As I meet more and more prospective students from all over the country, I have noticed that most students (and parents) ask me the same set of questions. This has prompted me to create the following Frequently Asked Questions section, which I hope will prove helpful.
Q: Doesn’t Vanderbilt cost a lot of money? Are there scholarships available?
A: The short answer is “Yes” on both counts. The total estimated cost of attending Vanderbilt is currently more than $60,000 per year. However, there are both need-based and merit-based awards available that cover significant portions of that cost, sometimes 90-100%! And these awards are not loans that must be repaid; they are usually a mixture of grants, scholarships, and employment opportunities. The bottom line: the cost of attending Vanderbilt should never dissuade a student from auditioning. Check out the Vanderbilt Financial Aid Office site for more information.
Q: Must I have good test scores, GPA, etc. to get into Vanderbilt?
A: In general, yes. But again, a student who is interested in Vanderbilt should not be discouraged from auditioning at Blair if one facet of his/her academic profile is slightly below the Vanderbilt average. Vanderbilt is a top-15 school, and the average test scores and high school GPAs are very high. At Blair we also take into account the very important factor of musical ability, which can sometimes counterbalance a below-average academic measure to make the sum of the student’s application worthy of admission. For your information: current university-wide ACT averages are between 32-34; SAT averages (CR+M) are 1400-1560; 90.4% of incoming freshmen are in the top 10% of their high school class. If you are unsure of whether or not your academics might be worthy of admission, you can always contact the Blair Admissions office for further consultation.
Q: What is the admissions process like?
A: Anyone wishing to study trombone as a music major at Vanderbilt must apply to both Vanderbilt University and the Blair School of Music. You must then submit a pre-screening video for faculty review in order to be invited to audition live. The live auditions are held in front of the brass faculty and usually take place December, January, and February. Detailed info on the application and audition process can be found here. The letters of decision are usually sent out at the beginning of March, and admitted students then have several weeks to decide to either accept or decline their offers of admission.
Q: What does the typical Blair student’s day/week look like?
A: Typically, a music major’s day is divided into two sections: morning classes and afternoon rehearsals. For many students, individual practice time constitutes a third section of the day, concentrated either early in the morning or in the evening.
Those classes and ensembles which meet multiple times per week usually do so on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. This includes many of our core music courses (history, theory, musicianship), many non-music courses (English, math, sciences), and most of our ensembles (Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, Big Band, Chamber Brass Ensembles). ‘MWFs’ are the busiest days for most of my students.
Those classes and ensembles which meet only once or twice per week usually do so on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This includes Trombone Performance Class, the Spirit of Gold Marching Band, Student Recital Hour, and various other things which can make good use of the longer blocks of time available on ‘TRs’.
Q: Will I ever be taught by a graduate assistant?
A: Not within the Blair School of Music. There is no graduate program at Blair, and it is a point of pride for us that every class/lesson/ensemble is taught by a faculty member, never a graduate assistant. I am the only trombone teacher at Vanderbilt, and every lesson and performance class is taught by me.
This absence of a graduate program also means that Blair students do not compete with Masters or Doctoral students for the best ensemble spots, merit-based scholarship money, or most importantly, a professor’s time and attention.
Q: Will I get sufficient individual attention at Blair?
A: Yes, and then some. One of my favorite aspects of the Blair School of Music is the amount of individual attention given to each student. The university as a whole is very concerned with maintaining small class sizes and good teacher-to-student ratios. There are only around 200 university students studying full-time at Blair, which means small class sizes and lots of individual attention from instructors, ensemble directors, and administrators alike.
There will only ever be 8-10 full-time trombonists in the studio. That means that I always have time for the ‘extra’ things…to meet with and counsel students, to organize and direct the trombone ensembles, to oversee a student’s recording session for a competition or audition, or to provide extra help when needed, just to name a few examples. I think Blair’s size is fantastic because it is large enough to offer a well-rounded menu of musical experiences to every student, but small enough that we never have to sacrifice the individual attention that is so crucial in undergraduate music study.
Q: What ensemble opportunities are there at Blair?
A: As mentioned in the answers above, Blair offers many opportunities for ensemble performance. Some ensembles are required of all music majors, and some are available as elective credit. Here is a list of the ensembles in which my trombone students most often participate. For a more complete listing and description, visit this page.
- Orchestra/Wind Ensemble: I love the way we do large instrumental ensembles at Blair. Trombone students do not have to choose between symphony orchestra and wind ensemble because both ensembles rehearse on a rotating schedule. This requires a lengthy explanation, but the end effect is that almost every trombone student gets to perform with both the Wind Ensemble and the Orchestra every semester. Trombone majors are required to sign up for large ensembles every semester in residence at Blair.
The orchestra does major repertoire; last year they performed stunning renditions of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4, Vaughan-Williams' Symphony No. 5, and Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique just to name a few!
The Wind Ensemble is doing great things. They recorded a CD on the Naxos label during the 2013-2014 year, and they really turned heads across the country when Blair hosted the CBDNA conference in 2015.
- Blair Big Band: A fantastic group under the leadership of our new Director of Jazz Studies, Ryan Middagh. Rehearses twice weekly and usually performs two or three concerts each semester.
- Chamber Brass Ensembles: Another of my favorite parts of the Blair curriculum. All brass majors are required to sign up for at least four semesters of chamber ensembles. These ensembles (usually brass quintets or quartets) meet three times per week and are student run. Each ensemble is coached by a brass faculty member once weekly, but the other two rehearsals are run by the students themselves, giving invaluable experience in rehearsal technique, listening, and musical communication. Awesome!
Q: What solo performance opportunities are there?
A: Regular performance opportunities are vitally important to a student’s growth and learning, and I work to ensure that my students capitalize on every opportunity. All the trombone students perform for each other once a week in Trombone Performance Class. There is also a weekly Student Recital Hour attended by all Blair students, and students can usually count on at least one performance per semester in this venue. I encourage students to perform more recitals than are required of their degree curricula; freshmen and sophomore recitals are not uncommon at Blair. I also heavily encourage trombone students to participate in solo competitions, from our own Blair Concerto Competition to various national and international trombone solo competitions.
Q: What is your philosophy of teaching and/or music?
A: This question comes up a lot, and it’s difficult to answer in short form. However, you can understand my philosophical opinions if you understand three things:
I believe music is a gift to mankind, with the potential to change lives for the better. Those of us who devote our lives to meaningful music-making take a great risk, for which the potential rewards are boundless. This means we must dedicate ourselves very seriously and equally to the two sides of music: art and craft. This means equal parts hard work, for which there is no substitute, and a relentless commitment to musicality and expressive performance.
I am interested in producing musicians who play trombone… Not trombonists who happen to perform music. The successful operation of a trombone does not necessarily translate to communication through music. In everything I teach, the end goal is better musicality, not better trombone-playing. We use the trombone to get to better music-making, not the other way around.
It is not my job to produce Jeremy Wilson clones. It is my job to help each student reach his/her goals and become their own artist. I tailor each student’s curriculum to his/her needs, career goals, and learning style.
Q: What is your private lesson curriculum like?
A: As stated above, I don’t have a standard lesson curriculum, but rather tailor one to each individual student. That said, there are some traits common to most of my students’ lesson curricula. Below are some examples; feel free to view and download the most current private lesson syllabus for more complete information.
A balanced mixture of exercises, etudes, excerpts, solos, scales, and tunes.
I don’t use solos or excerpts to teach technique. I believe etudes and exercises exist for that purpose, and solo and excerpts are set apart as works of art. Of course solos and excerpts should be used to put into practice and reinforce technique, but should not be the things which actually teach the technique. For example, I would never use Boleroto teach a student better high range. I would use strength and flexibility exercises and upper-tessitura etudes to teach high range ability, then use Bolero to learn how to use the high-range ability to better communicate musically.
Scales and tunes are used to get students using their ears. These are always practiced ‘by ear’ and performed at a scale and tune proficiency exam once per semester.
Sight-reading ability is hugely important. Students usually sight-read something in the course of a private lesson, either a solo etude or a duet with me.
Q: What is expected of a Blair trombonist?
A: In short, a Blair trombonist is expected to pursue excellence and work hard. I have created two documents which explain in detail what I mean by this. The Blair Trombone Syllabus explains the day-to-day practical expectations of those who study with me, including detailed explanations of the practice requirements. My handout A Culture of Excellence explains in great detail the culture to which we aspire at Blair. I fully realize it is a lot to read and absorb, but my students have found it very helpful.
Q: Can I come visit campus and get a lesson?
A: Of course! If you can make it to Nashville, I am happy to meet with you, give you a private lesson, and answer any further questions you may have. Simply contact me to set up a time and date, even in the Summer! You may also be interested in setting up a tour of Blair or the entire Vanderbilt campus.