Prestigious Peabody beckons Prescott
Even though she had completed an extensive application and flown to Baltimore for a live audition at The Peabody Institute, Michelle Prescott didn't expect to find anything in her mailbox from the school but a small, skinny envelope -- the surefire sign of a rejection letter.
"I was expecting more along the lines of 'Thank you for your audition, go home now,'" she said.
So the 2005 De Soto High School graduate was shocked and thrilled when a big, fat acceptance packet arrived instead. Before the end of August, she'll move to Baltimore to attend college at the oldest and one of the most prestigious music academies in the country.
For Michelle, who plays the bassoon, being accepted into the school was the first achievement of what she hopes will be a string of realized dreams.
Her first goal is to graduate from Peabody.
Then Michelle plans to attend graduate school to study music at another institution and eventually perform with a professional orchestra. Maybe she could teach private bassoon lessons on the side, she said.
In the meantime, Michelle knows she'll have plenty of musical growing to do at Peabody.
Michelle said she was braced for inevitable criticism she would face at a challenging academy. She said she knew it wouldn't always feel good but that it was crucial to listen to what others thought of one's playing.
"Your presentation means everything," she said.
For her live audition in February, Michelle played two studies by Weissenborn, a revered and prolific bassoon composer.
The first -- "No. 22" -- was very technical, Michelle said, in a minor key and full of arpeggios.
"No. 23" was more up Michelle's alley. The piece was slower, more rhythmical and demanded lyricism from its performer.
"My technical ability needs work -- I'll just flat-out admit it," Michelle said.
However, Michelle's ability to play lyrically and with expression most impressed the judges, she said. One professor told Michelle that trait helped her win attention over other students because expression is something not every musician can be taught.
De Soto High School instrumental music teacher Justin Love said he enjoyed it when a student with Michelle's ability showed up in his class.
"Musically, she truly is a very exceptional student," Love said, adding that his goal for most students was to show them how music could enhance their lives during high school or as a lifetime hobby. "Very rarely do we find students that want to make it their living, but it's really neat to see that when they can reach that level."
Michelle's mother, Karen Prescott, said she thought Peabody would be the right place for her daughter.
"She trained hard, worked hard, and she was accepted into a great program," Prescott said. "The prestige of the school is mind boggling to me. It is the oldest conservatory in the U.S. I think that's where she belongs."
Philanthropist George Peabody founded the institute in 1857, establishing the first academy of music in America. Since 1977, the Institute has operated as a division of The Johns Hopkins University.
Love said it was very unusual but not impossible for a small-town student to be accepted at a Peabody-level music institution.
Many high school seniors competing for spots would have attended special schools exclusively for performing and visual arts, Love said. In addition to participating in their school's band, orchestra or choir, most students -- including Michelle -- would have had extensive private instruction outside of school, Love said.
Michelle said she liked the open space and quietness of De Soto but that she looked forward to living in the big city. Baltimore likely draws more top classical music acts than nearby Kansas City, Mo., she said.
Michelle is supposed to arrive at Peabody by Aug. 30, and classes begin Sept. 8.
Prescott said she'd be sad to have her daughter moving so far away but that she was a seasoned traveler, so it was nothing new.
"As far as her going far away, she's been basically going far away from us since she was little," she said. "I think we always knew she was not going to be able to be contained in one small spot."