is important not just for notes but for context. Following the music is important as it means you may be able to identify things such as chord progressions, by analysing the bass notes to find out what key change occurs where etc. You can split this into different sections (e.g: texture, harmony, melody/orchestration) and have a different colour for each, so that every time you see something highlighted in blue, you will know that this information is significant to remembering something about texture, or tonality.

3. Listen to the piece whilst following the score
Practice in this manner for a while - this will allow you to gradually become more familiar with the piece until you can remember whole passages of the music without needing to listen to the score or follow it. Remember that this is a piece of music, if you treat it as one opposed to just something you have to study, it will be much more enjoyable to spend your time studying.

4. Don't just focus on individual movements
As well as focusing in detail upon your individual  movements, practice looking at the symphony as a whole so that you can become accustomed to picking out areas of the development sections and expositions for comparison and contrast as, obviously, you wont be able to remember everything and also wont have time to write about all you do know as each essay is only 40/45 minutes.

5. Blank scores and timed essays
Put yourself through the actual mock process as often as possible so that when exam time arrives, you are as comfortable as possible.

6. Know the background
If you know about the composer and performers you are writing about, you will be able to place your analysis in more context and be able to understand elements such as themes, what they are symbolic of etc. For example, Shostakovich is able to express his mourning for the repression the USSR had upon artists at this time, as well as his mourning for the loss of the girl he loved to another man. This is shown by the fact that there is strong thematic and motivic content linked to Bizet's Carmen (as the man she ran away with was called Carmen)

7. Read as much as possible
Read outside of class, so that you have as much background and as many different comparisons of the analysis as possible. The one in class will not necessarily always be the easiest one, so find an analysis that is suitable for your memorisation which you know you will be able to progress relatively quickly through + benefit from.

8. Write things out multiple times
As I've mentioned before in revision articles, write things out over and over until you remember them. You can test your knowledge by keeping a blank score and analysing it in pencil and then comparing it to your already analysed score, or by listening to the piece and making notes about what you hear as you go, comparing this again to the analysis you have done before hand.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Preparing for your AS Ensemble recording

Other than solo performance, you will have to be able to alternate with your capability and range of technique in order to go on and study as a performer at degree level. This includes performing with others, often in a chamber format (such as a trio or a quartet) For your AS level recording and recitals you are expected to perform between 5 - 10 minutes of solo and ensemble content (or a second study instead of ensemble) It is often much easier to get higher grades with an ensemble instead of a second study as you will be able to use your first study and perform with other musicians who also have that instrument to a similar standard or else are also first study in that area.

Last year for my AS recordings, I performed in a vocal ensemble for my second study slot. For my first piece, I sang with an alto (I am a first study soprano) a piece which was an American folk song. In contrast to this, my second piece was a trio with another alto and tenor in Spanish. The contrast between these two pieces was a good balance as it allowed use of differing technique alongside language and the culture/ use of expression that was conveyed due to this in factors such as harmony that the composer had placed. These pieces were also run by our singing teacher first and practiced often so that we could make sure we on time to the second with every vocal entrance that we struggled with and the programme was one that worked well for all of us, complimenting our different vocal ranges by filling in the gaps where we struggled individually.

In terms of pieces and advice of how to put together an ensemble for your practical, here is some information that was useful for me last year when preparing my own:

1. Preparation
At the beginning of the academic year, get to know your music department and the students who are a part of it in order to begin preparing to help others with their work and finding some musicians willing to work with you on yours. Make sure that you do not take on too many ensembles outside of your own as your work is the primary focus. Besides, you want everybody's work to be to a high standard and overworking and not being able to get all the work done or attend everyone's rehearsals isn't fair on those other students who want to get a high mark just as you do.

Split your preparation into three main points:

A. Finding a singing teacher
Usually, peripatetic music teachers will be available in your school or sixth form. This is useful as it will enable you and your fellow students to work with the same teacher and hence all be able to work at a similar rate and have a perspective on how you can approach the process of improving as a group opposed to merely individually.

B. Choosing your ensemble
Choose people to work with who you can get along with and know are reliable - this way, your rehearsals will run more smoothly and the work rate will be more efficient. Also make sure you choose people of a similar standard so that pieces are not too hard or easy and you both work at a similar rate. Your abilities should compliment one another and bring out something that is creative and interesting for the examiner to listen to - you want to stand out.

C. Pieces
Choose pieces according to your abilities once your group is chosen and then consult with a singing teacher about your choices to find out who should sing what part or play what part and so on. Also try out pieces before you set your concentration on a specific program as occasionally certain pieces sound like a great idea but there just isn't enough time or enough resources to get them to the correct standard. Other than that, lower grade pieces can sometimes earn higher than higher grade simply due to what you are able to express with something you have been working on for a long time or know well.

In addition to the above also ensure you have:

A. A back up plan/ Reserves
If someone is unwell or unavailable, make sure you have options. You don't want to get to a recording day only to have nothing to record. Make sure you have at least one reserve for each member in your group who can know the part well and practice it with your group occasionally without having it take their focus entirely away from their own work.

B. A rehearsal time table and frequent rehearsals
You will of course all have different timetables, so compare your free blocks and arrange a few rehearsals each week. Make sure each rehearsal block is around an hour - you may need less or more than this each week, but it is good to have the time so that a warm up is possible alongside work.

C. An available accompanist (if required)
Linked to B, consult with your accompanist so you can see what times are best for them to record or rehearse. This is a big part of your listening skills - being able to work with the accompanist to create something expressive and powerful opposed to  being too independent and not together with the other people you are working with. This will teach you to listen more carefully to the other parts played around you.

D. Book a recording time that works for everyone
The recording and recital will mark the end of the process - so ensure you have as little to be stressed about in these times by following the above advice of having options and practice time long before the event. It should be fun to get to work with other talented young musicians - so make sure you make the most of it! Not everything in relation to exams has to be dull.

Happy performing and recording!

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Final Drafting Coursework

As  an English Literature student, coursework has been a part of my studies for not only all of high school but also for the two years of sixth form too. The best thing about coursework in contrast to exam is that, although you have only a certain amount of hours to work on it, you can ensure that you get your work up to a high standard and take your time to make sure you have at least some marks to fall back on before you go into the exam - this can relieve a lot of stress! At AS level, the coursework was a string quartet for music and a Shakespeare work (traditional comedy) with a Pinter work (a modern comedy) for literature. This year, the music composition deadline is not quite yet here, but today is the English literature deadline - so it is a huge relief to have it out of the way so the main focus is now upon writing piano accompaniment patterns and trying to figure out suitable chord progressions for a circle of fifths or thirds. To celebrate the end of English coursework, here is some advice on the drafting and final drafting process from the beginning to the end of the procedure:

1. Start by planning

for Independent pieces especially, as well as a previously set piece, make sure that you research what you are going to be working on and have as much information as possible to work with. Keep a file or log of what information you have so that you can keep up to date and try to do this on a regular basis so that you don't forget things from the beginning of the year that might be useful later on in a bibliography.

2. Write little by little

Whilst you have time, start by creating a little content each week. Make this goal something along the lines of 32 bars to be fully completed and checked by the end of the week or a minute of music by the end of the month. If in terms of a literary piece, maybe 500 words a week, if your goal is 1500.

3. Keep your bibliography updated

When you research or quote material in the form of foot notes etc. ensure you keep this information o an updated bibliography. This way, when you reach the end of the coursework process, it will take less time to gather your resources back into one place, particularly if it took you a long time to find a particular piece of information by researching at the library or in archives.

4. Treat it as a hobby

Coursework is a big part of your life for the majority of the year until exam time, so it is worthwhile to try and make the process as enjoyable as possible. If you are enjoying the process of creating your material, it will be much easier to approach than something you dread. This will also make the content you produce more useful and interesting, as you will be more involved with your subject, will develop opinions and hence have a lot more to say/ write. When researching, find aspects you are happy to write about or use in terms of technique. For example, if writing an independent piece in literature, make use of this - choose texts you really love, that you will enjoy working with on a day to day basis and already know a relative amount about. Remember, you want to be proud of the work you create, as well as relieved, on hand in day.

5. Make use of the Library (For Literature)

The computer cannot provide you with all the answers - make sure you try and get some reading in to. You may even come across some points that will help shape your opinions for the rest of your piece that you would otherwise not have found. Also, don't just use to the computer for written texts - look out for lectures which have been posted on line in relation to your topic and try and attend some live lectures too. All of this will add to your interest levels and ideas, providing you with more to write about - and the more to write about, the easier and quicker writing will become.

6. Make use of the Practice room and Recordings (For Music)

Bear in mind that what you are producing is a real piece of music, even if it can occasionally feel like it is just an exercise in a theory book. Like with any other subject, you want to create something that is expressive and easy to be proud of when you hand it in, despite what marks you get. To make this information feel true, make sure you split hours between typing up on Sibelius at the computer and composing with a piano in a practice room. The piano allows you to hear and create more realistically than the synthetic instruments provided online. Also, listen to other musicians play content such as the works of Beethoven, Handel etc. Listen and analyse their pieces, as you would hymns for a listening exam, and this will allow you to see what makes their music what it is such as what techniques they use, how they develop this. This will give you a clearer idea of how different sections are linked together and how harmony works e.g. the proper place to use a 4-3 suspension or a diminished seventh chord.

7. Don't be afraid to ask questions

Remember that your teachers are there to help and want to know if you are struggling. Although they cannot write your essay, they can encourage you to write yours by answering any questions you might have such as when a certain event occurred (e.g. History coursework) Ensure you make use of any planning or research resource they suggest as well; these may often provide you with further knowledge that could again broaden your interest and opinions on a topic you are writing on.

8. Typing up and Writing down

Keep an updated typed copy but work by hand. This will allow you to proof read your essay or notation as you type it up, making it more reliable when you proof read it for the second and last time. Working by hand is becoming a lost art because it takes a longer amount of time than typing, but it is your best friend in terms of advantage! The first being proof reading and the second being that it gives you more time to think about what you are writing, opposed to typing up sentences immediately on a computer.

9. Keep all of your drafts

Don't discard your drafts as you finish with them - save them in a file online or keep them in a box file and look back through them. As the editing process continues, you may find that you sometimes may be able to put in material you previously removed that didn't quite fit before. Like with your bibliography being updated, it saves a Lot of time and allows you to work more quickly - so be as organised as possible.

10. And finally ... Proof read over and over again!

Before you print your final drafts make sure you have proof read them at least twice around an hour (at least) after you have finished so that you can find any mistakes and change them before you hand the work in. This will save you valuable marks! It may also be useful to get a friend or family member to proof read your work as well as a second reading, to be doubly sure that there is no last minute work to be done.

Happy Final Drafting!

Friday, 6 March 2015

Music over the summer

Over the summer, there is so much you can do to not only add to your personal statement and CV but to make new friends and get to learn even more about music. Whether this be open days, concerts or summer schools, there is a wealth of music related activity every summer all around England.

1. Summer Schools - These are run throughout the summer, such as choral courses, which often last for a week or two. Usually a course will focus on one large project such as an oratorio or a series of pieces for a performance to be held after the course is over. The above photograph is one from a summer project I participated in last summer where the week was spent learning the 12 Mazas violin duets for a small performance in my local area. 

2. Competitions - Not just in summer, but throughout the year, competitions are held for different instruments, or all instruments. Piano competitions are particularly popular, especially as some come with unique training experiences, so it is always better to begin applying earlier in the year so that forms get in on time.

3. Travelling - Some incredible music festivals also occur outside of the UK, such as that of Lucerne Switzerland in late August/September. The atmosphere is obviously a spectacular one no matter what the music type, but being in a place such as Germany whilst hearing Bach or Beethoven can add a touch of reality to the music - there is an overwhelming sense of being able to see what they saw when they were creating such amazing pieces, despite how much the place itself may have changed over time. 

4. Concerts and the BBC Proms - The BBC proms offer a wide range of concerts over the summer, with student tickets and prommers place reserved for most concerts, meaning that they aren't all that expensive to watch and listen to - and yet the content is priceless! Every year comes with new themes and challenges that stretch across the UK, that do not just remain in London although this is the heart of much of the activity, over the weeks in which the proms take place. Again - tickets sell out quickly, so it is better to book tickets early. However, the last night and first night of the proms can be seen in cinemas also, with certain events being televised as the War Horse prom was last year.

Use the summer to the best of your ability to learn, practice and get experience with as much as you can before you begin studying in September! 

Thursday, 5 March 2015

What does it mean to be a Performer?

1. Being able to read music - When you are working with professional companies or at college, you need to have the skills required to work independently and one of these is being able to understand, annotate and analyse the music yourself to find out where you need to work on in the score.

2. Practice Time/ Time - It is time consuming to be a performer; we dedicate more than half our lives to our careers to ensure that we practice on a piece until it is just right, unable to settle for less. The recommended amount of practice time before university (sixth form) is four hours a day on main study and is between four and six hours a day at university outside of class.

3. Working with lots of people - It is sociable to be a performer, so it is important to communicate with others, whether that be fellow ensemble members or asking the conductor about the music you are practicing. In a place crowded with people, it is important to feel comfortable and to make friends. Afterall, places such as opera companies and choir ensembles can become almost like family with the amount of rehearsals and time you end up spending together.

4. Music lessons - both private instrument lessons and exam level music classes are important. Exam level applies the skills all musicians require, whereas individual lessons provide the information necessary for your solo instrument and how to improve your work as a solo performer. 

5. Ideas and opinions - It is important that, as a musician, you have opinions and ideas in relation to your studies just as you would with any other interest. Whether this means discussing musicology or discussing CD's, as you long as you have an idea of what you like and dislike, what you enjoy studying and are good at alongside what you are not; it does not matter exactly what you show an interest in, it is how you approach this interest and make the most of it.

6. Having to adapt quickly + Travel - Being a performer means getting to work in many new places and hence can also mean seeing the world on occasions. This means you have to have the skill to adapt quickly, otherwise you are confined to certain areas of work which excludes orchestras and opera companies, as both of these often tour for certain time periods throughout the year.

7. Solo + Ensembles - Being a soloist is a great thing, but it means nothing if you do not have the skills to work in ensembles also. Choirs, orchestras and chamber ensembles are a great way of putting this skill into practice, especially if this is not something you are used to. AS level music also requires students to work as ensembles for part of the assessed recordings.

8. Performing itself - Most importantly, it has an individual meaning to each person. Whether that be getting to view stories that seem faraway from reality or it being the only way you can communicate, the personal meaning makes the performance itself all the more special. This is why we are performers - to work hard to make our dreams of communicating to audiences a reality, and our successes all the more worthwhile.

Choral Music and Hymns - How they can help with your listening exam

On my first day at sixth form, at the first music AS level class, the first booklet of information I was given possessed a list of songs for each interval to help me remember them, such as Jaws for Minor Seconds and Somewhere over the rainbow for octaves. Provided with this was a booklet of all scales in all clefs to be practiced daily, a booklet on harmony + cadences, some scores to follow whilst listening to audio and a practice diary. When I first looked at the pile of work in front of me, I thought there was no way any of it was going to get done and that I would never be able to do any of the work on time, despite having passed my grade 5 theory exam just the previous summer. However, as time went by, it became obvious that I and my class mates were progressing as we were all able to dictate simple melodies, harmonies and cadences by the end of two months (and we still do listening practice at lessons every day as well as listening paper questions – usually two a week)

This all sounds a lot of practice and it is! But it is a slow process which really helps in the exam, as you know what to look out for in terms of harmonic progressions, ornamentation etc. When listening to hymns and choral music of any kind listen out for:

a. Key – Try and locate the key of the piece and dictate some of the melody

b. Time signature – After locating the key, try to count the number of beats in a bar. At first this can be easier by thinking out loud and tapping a pencil against your desk or quietly clapping along with the melody to try and work out what the time signature is. Try different time signatures and compare them; in the listening exam, you will usually hear an extract several times and so will have the time to try and work such factors out.

c. Intervals – When dictating or transposing, intervals are important to know. To get to know the intervals by memory, practice them at the piano by playing an interval (starting in C major) and singing the name of the interval (minor second, major second, minor third etc)

d. Ornamentation and orchestration + texture – learn what types of ornamentation are popular to certain time periods (e.g. Mozart’s music is often notoriously difficult and packed with trills, acciaccaturas etc) and what orchestration was favoured by different composers (keeping with the theme of Mozart, woodwind was popular with his music as can be seen in his symphony 41 by the fact that the woodwind and strings are balanced for much of the first movement, which made it unusual for the time as music at this point was predominantly string and brass based) Plus what is the texture - is it monophonic, hetero-phonic, homo-phonic etc.

e. Structure – identify when the verses change or when there is a variation on a theme. This will come into play with chord patterns – sequences are popular with Baroque music such as choral pieces by Bach and Vivaldi.

f. Chord sequences and harmony – know the standard practices for harmony, such as when to expect a cadence point (the end of a verse) the types of cadences (perfect, plagal, imperfect etc) inversions (IC – V – I) and how to analyse these to the best extent (this creates such an effect because…this can be seen at bar…)

As well as listening to choral music from across history, the sheet music is not usually too expensive (depending on the piece) and you can buy choral collections in the format of paper backs for under £10 from music shops and occasionally charity shops, depending on donations. This means you can analyse by playing chords at the piano slowly without having to rewind audio or videos. By listening to such music and being able to draw up chord charts, you will be able to identify chords and analyse all of the above listed features in your exam more quickly saving you time and allowing you longer to think.

More than anything, you need to know what to look for in the exam, which this form of music helps, as well as doing past papers so you can begin to make the connection between the two and learn to apply the skills you gain. In addition to assisting your listening skills, there is also such a great amount of choral music, hymns, folk music etc. to listen to, from Whitacre to Corelli, from Bach to Beethoven.

Writing your Personal Statement

With writing my personal statement, my college was unable to help me to the extent that I needed outside of the music department, due to the fact that I was not studying the more popular courses such as dentistry or veterinary sciences. As fascinating as both are, neither approach would have helped with writing a personal statement for applying for a career in performance; the structure of both is far too academic. In the modern world, there is less stress on the arts due to the fact that it seems such a difficult world to get into nowadays due to its popularity, which is true – it is difficult to get into.

Although careers teams try to help the best they can, they cannot write your statement for you, and this is the same with UCAS: they can offer you the best advice, but they cannot write your words themselves. Without the short videos and advice articles provided both by my college and by UCAS, it would have been impossible to submit my application on time, especially as CUKAS has an earlier deadline than UCAS. So by my third week back in college after the summer holidays, I had my final draft ready to send. This might seem drastically early – after all, it was only October – but there is no avoiding the fact that this is the deadline that needs to be met in order to be considered without the extra stress or charge of late fees.

What do music colleges want to hear about in your personal statement?

1. First of all, they want to know what instruments you play and to what standard: not just your first study, but also other studies or general knowledge of instruments. There is usually a space on your application for this, but there is no guarantee that this will be thoroughly read, so it is better to restate it in your personal statement to ensure it is read, especially in terms of keyboard knowledge as many music colleges will expect you to be up to or around ABRSM Grade 5 standard.

2. As you clarified for your instrument standard, also ensure you clarify what your current grade is in music theory. You will be expected to be Grade 5 in your principal study, theory and piano standard.

3. Talk about your A level subjects and how they have contributed to your musical education, or what skills they have provided you that are valuable. For example, in my A2 history module, I have studied one hundred years of Russian History from 1855 – 1964 which went perfectly with the A2 selected score for music which is Shostakovich Symphony 5. In my Leeds audition, one of the panel called this up and asked me about the symphony for some brief analysis and even asked me to sing part of my favourite movement (movement 3) to ensure that I knew what I was talking about and was able to prove what I was saying was true, which leads us onto 4…

4. Don’t over exaggerate or make up things that sound impressive – if you say, for example, that you are completely fascinated by Bach Chorales but have no knowledge on them and they quiz you on it, you will appear slightly foolish.

5. Do try to be as original as possible – reference the music activities you are involved in outside of college that have enriched your education, such as orchestras, choirs, summer schools, projects etc.

6. Try and inform them of as much of your experience as you can in the limited number of characters. You should try not to go back further than two years, in order to keep the activity as present and updated as possible.

7. Make sure that at least a small paragraph of your personal statement shares some of your other interests outside music. Whether this is reading, skiing, dancing, bird watching, showing that there is more to you than just your studies is what will make you stand out. The great Joyce Didinato once said something in one of her Guildhall master classes along the lines of: ‘the best musicians do not just live music, they have read great books, seen great films and visited great places and it is this which makes their music great.’ This statement is entirely true – your activities and interests outside of music show a lot about you as a character, and your ability to express this verbally links to what you are able to express musically.

8. Try not to reference an individual college as, you have only one personal statement which they will all see – you don’t want to seem prejudiced in favour of one.

9. If you have future plans or ambitions try and state them – if not this is not the be all and end all, as the college is not looking for a finished project, they are looking for potential.

10. Draft, draft, draft and proof read as often as possible, even get your friends, family or teachers to proof read and seek their help and opinions whenever you feel you are struggling – no one finds it easy to talk about themselves, especially in the positivity the personal statement demands – one of the things that make it so challenging.

11. Make sure you have a progress plan that you can use each week to make sure you are on track and will be ready to send it with your application before the deadline. Also try and talk to your referees before hand and get references underway so they too will be ready to send with your application, as you will be responsible for getting them to the college, although there is usually a delay between application and references being accepted and this is the normal (to send references later) in fact some colleges do not ask for references you less you get through to the second round of auditions.

12. Tell the colleges why you have chosen this course/ why it appeals to you and even if you do not yet know your future ambitions, suggest what it will allow you to do, why it is suited to you/ interests you and what you can give back to the course and colleges in return. (This could be linked to A levels and subjects)

The piece you create is the colleges first glance at you and it will be one in thousands (No pressure!) so when writing try to convey as much of your individual self as possible – pick those things that are most important about yourself and those which make you stand out as a character. If you do so, the piece of work you create will be one which captures you well enough for the college to be able to try and make an informed decision about you. 

Also, write about things which you can discuss well should they ask you about the content in an interview – and be prepared to talk about not only yourself but your opinions on as many elements of the music world as possible, as the truth is you could be asked on any of them. In one of my auditions, I had to discuss the question ‘in the modern society, is the classical art song (e.g. song cycles by Schubert) dead?’ which I ended up debating for longer than the whole of my vocal audition itself. The conversation not only challenged me, but showed me the interesting side to the element of musicology at music degree level – for it is about not just what you can learn, but what you already know, feel and can express.

Happy Writing!

Vocal Auditions + What Pieces?

Probably the scariest thing about auditions being a vocalist is that, unlike every other instrument, you can’t just take back your voice to the instrument repair shop and get an upgrade. The voice you are born with is yours to build upon. Despite gender, all voices mature over time, albeit girls usually at a slower rate – which is why a high lyrical soprano range can drop to a lower mezzo by the time the person turns 40. However, the fact that this process of the vocals becoming mature takes a long time means that being criticised for it can hit a bit deeper than with an instrument. But this is part of the job as a singer – the criticism comes with the praise, and is often what results in the most progress.

Vocal auditions seem much scarier than they actually are. As you might have read in my previous article on Leeds, or witnessed at your own open days and auditions, the staff at music colleges are super friendly, and only want to help you on the path to progress – their criticism is not there to push you back. If anything it has two purposes:

a. To challenge you and see your response (because this is a big part of the music degree environment)

b. To assist you in developing pieces to reach the standard that is accessible based on your potential.

Usually an audition with voice is split into two rounds; the first being in the morning and then an alert is given as to whether you have been successful to round two in the afternoon. If you pass through to the afternoon, you are being considered for a place. There is also usually a work shop in the afternoon on topics such as freedom of movement, or a master class. Some colleges even allow you to stay in and watch rehearsals.

In the first round of auditions, you will normally be given a short piece of sight reading and will choose one of your pieces to sing, whilst the panel chooses the other. It is not rare for your third piece to be presented in your first audition, as you are expected to have three contrasting pieces with you on the day. The second round will feature all of the above, except all three pieces will definitely be heard and you will also be asked to present a piece of prose (which you can read aloud or recite from memory) and will have some short aural tests – this can be anything from intervals and scales to being given a short poem and asked to make up a song based on it. In addition, you will also be interviewed here based on your personal statement.

An accompanist is usually provided on the day, who you can have a short warm up and run through around half an hour before you go into your audition, so it is better to do some warm ups before you get there as, even if you get there an hour early, auditions usually overlap and are impossible to organise – so be as prepared as possible, with plenty of time to keep yourself calm and enough to drink.

Advice in terms of pieces:

· Make sure that you know a little on the background of the composers and the time in which the piece was composed as this can be used to clarify contrast if the pieces are from a similar time range/ era.

· Try and make the contrast as obvious as possible – for example, a Bellini piece and a Franck piece.

· Pick pieces that you are comfortable with! I cannot stress the importance of this – there is no point in singing a grade 8 piece if the range is not yet entirely suited to your voice. Pick something where your voice is able to flourish, and something that you know well enough that nerves will not affect the sound too drastically.

· Perform the pieces – the audition administrators are usually teachers and lecturers at the college who will be watching to see use of technique, as well as your manner of expressing a piece. Truly try to perform to them as you would an audience.

· And finally… Remember that they are looking for potential, not a final project! If you are prepared, you will do well. And if you do not get a second audition, don’t be too downhearted – as I said at the beginning, voices mature over time and many singers often don’t get into Music College until they are in their twenties – it is fairly rare for singers to get into Music College at 18 with classical music.

The day of your audition will also allow you to have a look around the college, ask any questions and get to know more about the course you are applying for. Try to make the most of this opportunity to ensure that the place you are applying for is a place you will be happy studying in, especially if it will mean moving away from home. And if you are feeling unwell, don’t be afraid to contact the college and let them know – it is better to save your voice in an emergency, than to push yourself too hard and risk losing it.

Invitation day at Leeds College of Music

 Earlier this year, I attended the invitation day at Leeds College of Music after receiving offer of a conditional place there with a scholarship. In the past I had only ever attended concerts there, so it was rather exciting to get to go behind the scenes of the place where I wish to study.

 Upon arrival, we were gathered together with some student ambassadors so that we could ask any immediate questions we had. Ambassadors were students from the college from across the three years, studying a wide range of interesting ideas. From musicology to composition, alongside performance. Not only were students and staff friendly and welcoming, they were also articulate in providing information if they knew the answers to our questions, and if they did not were happy to lead us to someone who could help.

 After the meet and greet, we were allowed to take a tour around the college before a concert held in the space at the front of the college. The college itself in terms of practice rooms and class rooms is only the first few floors of the building, with halls/ student accommodation being above that. The practice rooms are divided in terms of study - for example, those who are first study pianists are the only people allowed access to the practice rooms with grand pianos, whereas other practice rooms with standard piano, music stand, etc. are able to be booked for use by other students. Walking down the corridor, there were the sounds of practice everywhere. Most distinct over the buzz of sound was the clarity of a student practicing Gershwin's Rhapsody in blue, which led to a discussion of the evolution of jazz for the following minutes.

We were also shown the music technology / recording rooms, where you could still smell the paint from the recent refurbishing. The rooms themselves are, again, limited in use to students. However, those students studying music technology often need to record other students, which really emphasised the fact that you get to be involved in so much more than just your own degree - you are able to become involved with so many other different genres of music and get to know more about students and what they are doing.

Alongside other classrooms, practice spaces, computer suites (for composition) we were shown the library and I know that if I do end up studying music at Leeds, this will be probably be where I spend the vast majority of my time. The shelves were stacked with books on everything from 'the evolution of the art song' to 'music management for beginners', with there also being files storing hundreds of different pieces, and shelf upon shelf of CD's. For some reason, it made me particularly happy that one of the pieces of sheet music on display was Corelli's Christmas Cantata, one of my favourite pieces - so I am taking this as a good omen.

Overall, the place is so well put together - the education seems well structured and interesting (even the much loathed topic of composition which I have never been any good at) the people there are both friendly and enthusiastic, and the space itself is such a wonderful open place to learn that it seems obvious the students there must be happy. What an incredible environment - I cant wait to visit again!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Upon Receiving Offers - The Next Step

Once you have received your offers, the next step is working hard to ensure your place by getting the grades. Working hard is crucial to do this, especially with exam season right round the corner and coursework deadlines over the next few weeks. As one such said student currently in that procedure, here are some things that I have found useful in the revision process so far which are hopefully equally as useful to you:

1. Writing practice essays/ making use of past papers

Past paper questions are the best thing that you can start to work your way through, especially as so many are available online for free (most can be found on an exam boards website) as they allow you to find out which types of question you might need more help with.

Reading through notes and text books is valuable as well, but practice questions will allow you to see how much information you have retained: to put together the techniques and ideas you have been developing in class.

2. Colour coding

This one does not work for all in terms of remembering things, but is also a useful advantage in terms of organising your notes. For remembering quotes and statistics, you can create a key where one colour equals a specific group. For example, when learning about your main piece of study (Shostakovich 5) in music A level, you could highlight all the information on texture in green and all the information on orchestration in pink, etc.

3. Rewriting things

One of the oldest, most well used tricks in the book is rewriting notes, sentences, formulas (whatever it is you want to remember) repeatedly until they are so fixed in your mind you find yourself quoting them at the most illogical of times without realising.

Although not the most fun thing in the world, it is one of the easiest ways to revise - especially when travelling. For example, on bus or train rides - if you have some spare paper you can write your ideas out as messily as you like until you remember them, without it mattering if the work is neat or not. This way you are able to keep thinking on the go.

4. Folders and note taking

Keeping notes on a regular basis in class is crucial, no matter what topics or subjects you are studying, so make sure to try and get as many notes down as possible. This will only help you in the long run!

Keeping those notes together in a folder will help you keep track of what you do and don't have information on. This way, you can always find out what you need to know more on and can then ask a teacher for help, or research at the library to get more information.

5. Study classes/ Revision classes

These will be offered probably nearer to exam time at your school, college or sixth form. Of course, you may not need to go to every single one, but it is useful to attend one or two at least to see if this is useful for you. Even if you don't need revision classes to learn more on a particular element of your course, they can be useful in terms of giving you a quiet place to work or the opportunity to talk to your teacher about what you're struggling with. This could be be especially useful with the current coursework deadlines that are looming...

6. And above all... Begin revising as soon as possible!

Trying to remember everything the night before your exam will only make things more stressful! The best marks in exams are sure to go to those more relaxed - who have learnt things gradually over the whole year so that, when the exam arrives, there isn't as much work to be done.

Not only does it mean there is a lot less to do, it also means that there will be further confidence when writing and planning, plus the sense that you have reached your full potential. And at the end of the day, that's all that matters - that the work you have done is something you can honestly say you've done your best on and can be genuinely proud of. So begin revising on a regular basis now with the techniques that work best for you and you'll avoid a lot of worrying in the long term,

The summer before university is sure to be one of the best, but to earn a great summer, we really do have to do some work first!

Of course there are many ways to revise - we all have different strategies that work best and these are not all of them. And if you do have any successful revision ideas, then please do share them in the comments.

Happy Revising!