It is the time in the school year when second year graduate students are full to the brim with musical and academic responsibilities, including but not limited to recital hearings, diction screenings, recital performances, choir rehearsals/performances/tours, opera rehearsals, auditions, and of course preparation for comprehensive oral examinations. I have been neglecting the blog recently, but since this avenue is a chance to share the Westminster experience from a student perspective, indulge me for a moment to build some context for my absence.
At the end of the second year of graduate study is an oral exam. This consists of a panel of three professors (one is the head of your department whom you do not choose, one is within your department whom you do choose, and one is from outside of your department whom you also choose) asking comprehensive questions that span the range of your entire musical education up through this point (and maybe beyond). How do you begin to prepare? My answer to that, officially, is that you can’t. If you haven’t been educating yourself and soaking up repertoire, stylistic and salient features of the repertoire, historical context, performance practice and rehearsal technique, there isn’t any way for you to be ready to speak adequately on a professional level. The wonderful side of this scenario is that your professors want you to succeed, and this is an opportunity to show what you do know, to have a great conversation with people who love music and have also chosen to devote their lives to its practice.
Put this pie-in-the-sky, lovely idea into actual preparation, and what you have is a lot of type-A personalities trying to learn every ounce, every piece of minutiae of Western music history from the 6th century through to the present, every method every devised for teaching vowel modification, every rehearsal technique…you get the idea. My personal formula for success is one episode of Downton Abbey for every four hours of study, and as many feta-cheese stuffed olives as I want while studying. I try to remind myself that there isn’t any way to learn it all – hopefully I have an entire career to continue to realize that – and that part of the exam is to see what you do choose to learn. That said, most of the hours of my day not spent in class are spent reviewing notes, listening to masterworks with scores (that part is really awesome), and talking to anyone that will listen so that I can practice speaking the information aloud. There is some superstition on campus about publicly sharing the date of your exam, but I am going to throw caution to the wind and hope that you will send me loving and supportive thoughts on Monday, April 8th at 9:00 a.m. EDT.
Within the next couple of days I will carve out some time to share with you the details of Westminster Schola Cantorum tour, and how it has been to perform Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin and The Philadelphia Orchestra. (Last night, we had a rehearsal where we reviewed the choir’s movements – yup. Movements. Tonight, we have a piano dress with the Maestro. ) In the meantime, back to the books!
(Photo taken at the rehearsal with Maestro Nézet-Séguin.)