I traveled from the River Campus to Eastman Monday and was surprised by the unusual atmosphere I encountered.
The entrance to Kilbourn Hall was filled with a variety of expressive faces. Nervous-looking students in formal attire practiced scales quietly on clarinets or flutes while others in street clothes smiled widely and breathed sighs of relief. People paced, talked with friends and fidgeted on benches in the Main Hall, which was much quieter than usual. It?s Jury Week at the Eastman School of Music.
?I?d liken a jury to a dissertation ? a year?s worth of work in front of the faculty,? sophomore and pianist Josh Massicot said.
All instrumental and vocal majors at Eastman are required to perform for all of the teachers of their particular instrument. The juries are truly final exams ? all classes are cancelled while they take place.
Students must prepare a program of works and technique to fill up their 15-minute time slot. They play in one of Eastman?s three concert halls.
The atmosphere during these exams is very intimate and professional. Other students are not allowed to watch their peers perform. There is little contact between the musician and those who evaluate them ? the only dialogue takes place when the student announces the first piece, and later when the adjudicators stop the student to request the next piece or scales.
With only 15 minutes to display a year?s worth of work, there is little doubt that students realize the importance of the exam.
?A lot of people get stressed, but it?s not that bad,? said junior Sara Traficante, a performance major who plays the flute.
To graduate with an Eastman degree, a student must complete four juries with a passing grade.
The exam is also applicable to students who take secondary instrumental or voice lessons at Eastman. Such students, who take lessons for two credits rather than four, perform for fewer faculty members and aren?t faced with quite as much pressure.
Generally, students can retake their juries if the outcome is not satisfactory. However, there is special pressure placed on pianists, especially in their sophomore year. Because of Eastman?s reputation for excellence in piano, students have actually been ejected from the program due to a poor jury performance in their sophomore year. This is an infrequent occurrence, but it puts a special stress on piano majors.
Also, pianists typically have to accompany two other musicians on top of their own examination. This additional requirement means that pianists need to put in extra hours of work.
Besides the typical jury, there are two optional exams that students can take. Their teachers normally recommend these exams because students can achieve prestigious awards if they perform well and fulfill the requirements.
The Performer?s Jury is a further presentation of a student?s skill before the faculty. If all goes well, the student receives the prestigious Recital Award. The highest tier of examination is the Artist?s Diploma, which very few students attempt. This year, only one student is trying for this award.
The good news for most Eastman students is that as soon as they finish their jury they can relax for the remainder of the year.