Didn't pass prescreens: was I being unrealistic?

I’m a flutist and piccoloist from Long Island. I’ve made NY all state piccolo twice, I’m headed to all eastern in the spring, and I 've been principal of both my youth orchestras for several years. I’ve known for a while I’m in the awkward limbo where I’d be at least the best of the freshmen at most state schools, but getting accepted into a conservatory is quite a reach. Still, I applied to Vanderbilt Blair (the only conservatory I applied to) and hoped to at least get a live audition. Yesterday I was informed I did not pass the prescreen round at Blair. I’m not shocked but I’m taking it pretty hard. Was it unrealistic to apply there? Is it still worth focusing on performance if I can’t get into a conservatory (I’ve been debating between performance and education for some time). I understand flute is competitive, but this was a huge blow to my confidence. What do I do next? My audition at SUNY Potsdam went really well, but I still have several left at Hartt, Purchase (prescreen withstanding), CUNY Queens, and Hofstra (which I will probably cancel). How does SUNY Purchase’s conservatory rank?

You are asking a number of questions here, I’ll try to answer them in some sort of semblance of a logical answer (battling a bad cold).

1)I wouldn’t put too much weight into not getting the prescreen at Blair, one prescreen doesn’t mean anything. Vanderbilt is a tough program to get into, it is one of the programs that gifted musical kids who don’t want to do just music, go for double degrees (it is academically a top level school as well), so you get a lot of very, very high level kids getting into there with that in mind, a lot of kids my son knew at Juilliard Pre College applied there and some other such schools. Flute is an extremely competitive instrument, it isn’t just an orchestral instrument but is considered a solo instrument, so it gets more than its share of those looking for the limelight as a soloist, the way you do with Violin and Cello and Piano. You could have applied to other top music programs, like let’s say Juilliard, CIM, Eastman, etc, and gotten past their prescreens, you don’t know.

My S is going through this (he is applying to grad school), he applied to a program that is very, very difficult to get into and didn’t pass the prescreen, yet he passed it at another top school (still waiting to hear from other places). He was a bit bummed out, but another friend of his (who just sent the same audition video to one of the top competitions and got accepted into it) didn’t get past the prescreen, either. You don’t know, for all you know Blair doesn’t have any openings on flute so rejected others, or has so few they are being really, really picky on the pre screen. Don’t put too much emphasis on not getting past an individual prescreen in other words.

2)As far as performance versus education, the answer to that one is go with what you really feel you want to do. Far too many kids do music ed, because they can get into it, it has a ‘real job’ path, etc, and end up as lousy teachers.

3)You don’t need to go to a ‘conservatory’ to get a good music performance education. First of all, there are conservatories out there that aren’t very good IMO , and there are excellent teachers at schools of music within universities, so there is no rule.The difference between a top conservatory and the next level down is that the playing level at the top school across the board is likely to be higher, but you still can get a good music performance education at the other schools, it just may mean you would be more typical at the 2nd tier school than at the top level one (and I am saying that in theory, obviously I don’t know how well you play, couldn’t tell even if I heard you).

The key is going to be the teacher, and you should make an effort to research the teachers at the programs you applied to. I knew a flautist a number of years ago who said they had great flute faculty at Hartt, but I don’t know if that is true today. I highly encourage you once you have programs lined up for audition to do sample lessons with teachers if at all possible and see who seems to be able to work with you. SUNY Potsdam and Purchase have decent reputations from what I know, Copeland School at CUNY may have a slightly lower reputation, but again it also will come down to the teacher as well. One thing to note, that has been discussed on here a lot, is that the ‘rankings’ of conservatories often don’t mean much (and USNWR is absolutely useless), and in the end the ‘name’ of the conservatory won’t buy you anything, it is going to be how well you are prepared, which is where the teacher comes in, a good teacher at purchase or Hartt or Potsdam or whatevever will be the key to your success. There are advantages to a big name school a smaller school may not have, with things like networking or gig opportunities, like anything else all schools have plusses and minuses.

4)One thing to consider if you seriously are thinking of doing music perfomance and that is if none of your choices seem good this year, you can always take a gap year and apply next year, and spend this time working on what needs to be worked on. If you take this route, I highly recommend finding a high level teacher who teaches at a music school (maybe someone from one of the conservatories in NYC, like Juilliard, Manhattan or Mannes) and get an evaluation from them, they can tell you what you may be lacking, what you would need to improve to get into a better program, and give you the basis to work on what you need. It would be very hard IMO to work on technique and such if I didn’t know what it was I needed to work on…

5)One last thing to keep in mind is these days undergrad for music performance is but a stepping stone, a lot of kids doing performance end up doing a masters, so you could go to one of the schools on your list, assuming you find a good teacher, and work towards being able to get admitted to a good grad program.

Nothing really to add to what musicprnt said, except to reiterate: one prescreen is just that – one prescreen – and it’s impossible to extrapolate from it. Too many factors (factors that you’ll never know about) go into the decision that are beyond how you played on that day. It’s true that Blair has become an increasingly tough admit these days, but, yeah, it’s still a definite bummer. I encourage you to take a close look at Purchase, Hartt, Potsdam, and Queens, and their faculty – you can get a great education at any of them, particularly if you find a good teacher fit. I will say that I’m a fan of the Queens College music program generally, and though I’m essentially clueless about your instrument, a glance at the flute faculty shows at the very least least a strong flute contingent – in terms of training, other teaching gigs at NYC conservatories, and professional performing bona fides – that is, if it’s actually current (I see that one of the adjunct faculty retired from the NYPhil a few years ago – is she still teaching at Queens? Do adjunct faculty teach performance majors? Don’t know). Hang in – and break a leg at your other auditions!

Purchase is an excellent conservatory and more affordable than most as well.

Another thing to keep in mind with prescreens is schools can reject you if all the i’s aren’t dotted and t’s crossed. One of my son’s prescreens may have been rejected because his teacher didn’t get his recommendation letter in on time (not going to go into what I think of music schools playing that game, knowing how flaky a lot of music teachers are and/or space cadets…), it could be something as simple as that.

I can’t speak to the universities in NY, but my son had a similar experience in our state. Applied to some top music schools but auditions didn’t work out (including one prescreen). But he was ultimately accepted at 2 schools for a music performance major. One was a private school and other a state school. Chose the state school, largely due to the financial difference. Just finished his first semester and is very happy and learning a lot.

Not saying this to speak up my son, but to point out that you are not the only person in this situation. I understand it impacts your confidence - it did his too. But stick with it and you will find the right place. Remember that you still have a few months before you must make a final decision. Over time the right choice became pretty to all of us and it will for you too.

A little late, but I did want to pass on one piece of information that I gleaned. Blair is a small(ish) program with only one flute professor and a crowded studio currently – apparently, they accepted way more than usual last year, and very few are graduating this year – so that could be pretty much the whole story right there.

They have two outstanding flute/pic players in the studio already that I know of and that does constrain whom they can accept, so StringPop is quite right.

That is very encouraging info for the OP in terms of reason for not passing and chances elsewhere!

Just goes to show that you can’t put too much into any one result, especially when you are applying to highly competitive programs. One year I went to a Juilliard admissions forum, and the coming year they had exactly 1 opening for flute, and that was undergrad and grad…so imagine how tough it would be to get in that year (not to mention that 1 slot could very well all but be filled if the teacher with the opening had a student in mind they wanted). I would be more concerned if the kid submitted prescreens to tier 1 and tier 2 programs and didn’t get an audition anywhere, that kind of consistency might mean something, but no one prescreen or audition is a tell for anything.

Thank you so much for the perspective. I realized how small and competitive the music world (and particularly flute world) can be, but it didn´t occur to me that it might impact me personally. I really appreciate all the responses.

It is why it is important to take everything that happens in perspective and not let a single thing or even multiple things get to you, going into music takes dogged persistance and a thick skin, to be sure. The pre screen my son thought he hadn’t passed and was upset about turned out to be a bureaucratic snafu in the end, it had nothing to do with his playing whatsoever, but he wondered if it did because he didn’t know the reason.