Live auditions go on with the snow

Music: The Peabody Conservatory gives an ear to those who reached Baltimore to play despite the stormy weather.

February 18, 2003|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

The Peabody Conservatory of Music was playing it by ear yesterday, trying to orchestrate hundreds of potential students and parents and the professors who need to hear them play.

This is audition week for the music school, when more than 900 applicants come from all over the world to audition and take entrance exams for Peabody's undergraduate and graduate programs.

Although other schools of the Johns Hopkins University closed because of the snow, the show will go on for those Peabody applicants who made it to the Mount Vernon campus. Many faculty members have freed up their rehearsal schedules at major symphony orchestras to listen to them.

Coordinating the process is not easy, even when the weather cooperates. Planning for the week begins in June, including after-hours ensemble performances, campus tours, dinners with staff and other events, said David Lane, director of admissions.

Many events will take place as scheduled. "Where will you go in 3 feet of snow?" read a poster for last night's percussion performance.

Musicians are a determined lot, said Anne Garside, Peabody's director of public information. Many drove in or took trains during the weekend and walked to downtown hotels to be sure to make it on time.

"Everybody thinks that artistic people are dreamy. ... Actually, they're tough as nails," she said.

The uncertainty caused by the storm shouldn't affect her audition performance, said Sylvana Opris, a 17-year-old piano student from Queens, N.Y.

"When I'm preparing for an audition, I have a very set mindset," she said yesterday. "Whatever I'm going to do is going to be from those 12 years" that she's been playing, she said -- not from the hours immediately before her performance.

Finding a balance

The school is trying to find a balance between offering applicants who arrived the best possible experience while being fair to those who weren't able to travel to the city, Lane said.

"We're working with who we have, with who we can get here," Lane said. "We can't really recommend in all good conscience that people come in. What we're afraid of is that they'll put themselves in harm's way to do it."

In addition to the live auditions, more than 170 applicants submitted recordings, Lane said. More than 150 auditions for voice, piano, double bass, guitar and tuba were scheduled yesterday. Admissions staff members were trying to determine late yesterday morning how many faculty from each department were available and how many applicants had arrived.

Musical `match-making'

Peabody is one of a handful of music schools that insists on live auditions if possible, said Bob Sorota, director of the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, which includes the conservatory.

"The best music schools really try to hear every individual student," he said. "It's very much a question of match-making" between students and music schools.

The more than 1,100 people who applied to graduate and undergraduate programs are vying for about 200 openings, he said.

The school is trying to reschedule auditions for time slots later this week, but those days were already overbooked, Lane said. Other alternatives include allowing students to mail in recordings, but a live audition is far superior, he said.

"There's a physicality to playing the instrument that the faculty feels more confident in getting to see," he said.

Like any campus visit, it also allows the student and perhaps parents to see the facilities and talk with staff.

"I'm trying not to let [the snow] affect my view of the school," said 16-year-old Andrea Leyton-Mange, a soprano from Huntingdon Valley, Pa. A friend who attends Peabody took her on a tour Sunday. "He's been shouting disclaimers," she said.

Applicants forewarned

Applicants received a warning in their audition materials that Baltimore gets its share of inclement weather, but that events would continue as scheduled. The material said those who tend toward the "phobic" end of preparation could send in a "snow tape."

Michelle Willner, a 17-year-old soprano from Danbury, Conn., said she would check with the admissions staff to ensure that they had received her recording after she learned that only one voice professor would be available when her audition was rescheduled. She and her parents were not sure if they would stay overnight so she could perform another day.

"It's just so hard when it's just one faculty member" who makes the admissions decision, she said.

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