When looking for a university to attend for graduate school, many questions, concerns, and even fears may come to mind. It is hard to know exactly what to expect by looking at websites and handbooks. Recently, I graduated with my Master’s degree in Vocal Performance from Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. I can honestly say that my experience at BGSU was very enjoyable and prepared me for the career that I wish to pursue in music. I would like to share my first-hand experience with you as you seek a graduate program.
From the beginning, BGSU was quick to respond to my inquiries and very helpful in setting up an audition time slot. I auditioned in the Spring 2003, and I was notified immediately of my acceptance. All of the criteria for the audition is explained in a mailing. It is different for each instrument. For voice, I believe I had to have a couple art songs in each main language (French, German, Italian and English) an opera aria, and an oratorio piece. A panel of vocal teachers observed my audition, and they were very warm and friendly. Honestly, it was not as intimidating as I thought it could be.
I decided to wait a year to attend graduate school after I learned of my acceptance because I felt I needed a break after my intense undergraduate program. In spring of 2004, I contacted BGSU again. I was relieved to learn that I did not need to re-audition; I had taught school for a year and was not thoroughly prepared for another audition. My correspondance with BGSU over the next few months was very adequate as I made arrangements to attend in the fall. The chair of the vocal department was able to offer me a graduate assistantship which was a huge financial blessing. The assistantship required that I teach music at a private school for 10 hours a week. In return, I my tuition fees were waived, and I received a stipend of about $400 every month.
The week before graduate school we were required to take classes in a program called GradStep. This program is intended to help incoming graduate students with their responsibilities of being a graduate assistant. I found the program very beneficial, and it was a great opportunity to meet other students as well. Also during the week, we were required to take the dreaded entrance exams into the music department. These were feared by most of the students. The exams were difficult, but BGSU had supplied study sheets for the students ahead of time. There were 2 tests covering music history and music theory. Because of the results of my exam scores, I was required to take some make-up classes. I know that is not comforting information, but the classes were very informational and helpful in my course of study. Also, during the first couple weeks, you are able to meet with an advisor to plan your schedule. The advisor will let you know what exactly you are required to take and some optional electives that will benefit your concentration.
The journey of the next 2 years at BGSU through graduate school was very rewarding. I found my instructors to be professional, intellectual, and sincere. Each class was very beneficial to me and added to the complete experience of my Master’s program. In particular, my applied vocal teacher performed in Germany for 20 years and had taught at the university for over 10 years. His experience proved very valuable in my training. If he did not know an answer to a question, he would find it somewhere for me. I respected his position and ability and trusted his guidance and instruction.
Since my concentration was in vocal performance I was very interested in performing. I was very pleased with the opportunites that were given to students to perform in a public setting. I was able to perform 4 leading roles in the operas The Marriage of Figaro, Hansel and Gretel, The Magic Flute, and Little Red Riding Hood. Also, I participated in master classes with Marilyn Horne and Thomas Pasatieri, sang in seminars and concerts, and traveled with the Opera for Youth class. I believe I became a more confident performer as a result of the opportunities given.
In order to earn a Master’s degree, you must give a recital and take an oral examination or write a thesis and be able to defend it. I chose the first option. My private vocal instructor thoroughly prepared me for the recital. When the time came to perform, I was confident and excited about the recital. The oral examinations are feared by ALL graduate students. However, before the big day comes, you are given the list of questions that you will be asked. So, you have ample time to prepare for the exam. I began lightly studying a couple months ahead of time, and then, spent quite a bit of time the final 2 weeks before orals. My studying proved to be adaquate, and I passed my first time. My panel of judges provided a relaxed setting which put me immmediately at ease. I remember feeling like I was going to be sick as I walked into the room. One of my panel members gave me a mint and that little action provided so much comfort.
After the recital and oral examination, I was ready for graduation. The crowning moment of my experience at BGSU was when I was asked to sing the alma mater and national anthem at the graduation ceremony. The journey through graduate school had been truly rewarding. I left feeling prepared to face the challenges before me in my career of performance.