Priscilla Luu is currently completing her first semester Bachelor of Music at The University of Melbourne. The University of Melbourne is consistently ranked among the leading universities in the world, with international rankings of world universities placing it as number 1 in Australia and number 34 in the world (Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2013-2014). Priscilla studied piano with Lina Chan for two years (2012-2013) in preparation for her VCE Music Exam and AMEB Grade 8 piano exam. At the time, Priscilla did not plan on studying music at university, but was thinking of studying science or media instead. From Priscilla’s performances and weekly lessons, Lina could see how passionate Priscilla was about classical music and music performance. Priscilla can play the piano and cello very well, so it would be a waste of her talent if she didn’t continue her music studies at tertiary level. After much convincing from Lina, Priscilla auditioned for the Bachelor of Music at The University of Melbourne, and was admitted into the course during the 2014 first round offers.
Saying that, Lina was in a similar situation to Priscilla when she was in VCE year 12. Lina’s piano teacher tried to convince her to study a Bachelor of Music, but Lina chose to take a break from the daily three hour piano practise sessions and study science instead. However, after taking a five year break from piano, Lina pursued music performance full time while teaching piano and singing after graduating from her science degree. Lina understands how our LMH students feel when they have to choose between doing something they love that is not considered as a ‘real job’ by the banks and society or a career that pays well but you end up doing the job half heartedly. It is a difficult life decision to make at only 17 years of age.
Priscilla Luu Interview
How different is AMEB Exams to VCE Music exams?
The overall structure and conditions in the exam rooms are pretty different. The main thing is that during the actual VCE exam, there is very limited interaction with the examiner. In VCE, there are two examiners (one professional, one classroom teacher), and you are recorded during your examination. In AMEB Grade prep to Grade eight exams, there is only one examiner for each candidate. I did the subject VCE music investigation, and we only had a performance exam at the end. Unlike the subject VCE music performance, there’s no aural component for VCE music investigation. Although VCE music investigation allowed us more time to focus on our pieces, I wish we did more aural in class now that I’m in university.
How different is AMEB Exams to Tertiary Music exams? How has your expectations changed after starting piano lessons at tertiary level?
The time you get to prepare for every university exam is very limited compared to AMEB, since there are only 12 weeks per semester. The aural component is examined separately from practical exams. There are also different focuses on the practical exams for semester one and two. Semester one is technical based, where we have to study scales, a Chopin etude, and a Scarlatti sonata (for first years). Semester two is performance based, where we need to prepare a program of 20-25 minutes. Even though I actually have more time to practise than in high school, I also feel that there are never-ending lists of things I need to improve on. Since everyone plays so well, it boosts my motivation to work harder, and my expectations of myself also become higher.
How has preparing for structured music examinations helped you in your first year of Bachelor of Music at the University of Melbourne?
I think the general knowledge and theory I learnt before helped to introduce me to some of the basic concepts I need in some my subjects. It also helps me familiarise with the environment and expectations in an exam situation. I still get nervous every time, but at least I know of the basic routine of such a set up now.
Who is your piano teacher at the University of Melbourne and can you tell us a bit about the background of your teacher and how often you have lessons with him/her?
My teacher is Dr. Donna Coleman, a concert pianist and recording artist from America. She is also a senior lecturer of keyboard and an ensemble coordinator at the conservatorium. More detail can be found here: http://conservatorium.unimelb.edu.au/staff/donnacoleman. I have a 45 minute lesson with her every week. Breaks are an exception, but she does occasionally organise a mini masterclass for her students.
What subjects did you study for first semester? Which subject was your favourite? What was the most useful thing you learnt (musical knowledge) in your first semester that you would like to share with future Bachelor of Music future students?
In semester one, I studied: music performance, music language, aural studies, writing about music, and art of piano teaching. I didn’t really have a favourite subject. I found that all the subjects were pretty interesting to learn in their own ways. I think music language was interesting, and it also helped me in analysing and understanding my own music much more than before (in terms of structure and function). I think the most useful thing I learnt was during my lesson. My teacher would always put a lot of emphasis on the way I use my body (she tends to apply a lot of Alexander technique in our lesson), particularly avoiding unnecessary, excess movements. Despite practising more, I felt much less vulnerable to strain and injuries. I found that using my body efficiently is very important, not only health-wise, but also in terms of sound and technique.
What has been your biggest challenge yet? How did you overcome this?
I think one of the challenges is overcoming time. There’s not an awful lot of time to prepare compared to AMEB and you also need to practise a lot on top of all the assignments and work you get. I often struggled to fit in time to practise as much as what was expected to, or as much as I wanted, since I often take a long time completing other work and studying. I found that it was very important and useful to make use of the free time I have at uni. I often book a practise room at uni for when I have a long break. Sometimes it can also be hard to find a practise room so I use it as an opportunity to practise away from the piano. I found that practising mentally really helps me understand the structure of my music much more. It also makes it convenient to practise anywhere, such as public transport, when I have nothing to do. We have to memorise our program in third year, and since I have of fear of memorising (as I rarely memorise my music), this new practising method helps me in improving in this area.
What are your contact hours like and how much practise is expected of you?
I have around 16.5 contact hours each week. It’s not too much, but I still have to go to school every day. My teacher would expect me to practise a minimum of three hours each day. Professor Ian Holtham (the head of keyboard) would expect us to practise a minimum of 20 hours a week, which includes one day of rest each week.
What is the culture like in the Music faculty? What extracurricular activities have you been involved with?
Everyone I’ve met in the Music faculty is friendly and open to meeting new people. In general, everyone is encouraging as a whole, especially when someone goes up to perform, demonstrate or present something. I have joined some clubs at the start of the year, but I hardly went to them. I do hope to actually do some extracurricular activities in the future.
How do you manage your time ? what would be a typical week for a first year b.music student?
Typically, a Bmus student would go to class throughout the day and then go home to practise, or go to practise rooms after or between classes. Sometimes even before class. When time comes to complete assignments, some students would go to the library to research and finish their assignments or study for any tests. To save time, sometimes I would study and do whatever work I can on public transport, especially when there are seats. If my class doesn’t start too early, I would go to school early to practise since the practise rooms are least occupied in the morning, particularly at around 9am.
What is your musical career goal? What would you need to do in order to achieve this?
I want to continue teaching since it’s something I enjoy. But I also wish to perform and make recordings in the future, whether it be solo or in a group. I think practising is of course one of the most important things, since having abundant skills and knowledge is vital, but I also think that any opportunities that comes around are important to expand my experience in this area of work.
What advice and suggestions would you give to aspiring future aspiring Bachelor of Music students in preparing for their audition and surviving the first semester of Bachelor of Music?
Don’t over strain yourself. Practise is important but if you get tired, you need to take a rest. If you keep going, you would be wasting your time instead of concentrating to get anything out of it. Many teachers would recommend no more than 45 minute or an hour for each practise session. It may also be useful to find out some practising tips to get the most out of your practise, although you would also be recommended some practise methods throughout the semester. It would also be useful to start working on your scales before you start the course, especially if you can’t play them in all the different keys. Although it’s a general advice, don’t just have your life stuck around school, but maintain a healthy social life. I think that it is helpful to keep yourself motivated overall.
Our LMH Teachers
Our talented LMH teachers are fun, kind and passionate people who are academically and musically successful. Our students at LMH continue to achieve outstanding results every year because we value education and creativity. We would like to think LMH is not just another music school. We are a group of multi-passionate people who have successfully pursued multiple career paths and love music because of our many years of professional music training. Our multi-talented young generation need role models to help them understand that they do not have to restrict themselves to one career. There are many possibilities in this world and they can be who they want to be, as long as they do it well. We welcome multi-passionate teachers who want to help change the world with us ( one student at a time).