How to Make Your Dream of Becoming a Performing Artist a Reality

I’ve been working for a long time with a student — let’s call him Joshua.  When he first came to work with me, he and his parents were convinced that he was going to be a jazz vocalist.

Now, this student had a few challenges in his way. He also didn’t really have the chops needed to pursue jazz voice professionally.  When I had him professionally assessed —as I do for all my students, before I do anything else — the results came back that this track was not realistic….a pipe dream….”ain’t never going to happen.” But he had a dream of being a performing artist.

That is the tough part of this business, breaking the news to parents and students that the dream they had is really not in the cards.  But it’s also the reason why I got into this business.  That sounds sadistic, doesn’t it?  Let me explain.  When I was the Dean of Admissions at The Boston Conservatory, I would get calls from parents of students who didn’t get in anywhere.  They were stars at their high school but didn’t have a clue as to how they measured up nationally and they went down the wrong path, auditioning for schools they would never get into.  It’s heartbreaking to see — and something that shouldn’t happen to any student or any family.  I feel it’s my role to protect those students from taking the wrong path…. from falling into the abyss of the college search.  There is a right school for every student.  It may not be Harvard, it may not be Juilliard but so what?

So I had to have the conversation with Joshua’s parents, and then with Joshua.  These can be difficult conversations but I always make a point to do two things with the families I work with: 1) Be honest and 2) Be positive.  We talked about what he did well and how right now; he just wasn’t at the level as other students nationwide who were pursuing this same track.  And we talked about options.  In the end, we applied to several colleges —- liberal arts schools and state schools with jazz programs; places where he would be able to get an education and keep singing.  He ended up getting into several schools and he is now a sophomore at the University of Delaware.

This is the part of my job I love.  Fitting students with the college that is perfect for them.  There are so many options and it’s not about prestige, it’s about fit.  That’s how I define my success —- not by the number of students I work with who get into Juilliard but by the number of students who find themselves in the right place for them. By taking a student like Joshua and helping him to open, not close, the realm of possibilities and to re-imagine the dream.

The college search is a daunting process —- and the performing and visual arts college search can be even more so.  The process is longer, the parents are even more involved (if you can imagine), the costs are higher — what with application fees, audition fees, pre-screening fees.  The stakes just seem higher.

And this is not an easy path to pursue.  There are a lot of misconceptions about the performing and visual arts — that it’s easy, that grades don’t matter, that it’s fun, that it’s college-light.  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Imagine having less than 10 minutes to show a panel everything you know about the violin.  Imagine being one of 800 students auditioning for 18 availably spots.  That’s a 2% chance!  That’s more competitive than Harvard.  It is a tough, tough business.

When you go to Harvard, you’ll find almost every student valedictorian of his or her class.  When you get to a conservatory or other school specializing in performing and visual arts, you’ll find everyone was the lead in the school musical or first in All State or the soloist or the featured artist.  It’s highly competitive and the process is intense.

With excellent guidance, and a realistic outlook – there are college and universities for everyone.


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