Perhaps the sector most affected in these times in America, besides healthcare, is music and the performing arts.
It almost feels unfair. Many of Europe’s orchestras are actually holding performances this fall. Arts organizations in some other countries are slowly making their comeback.
Yet when it comes to classical music in the US, the pandemic does not seem to be easing up anytime soon for classical music.
The Big Five Orchestras in America – New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Cleveland Orchestra – have all suspended their fall seasons or have changed to no in-person attendance.
The other major orchestras in the country – LA Phil, SF Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, National Symphony, and more – have followed suit, canceling their in-person concerts until further notice.
Of course, you’ll hardly see a chamber music group or soloist gracing a concert hall anytime soon, unless they are performing over a streamed network.
Music schools are hardly immune to this as well. Many college music programs are either entirely online, or a doing both limited in-person classes and online classes.
We are seeing an incredible shift in education, unlike anything else before.
Prior to the pandemic, online learning was not nearly as frequent in conservatories and university-based music programs. While Skype and Zoom were certainly integrated somewhat into conservatory education, all lessons were done in person.
Since the middle of March, however, 1-on-1 lessons have become primarily based on Zoom.
It’s interesting that Zoom has become the de facto standard over the past 6 months for carrying out music lessons; while Zoom is a fantastic conferencing software, it was not meant as a lessons software.
Somebody should enter the marketplace with a video conferencing solution for musicians; this would unequivocally become adopted quickly in nearly every university-based program if done correctly, as current technologies do not have the best audio quality when it comes to hearing the subtleties of tone production, rhythm, breath control, etc.
However, the current technologies are widely adopted and will be in use for the current audition season, which brings us to the next point…
Why Auditions May Change Forever For the Better
Almost universally, music schools are switching their audition process towards recordings and live calls on Zoom.
If you have auditioned for college before, or have done any kind of audition before, you will realize how strange and difficult this switch will be at first.
The normal, classic audition is an in-person experience. Students have the opportunities to see the school, sometimes meet faculty, sit it on classes, and generally be immersed in the feeling of the musical environment.
This year, the audition process changes; everything will be done from the living rooms of students recording with, most likely, inexpensive equipment and iPhone cameras.
However, schools are making the right move for the safety of their students. It will be interesting to see whether this changes the audition process for students in the future.
But, what happens once the pandemic is over…
Should we go back to in-person auditions?
The Problem: In-Person Auditioning Is Classist
In-person auditioning is as classist as it gets in the world of music schools.
The reason is because auditioning for college is a huge financial commitment.
Take this hypothetical instance below:
If a student from Florida wants to audition for two colleges in California, and those schools have audition dates that are a few weeks apart, that equates to two round-trip cross-country flights that the family has to pay for.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so hard for a professional musician, but students have to juggle not only the burden of schoolwork and extra-curricular activities, but also other audition dates at different schools throughout the country!
Imagine being a student auditioning for Eastman, Miami, USC Thornton, San Francisco Conservatory, Michigan, and Rice, six elite music schools in the US.
That equates to flying to upstate New York, Southern Florida, central Texas, the midwest, northern California, and southern California!
The total cost of all these flights alone is astronomical for any upper-middle class family, extending easily into many thousands cumulatively.
Also, for students who play a large instrument, such as cello or double bass, an extra seat may have to be purchased on some airlines just to transport the instrument!
And, it’s not just flights; the cost of hotels in major cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles can be very expensive!
Additionally, students who audition for undergraduate programs are almost always teenagers between the ages of 16 and 18…
This means not only do families have to pay for their children to audition, they will have to take time off from work to accompany their children to different school auditions!
Yes, I understand why music schools prefer live auditions, and many will be tempted to revert back to this format once the pandemic has concluded.
However, there really is another reason why auditions SHOULD change to be entirely remote in the future:
Like we talked about before, not every family is capable of affording multiple hotels, flights, restaurant meals, etc.
Now, music schools have come up with solutions to this previously; many programs, even before the pandemic, have offered students the option to do a distance audition/interview when submitting pre-recorded materials.
This actually works perfectly well for composition students who do not perform typical auditions for college. Most composition auditions are simply interviews where the student and the faculty talk about the student’s music and their college/career goals.
However, for most performance students, it is widely known that pre-recorded auditions may lessen your chances of acceptance and scholarship.
While I will not call out any specific schools in this article, many music schools have openly declared on their websites that students who audition in-person are prioritized for scholarship consideration.
However, this statement may be perceived as classist, as only financially solvent families can afford to send their children to auditions at multiple schools!
In the example previously, I listed a hypothetical scenario where a student auditions for six schools. However, some students audition for 11 or more schools! Can you imagine how much auditioning itself must cost?
This Is the Cost of In-Person Auditioning
Let’s take this concept even further…
In the example I provided earlier, a hypothetical student is going to audition for six different schools all throughout the country. This student lives in Tallahassee, Florida.
Each flights costs $200 per person – so, $400 total for one student and one parent. There are 6 schools, so flights alone are $2400.
Then, lodging and food is approximately $100 per person per trip, making it $200 total per city, which is a total cost of $1200.
Then there is opportunity cost – five audition trips may cost 10 workdays for the parent. If the average parent makes $200 a day, that is $2000 in lost money made.
We are not even considering instrument costs for large instruments such as cello.
In total, the cost to audition at just six schools in one country is nearly $6,000. Of course, the numbers can be different depending on the cities, but this estimate does not feel outrageous by any means for six cities across the country.
And, some students do audition at 10 or more schools. It’s actually not unheard of to spend $10k+ on audition season alone with all the travel, hotels, school visits, food costs, and missed opportunity costs for parents.
I don’t know about you, but it seems to me the following: schools expecting parents to pay in excess of even $4,000+ for audition trips feels classist.
This Is How the Audition Can Become a Zero-Dollar Scenario
Video conferencing software (ie Zoom) is the de facto solution during the pandemic for auditioning college students. This should become the standard for everyone.
This is why it MUST become the standard: if a school offers Zoom to some students in the future, while others come in person, then the students who audition in person will be naturally given preference as in-person auditioning is how it has been at college auditions for the past several decades.
And, if music schools continue to allow the disparity in a post-pandemic world with in-person auditions vs Zoom auditions, they will be reinforcing the classism of college auditions.
It is our opinion that all students should have to audition via video conferencing software. Of course, that has to be true this year for everyone’s safety, but once this is all over, it should continue to be what music schools promote.
Only then will music schools achieve true equality in their audition process.