School of Music

USM School of Music to Participate in Portland Conservatory of Music’s “College Audition Preparation” Course

PORTLAND, Maine – Performance jitters are a given during music auditions, but local students will be able to learn exactly what to expect when applying to a top-flight music school through a unique collaboration between the University of Southern Maine (USM) School of Music and the Portland Conservatory of Music.

For the first time in its history, the Portland Conservatory is offering a four-week-long, intensive course on college auditions, ending with an actual audition for the USM School of Music. Students who take the course will prepare instrumental, guitar and/or vocal audition repertoire, which they will perform before a panel of USM faculty artists, according to officials from both institutions.

The School of Music outreach, an example of USM’s mission of community engagement, will have multiple benefits for both it and the conservatory, which already share faculty and alumni.

“This collaboration shows with increased visibility that there is camaraderie between the two institutions,” said Mark Tipton, conservatory executive director, “ … and the benefit for USM is to have very prepared, talented students auditioning for their school, which is something that we can provide.”

“We hope we get students who are otherwise not auditioning with us, and we hope it’s the beginning of other collaborations with the Portland Conservatory,” said Alan Kaschub, USM School of Music interim director in the USM College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. “They are well positioned to offer private lessons and prepare students for college music study.”

The Portland Conservatory of Music was founded in 1995 and is a member of the National Guild for Community Arts Education. The conservatory offers private lessons and group classes for all ages and abilities and also offers the Karger College Prep Division, which is its most accelerated program. Tipton noted that the conservatory shares eight faculty members with the USM School of Music, and 13 conservatory faculty members are School of Music graduates.

The audition course came about when students in the conservatory’s college prep program, now in its third year, asked questions about music auditions, Tipton said.

“We couldn’t possibly address all the questions,” he said. “It just made sense to offer a class.”

The USM School of Music is one of the top music institutions in the New England region, known for its comprehensive educational offerings. The school is accredited through the National Association of Schools of Music, and its applicants must first audition in order to study at the university. About 175 music students audition annually, with an 80-percent acceptance rate, Kaschub said.

The course, titled “College Audition Preparation,” will start on Thursday, Nov. 21, and consist of four, two-hour-long sessions focusing on audition preparation and concluding with the School of Music audition. Course topics include repertoire choices -- for both classical and jazz styles -- orchestral excerpts, music theory exams, and application tips. Enrollment is limited, and the course is geared toward high-school sophomores to adults, the executive director said.

Tipton credited Kaschub with the idea of the first-time collaboration. The actual USM audition “ups the ante and makes it more meaningful for students,” he said. “The students are very excited about that.”

“It gives them a chance to have the experience at the end of the class and makes it more real,” said Kaschub. “They might get their game face on if they know they’re actually auditioning for USM. There is always a difference between a mock audition and a real audition. We are happy to work with the Portland Conservatory to make this audition real."

The USM faculty artists will give the auditions to the students in the appropriate field, instrument or voice. The students also will take a music-theory diagnostic test and be observed in sight singing and a demonstration of their musical “ear,” Kaschub said.

The School of Music director said that he took the concept of community engagement “very seriously,” adding that “it’s important for us to act in resonance with the values of the university.”

“We often see people who audition who are not always aware of what it completely involves,” Kaschub said. “We want to help high-school students better understand what’s involved in a college music audition, and we like to do whatever we can to let people know that we have an audition. Any outreach we can do is important and of value.”

Asked if he would like to see more of such collaborations, Tipton said, “Absolutely – we’re still discussing ideas.”

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