On the Fringe of Conservatories

This December, I performed within ten minutes of two of the most prestigious music schools in the United States: Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York and Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Maryland. Although I applied to both schools (for an undergraduate degree in piano at Eastman and for graduate study in composition at Peabody), I prefer my eclectic path toward being a musician to the one I probably would have taken if I had been accepted at Eastman or enrolled at Peabody.

Before auditioning for Eastman, I participated in the school’s International Piano Festival and Competition in summer 2000.  Some pianists went silent when the conversation turned away from music to books, movies, and food. This experience helped me refine my college application essays about wanting to be a well-rounded musician. The physical distance between Eastman and the University of Rochester would have been a hindrance to that goal. Instead, I studied piano at Vanderbilt University, where I volunteered at a job resource center during a Spanish service-learning course and taught music in after-school programs through the campus Office of Active Citizenship and Service.

My one-day visit to Peabody in 2005 included an invigorating gauntlet of examinations in theory and piano. The student composers formed an amiable and vibrant community that overshadowed my bland interview. With a better offer from Stony Brook University, however, I earned composition degrees on Long Island, and homeless people and senior citizens in New York City inspired me as I made music with them.

During my recent holiday music tour, someone asked if I would consider getting a job at Peabody. I responded that they would not hire me because I am not internationally famous and do not have ten years of collegiate teaching experience. My aspiration, however, is not achieving world renown or being at a conservatory. My success is in sharing life with people through music, whether they be ingenious multimedia curators or spontaneous carolers, jaunty community theater actors or down-to-earth pastors, talented baristas or conservatory-educated freelancers.

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