Mom of a Classical Music Major

Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.

Martin Luther

We, as a family, knew from the time our son was in the fifth grade, music was his path.  The idea of architecture came up a few times, but when our son realized the amount of “art” required…well…let’s just say that he still harbors some resentment towards his grade in high school ceramics.

This is the kid who could have gone to any school, for any major, without paying anything.  He choose the path of his passion….classical music performance.  We are his parents.  We had to choose his junior year whether to encourage or discourage this path.  We knew the financial implications by allowing this path to unfold, but we also knew that where God leads you-the details work out.

So, why this blog today?  It’s somewhat about our son, but mostly about what’s it is like to be the mom…exactly what is involved in this path on his side, our side.  Some “lessons learned” to ” man, that was awesome.”

Band programs.  I cannot say enough about those directors that walked along-side our son from middle school to high school.  Encouraging his craft.  No, we did not live in what is called a “classical music” hub.  Certainly not for percussion.  There was no “youth orchestra” training program attached to a major symphony program.  It was simply our kiddo, with a passion, and band instructors that did all they could to help  him.

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Tenth grade, that’s when we started private instruction for his craft.  Tenth grade.  Oh, what rookies we were as parents!  We lived in our little bubble and had no idea that kids in this field were working as young as five years old in major cities. Eleventh grade: One day, while searching for something related to his craft, I came across some information for the Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI) for young performers.  A summer program for classical musicians in high school.  What?  Summer programs?  Not just a one or two week band camp?  Our son applied.  Sent in his recordings. (We go back to those on  occasion and laugh at our lack of experience in how to do those!) First acceptance came for the percussion workshop-we thought he had just won the music lottery.  Then he was accepted into the wind ensemble program.  Our son was going to Lenox, MA for the summer after his junior year.  To us, he was the most talented kid on the planet. Our world of music was contained to Arkansas and his success within the state.  Little did we know, this would be the summer that our kiddo truly found his calling…his place in this big world we live in.  Lenox, MA and BUTI would forever change this family.  (We won’t talk about the Mom putting her son solo on a plane to a land far-away and trusting folks who we had never met to take care of our son.)

This is the summer he met legends in his field.  The summer he learned exactly where he was in his craft and where he needed to be.  The summer he decided with certainty…classical performance for college and at the highest level he could obtain.  The next few  months were spent pouring over what this meant to the application process and selecting schools to focus on.  Yes, it’s his journey, but as any parent of a high level classical musician will tell you, the process is a family event.  (Especially at the incoming undergraduate level.)

Earlier deadlines, prescreen tapes (each school has their own requirements), essays, recommendation letters, rep lists……submit.  Wait.  Pray.  Please let him pass some of his prescreens.  December 1-mid January that first round was nerve-wracking!  Then the invites come to live auditions and you scramble to make flight and hotel arrangements and school excuses…(it is easier for graduate auditions to arrange around school-that comes in a bit!)…and then for undergraduate auditions, his process began at the end of January and ended the first week of March.  The “dream”, the “reach”, the “likely” and the “safety” on the list….and you pray for one acceptance with enough financial award to attend.  Unlike other undergraduate degrees, you are judged not just on your high school career, but on your performance on that ONE day….a bad day means a certain rejection.  A classical musician, no matter the level, can always have a “bad day.” The hands don’t work that day, or you have a cold or the room is too hot…pick from a list of a hundred possibilities.  One day determines your yes or no.  There’s no “repeat” or “can I come back tomorrow.”  Now, as an undergraduate applicant, odds are….a parent is there.  “There” meaning the lobby of the school your student is auditioning at.  Our daughter competed in pageants and I have to say…the nerves and stress for that were high for a parent..audition season…it’s far worse.  Sitting there, knowing your child’s hopes and dreams are all being judged by a panel of some of the greats in their craft….and all you can do is pray it’s a good audition day…that the practice…the hundreds of hours of practice…they show that day.  And then audition season is over and the wait begins again.  While other kiddos are announcing their schools and such….classical music performance kiddos and their parents…wait….April 1st as the typical “notification” date.  The packages are announced.  The rejections are announced.  Decision time.  May deadline.  Oh wait, did I fail to mention in all of this craziness, you are also doing prescreens and applications for summer music festivals?  Silly me!  So, add “Mom, I want to go back to BUTI this summer” to this craziness.  May comes…decision made, BUTI acceptance year two in (this time to the orchestra!), graduate from high school….leave for the summer for festival…start college as a classical music major.

As the time came near for our kiddo to venture off for college, most parents were beginning to suffer those “our kiddo is leaving ” pains.  For us, we had to deal with that his junior summer as he left for eight weeks to BUTI.  Now for a second summer.  Seeing him one time over the summer.  So, we didn’t experience those freshman parent blues…we had already been there, done that.  Thankful for that, as I am not sure we would have managed mentally sending him a plane ride away to a major metropolitan city for college.

Many have asked exactly what our kiddo does in college.  Well, take all the normal academic required classes, add in theory courses, music history courses, ensembles (three) and their practice times, percussion lessons, homework, eating (yes, our son schedules eating), and then typically 40+ hours of practice a week.  Then add in performances and well…you get the picture.  The  normal college experience does not apply to a classical music major.  So, this is the life and then senior year comes.  Guess what!!!!  You get to do all the craziness of your senior year of high school all over again…on steroids!!!  The parents, somehow, feel the exact same feelings as we did four years ago!  (A master’s degree is a  non-negotable in this field…especially classical percussion.)

This time, he has applied to seven schools for graduate work in classical percussion performance.  He passed all of his prescreens, so he will be live auditioning at seven schools over the course of five weeks.  Still maintaining his academics, his obligations musically to this college and preparing applications/screens for summer programs and contests.  New York, Boston, Rochester, Chicago, Houston….one of those towns will be his home in the fall.  He will know in April.  (Of course, this all dependent on him being accepted into at least one of the schools after auditions.)

What does a graduate prescreen look like you ask?  Here you go…and each school is different…and then each school requires different items for your live audition.

Snare Drum

  • Solo or etude
  • Prokofiev Lieutenant Kijé (mvt. I, reh. 1-2)
  • Rimsky-Korsakov Sheherezade (mvt IV, reh. P-R)

Marimba

  • Solo

Xylophone

  • Gershwin Porgy and Bess, Overture – opening
  • William Schuman Symphony #3, mm. 230-244

Tambourine

  • Dvorak Carnival, Overture – beginning to letter C

Timpani

  • Beethoven Symphony #9, mvt. I, mm.513 to the end
  • Strauss Burleske, beginning to mm. 20
  • Bartók Concerto for Orchestra, mvt. IV

And this would be the “lives” requirement:

Snare Drum

  • Two contrasting solos or etudes – one of them rudimental style
  • Prokofiev Lieutenant Kijé
  • Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade, mvt. III, D-E
  • Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade, mvt. IV, P-R
  • William Schuman Symphony #3, 2 before 145-165

Marimba

  • Solo work (3-5 minute portion)

Xylophone

  • Solo work (3-4 minute portion)
  • Gershwin Porgy and Bess, Overture
  • William Schuman Symphony #3, mm. 230-244
  • Kabalevsky Colas Breugnon, Overture
  • Messiaen Oiseaux Exotiques, #6-#7

Glockenspiel

  • Dukas Sorceror’s Apprentice

Cymbals

  • Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet
  • Rachmaninov Piano Concerto #2

Tambourine

  • Dvorak Carnival, Overture

Timpani

  • Solo work (3-4 minute portion)
  • Beethoven Symphony #1, mvt. III
  • Beethoven Symphony #9, mvt. I
  • Tchaikovsky Symphony #4, mvt. I, T-U
  • Strauss Burleske, opening
  • Hindemith Symphonic Metamorphosis, mvt. II
  • Bartók Concerto for Orchestra, mvt. IV

This is his passion.  This is his life.  This is our life.  A student in classical performance must have the full support of his parents…or it just won’t work.  The energy and financial investment is a family affair.  For example, in high school, every weekend of his junior and senior year, we drove either three hours to OKC or three hours to Conway for private lessons.  In college, we supported him as his attended the Aspen Music Festival for two summers.  This path is not an easy one and is honestly probably the hardest path of most any major.  Job security only comes with tenure and that only comes when you finally win a chair with a symphony.  Hopefully, you are also able to secure a position at a college as well.  With all that said, being the Mom of this kiddo has been priceless.  There has been no greater joy than watching him perform and seeing his entire person become the music he is playing.  In those moments, you just sit back and thank God for allowing this to be part of your story…and the story of your child.

What advice can I give to you parents out there in this journey early stages?  Invest in the best lessons you can find for your child.  Early.  But, it’s never too late to start.  Make sure they keep their grades up. Don’t burn musical bridges-the music world is small and very close-knit.  Summer festivals in high school.  BUTI, Eastern, Brevard, etc….they will pay back ten-fold.  Dream big in audition/application season, but also have a “safe” school that your child would gladly attend if the rest where either rejections or “no way can we afford that” situations.  And lastly, there is NOT one single path to the end result.  One school does not guarantee success.  Find the best teacher/program for your child in their craft.  It may not be at “the school”, but maybe one tier down.

As a parent, this path will cause you to eat Tums, pray your child does not end up on the corner of a major city street playing for donations, and smile when others tell you about their undergraduate senior landing a six figure job…while you pray after six years of school your child makes it to the final rounds of job auditions.  Yet…it’s the best gig for a parent ever.  Knowing your child followed their calling..even the midst of known adversity.  Priceless.

To the student…stop reading this…go practice!!!!

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