It’s a cold January morning in College Park, MD, home of the University of Maryland. Cursing the decision of most conservatories and music institutes to hold their auditions in the middle of the winter, I make my way to the bus stop. The North bus line is free, as are several other buses that work their way around a campus five times bigger than Oberlin’s.
I stare out the window. College Park is a nifty place with recent and classical buildings, numerous 10+ level parking garages and humongous dorms in matchbox shapes. An urban air. Dorms are expensive, albeit convenient. The cheapest rooms outside the campus, in the residential area, start at $400 and end… well...
Washington is just $4 and 20 minutes away by metro, so the feeling that University of Maryland is Oberlin’s big brother (several fast food places, limited entertainment venues and small downtown) is lessened.
The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center looks pretty recent with its corners sticking out, sloping walls and broad windows. It houses five performing halls, as well as the UM departments of Theatre, Dance and the School of Music. The interior also impresses with design and appearance.
Happily, I trot over to the registration table and then find myself a room with a piano in practically no time— a real pickle in other schools, where one needs to roam for hours during audition weekends in order to find a warm-up space. My little piano performance major soul soars – the practice facilities prove to be excellent. (Side note – what a great idea to paint over those bleak white bricks walls with cozy yellow, green or burgundy. The whole madhouse-white hue is tempered down!).
Rooms have carpets and are sound proofed with grey screens (flashback to the huge grey canvas in Too Chinoise), which not only look pretty hip, but also seal out the outside noise with incredible efficiency.
The relatively new, yummy grand pianos are a pleasure to play! Air conditioning keeps the air warm so my muscles are relaxed and astir (I shudder remembering how cold some rooms are in the Oberlin Conservatory building.) I feel pampered beyond recognition while doing my share of daily music aerobics in those spacious, welcoming rooms – I envision myself spending hours in a row in here, practicing. As you know, I can’t just put my instrument in a case and take it home with me— pianists are so dependent on the pianos, with which they are presented: “There you go— take this practically dead coffin, now make scholarship/assistantship-winning music with it— you have 15 minutes!” But Maryland definitely has what it takes.
I notice that people are pleasant around here. Helpful, polite, understanding, sincere. Faculty is also nice and chatty. No snotty remarks or scornful looks. I start to get biased. Collaborating with current students— singers and instrumentalists— is a pleasure. After successfully surviving my audition, I head to the Energy Research building to meet up with Karen, a Brazilian physics student, for a dinner and international chat.
Leaving College Park with the metro the next morning, I feel happy that I just might end up in UMD for my master’s. It’s a spacious, cool place, something like Oberlin’s older third cousin on the mother’s side.