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Touchy Subject

megpmommegpmom Posts: 2,645Registered User Senior Member
edited November 2012 in Music Major
My S is a HS senior applying at several conservatories next fall. I was just approached by an older couple who know me and have heard my son perform on several occasions. Apparently, they are "large" contributors to one of the major conservatories and would really like my son to apply there. They have offered to write letters to or call faculty and administration on his behalf. I'm a little uncomfortable with this. 1) Would it make any difference? 2) Is this ever done? They've also asked to be able to contribute to my S's expenses, wherever he is accepted, which is nice.
Post edited by megpmom on
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Replies to: Touchy Subject

  • compmomcompmom Posts: 4,224Registered User Senior Member
    I think your son might feel better knowing that he got in without this influence-? It's nice that they offered to help regardless of whether he goes to their favored conservatory!
  • woodwindswoodwinds Posts: 536Registered User Member
    Hmm, I'll bet this happens more than we'd like to think.

    My daughter is currently applying to conservatories as well. If someone approached me with this offer, this is what I'd think about:

    Does my daughter want to go to this conservatory? If these people do speak up for her, will she feel pressured to accept there, rather than a different conservatory she might prefer? Will she get in anyway, without their help? If they do help her, she gets in there as well as other conservatories, will they be upset if she turns down the conservatory?

    I don't see how these people contacting professors will have any impact. The administration or Board of Governors is another story.

    This scenario isn't all that different than ones private teacher contacting the conservatory professors.
  • mom2windsmom2winds Posts: 165Registered User Junior Member
    I have a friend who's son is going to a very selective program - full ride scholarship. My friend thinks in large part because someone well-connected wrote a letter on her son's behalf. He is not a music major but theater instead. The program is not a typical program so if you get in, full boat scholarships not unusual. But none-the-less, my friend thinks the letter made a big difference for her son. (BTW don't ask me for specifics because I don't know them.)

    If your son wants to go to this school, then why not. You know the saying..."it is not what you know, but who you know." Asking for scholarship money is part of the process too. The schools expect it. Don't let it make you uncomfortable. It sounds like a very nice "gift" that they are offering your son.
  • musicprntmusicprnt Posts: 2,483Registered User Senior Member
    I don't know if anyone can answer for sure if a well off donor contributes to a school if they have that kind of influence over music school admissions, I don't doubt that goes on, but I have no way of knowing how much a donor can influence those decisions if at all. I have heard rumors of where a teacher was given huge bribes to take on a student and they 'got the kid' into the school, for example, but I don't have any proof of anything like that.

    My thoughts, fwiw:

    -Assuming the people can in effect get your son in automatically, what would happen if your S went there and if he got in, not based on his level, but rather their influence, and he found out he was one of the weaker players there....would he feel like he was fooling himself and so forth?

    -Even assuming he is a decent player, would he feel like he only got in because of the influence?

    -Leaving those aside, there is an even bigger consideration, what if the teachers at the conservatory don't meet your son's needs or rather the teachers who are available don't meet his needs (which raises another question, assuming the administration let your S in because of their recommendation, would that also stretch towards getting a teacher your S wanted to study with who didnt' have any open slots?). The teacher is so, so important, they aren't generic, so even if you got into great conservatory A the real question is is the right teacher there? It could be the best teacher is at school B.....if they make the call, and you S gets in but figures out none of the faculty look promising as a teacher, would he feel obligated to go there, since they helped out....:?

    -Could that action, if possible, create resentment within the department against your S for in effect being told to admit someone (assuming it in fact is how it goes).

    It is a tough call. Music school admissions is such a crapshoot, is so nerve wracking, that any edge a student can get might seem a blessing.

    Okay, so what would I do? I probably would advise my son to apply to the schools he thinks he would like to go to, do lessons with the teachers he may want, etc, go through the auditions and see where he gets in, and then make a decision from there, I would thank the couple for their generosity but explain we think it is better he do the audition process as is and see what shakes out, that the teachers at that school may or may not be a fit for your son......and make decisions based on which is the best music school for your son.

    If your son gets into said conservatory, where the couple may be useful is if your son wants to study with a particular professor, they may be able to help influence your S getting into that studio if it seems like he has no room (one note on that: I am talking about where the teacher technically had no slots but otherwise would like to work with your son, where the administration "makes room"...I don't know if I would want to work with a teacher who had had a student forced on them, I can imagine they would resent it). Otherwise I would keep your options open, do the auditions on the up and up and then play it out from there. It is no different then being faced by a dilemma some face, going to a school with a huge scholarship they don't feel is right for them, or going to a program that will cost more that they feel is right, no easy answers.

    Given that they are willing to help support your son wherever he goes, it sounds like they wouldn't be ****ed if you decided to not go there, audition at the schools he wants to, see what shakes out, and then if they are willing to help, cool.

    Don't know if that helped, just my thoughts.
  • stradmomstradmom Posts: 3,617Registered User Senior Member
    They sound very sweet! I'm also in the camp of suspecting your son would prefer to be admitted on his own merits and avoid even the appearance of impropriety in the admissions process (especially since the music world is soooo small).

    But if these nice people would like to fund a new instrument for him or cover costs at a summer festival or support a benefit concert that he might choose to hold in support of some good cause, that might be a more "neutral" outlet for their generosity.
  • megpmommegpmom Posts: 2,645Registered User Senior Member
    This particular conservatory was on my son's short list a few months ago (before some summer programs). It has since dropped off, but I'm not sure why. Probably because he connected with some teachers this summer that teach at other places. I will mull this over with my H some before we even talk to S about it. Right now, he's got 5 schools on his list - only 3 of which he has connections with teachers. Don't know if he really wants to add another (and don't know if any of the teachers he knows teach there). Sigh... this is all so complicated. I really just want it to be over. Thanks for the advice.

    And, yes, it's kind of nice to have "patrons." This couple is very generous in so many ways. I'm sure that they will support my son throughout his career.
  • BartokrulesBartokrules Posts: 219Registered User Junior Member
    If the teacher to whom the letter will be written holds the Nora and Joe White Endowed Chair in Whatever Instrument and the folks writing the letter are Nora and Joe White, then it might help :).
  • megpmommegpmom Posts: 2,645Registered User Senior Member
    I think this couple has endowed a chair on a different instrument at said conservatory. So...may not count for much.
  • compmomcompmom Posts: 4,224Registered User Senior Member
    ps My daughter ran into a similar situation and was horrified. It would be difficult studying at the school and always wondering if she would have gotten in without the pull. Plus, it just didn't feel right. Ideally, everyone would audition with a level playing field (though of course this is not what always happens).

    People in certain circles (including philanthropists and politicians) are used to operating this way. Many arts organizations deal with patrons who have a lot of influence, and some too much, on what is done artistically. This behavior is consistent with that sort of patronage. Well-meaning, but the net result can sometimes not be benign.
  • glassharmonicaglassharmonica Posts: 2,543Registered User Senior Member
    My opinion is that life is hard enough for a musician. If you son is truly interested in the conservatory and these benefactors are willing to write a letter, then for Pete's sake, let them write the letter. It happens *all* *the* *time*. I work for a university and have 4 kids in or finished college. I also write letters on behalf of other people's children (including, of course, my students.)

    It may not help, and it can't hurt. Your son will not be admitted if he's not qualified, but in the event that there are, say, 5 qualified kids circling around 2 or 3 spots, the kid with the letter is more apt to get a spot. You'll never know for sure, of course. In my own family, I suspect these kinds of hidden agendas and requests have worked both against and for us, depending on the circumstance (i.e., someone we know may put in a word for us; another occasion, we have no connections, but someone else does.) Of course, if your son isn't interested in the school, then don't accept the offer. Or, don't do it if you don't feel comfortable. Could be that your friends have an exaggerated idea of their own influence.
  • musicamusicamusicamusica Posts: 5,114Registered User Senior Member
    I'm with glassharmonica....... if he is interested then get a letter, if not...then don't. I understand that you are anxious .But I am still trying to figure out why this is a "touchy" subject.
  • musicamusicamusicamusica Posts: 5,114Registered User Senior Member
    .....unless the attention is unwanted and a bit obsessive. Is that what you are referring to?
  • alexmariejpalexmariejp Posts: 135Registered User Junior Member
    I just asked my daughter who is a senior applying to music schools about this... her response? "Why? Do we know someone? That's awesome. Do it? BTW, why do you disappoint me so much by not having a username of 'BestBassistMom101'?"

    In other words, she was fine with it and frankly, in this highly competitive field, every little bit help. My Grandpa used to say he could help get you in the door with a job, but what you did with it after that was all up to you...
  • kmcmom13kmcmom13 Posts: 3,362Registered User Senior Member
    I have an additional thought. Clearly, this couple is in some way involved in music, and feel your son is highly talented. Why not simply ask them if they'd be willing to write a generic letter of recommendation that he would submit to all the programs? In that event unless there was a compelling reason not to, of course, he'd audition at "their" school too, but would be free to select the best fit. They'd have done their best to recruit him for their alma mater and still feel they've made a contribution. He will benefit from the fact that he's the kind of person who inspires patronage.

    My son was fortunate to have a few people that for varying reasons were very interested in assisting him through heartfelt recommendations. I do believe this in some way was reflected in his financial package. I felt he had "earned" those recommendation through his way of being, his willingness to go above and beyond for those people in the past.
    Two years into his degree at his first choice college program, his department head commented to me at a performance about how much she enjoyed his leadership and contributions in class, etc.

    It occurred to me that she might never had known these things about him from the applicant pool were it not for those recommenders, and I could see from her standpoint why that might have made a difference given the kind of collegial program she ran.

    Your son has earned the respect and admiration of this couple. I think it's a wonderful thing, and is information that is useful to the various admissions committees. Not central, not critical, but certainly useful ;)
  • megpmommegpmom Posts: 2,645Registered User Senior Member
    Thanks for the opinions. I talked to S about the issue last night. He took this conservatory off of his list because he had heard that it was not particularly great for undergrad. He's still thinking about it, but I'm going to stay out of it. The ball in his court.

    This couple are generous donors to many worthy causes, including this conservatory. Neither of them are musicians, just patrons of the arts - so I'm not sure that their recomendation would have any artistic merit. They also are major donors to our opera company and regularly invite S to their home for receptions, etc. He's been able to meet lots of opera singers and conductors and composers. It's been a big motivator to him to pursue classical music.

    I thought this subject might be a little touchy because 1) I didn't want to hurt this couple's feelings if we rejected help and 2) I didn't want S to be perceived as gaming the system if he accepted help. But, if may be a moot point anyway if he chooses not to apply.
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