Two FSSA Seniors are Headed to Juilliard

Alex Haskins (left) and James Picarello (right) were both accepted into Juilliard.

James Picarello and Alex Haskins are graduating seniors at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA) and they have both been accepted into the Juilliard School. James has been playing the french horn since he was 8 years old and Alex has been dancing since he was 6. When they found out that were finally accepted to one of the greatest conservatories in the world, they were elated.

The Juilliard School is a performing arts conservatory located at Lincoln Center in New York City, Juilliard offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in dance, drama (acting and playwriting), and music (classical, jazz, historical performance, and vocal arts). The Juilliard School is known as one of the most prestigious schools in the world, it has an acceptance rate of 6 percent and people from all over the world come to New York City to study at one of the finest performing arts school.

Alex and James were anticipating this day since they started the college process. The audition process for Juilliard is lengthy. You have to submit a pre-screening, which is basically a recording of your talent, viewed by the admissions department. Then if you pass the pre-screening level, Juilliard will reach out to schedule your live audition date. James and Alex both received call backs from Juilliard after submitting their pre-screenings.

On the day of his french horn audition, James woke up early to gather everything that he needed for his audition. He grabbed his french horn, a practice mute and his sheet music.

Alex felt like his audition day was one of the scariest days of his life. He walked into the building where his audition was being held in and got handed a number, he then was escorted into a
waiting room. Following the waiting period, Alex and a group of other auditionees walked into the audition room with a panel of 10 Juilliard dance instructors. There were five sections to the
audition and after each section there was a cut. There was a ballet, modern, solo, repertoire and an interview section.

Alex was relieved when he made it to the last section of the audition because there was a plethora of amazing dances that got cut after each section.

When James arrived to his audition site, he was shaking. He put on his noise cancelling headphones to try not to hear any of the people who were going before him. Alex and James both left their auditions feeling confident in their art form and knew that they gave their all throughout the whole audition.

Every day at FSSA Alex and James practice their art form for multiple periods throughout the day. So, when they were asked if they believe that their major at FSSA prepared them for their audition, they believed that it did.

“I think that if you really want to go more toward the art route you really have the ability to as long as your focus is strong and you’re committed to your craft,” says James.

“For my senior year, I dropped all of my academic classes except journalism and government.  I made my schedule like this so I could really focus on music. I had four free periods a day just to practice and I also have a lot of time after school to practice as well. I also have my major classes such as wind ensemble and orchestra. The teachers here are also very professional and have worked extensively in the music business, Mr. Ricks plays his trumpet for a ton of different gigs and Mr. Kronenberg is a french horn player as well and he has played in multiple broadway shows and other major ensembles in New York,” James said.

James when on to say that If he attended a more traditional high school he would have mainly just focused on academics.

Alex also thinks that FSSA helped prepare him for his future in Julliard.

“One thing that this school has taught me is humility. In class there are some people who aren’t motivated and do not want to pursue dance so sometimes it gets difficult to stay on the right driven, motivated path. However, I feel as if school prepared me to go into a more conservatory type setting because every morning during the week I am dancing for three periods in a row and I have my other classes directly after dance,” Alex said.

FSSA’s goal is to give every student the right resources to perfect their major so that they have the potential to pursue a career in their art form successfully.

Since most high schools do not offer more than a couple periods for performing arts, FSSA tries its best to simulate what it would be like, working in the performing industry as a pre-conservatory school.

Alongside the rigorous training that Alex and James both received at FSSA, they are also both a part of multiple ensembles outside of school. James has been part of Manhattan School of Music’s pre-college program for three years. He also played in the InterSchool Orchestra Symphony ensemble for three years and is a member of the horn section in the New York Youth Symphony for the past two months. Alex is in the junior division program at the Ailey School and he also took part in an institution called Move (NYC).

Both artists have learned so much from both school and their outside ensembles and they applied all of their knowledge and skills into their auditions.

James was originally placed on the waitlist for Julliard, so when he received a phone call from one of the admission counselors regarding his status on commiting to a college, he was taken aback.

He felt rather confident that he had been accepted into the school. James was at a restaurant with his mother when he received the call. Following the phone call, James proceeded to tell his mother the great news. She immediately started to cry tears of joy, she was incredibly proud of her first born son. James then called his father, who was at a work party and once he heard the news he announced it proudly to all of his coworkers.

“I rarely ever see [my parents] get that excited over something, so it was incredibly heartwarming to see them with that level of excitement,” James said.

Alex received the great news during school.

“I actually found out about my acceptance during 9th period at school. I was in the guidance suite and I got a call from some random number and I was just saying to myself, ‘no way, just no way.’ So I picked up the phone and it was Larry Gets, the director of admissions for dance and he asked if Alex was on the phone and said he was just calling to congratulate me on my acceptance into the school and I was beyond thrilled,” Alex said.

“I was running up and down the halls just so happy and I saw James and told a whole bunch of people and everyone was just so proud of me. I was genuinely shocked, like you just don’t know what to say. It still hasn’t sunken in yet that I am 1 of the 12 male freshman dancers,” he adds.

Alex decided to surprise his mother at dinner with the marvelous news. She had the same reaction as James’ mothers. Alex’s father and younger sister were at the end of their trip to Massachusetts when Alex called them. They came back a day earlier to celebrate the acceptance.

“Telling them was so surreal as well because they knew how hard I worked and how dedicated I was,” Alex said.

Alex and James both received acceptances from other esteemed schools such as the University of Southern California, SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Dance, Manhattan School of Music and the Eastman School of Music.

“If I hadn’t gotten into Juilliard I would’ve gone to Manhattan School of music because it is such a great music school and my private teacher teaches there and I am very familiar with the school from attending their pre-college program,” James said.

For Alex, the prestige and honor have begun to sink in.

“Knowing that you’ve been accepted to this big of a school completely blows all the other schools away because this was my dream school and it is an honor to get accepted into such a
prestigious school. I know a ton of dancers who have graduated from there and they are superb at what they do and I know that I will achieve great things,” Alex said.

Following their graduation from Julliard in 2023, Alex sees himself moving to Europe to participate in a contemporary repertoire company and James hopes to continue his studies at the Juilliard School and receive his masters in french horn performance.

Alex and James are beyond thrilled and grateful for the opportunity to train and learn at one of the best performing arts schools in the country. They couldn’t have done it without the support from their families, the training from FSSA and outside ensembles, and the countless amount of hours they spent practicing to get into their dream school.

– by Genesis Aldea ’19