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Advice for Future Flute Majors

Editor | October 2011

   There are many options for high school students who are interested in pursuing a career in music. The array of choices and possibilities may seem difficult to narrow down. Four college flute majors share their experiences from the selection process through the first year of college. Kelly Saroff attends Northwestern University, and Emily Theobald studies at the University of Southern California. Shannon Moore is at Middle Tennessee State University, and Luke Shultz opted for  The Ohio State University. 

The Choice of School
   There are many excellent choices, but look for the best fit with your goals. The National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) is the accrediting agency for music schools. Founded in 1923, it has accredited 630 institutions in the United State to ensure a uniform method of granting music credits and developing and maintaining a basic standard for granting music degrees.
   Luke Shultz: “I made the decision to attend The Ohio State University after months of tests, auditions, and research. There are so many things to consider when searching through the nearly 1,400 public universities in America. I can’t honestly say I looked at more than fifteen or twenty of those 1,400 universities, but I think I used just about that many standards before deciding where to go. Distance from home, distance from shopping venues, eating and housing options, recreational opportunities, the price, and of course by far the most important criteria, the quality of the music program were things I considered in making my decision. Music programs at most schools are highly competitive and much more personal than the other core programs such as science and math. When I researched schools, I wanted to be sure that I could achieve my fullest potential under the direction of the private teacher there. I also looked into the band directors, theory teachers and history professors; many classes are quite intimate with only about fifteen or twenty students. Look into every facet and detail that concerns you. After all, this is an investment in your future.”
   Shannon Moore: “I chose Middle Tennessee State University because I met flute professor Deanna Little at the Tennessee Governors School for the Arts two summers ago. I absolutely admired her teaching abilities and techniques.”

The Audition Process
   Emily Theobald: “Like every student who makes the decision to pursue music as a career, my undergraduate journey officially began with auditions in the winter of my senior year. After visiting numerous conservatories and universities, I had my list narrowed down to about ten schools. The hardest part was the actual application, especially the many required essays. Like most universities, the University of Southern California requires applicants to apply to both the university and the music school. The application requests SAT scores, essays, transcripts, and recommendations. The audition process at USC is quite comparable to the audition process at other schools to which I applied. The repertoire for the prescreen DVD is specific, but the live audition leaves some room in repertoire choice. The DVD must include exposition of the first two movements of Mozart Concerto No. 1 in G, K. 314, either the first movement of the Ibert Concerto or the first five pages of the Nielsen Concerto, the Joachim Anderson, 24 Exercises, Opus 33, No. 1 (q = 120), and A-flat major and C-sharp harmonic scales in two octaves, first slurred, then double-tongued. Once you pass the prescreen audition, you are scheduled for a live audition during an audition weekend, where you perform two contrasting sonata or concerto movements, two standard orchestra excerpts, and possibly all of the major and minor scales. I found the audition weekend to be both welcoming and organized, and flute professor James Walker was  very friendly during the audition. When I auditioned, there was no theory placement test; instead this took place in the first week of classes. Thornton now administers a theory test on audition days as many other schools do.
   “Once admitted to USC, the audition process is not quite over. Ensemble placement auditions occur during the first week of classes. During the summer, Mr. Walker sent out a list of excerpts to prepare for the seating audition. The audition is performed behind a screen for the flute professors. This year, the professors made DVDs of each person’s audition. Both teachers filled out comment sheets for each student, which were really helpful when reflecting on one’s performance afterwards. The placement results are usually posted the next day. While not required, the students of the flute studio decided it would be beneficial to hold a second round of seating auditions at the beginning of second semester, directly following winter break. These auditions are extremely good tools, as they allow us to become more comfortable in audition settings, especially with the impersonal setting of performing behind a screen.”
   Moore: “The audition for ensemble assignments at Middle Tennessee State University was the very first day of classes. The required piece was an excerpt from the third movement of the Ibert Concerto. Before the audition, I listened and practiced it to the point where my roommate, who is a psychology major, would randomly hum the excerpt. I felt prepared as I walked into the building for my audition. I walked to the practice rooms and started to play a few long tones when I heard flute players all around me ripping up and down scales faster than I had ever heard before. I was too shy to run through my piece and let the other flutists in the studio hear me, so I fingered through the excerpt and headed down to the audition room. When I arrived, there was a flute player already auditioning. She sounded so amazing; I had never heard anyone other than a professional flutist sound so good and play so accurately. It was at this moment that I knew I was no longer at the top and would have to work hard. After her audition, it was my turn to play. I walked into the room and stood behind a screen with my new flute teacher and two of the band directors on the other side. When I started playing, I could only think of the other flute players that I had heard earlier. I grew really nervous, and my mind went blank. I had no idea what I was playing. It sounded nothing like I had ever played before. I did not stop, and I got through it. The results came back and I was third chair in the second band. I realized that day that being shy and nervous would not get me anywhere. I had to become a confident player. I was more focused and determined for the next audition at the end of the semester. I went into the room with the attitude that I was going to play the best I knew how to play and not get discouraged by flutists that I heard warming up or auditioning before me. I did just that; I went in and had a great time playing beautiful music. When the results came back, I made the top band. I was so excited. Being in the top band is probably one of the hardest and most rewarding things I have ever done.”

College Life
    Shultz: “The first year of college is one of the most unexpected, eye-opening, immersive experiences adolescents go through. When I got to OSU, I quickly realized how important planning is. Gone are the days when I could just run home and grab that English spiral I had forgotten or call up my dad to have him bring my flash drive that was still in the monitor of my home computer. Every time I close the door of my dorm room, I have to think about what I might need from now until I get back. There are no more training wheels. You are on your own. Some people embrace this and excel, while others fall, and it is a hard, grueling fall when your parents are shelling out around twenty thousand dollars a year. Set high expectations for yourself; you are responsible for your own achievement.
   “Another tough adjustment I had to make was practice time. In high school I thought I was ahead of the game with about two hours of practice five times a week. I would just take a break from my calculus homework and go practice for a few hours in the basement. Easily done, no travel, and at the end I always got a compliment from my parents. In college I not only have to practice three to four hours a day, but I am expected to practice smartly for this time. This means careful planning so that I play scales, etudes, orchestral excerpts, solo repertoire, band music, and other miscellaneous exercises assigned by flute professor Kathy Borst Jones every day. I am not perfect at this and still sometimes find myself spending an hour and a half in a practice room and not accomplishing anything, but it certainly doesn’t compare to the time I wasted in high school. Practice techniques are vital to a successful, developing musician. When you take twenty-three credit hours, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and still have some time for fun, there is not much time left to waste on inefficient practice. I also have some days when I have very little motivation to keep playing perhaps because I am focused on a midterm. Whether I like it or not, I have to prepare for a lesson, a recital, or an upcoming band concert. The hardest part about motivation is remaining efficient when all you want is to do something else. 
   “The transition from being a senior in high school to a freshman in college is really the first radical step towards independence and maturity. As a first-year music student, however, there is a studio full of people who share a common interest and passion for music and a mentor eager to listen and help in any way possible.”
   Moore: “My first semester of college not only taught me great lessons about music but also about life. I have learned to live on my own, which means doing everything from setting up appointments to cooking. I had always considered myself a decent cook and could pretty much make anything for which I had a recipe. One day I tried to make my grandmother’s cornbread recipe. I started mixing up the batter and placed the iron skillet on the stove to begin warming. My grandmother had told me the hotter the skillet, the crispier the cornbread. I turned the stove on high and left the skillet to heat up. I finished mixing the batter and returned to the scorching skillet and started pouring the oil in it. Apparently it was a tad too hot, and flames shot from the skillet. About this time the fire alarm began to blare. I remembered that baking soda would extinguish grease fires, so I grabbed the tiny box of baking soda out of the refrigerator, ripped open the box and dumped it onto the fire. Thankfully, it worked. I haven’t cooked much since then.”
    Theobald: “One of the most frequent questions I am asked about my freshman experience at USC is ‘how is the food?’ It is important to remember that no matter how good the food is, you will certainly grow bored of it in time. We have two residential dining cafeterias at which meal plans allow unlimited visits. Some meal plans also include Dining Dollars, money that can be used at on-campus restaurants. The combination of residential dining and Dining Dollars offer enough variety for students to avoid falling victim to culinary monotony. Students also have the option of living in apartment-style dorms, most of which have full kitchens, though these are mainly preferred by upperclassmen.”
   Kelly Saroff: “Do laundry on Friday afternoons. Most dorms have multiple numbers of washers and dryers, so you can wash several loads at one time. Be sure to learn the ins and outs of doing laundry before reaching college.” 

Lessons and Masterclasses
    Saroff: “The teaching policy for the flute studio at Northwestern is for freshmen and sophomores to study with Kujala and juniors and seniors with Graef. This means every student has the opportunity to benefit from both teachers and their different styles. Mr. Kujala is a demanding teacher, who points out technical errors in my playing which helped me immensely improve this first year. He expects a certain caliber of playing at every lesson, and if I don’t perform as well as I should, he will drill me until I finally get a particular detail right. Mr. Kujala records each lesson on a CD so the student has the opportunity to listen to how he played and how suggestions affected the performance. He shares anecdotes at each lesson about his experiences which are always interesting and relevant to what we are performing. 
   “The flute studio has a masterclass once a week. During the fall and winter quarters, it was mostly a solo class, where four students performed a solo with piano accompaniment for the studio. After the performances, Mr. Kujala gave critiques and offered ideas for improvement. He would often have the flutist execute his suggestions with the pianist. In the spring quarter, the flute studio formed a flute choir. We worked on several pieces and gave a concert. At the end of each quarter some time was spent on the excerpts that would be required for the coming ensemble audition.”
   Theobald: “The most important part of my musical education at USC is studying with Mr. Walker. Each week, I have a one-hour private lesson with him as well as a Thursday evening studio class. Mr. Walker tailors each student’s course of study to his individual needs and areas of strength. During the first lesson, we watched the DVD of my ensemble placement audition. He commented on what went well and offered suggestions on what I should work on improving throughout the coming year. Each week, he assigns new skills and etudes, as well as pieces – often things that stretch my comfort zone. While I was nervous at first, this has  helped me to become a more confident and well-rounded musician. In addition, he certainly understands the rigors of pursuing an undergraduate degree at USC. While he expects solidity in technique and a feeling of effortless musicality, he sympathizes if the previous week was a midterm week, or if your life was consumed by your other classes. 
   “There were numerous guest artists and lecturers who came to the Thursday night studio classes. Playing in studio class is a great way to test one’s nerves, as well as to perform works before a recital or audition. Several times we had mock auditions.”

Academic Curriculum
    Theobald: “Piano, on the other hand, was probably the most difficult class I have ever taken in my 13 years of education. At USC music majors are put into the second year of piano proficiency, even though many of us could not do much more than find an A on the keyboard. The class moved extremely fast, and I probably spent hundreds of hours throughout the year practicing for piano exams, when I could have been practicing the flute. There were so many times throughout the year when I regretted not studying piano  as a child. If you can take piano lessons before freshman year or are already proficient on piano, your life will be much easier when you get to college.”
   The academic curriculum varies from one institution to the next. Most colleges and universities have a set of classes (Core Curriculum, General Education Credits, or General Goals) that every student must complete in addition to courses in the major area. Conservatories dispense with these courses but require additional credit hours in the music curriculum. Most freshman music majors curriculum will include: applied music, music theory (written), aural skills, piano proficiency, music appreciation/history, ensemble, chamber music and if applicable an elective.
   As you narrow your choices of colleges, check out the catalog for a sample course of study plan. If the courses that are required are not of interest to you, you may want to consider another major.

   Shannon Moore is a sophomore flute performance Major at Middle Tennessee State University. She has studied with Sarah Beth Hanson, Deanna Little, and Patricia George and is originally from Trenton, Tennessee.

   Luke Shultz is currently a second year undergraduate student at The Ohio State University studying Instrumental Music Education and Flute Performance with Katherine Borst Jones. He has participated in the OSU Symphonic Band and the OSU Collegiate Wind Band as both a flutist and piccoloist. He has studied flute with Christina Muntz and Nina Assimakoplous.  He participated in the Toledo Youth Orchestra and the 2010 OMEA All-State High School Honor Band. He also received the John Phillip Sousa award in 2010. After graduating from OSU, Luke hopes to teach in a high school music program and pursue further education to become a collegiate band director. 

   Kelly Saroff is pursuing an undergraduate degree in Flute Performance at Northwestern University. She is in her second year at Northwestern. Her teachers include Walfrid Kujala, Carl Hall, and Patricia George. She is originally from Lawrenceville, Georgia.

   Emily Theobald, a native of Massachusetts, is currently a sophomore at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music, where she studies with Jim Walker. Prior to attending USC, Emily studied with Judy Grant at the Boston Flute Academy and was a member of the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra’s senior orchestra. She was a finalist in the 2008 National Flute Association’s High School Soloist competition and performed live at the convention in Kansas City. She has attended the Brevard Music Institute, as well as the National Symphony Orchestra’s Summer Music Institute.