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Having been on both sides of the letter of recommendation gig I am surprised and almost shocked to realize that not only are the subjects of these letters reading them, they are writing them. In the academic and professional environment I work in this is a big no-no. You only ask people who will give you a good letter or reference to do this but asking what they said or to see the letter is quite irregular.

Shennie, from your desciption the letter sounds a little light but that probably isn't a problem. When checking references as lwl mentioned I am looking for negatives. I know the positives since the candidate is busy exhibiting those. I'd hazard a guess to say that unless the teacher has a lot of negative comments the letter is fine. I always hate reading those over inflated, this person walks on water type of letters. Give me a sparse, honest assessment any day.

Take my advice with a grain of salt though since I've never even been close to doing music school admissions and I was already mistaken about the confidentiality of these type of things in the music game.

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Good question, and one that I have been pondering since yesterday when this thread surfaced. What would I write if asked to do my own recommendation? What would I write if I had made the offer that Bert made, to write a recommendation for my child? I honestly don't know the answer to either question. I am past the point of needing recommendations (I think and hope). I know that some of the colleges that my kids considered or are considering have a place for a parent statement--clearly labeled as such. I have a good idea of what I would write in that case. I would describe what I perceive as my child's strengths, and everyone would know that it was written by her mother.

I accept and agree with your point that it is an interesting mental excercise to ask someone to self-evaluate. I do not agree that this is acceptable as a recommendation for college, graduate school, a program, a job.

It is the job of the teacher, and a teacher who refuses to do this part of the job is just lazy. My daughter's teacher is pretty busy, too, by the way. And I can just imagine her reaction if I offered to do this part of her job for her.

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What a shame about that negative letter. I am often asked for letters of recommendation. They are usually mailed directly to the requesting agency or given in a sealed envelope. I would never write a negative one. I have declined to give a recommendation for someone rather than put the negative thoughts in print.

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I had a teacher who didn't like me personally; I accidentally saw a letter this teacher wrote for me for a summer program, and it contained a lot of left-handed compliments ("this person has overcome a crummy personality and managed to learn a lot from me" kind of thing). I'd rather the teacher had just said "I can't recommend you" than sent something like that!!

(And no, this wasn't anyone famous.)

[This message has been edited by Celloontheside (edited 03-22-2001).]

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Reminds me of a fellow student's comment "I played the first page of the Bruch for Mr. ___ and he couldn't believe how I played it!" (and I have personal knowledge that it wasn't played well.)

Celloontheside - my sincerest sympathy for your experience with your ex-teacher. I studied for one semester with such a teacher, and left many lessons in tears. Having had a couple of good teachers prior to her, it didn't damage my fragile self-confidence. I hope you can get past those bad feelings and find someone good to study with (and with whom you have good rapport)-- it will be well worth it. Just remember -- it had nothing to do with YOU.

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Well, this has certainly been very enlightening to me. Being a college professor I have been asked to write many letters of recommendation over the years (not for music but for medical and graduate schools), and I would have never in my wildest dreams even thought to have a student write their own recommendation. And after reading this I never would.

The other thing everyone must realize about letters of recommendation is they are not easy to write. Very few people can write informative and honest letters of recommendation. Some people are downright awful at writing them. This may be the case with your son's Cello teacher. Maybe he doesn't have much experience with it or possibly has never read a "good" letter of recommendation. The letters I wrote early on in my career were truthful, but in all honesty were extremely weak. Over the years I have worked on them and they are getting better, but I am still working on them.

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A former teacher of mine told me a story about having auditioned a twelve-year-old girl whose mother was absolutely convinced her daughter was the Next Great Soloist.

The child played for him, not especially well.

The mother said, "Isn't she something else? I cry every time I hear her!"

He replied dryly, "I would too."

He didn't end up teaching her. wink.gif

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Peter D - Congratulations! That is wonderful for you. I assume you are planning on studying at Yale for your Bachelor's degree. What field? Brian looked briefly at Yale, but when he discovered they didn't have a music performance major, he wasn't interested. He is still a junior, so maybe he should take another look. Could you give some more information about the program you will be in? Email me if you like. Thanks!

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Like your son I just turned 17 and play the cello. I also recently needed a music school recommendation, and my teacher said he would be glad to write one. He had the paperwork for a couple of weeks but didn't mail it. The day before it was due, he called to say that the recommendation was ready, and we should pick it up and mail it.

Handwritten on the bottom of the address form were three sentences explaining that how taught me since age 4, and that I have very good technique, a large repertoire, and am hardworking. The last sentence sentence said that I would make a goood candidate for ..., and then, he didn't remember what it was I was applying to do. He wrote "Doctoral Candidate", and scratched it out. He wrote in "Artist's Diploma", and scratched it out. He wrote in "Master of Musical Arts", and scratched that out. Then he gave up and signed his name.

That is what we mailed to Yale. My father said, that although my teacher didn't elaborate, he wrote good things, and the fact that he didn't remember the name of a degree might be a cause for amusement for the admissions director - "Peter is a good candidate for whatever it is that you do over there at Yale."

Of course, my application and CD provided more detail, and I was subseqently invited for a personal audition at the end of February. I was offered a position in the Graduate School of Music in a program they have for "a few highly gifted students who do not hold an undergraduate degree." Mr. Parisot said that I would have to agree not to audition at any other schools, and asked if I would agree. I said, yes.

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Thank you and please excuse my delayed reply, but I just returned from NYC, where I went for the weekend to see my friend, Emile Ann Gendron, play Prokofiev violin concerto #2 with the Juilliard pre-college orchestra. She really is extraordinary.

It's evidently confusing to a lot of people but I am not going to Yale as an undergraduate. I will attend the Graduate School of Music, which is one of the ten professional graduate schools within the University. I will be following the M.M. curriculum, studying performance and composition. The program is called Certificate in Performance. The catalog description is as follows:

"The Certificate in Performance is a three-year program, designed for a few gifted students who do not hold a bachelor's degree. The enrollment is full time in a program of performance and academic studies similar to the M.M. curriculum. It is hoped that after receiving the Certificate in Performance, a student will complete a baccalaureate degree at Yale or elsewhere. Provided that all requirements for the M.M. degree were met during the Certificate studies, the student may then petition the School to convert the Certificate to a Master of Music degree."

Although the School of Music is for graduate students who have finished college or conservatory studies, Yale does not turn away young students who can perform at the "pre-professional" level. The performance admission requirements are the same for all graduate students. If admitted, one meets with his teacher to plot a course of study that will include the M.M. degree requirements - plus if one is ambitious some undergraduate credits. One is required to maintain a B average (B- is not acceptable).

For admission, Brian will be required to prepare a pre-audition CD, roughly 30 minutes in length. The cello program requires certain selections, which you may check on. I recorded, etudes by Popper and Piatti, a couple of contrasting movements from unaccompanied Bach, the Schumann concerto, a Valentini baroque sonata - complete. Once the jury decided that they liked my recording, I was invited for a personal audition. The jury for the string program included Mr. Parisot, Mr. Friedman, and Mr.Levine. I prepared Tchiakovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme, Popper's Spinning Song, and the Piatti Caprices. I was asked to play only the Rococo theme and variations 1,2,5,7, after which, Mr. Parisot stopped the audition, asked the pianist to leave, and made an offer to me, beginning, "I have decided to accept you as my student...."

If you would like more detail, write to me anytime. You may also order a catalog from admissions: (203) 432-4155. The web site is very good, too: www.yale.edu/schmus

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I just received a letter that really surprised me. And, since I'm posting anyway, please allow me to add my thoughts.

I greatly respect viola-mom for her integrity. I do also recognize that there are some teachers who, for whatever reason, have difficulty writing letters of recommendation. Shennie, in your case, perhaps you could keep a list the teacher's complements and hand him a copy in a somewhat fragmented form so that he will be reminded of what he said, but will also have to compose the sentences himself.

I know of a college that is struggling to improve. Their students play at a very elementary level. That college often hires big name professionals to give master classes. If I saw a letter of recommendation that stated, "Student X played for Mr. So-and-so", I would immediately think of that college. Similarly, "Student X is the best student that I've ever had" doesn't tell me much unless I happen to know the teacher. What I would like to see in a letter of recommendation is something about the student's personality or personal habits. "Student X is always on time and eager to learn" or "Student X is pleasure to work with" tells me a lot.

When I was in college, I remember a particular competition that required 3 letters of recommendation. I actually find it curious that any competition would ask for a letter of recommendation (but that's another matter altogether). I asked my private teacher and the orchestra director. Then I figured I would ask the accompanists class instructor, who had heard me perform with the school orchestra as associate concertmaster for at least a couple of years and had hear me play pieces every week with her students for the past year. Her response was, "Do I know you well enough?" I told her that one short sentence stating that she felt that I should be allowed to compete, would suffice. And that is exactly what she wrote.

Now, to the letter. I received a letter from my alma mater asking me to sign a letter which they had composed, petitioning the state legislature to allow them to build a fine arts complex. The letter is all typed up, complete except for signature. I want to ask them, "Do I know you well enough?" laugh.gif

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