Is Auditioning After a 5-Year Break Realistic?

Susie Ferris Yuen earned her B.S. in Music Education at Maranatha in 2006. She is married to James Yuen who is the College Pastor and IT Manager at Tri-City Baptist Church in Chandler, AZ. Their daughter, Ariana Hope, was born August 3, 2012.


What did you have to do to prepare for your grad school audition? God began prompting me back into the piano world after five wonderful years of directing bands at Tri-City Christian Academy in Chandler, AZ. Though I was “rusty” on the piano, I began meeting with various Arizona State University piano faculty members in February 2011. They cautiously advised me towards a Masters in Piano Performance/Pedagogy. I was connected with a fabulous ASU doctoral student and began taking lessons again. Through her instruction, the patient encouragement of my husband, and the cheers of friends, I was able to get back into the college routine of practicing 24 hours a week for the next 8 months to prepare for my 2011 November audition. After being accepted, I began part-time in the spring of 2012.

What were special challenges to you? Getting back into the performing mindset after five years was difficult! I found nerves to be an even bigger factor than ever before. Obviously, pianists don’t get to bring their own instrument to their audition. While I was able to play on a beautiful instrument, unfortunately I had never played on something with so little resistance before which was a bit disconcerting. So, a word to the wise…always choose an opening piece that you are solid on so that you can experiment with the piano. I probably should have considered the hall—and the floors! My shoes squeaked on the wood floors.

Tell us about your entrance audition. What pieces did you play? For my audition, I was required to prepare a 45 minute memorized solo recital. A variety of styles and periods was the only criteria. Half of my program was new repertoire for me, and the other half was reworked from my undergraduate studies at Maranatha. I prepared the following: Italienisches Konzert, BMV 971, Mvt I and III by Johann Sebastian Bach Excursions, Op. 20, Mvt I by Samuel Barber Sonata in c# minor, Op. 27, No. 2, Mvt III by Ludwig van Beethoven Etude in c# minor Opus 25, No. 7 by Frédéric Chopin Estampes, L 100 by Claude Debussy.

Were you able to perform all of them? Six of the eight ASU piano faculty were present at the audition. They each had access to all of my application materials on their laptops to review while I performed. I selected to begin with Bach, and they listened to the entire first movement. After playing Bach, they chose from my repertoire list. I played a portion of each prepared selection with the exception of the Beethoven.

Did you need to theory and history placement tests? Yes, theory and history diagnostic exams are required, but the tests are not placement tests. ASU grad students are not required to take any remedial courses due to testing results. Rather, these test results are for advisory purposes only and are shared with your studio professor. There are other schools, however, that put more weight in these exams, so more intensive studying would be recommended in those cases.

What advice would you give Maranatha students desiring to pursue grad school in music?

  • Repertoire: Keep a current, well-formatted rep list of all pieces you have studied (not just performed)! You’ll be glad you have it already prepared. Include pieces from high school (though you may need to play through them in college also to have them count). Play through full works, even if you only perform certain movements. Also, learn to aurally identify your instrument’s standard rep—big feat for pianists! Most importantly, don’t bench your rep. Keep cycling through your pieces, even when your new rep is pressing for your time. Playing through old pieces aids new learning and develops musicality.
  • Audition: Do your research early. Obtain the audition requirements and plan your program for your senior undergraduate recital accordingly. Find the audition dates and select an early date for your senior recital so it can function as your dress rehearsal for your audition. Also, perform more!  Set-up nursing home recitals and swap listening times with your fellow musicians. Perform your audition program so much that nerves will not be a factor. Make this a priority in spite of your busy class schedule.
  • Grad School: Get to know your potential studio professor, and let him/her get to know you. Schedule a lesson before your audition, and consider making an additional trip to the school before your audition. The professor can and will be your advocate in the admissions process if he/she is excited to have you in his/her studio. I had the opportunity to meet early with Dr. Hamilton. After an enjoyable lesson, I asked him to please consider having me in his studio, if I was accepted. I am so honored to be his student and have learned much from him even after just one semester of lessons.
  • Finances: “Free money” is always a blessing. You should also try to get a graduate assistantship. These lower your school bill, provide a valuable learning experience, and look great on a future resumes. I have learned that it is rare for an in-state applicant to receive a GA position at ASU since it is used as a strong recruitment tool to lower out-of-state students’ costs. Not only was I accepted, but God also blessed me with a teaching assistant position for teaching class piano. I was able to demonstrate my knowledge of teaching and personally connect with the class piano coordinator last fall by auditing a Group Piano Practicum class. If you plan to attend a school in-state, earning a GA may take some extra effort.

What are your goals in pursuing your music degree? Well, practically speaking, I want to earn a master’s degree so that I have the needed credentials to be a music professor at International Baptist College.  However, my long-term personal goal is to always be developing as a music educator so that I can effectively share God’s gift of music. In pursuing maturity in my piano skills as a performer and a teacher, I hope to develop a studio for both private and group piano, and maybe even some early childhood music classes!

Susie began pursuing her Masters in Piano Performance and Pedagogy at Arizona State University in 2012.