|Brian Foreman Interview
Brian Foreman Interview, August 28, 2006
As you can see in my Student Accomplishments page, Brian Foreman had an incredible high school career as a percussionist and musician in the Tucson area. Now he has graduated from high school and moved on to attend the University of Southern California. In this interview, we discuss his thoughts on the music college selection and audition process. He also gives us his impressions of the faculty and features of the schools he visited, including Peabody Conservatory, Rice University (Shepherd School of Music), University of Arizona, and USC (Thornton School of Music).
Brian Harris (BH): At what point in your high school career did you decide to become a music major?
Brian Foreman (BF): In December of 2003, during my sophomore year of high school, I attended the University of Arizona’s annual winter “Percussion Extravaganza” concert, actually by accident, because my brother was going to see his Violin Professor perform a work for electric violin and percussion ensemble. I didn’t realize until I got there that the entire concert featured percussion! Seeing the University’s percussion ensembles (including the Rosewood Marimba Band, CrossTalk, and the Drumline) all perform together and have such a blast doing it made me ecstatic. All of a sudden I just knew: “That’s it! THIS is what my calling is!”
BH: What were your initial plans regarding the school(s) you were interested in attending?
BF: Up until about October of my senior year, I planned on simply attending the U of A for my bachelor’s degree, given the location, affordability and great percussion faculty. However, I had realized then that I hadn’t really given any thought to what my other options might be, so I looked into several other notable music schools and wound up applying to three of them (USC, Rice, Peabody). I still didn’t seriously consider ATTENDING an out-of-state college until around January of 2006, when certain circumstances in my life gave me the urge to “get out” of Tucson for a while to proverbially “find myself.”
BH: What caused you to widen your scope to include a wider assortment of colleges?
BF: Initially, it was because my parents encouraged me to not “limit my options,” and as I said, I simply thought that auditioning at other colleges would be a good learning experience that would benefit my future career as a musician.
BH: Are you glad you widened your scope?
BF: Definitely. Once I visited and familiarized myself with the benefits of other schools, I gained a better understanding of what I was really looking for in a music school, and ultimately helped me make the best decision for my education.
BH: What schools did you investigate before narrowing your list?
BF: I thought about a number of different music schools, ranging from those within larger universities to conservatories. Among the Universities I looked into were USC, Rice, Indiana, UA, and ASU. I looked into a few conservatories, including Peabody, Oberlin, Juilliard, and the Cleveland Institute of Music.
BH: Which schools did you decide to visit and audition for? What caused you to eliminate the other schools?
BF: There were four schools to which I finally applied: UA, USC, Rice, and Peabody. I eliminated Indiana because it was cold and dreary looking and its percussion department didn’t have quite as successful a reputation as some of the others. I ruled out ASU because it was ASU. I limited myself to just one conservatory because most of the others seemed so intensely focused on a strictly music-oriented education at the expense of a more well-rounded education.
BH: I like my students to see the college audition process as them auditioning schools just as much as the schools are auditioning them. What can you tell us about your impressions of each school you visited, including teachers' personalities, teaching styles, students you met, studio size, music styles and genre's taught (classical, pop, jazz, marching, etc), and campus size/setup/beauty?
BF: At each new out-of-state school I visited, that school automatically became my “new first choice.” I was blown away by the beauty and relatively compact size of USC’s campus, and even more impressed that it was situated in and well integrated with such a vibrant cultural atmosphere. Professor Forrester impressed me immediately as a very technical and motivating teacher, with every suggestion and comment he made immediately making sense. At my subsequent visits to USC, I began to realize just how diverse the Thornton music school was, with both the classical and jazz departments, if not integrated, at least fully open and influential to one another. And of course, USC also boasts “The Greatest Marching Band in the History of the Universe.” Peabody was my second audition, and the audition was actually the last thing I did (the exact opposite of USC). I had applied for the double degree program in recording arts and sciences at Peabody, and had a great experience in my interview with the Recording Arts department: within the first five minutes, they told me they’d accept me into the program in a heartbeat. However, the social structure of the conservatory was different than what I had expected. Peabody emphasizes liberal arts for music majors, but most of the students I met had still been brought up to be conservatory musicians, having either attended conservatory preparatory schools or attended enough camps to make up for it. Having attended public school all my life and possessing a variety of interests in addition to music, the environment made me slightly uncomfortable and even a little intimidated. Also, although Peabody had a jazz department, when I asked where one could store a drumset for gigs, the students gave me a look that read, “gigs? What gigs?” Jonathan Haas and Robert VanSice impressed me as very exacting yet still very friendly teachers, and certainly didn’t gloss over the fact that I would have a lot to work on were I to attend the conservatory. Rice certainly won the most gorgeous campus award, probably to make up for the weather in Houston. It was pleasant and rainy while we were there, but no one could deny the fact that summers can be sweltering. Anyway, the campus boasted enormous, breathtaking neo-classical architecture, which for a newcomer induced an unavoidable case of jaw-dropping syndrome. I actually got the chance to spend a lot of time hanging out with the students at Rice, something I hadn’t gotten the chance to do at the other schools to which I had applied. There were about 7 or 8 students in the studio, with only one undergraduate, a freshman named Brian. Go figure. While I was at Rice, I was fortunate enough to see both a Masters’ recital AND a Marimba concert (featuring all the members of the studio). Typically, when one with a critical eye witnesses a great performance, they see a musician playing their heart out, with perhaps a few conditional lapses in technique or one or two rhythmic or melodic errors. However, every single student from the Shepherd Percussion Studio not only played their heart out, but also played flawlessly. I had never seen anything like it before. Richard Brown, like all the other faculty I met, was extremely friendly and inviting, but also made no joke about how demanding a career at the Shepherd school would be. The only drawback to the Shepherd school for me was that it was strictly a classical school, with little to know academic opportunities for Jazz. I’ve been around the University of Arizona campus all my life, so it wasn’t a very new experience visiting the school as a prospective student. My UA audition was also my last, so I was pretty comfortable and confident in my abilities as a percussionist going in. After my audition I got a chance to stick around and watch CrossTalk rehearse. Getting a chance to participate in an electronic percussion ensemble as an undergraduate is certainly an opportunity exclusive to the UA. The performance opportunities available at the UA were very exciting.
BH: How did your auditions go at each school?
BF: Although my USC audition was my second shortest audition (just over 30 minutes), it was also probably my best, playing-wise. I felt like I had an instant rapport and understanding with Professor Forrester, and especially liked his very intimate and one-on-one teaching style. For my sight-reading, we actually played some snare drum duets together. My Peabody audition was my shortest, lasting only about 20 minutes, and consisting of more talking than actual playing. Whereas Professor Forrester asked me questions about my own musical experience and interests, the emphasis at Peabody was certainly more on the playing side. I was very impressed at how little both Jonathan Haas and Robert VanSice needed to hear to accurately assess my playing abilities. Unfortunately, I didn’t play as well as I would have liked, but the two professors were more interested in knowing just how far my passion for music reached. At Rice, Professor Brown spent over an hour with me, and the “audition” was more like a lesson than an actual audition. Surprisingly, I actually felt most comfortable in this situation, even though I was playing virtually every etude, solo and excerpt I knew, all at different tempos and with different interpretations, as directed by Mr. Brown. This made for a very exciting and personal audition experience. My UA audition was actually the only audition for which I played drumset, which consisted of my demonstration of various styles for Robin Horn. After that, I ran through most of my other repertoire, and then talked to Professor Cook for about 20 minutes about what to expect from the percussion department and music school in general. Professors Gary Cook and Norm Weinberg were both very friendly, easy going, and welcoming, and offered many helpful comments about my playing.
BH: What sort of acceptance and/or scholarship offers did you receive from each school?
BF: I was accepted to all four schools to which I applied. At the UA, I received a full-tuition President’s Award for Excellence scholarship, in addition to a small music scholarship. At Peabody, I received about a $3,000 scholarship, about $1,000 work-study, and a $3,000 loan. At Rice, I receive a nearly full-tuition grant, with $1,000 work-study and a $1,000 loan covering the rest of tuition. At USC, though, I received a four-year, full-tuition Trustee Scholarship.
BH: Which school have you chosen to attend?
BF: The University of Southern California.
BH: What led you to choose this school over the others?
BF: Mainly the financial aid, but the school would have been my first choice overall anyway, because of the diversity of the School of Music, the vibrant cultural area of Los Angeles, the amazing Marching Band, and the intangible sunshiny social atmosphere of the campus.
BH: Were there any difficulties in making your choice? (ie, was it difficult to choose between 2 or 3 different schools?)
BF: It was very difficult to choose between Rice and USC, particularly because I had such a great personal experience at Rice and was honored with such a great package. People from both admissions offices were calling me virtually every week. Finally, though, I feel like I made the best choice.
BH: Have you discovered anything exciting or disappointing regarding your chosen school since your selection?
BF: I had considerable trouble getting ahold of Professor Forrester this summer. In fact, I was never able to reach him at all. However, for however unavailable Professor Forrester is via telephone, he makes up for in availability here. He’s usually around all morning and afternoon if I simply swing by the percussion studio. In getting questions answered directly, person-to-person, is always better than any other method.
BH: How are you preparing for your placement auditions for the fall of your freshman year?
BF: To tell the truth, I couldn’t do much except keep my chops up, practice sight reading, and go over what I already knew, because I was never able to get in contact with Professor Forrester over the summer. However, about five days before the placement auditions, I saw a sign posted outside the percussion studio instructing me to prepare a snare drum etude for the audition. I later learned that Professor Forrester likes to find out how spontaneous his students can be while preparing placement auditions, since the rehearsals in Thornton go really fast. I actually didn’t even play the etude I’d prepared at my placement audition. I simply sight-read a piece of snare drum music twice: once at my own tempo, and once with Professor Forrester conducting me. That was it.
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