Reminiscing About the Start | Pre-College Centennial

Wednesday, Jan 23, 2019
by Max Tan
Juilliard Journal
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Pre-College flute player
Pre-College Symphony musicians rehearsing in the spring of 2018

What is now Juilliard’s Pre-College program opened its doors in 1916 and has been training young musicians ever since. In anticipation of the March 2 Pre-College reunion, Max Tan spoke with a few fellow alums who are now studying in the College Division.

Peering through the glass windows of a fifth-floor classroom at Juilliard on a Saturday looks no different than doing so on any weekday. Professors stand near the chalkboard lined with music staves, covered in handwritten notes and counterpoint lines, the outline of triads and other chords labeled with functional details. Faculty members teach lessons, sitting at the piano or on an armchair, listening intently to the student across the room. On the fourth floor, practice rooms are filled with the sounds of scales and arpeggios being played through at slow and fast tempos, starting with four clicks at 60 per note. Down the hallway closer to the glass windows overlooking Broadway, you can hear the notes of a Tchaikovsky piano concerto wafting through the heavy doors or the repetitions of a passage from the Mendelssohn violin concerto. The only difference on a Saturday is that the building is filled with students under the age of 18.

Violinist Yaegy Park (Pre-College ’15) fondly remembers starting out as a Pre-College student, nearly a decade ago. The mentorship and community she found attending lessons and studio classes with faculty member Catherine Cho (BM ’92, MM ’94, violin) were crucial to her growth as a musician and a person. “Lessons with her were the highlight of my whole week,” Yaegy says. And she loved Kyle Blaha’s (MM ’06, DMA ’11, composition) ear training classes. Now a senior at Juilliard, Yaegy recalls that Blaha was “very challenging but also understood that our whole Saturday was packed with classes, so he made the class engaging and fun.”

The Juilliard Pre-College Division has evolved in the last century around the central vision of offering as many opportunities to cultivating a joy of music-making, appreciation, and intelligence in children. Currently, the curriculum involves weekly Saturday attendance in ear training and theory courses; and chamber music, choir, and orchestra instruction, which are all in addition to private one-on-one lessons. A child who is fully engaged with all that the program has to offer easily spends up to 10 hours of his or her Saturday on the Juilliard campus, immersed in the many dimensions of music.

Around the corner from the elevator on the fifth floor, and surrounded by the ear training and theory classrooms are the offices of composition and music theory faculty members including Eric Ewazen (MM ’78, DMA ’80, composition), a longtime mentor to master’s student Matthew Liu (Pre-College ’14; BM ’18, composition).

Pre-College bass players
Pre-College Symphony musicians rehearsing in the spring of 2018

“I was only at Pre-College for one year, my senior year of high school,” Matthew says. “I auditioned on recommendation of my friend.” He explains that, while he played piano and violin seriously as a child, he hadn’t considered composition as a serious pursuit, but “my life changed upon Pre-College’s acceptance of me.”

Pre-College students can sign up for elective courses comparable to materials used in college-level courses, such as counterpoint and history courses. One class taught by Ira Taxin (MM ’74, DMA ’82, composition) focused on the repertoire of Bartók and Stravinsky. “We delved into pieces such as Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta,” Yaegy says. “Especially the Bartók, since the Pre-College Symphony played the piece, and it was great to have context.”

The full integration of musical immersion of Pre-College students in orchestra, chamber music, and solo playing is at the core of child development not only in the musical sense but in the personal sense as well.

For cellist Madeleine Bouissou (Pre-College ’12; BM ’17), Pre-College was a safe haven where she could find a community of like-minded people who were passionate about the same things she was. As a result, she felt she grew up quickly and gained an independence and ownership over choices and decisions in her life, and the school allowed for each student to find his or her support system through friends, parents, teachers and mentors. “It was somewhere I really wanted to be.” After receiving her bachelor’s, Madeleine enrolled in the Historical Performance program.

Matthew expresses a similar sentiment. “That is one more word I can use to describe Pre-College: the start. The point at which my artistry’s direction changed to become legitimate, world class. From that start, who knows where I'll go? I’m optimistic. But I couldn’t have done it without Pre-College.”

After graduating from Pre-College in 2011, Max Tan, who holds a Celia Ascher Artist Diploma Fund Fellowship, received his bachelor’s degree at Harvard before returning to Juilliard to receive his master’s degree; currently he’s pursuing an Artist Diploma and playing for the Sarasota Orchestra

Pre-College Reunion
March 2 • Juilliard

Reconnect with Pre-College! As part of our centennial celebration, come for the afternoon (your parents are welcome to attend, too) and reminisce about why Saturday was your favorite day of the week. Contact alumni@juilliard.edu for information.