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Tomorrow marks the start of the official recruitment travel season for me.  As I travel to 20+ different cities this fall, I will be chronicling events, common questions, and words of advice from my travels.  I will get to interact with admissions counselors and directors from performing arts programs across the country, so there should be a wealth of information to share.  The first stop…Kansas City.  This may seem like a strange stop to some, but Kansas City has a growing arts community, not to mention a brand new performing arts center that is amazing.  Check it out: http://www.kauffmancenter.org/.

And, in case you didn’t realize it, the father/daughter duo from America’s Got Talent, Shanice Hayes and her father, are from Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts in Kansas City.  Kansas City frequently gets overlooked in arts recruitment.  It’s a really cool city to visit, too.  The Plaza lights at Christmas time are one of my favorite sights of all time.  Check out the photos here: http://www.visitkc.com/things-to-do/attractions/plaza-season-lights/index.aspx.  They don’t do justice to the beauty of the lights, but at least give you an idea of what they look like.  Overall, Kansas City’s a pretty cool place.

Instruments

For those of you who aren’t singers or pianists, you may or may not own your own instrument.  Many high schools loan their instruments out to students for their use as they practice for the band or orchestra.  Since these instruments belong to the high school, you will have to return it when you graduate, if not before.  A common misconception that I see amongst prospective college students is that music programs also will loan instruments.  Although a university might have a few available for loan, they are usually reserved for the Music Education techniques classes (where Music Ed students learn to play many different instruments in order to be more well-rounded teachers).  Plus, as you become a stronger musician, having your own high quality instrument will become very important.  Many of the loaner instruments are not great instruments or they have been beaten up over years of use.  Before you come to a university to major in music, you should plan to purchase your own instrument.  This can be an expensive prospect, so you should work with a private instructor in order to determine how to get the best instrument you can within your budget.  Most musicians upgrade their instruments several times throughout their career, so although you should try and get a good quality instrument, this particular purchase isn’t the end all, be all.  Above all, make sure you play the instrument and compare it to several others before you actually make a purchase.  Many times, you can check out these instruments that are for sale, so that you can play them for an extended period of time before you have to make a decision.  Again, working with a private instructor will be greatly beneficial.  Make sure you get a good case for it, as well.  Happy purchasing!

Classes started today and our quiet halls have come to life again.  For our first year students, it is an exciting time.  They don’t know what to do with their time with only having a couple of classes each day, but that will quickly change, especially for music students.  For those of you that just entered your senior year, congratulations!  Take this opportunity to pass on the wisdom you’ve gained to the underclassmen.  Everyone will be looking to you as the leaders, so make this time count.  Have a great senior year!

Most universities provide housing for their first year students, typically in the form of traditional dorms or residence halls.  Some universities require students to live in the dorms their first year, while others make it optional.  Here at VCU, we recommend that students live in the dorms, but we don’t require it.  In fact, many of the “off-campus” housing options are actually closer to our building than the first year residence halls.  So, why should a student live in a residence hall and not in an apartment?

It is statistically proven that students who live in a residence hall for at least their first semester do better in their four years of college.  Part of this is due to the fact that residence halls provide support in easing the transition from living with parents to living on your own.  While students have more freedom than they typically did at home, there are still rules and support systems to guide them through that challenging first semester and year.  In the dorms there are also more opportunities to become part of the community of the university.  Many students who choose not to live in the dorms their first year have a harder time making friends and gaining a sense of community.  In the dorms, you don’t really have a choice, as everyone is in close proximity.  In addition, most first year dorms allow you to live there for 9 months without having to pay for a 12 month lease, like most apartments require.  So, my recommendation is that you live in a dorm your first year of college.

Now, what do you do with the rest of your time at the university?  On that topic, I have very mixed emotions.  Personally, I don’t think it is right to make students have 12 month leases while in school, because it means they have to figure out a way to pay for their apartment over the summer.  This then prevents them from being able to go on study abroad trips, do summer internships, etc, as it is almost impossible to sublet an apartment for the summer.  So, living “on campus” might be a better option.  But, if you live on campus all four years, the transition to “real life,” post-graduation will be more of a challenge.  If you live in an apartment as an upperclassman, you can still have a meal plan on campus, but you have the option to cook and do laundry in your own space, without R.A. supervision.  You learn how to pay your bills on time, maintain an apartment, etc.  This provides a nice transition to “real life.”  But, it typically comes with that 12 month lease that I mentioned before.

As you’re looking at universities, be thinking about what you want out of residential life, beyond the first year of college.  This will help you determine universities that are a good fit.  Remember that how well you are able to relax, study, and take care of yourself will affect your ability to get the most out of your education, so where you live does matter.

I have spent a good portion of this week in recruitment training.  It’s an opportunity for areas of the university to present to all of the admissions counselors, so that we’re informed of any changes.  One of the presenters was in charge of processing applications (matching the application to the supporting materials, like transcripts, etc.).  Processing applications may seem like a simple task, but when you get thousands of applications and each of them has supporting materials that arrive separately, this task becomes extremely complicated.  So, our presenter gave us a list of the top ten things applicants should know and I thought it definitely should be shared with you, as it applies to people of all majors.  So, here it is, along with some additional explanation from me.

1)  There are deadlines!  Make sure you know what they are and don’t wait until the last minute to submit.  Apply well BEFORE the deadline.  If you miss the deadline, you typically won’t be considered.

2) After you’ve applied, check the email account you used on your application frequently.  If you created a special e-mail address that you don’t check very often, forward it to one you use regularly.  Typically, if you’re missing something or if we have a question about your application, this is where we will contact you, so check it often.

3) If you use an online application, many universities give you the ability to check your own status, so you can see exactly what materials we’re still missing.  It is your responsibility to make sure that everything gets to us.  With thousands of applications, we may not be able to contact you to tell you you’re missing something, so make sure you check.  If you’re unsure, you can always call your admissions counselor.  At least here at VCU, I have the ability to check the status of applications and see what is missing, if anything.

4) Use the name on your Social Security Card for everything: application, SAT/ACT tests, etc.  If there is a chance that your name differs in any way on your test report, high school transcript or application, we may not get your documents matched.  For instance, if your legal name is Meghan, but you go by Meg, make sure you use your legal name.

5) List the university as a recipient of your test scores at the time you take the test.  That way, you don’t have to go back to CollegeBoard to have them sent after the fact.  Most universities only consider the best score, so go ahead and send all of them.

6) Don’t rely on your high school to send your test scores.  Just like your transcripts, your test scores must be official.  Sometimes the high school transcript doesn’t provide enough information for the test scores to be accepted.

7) Many times, college applications still ask for your Social Security Number, because having it upfront prevents issues with Financial Aid later.  Here at VCU, we go to great lengths to safeguard your information.

8) If you’ve attended more than one high school, we only need you to enter the high school from which you will graduate.  In most cases, that school will have transferred your grades.  But, you should double check to be sure.

9) If you’ve taken dual-enrollment classes while in high school, you are still considered a first year and the first year deadlines apply.  You are NOT a transfer student.  At least here at VCU, we don’t even need the transcript from the dual enrollment; and, if we do, we’ll ask for it later.

10) If your information changes (you move, get a new phone number, e-mail address, etc), TELL US!  You’d be amazed how many times we need to get information from or to an applicant and can’t get in touch with them.

 

If you’ve ever seen the show, You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, you know that Schroeder not only has to be able to sing, but he has to play the piano as well.  Now, many times the actor mimes while an off-stage pianist plays the piano for real.  But, it’s very easy for the audience to spot the inconsistencies, which then distracts them from the show.  When I was the Music Director of this show, I cast someone who actually could play the piano.  Although I still played the actual music offstage (since our onstage piano was fake), he made it look authentic by playing the real notes and correct rhythms on the piano.  I was thrilled when audience members kept commenting about how well he played the piano.  That meant that we did our jobs well.

Now, as you well know, most singers don’t have to play the piano onstage.  However, there is a trend on Broadway for singers to also play an instrument – like in Studio 54’s Cabaret and Sondheim’s Company revival a few years ago.  But, being able to perform an instrument while acting on Broadway is not the primary reason a singer needs to learn the piano.

Although singers work with voice teachers and accompanists, they need to be able to learn on their own.  As a voice teacher, if I have to spend the entire lesson teaching the singer the notes of a song, I don’t have any time to work on technique.  This greatly slows down the growth of the singer.  Therefore, I need my students to be able to learn the notes on their own.  Unless you have perfect pitch, which most people don’t, then you need to know how to play your part on the piano.  This means that you also need to have some basic understanding of music theory.  You need to be confident enough in both that you know that you are learning the correct notes and rhythms.  That way, you can use those expensive private lessons for learning technique and you will progress much faster.

In addition, although most singers have a pianist that plays their accompaniment for them, some songs can be very confusing when you sing them with the accompaniment for the first time.  Most Jason Robert Brown and Sondheim songs are this way.  Therefore, if you can play enough of the accompaniment on the piano to get an idea of what it sounds like, it will help you be able to practice better.  In turn, this allows you to learn more and perform better.

If you’re a singer, you have to read music and have some basic piano skills.  These skills will set you apart from your peers.  And, the more skills you know before you go to college, the more you will get out of those four years.  So, go take some basic piano lessons in addition to voice lessons as you prepare for your college auditions!  You won’t regret it!

If you’re not following the New York Times blog, The Choice, you should.  They provide great information about applying to college and I cannot recommend them highly enough.  Today, they had a great post about how youtube information can help you in your college search.  Check it out!  http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/01/between-cat-videos-research-colleges-on-youtube/

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