I have had many advantages in my life.
I grew up in a safe, happy home in northern Vermont. I had a great time in school and my childhood and adolescence were pleasant and fulfilling. I loved to play the flute and always got first chair in school band.
I had everything I needed. Unfortunately, this wasn't enough.
I harbored a dream to go to music school, and there weren't any colleges where I lived that had high-quality performance programs. I accepted that I needed to leave my home behind, at least for some time. I set my sights on a few schools in the northeast area of the country, but my heart was set on the Crane School of Music, in upstate New York.
So I practiced hard and was overjoyed when got into my school of choice. I arrived in Potsdam excited for the new challenge and pleased with myself for making it there. I had always done well in private lessons and school music programs so I figured I would do just fine in this new venture.
On the first day of classes, I was shocked by how far behind the eight ball I was. I had been a big fish in a small Vermont pond for years, and music school was a harsh reality check.
I knew only the most basic music theory. I had never thought to learn music history. I couldn't point out middle C on the piano keyboard. I didn't know bass clef. I had never done a conservatory prep program. I am fortunate enough to have parents who could have afforded to enroll me in these classes, but the high-caliber programs you find near large cities and universities just didn't exist where I lived.
Compared to my peers, I had barely prepared for college. I felt hopelessly inadequate.
Luckily for me, the point of music school (at least at the undergraduate level) is not to curate a community of people who already know everything about music. Its purpose is to teach future musicians how to be musicians. So over the course of my four years at Crane, I took the classes that others tested out of and increased my knowledge in the subjects that had so intimidated me when I arrived at college. The piano became less of a mystery. Music theory became a tool to use, not a thing to be feared. Music history became relevant. I slowly started to feel competent.
Some people are lucky enough to live in a city where pre-college and community music programs abound. The people who are even luckier also have the money to enroll in these programs. They get to spend time around many other aspiring musicians and figure out how their skills stack up. They have a chance to shore up any gaps in their knowledge before college. But not everyone has this advantage. So how do you level the playing field when you don't know how you compare to the rest of the pack?
Even if you aren't planning to audition any time soon, take a look at the degree programs at schools you're interested in. Most of them will outline the types of classes you'll be taking as well as the proficiency exams you need to pass. Some schools will post study guides for these exams; take advantage of these! The way subjects are taught varies somewhat from school to school, but the general standards are the same.
Email professors at universities you're considering and ask for their advice. Ask them if there's a particular music theory/history/ear training book they recommend. Not all professors will respond to you, but a lot of them are willing to give you some help.
The feelings of inadequacy I struggled with during my first years of college are what drove me to create the Conservatory Boot Camp program. Having been through this process, I wanted to help others navigate the audition season and get where they want to go.
But I realized that not everyone can afford hundreds of dollars in tuition for a program like this, and not everyone lives in the Greater Boston area, where I teach. There had to be a way for it to be more accessible to everyone. Thus, the workbook was born. It contains the same basic information as the full, in-person program, and there will also be a deluxe option that includes online advice and personalized feedback about the workbook activities. (These will be ready for release in early 2014.)
I believe there are inspiring future teachers, performers, and composers everywhere, even in areas of the country where the roads are rough and the cell service is spotty at best. I know this to be true because I grew up in an area just like that. I have also seen from my time in Boston that there are just as many amazing young musicians living in low-income areas. Talent is talent, and it's everywhere. I want to make sure that every aspiring music student has equal access to thorough audition prep, and Conservatory Boot Camp is my way of pursuing that goal.