A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Coursera – DYM Lesson 4 videos (1)

Ok. Here’s a summary of what I saw, and hopefully learned, from video #1 of Lesson 4 for Coursera’s online Developing Your Musicianship class. The interviews this week centered on auditioning to get into Berklee.

1. Berklee Faculty/Student Spotlight: Audition Tips (4:03)

The video begins with the question, “What was your Berklee audition like?” and then cuts to answers from students that we’ve seen in prior lessons, as well as a staff person. The first person to answer is the East Indian girl that we saw before. We learn that she’s actually from Sri Lanka, not India proper. She said that the staff were “brilliant”. I think that this is probably the British brilliant, not the American one. She then recounted that the staff just welcomed her, asked how she was, if she was really there all the way from Sri Lanka, if she was jetlagged, if she was freezing here and said that they’re all set to go when she’s ready. The audition went by really smoothly for her because it happened before she actually realized that she was in it. She also commented that she was really at ease and comfortable and that a great quality about auditions at Berklee is that they’re molded according to the student. She wasn’t versed in jazz improvisation and told this to them. They said that its alright and asked her to try it a little bit. She apparently did, enjoyed it and nailed the audition.

The next person up was the Hispanic male with barbershop parents. He said that he could feel the openness and support of the staff and that it was a great environment. His belief is that at a lot of schools, when potential students audition, they’re sized up and picked apart to determine what they doesn’t quite have together, but because Berklee is geared more towards the actual music business as it stands, they’re looking more for potential, so they look for what a potential student does well.

With that said, the video jumped to the Jamaican girl, who recalled that she was really nervous because she’d only done one audition before and failed. She went to the audition at Berklee with the intent to just get it over with, but found that the staff were really nice and wanted to “have a conversation about what she wants to do in music and why she wants to attend Berklee”. She said it ended up being the most amazing audition she’s ever done – not because she feels that she was amazing, but because it was “a great process”.

After she spoke, the screen shifted to a new question: “What tips would you give students who are preparing for a music audition?” The first person to answer was, again, the girl from Sri Lanka. Her advice was to, “Be yourself and make sure that the piece you play is a part of yourself, something that you can be really comfortable with, because if you’re going to do something that’s out of your comfort zone at an audition, unless you’re good at that kind of thing, its not going to work.” She continued with the advice that the piece that the auditioning student picks should be something that they’re so comfortable with that they could just enjoy playing it, and that when a candidate really looks at it, its also what they want to show off because they’re marketing themselves.

The video then moved to the Hispanic male again and he related that he used to work in the scholarships office at Berklee and that he would tell parents and kids over the phone that the school is looking to see what the applicant does well. He recommended going in prepared with something that the student feels really comfortable with and that truly represents the student. He continued with, “If you can figure out ways to work in things that are kind of flashy, so you can show off, that’s awesome, but what’s most important is that, you know – and this, this applies to really any performance – is that you just feel, that you feel good.” He said that the student needs to be performing something that’s self-satisfying and that this will “project the best vibes.”

Finally, the video moved to the last interviewee. Rob Jaczko, the Chair of the Music Production  Engineering Dept., who we saw in earlier interviews. He opened with, “My best advice for someone who’s about to go on an audition either for a gig or to come to the college is to pick some music that you simply love. Be yourself, be true to the music, speak the voice of the music, interpret it through your own voice in your own vision, and don’t try to second-guess what you think someone else wants to hear.” So, this really underscores what the students in the video recommend about playing something that the candidate loves and identifies with. He continues with, “Its really not about technicalities and numbers, numbers of notes. Its about your passion and your mode of expression through music. So, I always tell people, you know what? What piece of music is the one that just makes you feel the best, that you can be the most honest and the most genuine about your performance of that piece? And, go for that one. That’s the one that going to resonate the most with the people that are auditioning you.”

Interestingly, the video ends there, but the subtitles that I downloaded continued with a sentence snippet when Rob finished which says, “I think its a good idea to know some theory before,” and just stops.

So, the overwhelming advice is to be yourself and perform something that’s meaningful to the student. Secondary to that is to make it something that the candidate can embellish or somehow play up to make it impressive to the audience – I don’t know if that was necessarily visually impressive or if it speaks to navigating music via knowledge of theory or physical technique. I’m sure a combination of all of that would be the best route to take, but it does look like they’re looking for honesty and passion.

That probably applies to a lot in life, not just music school or gig auditions.

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One response

  1. Pingback: Coursera – Developing Your Musicianship Lesson 4 | Ugly Bass Face

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