Hundreds audition for U’s music school

Musical ability is not the only determining factor in the audition process.

by Ed Swaray

Conor O’Brien flew nine hours from Dublin, Ireland, to Minneapolis via Chicago for an audition at the University’s School of Music last weekend.

O’Brien, who applied to the music school’s graduate program, is a freelance violinist who plays for Ireland’s national symphony. He chose the University because he wanted to study the violin with Sally O’Reilly, a professor he met at a summer course in New York.

Like O’Brien, 200 prospective students from around the United States and world auditioned at Ferguson Hall over the weekend, said Wayne Lu, the school’s admissions coordinator.

While the school will offer auditions throughout the semester, Lu said that last weekend was the largest the school has seen because of a scholarship deadline.

Lu said the University’s prestigious program draws stiff competition.

In the audition, prospective students play a piece of music – sometimes about 15 minutes long – determined by panels of teachers in different areas of study. At least two faculty members evaluate the applicants as they play their instruments, Lu said.

But the audition process goes beyond an applicant’s ability to play an instrument, he said.

“We are as concerned with them as persons and how they can interact with our faculty as we are with how they can play or sing,” he said.

Trombone professor Tom Ashworth recommends applicants meet with faculty members before the audition.

“It is important that prospective students are informed about auditions, the School (of Music), my studio and the Twin Cities musical environment,” he said, “because they are going to be functioning on all those levels.”

Those connections can help applicants in their auditions and during their years of study, he said.

Ashworth recruited Ryan Terronez, a first-year student at the School of Music, in California last year.

Terronez said applicants should also meet current students before auditioning.

“They can find out if they are going to fit in,” he said.

Ashworth, who performs with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestra, said students who audition should play music that means something to them.

“Students should play pieces that they really love and that allow them to express themselves musically,” he said.

Second-year music therapy student Naomi Getsch didn’t know what to expect when she auditioned two years ago.

She volunteered to help applicants before their auditions last weekend, offering advice in the hallways.

“Relax,” she said to potential students. “Let (faculty) see who you are and why you are there and not just what you can do.”

O’Brien said the audition didn’t intimidate him. He likened it to competitions, which he enters frequently, and said people should have confidence in what they do.

“Every time you perform, you are your own worst critic,” he said. “If you can play to your own expectation, then you know that you’ve done your best.”

The school provided more than 60 practice rooms for rehearsals before auditions, Lu said. Mostly located along a long hallway in the basement of Ferguson Hall, the rooms held applicants eager to mentally prepare and practice before their auditions.

He said most applicants bring their own instruments to audition except for a few instruments such as percussion and piano, which the school provides.

In addition to gaining admittance to the School of Music, students might receive scholarships, assistantships and fellowships based on their audition performances, he said.

An internal scholarship committee makes the final decision about who qualifies, Lu said.

He said the school expects to award up to 40 scholarships for undergraduate applicants. Approximately 50 graduate applicants could receive scholarships, assistantships and fellowships.