graduate school

I have several friends in the writing world, and, from what i've heard, getting into an MFA program is, i gather, quite stressful. People asking other people where to go, checking out lists, trolling message boards, waiting not so patiently, wondering how to write those personal statements. I find it, well, intriguing.

for how closer creative writing and composition are, this is one area confounds me. Maybe it's because i never had these experiences. I'm sure other MM and DMA candidates have had them. But, i did things a little differently.

I never really went looking for any published lists of "the best MM Composition programs in the nation." There were the programs i had heard of with famous teachers; Cornell, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, USC. Then there were programs i'd heard about but didn't know the teachers; BGSU, Columbia College in Chicago, Brooklyn College (other than Tania Leon), Temple, UNT. and then there were programs i hadn't heard of and yet had amazing people, and i wondered why i hadn't heard about them; UMKC (mainly)

Well, i started here.


yep, it's a link that basically has links to a ton of schools. Yep, that's right, i said "where do i want to live" and started clicking on schools, reading about the programs from their sites, and, occasionally, scheduling a visit. That't how i ended up at U Washington for a trip to meet some people. I hadn't even figured out what i wanted to get my Masters in yet (i was waffling between Conducting and Composition, and then after meeting the trombone prof and him saying "wow, you've played those pieces? you should do performance" i started thinking, yeah, maybe trombone performance).

It was a long, boring, random search that yielded not a lot.

So, what did i do when it was actually time to apply? well, i screwed up, missed all the deadlines but one, and they lost my scores. and i told them, in not so nice terms "no, i cannot reprint off $50 worth of scores and sent them fedex 2 day to you. i don't have the money for that." yeah, burned that bridge...royally. Never get on my bad side...seriously...

But, seriously, how did i decide on any schools? Easy...i asked my professors. Who better to ask? if you've got obstinate profs, they might just tell you to go where they did. But, most a lot of profs, especially those you've worked with closely, are going to know a thing or two. They're gonna know other professors at other schools. Buddies they met when they were in school, or at conferences, or at wine tastings, or parasailing. They are a wealth of knowledge. Especially, someone in your specific area.

I found out about where i went to for my MM, Brooklyn College, from Carlos Carrillo. He taught at good ole DePauw, and was my composition teacher. I asked him, "where do i go next? i know i want to go, but where?" and he said, without a pause "Brooklyn College."

Now, he told me that to go study with a particular person, Tania Leon. I never did study with her. but, he gave me other reasons, told me "it'd fit my personality, plus i'd be in NYC, studying with high caliber people without having to go to an Ivy...where i probably would not fit in well."

and he was completely, 100% right. He knew my writing style (or lack thereof at the time) and my personality. I probably wouldn't have done well at Princeton or Cornell, though a piece of me still wants to go...i could transfer, after all...But i'm quite happy here, thanks.

As i finished my MM, i asked George Brunner, my then composition teacher the same question. and he said, without hesitation "UMKC."


"i'll give you four reasons: Paul Rudy, James Mobberley, Chen Yi and Zhou Long"

"well then, i guess i'm applying to UMKC..."

Again, Skip knows me quite well. Probably better than anyone else. I also got the advice to check out SUNY: Buffalo, and if i hadn't gotten in at semester here at UMKC, i probably would have go back and forth between the two.

Yes, getting in here was luck, especially at semester. But it's working out great.

Still, it's how i found out where i was supposed to be. I asked people who know programs, know other people, and who know me. Yes, you'll end up with a thousand suggestions, but, considering there are millions of choices, a thousand is really cutting it down.

and, one thing about lists. in the end, the college experience is subjective. Each person will experience it differently. I know a lot of people that LOVED DePauw. I HATED it until much later, until i could look back and see what really happened. But, being there, i disliked it a lot. There were a lot of people on campus i didn't get along with. The whole Greek system baffled me as to why anyone would ever join. but the professors, oh man, they are AWESOME. i thought so at the time, but it didn't win against the bureaucracy, dislike of the social system, not getting along with a lot of people, and living in the middle of nowhere.

I probably would dislike being at Princeton. I have a gut feeling i wouldn't like it at all. yet, it's ranked as one of the top 5 schools in the nation every year. Statistics don't tell you anything worth knowing. Yeah, they have money. graduates get placed well.

But do i want to study with Steve Mackey? Well, yes, but that's not the point. lol. It's a personal matter. Talk to your teachers, as they will know other teachers. Find out who teachers where. Listen to a lot of music (or read a lot of literature.) Find a program that looks, interesting, read things the professors have written. dig through journals. Find other people who may have studied with so and so or who know so and so personally.

Really, tough, lists tell you nothing of what you'll experience. It's all subjective. That's why you just trust those you trust to give you good advice, and then trust your gut. you'll know after listening to 1 minute of music by a teacher (or reading a page or two) if you'll click with a person. remember, creative works are always windows to the souls of the artist.

Anyway, that's my 2 cents on finding a program. just ask someone you trust, who knows your work. They'll have some good ideas for ya. Or just look geographically. lol.

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