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Berkshire Music School to hold merit-based scholarship auditions Saturday

The Berkshire Music School in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Josh Landes
The Berkshire Music School in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

On Saturday, the Berkshire Music School of Pittsfield, Massachusetts is holding auditions for its merit-based scholarship program. Over the course of the last academic year, the school distributed almost $30,000 to over 30 local students who qualified for talent or need-based support to take lessons. Musicians applying will be asked to show their stuff – including two songs of their choosing as well as their ability to play major and minor scales in two or more octaves – to a panel of BMS faculty members. Executive Director Luis Granda took charge of the school last summer. He sat down with WAMC to explain the audition process.

GRANDA: This audition, I think, is a great process for people and kids and adults as well because it really builds confidence. It's a good scenario to put yourself into, even for people that don't- Even for kids that are not going to be pursuing music for a profession, it's much like a job interview. So, it's a skill that you will have to utilize in your life. And so basically, we listen to the auditions, and then as a panel, we all get together and we talk about how everybody did, the potential of some people, some people obviously have an immense amount of skill, and then we're able to award them monies, basically, depending on how the audition goes, that will then allow them to come to Berkshire Music School and take lessons.

WAMC: Now you've talked about, during your tenure leading the school, your efforts to make it more accessible and more equitable and more open to this service area. Do you think this opens doors for people knowing that there's a chance to access money that is just sort of sitting there?

Yes, I do. I mean, I think that- As a parent myself, there's a lot of things that my kids want to do and a lot of them are very expensive, and so you only have a limited amount of resources available as a family unit or as an adult to sort of pursue your interests and your passions. And so, I'm hoping that with this program we can continue to open doors for folks that normally would not be able to afford to come to the school and they can really come and get some world-class lessons from our wonderful faculty that we have at the school.

Now, tell us about the funding for the program. What exactly is this pool of money? Where does it come from? And how much can you allot to folks to pursue an education at the school?

So, a lot of this money comes from the community, from our donors who donate specifically to scholarships for folks. We have two different programs in our scholarship: We have these need-based scholarships, which are basically completely based on people's financial situation, and then we have these talent and merit-based scholarships, which are based more on just skill, and then also potential and passion for music, people that show a proven passion for music. So, this money comes from our donors, and it also comes- Luckily, we have an amount of money that we have saved up over our 80-plus years as an organization that we are able to use for these scholarships. This last year, my first year at the music school, we gave over $28,000 of scholarships, and I would say about half of that was need-based and half of that was talent and merit-based. And so, I'm hoping, I'm thinking, that we will be able to give more away this coming year.

Now, you yourself are a musician, you yourself are a performer- What advice do you have for a person heading into an audition? I mean, it's a very imposing situation, you're standing in front of a group of experts to show them what you have. What's your advice to someone in that position?

Preparation, I think is the most important part. Making sure that you do the work before you go into the room, because when you go into the room, it's really a culmination of all the things that you've done beforehand. So, I would say that is the most important part. In terms of the audition day nerves, you know, this is something that I still face when I have to talk in front of a room, when I have to do a job interview, when I have to do auditions myself, just anxiety and nervousness. And I think really what I do is just sort of try to find my- Center myself, just relax, know that I have done the work, and then go, and really the audition should be a celebration of the amount of work that you've put in, the things that you've done, the amount that you've grown. We're not expecting anybody to come in here and just be absolutely amazing. That's not really the point. The point is to show us that you did the preparation, to show us that you have the love for music, and as a panel of musicians, we'll be able to sort of suss out your potential and your love of music and your ability to grow, to continue to grow, because that's really what this is about. It's a whole process. You have to trust the process, and so that's kind of my advice.

Lastly, when it comes to picking the right audition piece, what's your advice for that? Like, how do you pick material that's going to best exemplify what you can, how you can best articulate your merit?

I think that you- As a musician, you find the pieces that speak to you in your soul, basically. I have tried to widen, this year, the audition in terms of the requirements and I’m allowing people to pick songs or pieces or whatever. In the past, it was very, it was bent in sort of a classical music way. I'm encouraging people to play jazz, I'm encouraging people to play rock, I'm encouraging people to come and sing pop songs. These are the musics- Classical music is incredibly important and it is still a large part of what we do at the music school, but if we truly want to be open to the entire community, these types of musics are what actually speak to a large majority of the folks that play music now, and I want them to know that at Berkshire Music School, we're going to- We teach every kind of music, and we are accepting of, audition-wise, of you doing those kinds of tunes. So, I think really, just picking songs that speak to you as a musician and performing those, because that's going to show out to the panel of judges, that's your passion. This is what you're about.

I am going to do “Stadium Arcadium” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers on recorder. What do you think? Is that a competitive choice?

I think depending on your articulation and your breath control and also what song you pick- I would be impressed if you played “Snow (Hey Oh)”-

I'm doing the title track.

Oh, title track. On recorder? It's a lot of chords. You know, I'm impressed. Are you going to do Anthony Kiedis’s vocal melodies?

Yeah, of course.

All in. 100%. [laughs]

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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