My oldest daughter, Katie, is a senior in high school and therefore is applying to various colleges across the country. She is a pretty talented actor, singer and dancer so she is trying to get into a first rate theatre program, and in particular is trying to get into a musical theatre program. This weekend we went with her to Carnegie Mellon for an audition there. I must admit that Pittsburgh does not strike me as the center of the musical theatre world, but they do have an amazing program. Good enough in fact, I believe, that if you graduate from there you can probably guarantee yourself an acting career. It sounds like at Carnegie Mellon that the students in the musical theatre program live at the Purnell Center which is quite nice. We weren’t big fans of Pittsburgh in general though. But the program sounds amazing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look very good for her getting in (of the 30 kids at the audition, two were told to sing for some other faculty…I’m pretty sure this was the “short list” of applicants and doing a little math around the number of audition sessions and the number of auditionees in our session led me to believe that 1 or 2 out of 30 would get one of the coveted 28 spots in the musical theatre program). Official word is in March.
We have a number of others to go: Emerson, Michigan, Webster, Northern Colorado, Pepperdine, Evansville. These are exhausting trips. Judging your own talent is hard to do when you are a pretty big fish in a small pond so her approach was to apply to top notch programs to see if she had what it takes to get in. This would be a good barometer if she should make this her career. I think we are a little depressed at the moment, but some of the schools on the list aren’t quite as selective. Of course one of the things you have to get used to if you are an actor is rejection so that’s how it goes. Of the three threats (singing, dancing, and acting) Katie’s strongest asset is dancing. Unfortunately the hierarchy for musical theatre is singing first, acting second, and dancing third, which is basically the exact opposite of my daughter’s strengths. She is still quite a good singer, but she is a natural alto and you have to have the range to get to that next level. She can support, open up and hit those high notes in her head voice, but it isn’t natural for her yet and it not only has to be natural, but she needs to be able to revel in it. I think she is about another year of voice lessons from getting to that point. As it is right now, she probably hits 98% of her notes, but it only takes one weak note to screw up an audition. Do the math on 32 bars of notes and chances are better than not that something in those 32 bars will leave you wanting.
The really top notch schools only take a few people. I hear University of Michigan only takes 10 people a year. Apparently thousands apply. Whew! And I guarantee most of those thousand are considerably more talented than the people on American Idol. Jeez, even half the finalists on that show miss the pitch on some of their notes – something that I’m pretty sure none of the auditionees yesterday did. My daughter, being the social magnate that she is, immediately started engaging with the others at the audition in the few minutes they had and it is sad to note just how many of them said that the Carnegie Mellon audition was their entire life’s dream. They do have a great program, maybe even the best, but it was not my daughter’s first choice so she was under a lot less pressure than some. It is really sad to think of the tears that will be shed in March when those rejection letters start arriving. I’m sure it will be disappointing (or you never know…maybe it will be elating) for my daughter even if she wasn’t planning on going there. She did think she was probably the best dancer in her group…for what its worth. She also immediately became her little group's leader, something that comes naturally to her as the oldest of seven kids, but you got to get past that voice evaluator before peripheral qualities like leadership and personality kick in.
Emerson and Pepperdine are next. Break a leg, Katie!