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Friday, May 27, 2022 — Houston, TX

MUSIs audition for chair placement

By Kaylen Strench, Arts and Entertainment Editor     9/3/14 6:20am

Syllabus week has a reputation for being a period of relative ease; a chance for students to settle back into the college routine and reconnect with friends. However, while you may have spent long hours upon arrival lounging at the pool, you might not have realized that one group on campus has been slaving away. The Shepherd School of Music majors hit the ground running this past week in preparation for the highly rigorous placement auditions: ten minutes during which students must play in front of a faculty panel to determine their positions amongst their peers for the year. While a good performance can help students achieve coveted positions like Concert Master or First Chair, a poor audition can have harsh consequences.

Students play eight to ten short excerpts from pieces they will work on later in the year, and they must get them down cold before the first week of classes.

“We get the music in mid-July, and … personally I began practicing the instant I got the excerpts in the mail,” Emma Terrell, a junior percussionist from Baker College, said. “You have to practice the pieces multiple, multiple times because you’re playing in front of your Maestro, and you don’t want to look stupid in front of him, especially since that may be the only time he’s going to hear you play solo for that entire year.”

Though Shepherd students already practice three to four hours a day on average, Terrell said that she practices as much as six and a half hours before placement auditions.

Because of the high stakes of the auditions, Shepherd students clearly face a tremendous amount of pressure to succeed. Jorie Butler-Geyer, a junior violinist at Sid Richardson College, said she deals with the stress by reminding herself that while her performance is important, the panel does try to judge students holistically.

“I keep trying to tell myself that its not really a reflection of you as a whole, it’s 10 minutes of your life,” Butler-Geyer said. “Also, I know a lot of these faculty members beyond my audition; we have history, and they know my ability and how much I’ve improved from when they heard me last.”

As for the nerve-wracking period actually playing for the panel, Terrell and Butler-Geyer noted that musicians have to figure out their best tactics for keeping a cool head.

“I mean, I admit that once or twice I’ve broken down in front of [the Maestro],” Terrell said. “Everyone has to figure out their thing to deal with nerves. Personally, I just close my eyes before I play a particular piece, get the tempo and rhythms, visualize what I’m about to do and then play.”

Terrell also said many music students rely on taking beta-blockers before performing to slow their heart rate and prevent their fingers from trembling.

Both students agreed that while the auditions are inherently competitive, Shepherd is an incredibly supportive environment.

“Everyone really wants you to succeed and play what you want to play,” Terrell said. “They’re going to help you leverage your strengths, because they want you to be at your best.”

Terrell also said Shepherd often gives students choice in the kind of music they play in order to help them best demonstrate their ability.

Butler-Geyer noted that the competition is also tempered by the fact that students are at different levels, a fact that is understood and appreciated.

“I spend a lot of time with the other musicians, so I have an idea of how I measure up,” Butler-Geyer said. “I know there are master and doctoral students that sound amazing, which just reminds me how much more I have left to go. It’s just not really competitive because most of these people are my friends, and I want them to do well. I know there are these people that will end up doing better… but I just got to do me.”

Butler-Geyer also discussed how she felt about the fact that a lot of Rice students do not know much about the particular challenges Shepherd students face.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand that MUSIs need to practice multiple hours a day, every day,” Butler-Gyer said. “I might take a break one day a week or if I’m injured, but otherwise it’s not really a part of my life I can turn off – it’s constant. The people I’m really close to get it, like ‘Okay, you have practice, see you in six hours!’ It’s really the same as everyone else doing their problem sets – you sit down, maybe cry a little bit, and then you have to get it done.”

The Shepherd students will find out their placements this week. So perhaps when you see your MUSI friends, pat them on the back and wish them luck. Regardless of their performance or instrument, it’s safe to say Shepherd life isn’t for the faint of heart.

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