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Last revision: May 7, 2017
Frequently Asked Questions:
Auditions & Gigs
  1. What is the best way to avoid being nervous at a jury or an audition?
  2. How do I break into the music business (i.e., get gigs?)
  3. How can I recover if I lose an audition?
  4. ICSOM Statistics
  5. What is involved in developing a press kit?

    Issues in Choice of Undergraduate Programs

  6. As a general rule, what are the audition requirements for undergraduate programs in violin and viola? [Supplementary question on Juilliard]
  7. Sample Undergraduate Audition - Violin/Viola
  8. M.M. and DMA Audition Requirements - Violin/Viola

    New FAQ Questions
  9. What is freelancing?
  10. How much training would it take to get into a professional orchestra? New!
  11. Is there any hope for me to have a career in music? New!


(1) What is the best way to avoid being nervous at a jury or an audition?

• Prepare the music carefully, leaving nothing to chance. Everything should be so well prepared, you can play it cold, no matter what. This requires you to divide your practice up into "preparing time" and "performing time," a concept Galamian talks about in Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching.

• You should make an effort to tend to your health—that is, have had enough sleep, eat potassium rich foods like bananas, don't eat meat, fried foods or dairy (vegan is best, but at least avoid heavy foods), and exercise. But don't hurt your hands! I recommend walking, lifting light weights (I have a pair of 4 lb. Chinese barbells which I use regularly, lots of reps) and do yoga and stretching. Swimming is also good. Bicycling is good, but you can hurt your hands if you don't do it right, so be careful. Lots of fresh air and sunshine and positive thoughts.

• Be philosophical. Why do we study music? To make a big deal out of ourselves? No. If anyone does art to aggrandize themselves, they're doomed from the beginning. We do art to be in contact with the best human minds, to make beauty, and to express the best in humanity. We do it out of love. We do it because we can't do anything else. Given all that, so what if you aren't perfect? Only god is perfect. Do your best, give it everything you've got, and then make music and enjoy yourself. That's what counts. Forget yourself.

• Remember the little things which the listeners are going to be looking for (particularly if one of your listeners is a conductor), and which will indicate if your training is solid. These include stylistic accuracy, rhythmic integrity, attention to phrasing and dynamics, good intonation, and musical sensibility. Bach is different than Brahms. Dynamics don't just happen, you have to make them happen. Everything in the score is there for a reason. Plan the bowings and phrasing ahead of time (though some leeway is allowed for interpretive inspiration of the moment). This is all very hard work and time consuming, but don't blow any of it off and expect it to happen automatically when you go in to play. It won't.

Also see the following:

  1. Madeline Bruser, The Art of Practicing: A Guide to Making Music from the Heart
  2. Burton Kaplan, Musician's Practice Log
  3. Burton Kaplan, A Rhythm Sight-Reader: Bk 1, Bk 2
  4. Burton Kaplan, Practicing for Artistic Success: The Musician's Guide to Self-Empowerment
  5. Stuart Edward Dunkel, The Audition Process: Anxiety Management and Coping Strategies (Juilliard Performance Guides, No 3)
  6. Margret Elson, Passionate Practice: The Musician's Guide to Learning, Memorizing, and Performing
  7. Jack Grassel, Power Practicing
  8. Don Greene, Audition Success (A Theatre Arts Book)
  9. Don Greene, Performance Success: Performing Your Best Under Pressure (Theatre Arts)


(2) How do I break into the music business (i.e., get gigs?)

Any or some combination of the following recommendations will probably work for you:

INITIAL CONCERNS:

  1. Take private lessons (or lessons through your university) from the top person in your area; often the concertmaster or principle of the local symphony, or someone who plays professionally and teaches. There are often local "artist teachers" who are very good;
  2. Be willing to play for free a little bit, especially initially to meet people, or if you're very young or new to the business. That is, play in church, play in community orchestras, play as much as possible. However, at some point, this business of "bring your instrument and we'll feed you" becomes profoundly offensive. Please don't say this around me unless you want a lecture; normally, you don't consult a doctor or lawyer for free when you're at a social function, and you shouldn't ask a professional musician to play for free, either;
  3. Pay your AFM dues, Musicians' Union dues, which are initially perhaps around $120, and then a bit every year, like $30. This is how you get your "name in the book" and is really important. Make sure your phone is in working order with the same number as that "in the book";
  4. Be reliable: be on time, be pleasant, don't gossip, be nice to everyone ("the music world is a very small world" is not an adage for nothing), and keep your word so people know they can rely on you;
  5. Practice a lot. Every day. Know your stuff. Be ready when the opportunities come;
  6. Get as good equipment as you can afford and keep getting better. Experiment with new products, talk to people, visit local shops frequently. If you're nice, people will help you;
  7. Don't get into interpersonal conflicts with people, no matter how annoying people are. Everyone is concerned about their own lives. Once a conflict starts (and it will) take a deep breath, stop the interaction, and back off (even if, and especially if, you know you're right and the other person is a jerk). Don't be a push-over, either, but just rise above it all and most of all, be forgiving and let things go;
  8. Keep learning, whether you're in school or not;
  9. Even if you're not playing in them, attend as many concerts as you can. If you're deeply interested in music, you will do this;
  10. Don't do weird things. Don't just not show up. If you say you're going to do something, either DO IT or call and apologize for not being able to. Reputation is everything in this business.
POSTSCRIPT:
Aside from the first, initial things, there are other, more controversial issues to talk about. These might include:
  1. This is not a moral judgment, but drugs and alcohol ruin more musicians than anything I can think of. If you need something to relax, take up a sport. Weight lifting, Pilates, bike riding, swimming, tennis. Anything but drugs. In my experience, musicians tend to examine spiritual practices, read a lot of self-help books, and participate in retreats and yoga and that sort of thing;
  2. If you really want to devote your life to music, you're going to have to think about getting the best instrument you can. This is expensive and scary, particularly since all shops are not totally free of self-interest. Play a lot of instruments until you can recognize the sound you want. Sometimes you can get an instrument for $300, say, which sounds as good as one for much more, but you've got to keep looking. A good bow costs $1,000 and up. Other expensive issues to examine are insurance and tax issues (the AFM will help with this);
  3. You have to have the right clothes. I know—Thoreau: "Distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes". . .but if you're going to be playing a lot of concerts you really do need comfortable, elegant clothes;
  4. At some point, you may want to investigate things like brochures, head shots, business cards, management, etc. Most of us don't, but many do, and it's something to think about, particularly if you're developing a quartet;
  5. You might find profession periodicals useful, including the AFM publication "International Musician," Strings, ASTA, SSA, etc.;
  6. You will at some point, if you have not already, have to think about what direction you want your work to go: how professional, what level, does it include teaching or master classes, how much travel. And if you teach, what level do you want to teach? Public school, private studio, university? All of these arenas have different requirements with respect to qualifications. It's not true that most players have doctorates in performance, but many have Masters (M.M.) and that seems to be the norm. Try to go to the best school you can; you'll have more exposure to the best players, teachers, and opportunities;
  7. Auditioning—whether for jobs or scholarships—is a learnable skill. You can get good at it if you work at it. Do as many auditions as you can until it becomes commonplace and non-scary.
The musical life is a good life. You don't have to get dirty and you meet a lot of nice people. You're in the business of creating beauty, which is a noble way to spend your time. There is no end to what you can learn. And teaching, if you like it, is a joy - something you can do when you're old and you truly having something to share. Good luck!


(3) How can I recover if I lose an audition?
You have my sympathies. Losing an audition is tough, and there are not too many musicians who don't go through this at one time or another. Remember the adage that the only person who never fails is the person who never tries anything. And then I can think of some recommendations, in no particular order:

  1. Try to analyze your playing objectively; gather together all the resources you can—excerpt books and recordings, books about auditioning, books on string pedagogy—and read and listen to them at night after practicing as many hours as you can get in;

  2. Find out who the most eminent teachers are in your town (won't be difficult to determine) and study with them; they were probably on the committee (did you say that you auditioned behind a screen? Even if you did, teachers can recognize the playing of their own students);

  3. Try to get with someone, perhaps at a summer institute or workshop (do a Yahoo search), who specializes in preparing players for auditions. Borok, for example, who used to teach at SMU but is now at U of H, is known for doing this. And there are others.

  4. Know that many times, one may lose an audition based on the unfortunate chance that just so many positons were open, and some exceptionally good players, or well-connected players, showed up at the same time you did.

  5. You can feel badly for a while—you're entitled—but then take it as a challenge, I'd say.



(4) ICSOM Statistics: It should probably be added that positions in major orchestras are not only highly competitive, but shrinking in number due to economic conditions. One very successful professional player noted on the newsgroup that repeated failures to win auditions may be simply that the person, however intelligent, may lack critical physical abilities, and that, regardless of how hard the person wishes to win a major job, or how hard they may work, it is cruel, they say, to not try to gently guide them into some other field where they might have greater success—given that doing auditions is an extremely expensive and time consuming activity.

In terms of winning a major orchestra job, the newsgroup violinist is absolutely correct. I think it is accurate to say that the majority of musicians on the planet do not have high paying jobs, and that seeking a position in an orchestra with a smaller budget is often a good compromise, as is freelancing and teaching (only if you enjoy teaching, please—not as a fall-back position!!), and also combining some other field with music. If you lose an audition, you can also ask to be put on the sub list, and then decide where to go next with your playing. [And I would mention to young people that, if you find yourself in an emotionally painful situation, please know that painful feelings go away eventually. These feelings won't last forever.]

There are many fine musicians who are also Phd's in some field, or physicians, or computer professionals, or lawyers, or police officers. Many really fine musicians have second jobs, or are doing music as their second job. There are many more ways to go than just getting a high powered orchestra job, in other words. It also doesn't follow that if you get a graduate degree or degrees in instrumental performance, even from a first rate music school, you will automatically earn a good income. There are a lot of unemployed people with doctorates.

The International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM)

ICSOM is comprised of 52 American orchestras. These orchestras comprise virtually all of the American orchestras that pay a full-time living wage. Click on the ICSOM link, above, for further reading. Interesting statistics:

  • There are 52 ICSOM orchestras employing a total of about 4,200 musicians.

  • During the academic year 2002-2003, American colleges, universities and conservatories graduated 14,601 students with degrees in music.

  • During the 2003 calendar year there were 159 openings for musicians in ICSOM orchestras.

  • So in this, as in everything, there are no guarantees. One has to make choices and sometimes they are difficult. If a good player likes teaching, that is certainly an option, and freelancing, as well, provides opportunities to perform for a living, and freelancing does not require long-term commitments or painful auditions; often the jobs are given on the basis of past performance. If you can "sightread the bugs off the walls" and are an otherwise reliable player who does not mind travel, freelancing may be the answer. Even with freelancing, it takes years to develop contacts and the skills necessary to play in pick-up or back-up gigs. Everyone has to find their own combination of things to do, but there are certainly a lot of options, and one lost audition is only an audition.
    Further discussion regarding Careers in Music. . .


    (5) A press kit should include:

    An 8x10 photo (print one on your computer; take it to a local copy shop; have them make color copies on card stock)**
    a business card
    a 3-4 song demo CD (most people won't go to websites to listen to you) [Richard's comment (learned from experience): don't include full tunes on the demo CD, or use a voice-over. Some people like the CD SOOOO much, they decide to use that in lieu of hiring real musicians.]
    Free websites can be had at GeoCities, MySpace, Angelfire, and often through one's service provider.
    an introductory cover letter
    a bio
    a fact sheet that is easy to read so that whoever has it can look up some quick facts
    sticker, button or other promo material like that (people love stickers!)
    a folder to put it all in.

    Example: use three-prong folders, and put the cover letter, fact sheet, bio, etc. in the prongs so that it is easy to page through, and put the other stuff in the left pocket. Those folders also have a place for business cards. I then made postcard size pics w/ the band name on it and glued it to the front of the folder. Eye catching colors are good.

    You could also include...
    a DVD of a live performance
    newspaper reviews
    a list of upcoming gigs

    Keep a record of who you sent or gave these to, so that you can make a follow up phone call.

    See:

  • This Business of Music Marketing and Promotion, Tad Lathrop.
  • This Business of Music: The Definitive Guide to the Music Industry,, M. William Krasilovsky.
  • Legal Aspects of the Music Industry: An Insider's View, Richard Schulenberg.
  • What They'll Never Tell You About the Music Business: The Myths, Secrets, Lies (& a Few Truths), Peter M. Thall.


    Emily adds: Those newspaper reviews are extremely important. And don't skimp on the folder. The standard issue is a very high quality glossy card stock folder. If you want to be really classy, make a really professional looking label (photo, logo etc) on the outside. The important thing is that everything you put in the press kit is extremely professional looking. Do nothing halfway and nothing that looks cheap.

    ** Karen, on the 8x10 photo:

    I've worked for a newspaper and in the public information office of a music conservatory and, in my experience, card stock color copies of a publicity photograph are not very useful. The quality of even the best photocopy is too poor for digital scanning purposes. Publicity offices want to have easy access to digital images, so that these can be placed in programs, concert calendars, newspapers, etc.

    If you have a publicity photo made, don't skimp on the quality:

  • Have photographs made (on photographic paper) by a professional. In many places one can have dozens of copies of a publicity photograph for around $80.
  • Ask the photographer to provide digital images of the publicity shots (on a CD)
  • Have color and black-and-white images made
  • Have some interesting shots. When one is filling-up a concert calendar with images of musicians, nothing is worse than a spate of dull, uninspired photographs of performers clutching their instruments and looking serious. The publicity office where I worked was always glad for shots of musicians laughing, or posed in interesting backgrounds, or both!
  • On the other hand, don't be so artistic that your face is lost in shadows or you're too small to see for all the periphery. In other words, work with a professional photographer that has experience with publicity shots for musicians.





  • (6)
    As a general rule, what are the audition requirements for undergraduate programs in violin and viola?

    Advice to a College Student New!

    The answer to this question really depends on what university music school or music conservatory the student is auditioning for. Standards vary, and performance levels are not consistent throughout the many options a music student may have. With respect to exceptionally able students in smaller, perhaps local programs, the phrase "big fish in a small pond" is often heard. However, there are other combinations possible, since the quality of the pond (and the performance opportunities) is the real issue.

    More importantly, the career goals of the student must be kept in mind from the onset. If, for example, the student really wants to be a professional instrumental player, they need to go to one of the dozen or so top professional schools; the majority of performers come from those schools. To get in, students should study with those teachers in summer programs before auditioning. Alternatively, if the student's focus is teaching, considerations are different; if they want to do public school, there's licensing to deal with. For private teaching, some schools have String Projects and other great pedagogical programs. As a general rule, studies indicate that the best players make the best teachers.

    Choice of an undergraduate program should probably be based on a few primary considerations:

    1. The emotional maturity of the student;
    2. The available financial package (including scholarships, grants and loans);
    3. The performance level of the student;
    4. The student's work ethic, commitment and future goals.

    1. With respect to the emotional maturity of the student; whether or not they're ready to move far from home, or would benefit from being in a nearby state or other good undergraduate program, is a key issue. If the student lives near a great state school (Indiana, for example), that is often the choice. Students vary widely in their emotional development; some really would benefit from doing an undergraduate program near home, and then, after four years, going on to a more demanding graduate program further out of state. Human adolescence has stretched beyond the teenage years, by some reports. This is not meant as a pejorative comment against young people. On the contrary, it is more like a recognition that human evolution has progressed to the point that maturity requires a broader educational base, and probably an additional 10 years or so, compared to past eras.

    2. Schools vary widely with respect to the scholarship funds available. Many solid state school programs offer the so-called "orchestra scholarship," which is not dissimilar to a football scholarship: students commit to three weekly, two and a half hour rehearsals and the concerts each term, and are given tuition waivers for this. Just like a sports team, orchestras must have certain numbers of players to exist. This is a huge benefit, and parents should be made aware of this, particularly in light of the rising costs of education.

    3. and 4. Students vary widely in their abilities, commitments, and goals. Finding the right teacher is key, in this sense, a teacher who will support the student's goals and inspire a higher level of performance. Incidentally, my recommendation has always been that the student contact the teacher with whom they wish to work, rather than taking an audition, cold. That teacher will either be a direct, deciding factor on the admissions committee, or will be consulted regarding the student's admission. So the smart thing to do is for the student to contact the teacher directly, stating that the student wishes to study with them.

    (6.1) As a supplement to the above question, students often write and ask something like: QUESTION: I am in the first violin section of my community orchestra and have played the violin for seven years. Do I have a chance of getting into Juilliard?

    RESPONSE: Juilliard is one of the five top music schools in the US. You would be expected to play a major concerto, from memory, some Bach, from memory, and some other works, perhaps a Brahms sonata. And sightread. And have great grades, high SAT scores and good keyboard skills. You would need probably 10 years of private lessons and tons of experience playing in youth symphonies, chamber music groups and summer camps.


    Prospective students should consult the program catalogs online or hardcopy, to determine the specific requirements of any particular program. As a general rule, the minimum requirements for an acceptable undergraduate audition are probably something like:
    1. First movement of a concerto, the more advanced the better. From memory, is also a good idea, and the whole work, from memory, better still.

      Violin: Mozart may do for some schools; Barber or Mendelssohn first movement would be a step up from that. Both would be better. See: Student Violin Concertos

      Viola: Hoffmeister Concerto is a good first work. See: Viola Concertos

      Of course, Mozart (D Major, A Major or G Major in violin) and Telemann (viola) are the standards, but probably one should try to avoid the Suzuki materials and demonstrate that the student has moved beyond the Suzuki books.

    2. Some schools may require two contrasting movements from Bach [violin, viola];

    3. All three octave major and minor scales and arpeggios; thirds, sixths, octaves and fingered octaves are also recommended; [Carl Flesh (violin, viola); Trott Melodious Doublestops, (violin, viola)];

    4. A list of worked on études is recommended, and these should include the following:
      Wohlfahrt: Book 1, violin, Book 2, violin; Book 1, viola, Book 2, viola;
      Kayser: violin; viola;
      Mazas: violin; viola;
      Dont Op. 37: violin; viola;
      Kreutzer: violin; viola;
      Dont Op. 35 [violin; viola], Gavinies and Paganini are not unexpected, though not required for many undergraduate entrance levels;
      Ševcík [violin, viola] and other études may be included, if the student has been exposed to them;
      On viola, Hoffmeister études, Campagnoli, Fuchs.

    5. Orchestra experience, chamber music experience and sightreading ability. Private lessons for at least four or five years is recommended.

    6. Keyboard proficiency is an advantage, as well, along with at least some general knowledge in music theory and history, the conducting patterns, and perhaps some specialized interest, such as baroque performance practice, jazz, or contemporary composition and literature.





    Requirements will vary according to the difficulty of the program, but in general, perhaps something like this:

    VIOLIN:
  • All major and minor scales and arpeggios (if required): Flesch, Galamian Vol. I, Vol. II
  • Bach: Sonatas and Partitas, Cello Suites (trans.) or Six Violin Sonatas
  • Etudes (if required): Kreutzer, Rode
  • Concertos: Possibilities might include Barber, Mendelssohn. See: Advanced Violin Literature and Student Concertos.
  • Sonatas (if required): Brahms Sonatas or Beethoven Sonatas Vol. I, Vol. II. See: Violin Sonatas

    VIOLA:
  • All major and minor scales and arpeggios (if required): Flesch, Galamian
  • Viola transcriptions of Bach: Sonatas and Partitas, Cello Suites or Six Violin Sonatas: Vol. I, Vol. II
  • Etudes (if required): Kreutzer, Rode, Campagnoli
  • Concertos: One to three movements of Hindemith Der Schwanendreher, Walton, or Bartók. See: Advanced Viola Literature.
  • Sonatas (if required): Brahms Op.120 Sonatas or Schubert "Arpeggione"

    Matriculating through the undergraduate, masters and doctoral levels is a weeding out process. Doctoral auditions (like all the others) have levels of difficulty consistent with the competitive level of the school. An entire unaccompanied Bach work and an entire major concerto with cadenzas, both from memory, is the baseline, and some schools demand a great deal more. USC, for example requires the following, plus recent (within five years) general test scores from the Graduate Record Exam (GRE):
    1. A complete unaccompanied Bach sonata or partita
    2. One complete work from the sonata or duo repertoire
    3. One complete major concerto work (with applicable cadenzas)
    4. One brilliant concert piece
    5. One commercially published work written after 1980
    6. The second movement (and applicable cadenza) of the Concerto number 3, 4 or 5 of Mozart
    7. One Paganini Caprice, or one unaccompanied Ysaye Solo Sonata, or one work by Ernst
    Other schools do not require the GRE for a DMA degree, and schools have various requirments for financial assistance, such as Teaching Assistantships in String Projects, or teaching undergraduate non-majors, or assisting professors. Some people are "double docs": they get a DMA in performance in some instrument and a PhD in musciology. There is not, to my knowledge, any post-doc programs in music, so this would be an equivalent, I suppose.




  • New FAQ Questions

    (9) What is freelancing?
    Freelancing has to do with developing professional relationships with contractors and other musicians, who will recommend you. It can be more lucrative the more international you go, and the more contacts you develop. There is a relationship between studio work and freelancing. I would say some of the following requirements will be helpful:

    1. You need to be free to travel, which can put a strain on family;

    2. You need to be very flexible in terms of music you can or are willing to perform;

    3. You must have very high level skills, especially ensemble and sightreading skills;

    4. You must have the very best of equipment;

    5. You must be in good health with a lot of energy and strength;

    6. You must have the appropriate clothes;

    7. You must practice every day, pretty much, and be prepared with audition materials and samples of your work;

    8. It helps if you have a portfolio with business cards, head shots and brief recordings. Don't offer too much recorded music, or the client might use the recording, rather than you!

    9. You need to be in good standing with one or more AFM locals;

    10. You need a high level of work ethic and professionalism, and play pretty much flawlessly;

    11. Your level of personal maturity must be high such that you don't get into interpersonal conflicts with anyone, don't antagonize anyone by being overfriendly, and I'd keep my personal life and business life entirely separate;

    12. Know what's important and what's not: your performance ability and business contacts are important; most everything else is secondary.

    You can make a lot more money freelancing than getting stuck with a small orchestra contract, IMO, but you have to be first rate. Auditions are usually not the way these jobs are acquired, but rather, though experience and personal recommendation.

    Good luck!

    (10) How much training would it take to get into a professional orchestra? Like a good one, I mean? For a violinist? I've been playing piano since I was eight and started playing violin in 8th grade. Now I'm in 10th and I'm still in Orchestra, except that I'm as good as the kids that have been playing since elementary and all that jazz. How many years of additional training do I need? Should I hire a private teacher?

    It's a good (great) question, though the number of years is really not the issue. And yes, you DEFINITELY need a good private teacher. You cannot progress to a professional level (in terms of orchestral playing) without one. You can't teach yourself technique and etudes and a ton of repertoire. You can't.

    Your teacher will also help you professionally in terms of thinking about where to get an undergraduate degree in violin (a BM or perhaps BA). You need to start now thinking about where you want to go to school. You should find summer programs, supervised by the teachers (and students) you want to work with. You need to keep your grades up, get into a good practice routine, and listen to as much music as you can. Read books about musicians. Watch films about musicians. I think it should be pointed out, however, that there are many, many job paths other than acquiring a position in a major orchestra. Please see: Discussion: Careers in Music.



    (11) Is there any hope for me to have a career in music?
    There is no way anyone could determine that but you; even successful professionals get negative feedback when they're starting out. You have to want it and be willing to stick with it through all the difficulties and disappointments that will inevitably come. You have to believe in yourself and be emotionally independent of the approval of others.

    There is an often quoted remark by Carl Sagan:
    But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

    I love that. If you look at the history of eminent people (in any field, not just music) there are frequent instances of people who believed in themselves and succeeded, despite immense difficulties. But at the same time, there are legions of people who fell by the wayside, and never fulfilled their dreams, no matter how passionately they wanted to. There are certainly no guarantees.

    What I have experienced in a lifetime of playing in orchestras and playing in various gigs, and teaching, is that I know fully well that I'm not the best at anything, but that I would rather be at the margins of the thing I love, rather than give up and quit. When I think about being sensible or practical, I can live with it for a few hours, but then I become intensely unhappy.

    I've played with Smoky Robinson, and hundreds of other artists, important and less than important, and I'm still learning, learning guitar and jazz and how to be a better conductor, better teacher. I guess I can quit when they throw my ashes to the wind. I say, if you love it, do it. But you have to have a love for it; if you do it for any other reason, it ain't gonna work.



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