Saturday, August 20, 2011

How to Prepare For an Audition

 Written by: Amy Tobin of Fein Violins

Auditions are stressful situations, and preparing for them can feel overwhelming. You want to play as perfectly as you can, and you want to impress the people listening to you, but with music being such a subjective thing, what, exactly does that really mean?

First of all, let me help you to alleviate some of the stress. I think that, many times, the words we use can create certain feelings within us. For instance, if I say the word "audition," I think there is an entirely different visceral response than if I say the word "performance."
With the word "audition," there is a sense of being judged, being in competition with others, and having to impress someone to the point of acceptance. With the word "performance," there is a sense of preparedness and, hopefully, enjoyment in the creation of music. Switch the words. Make your audition a performance (which is what it really is).

Next, know that there are a few things that you will be required to play, no matter what you are auditioning for. In most cases, there will be a first movement of a major concerto, a movement of solo Bach, and some orchestral excerpts, which have been chosen by the director of whichever group you are auditioning for.

When you prepare for your "performance," there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, you absolutely want your concerto to sound as good as it can, but in many cases, this piece is there for you to play and get comfortable for the listening committee. They will be listening to your playing, your musicality, your tone, and your facility, but mostly they want you to have the chance to warm up. By all means, choose a concerto that you play well. Don't choose a concerto because of its difficulty level if you don't play it as well as something that is not as technically difficult. Auditioners will not be impressed by you muddling your way through Tchaikovsky, but they will be impressed by your flawless performance of Mozart or Mendelssohn!

Next, choose a movement of Bach that highlights your strengths. If fast playing is your forte, pick one of the faster movements. If chords and double-stops are where you excel, choose one of those. In either case, however, it is imperative to make your sound as sweet and full as you can, and do demonstrate that you have an understanding of how Bach should be played. Don't just play notes, make music with it. The beauty of being unaccompanied is that you can push and pull the tempo at moments that help to create wonderful lines! In doing this, however, you must show that you understand where this should happen and how to be tasteful with it!

When you are preparing your orchestral excerpts, one of the most important things to do is to listen to the pieces and the spots where they come from. I cannot stress this enough! I remember going to an audition once, when I was much younger, and playing the opening from Prokofiev's Classical Symphony. Everything was great, and I played it fantastically, but afterward, the music director said "Can you play that faster? You played it really under tempo." Yikes!

Realize, also, that every excerpt is chosen for a specific reason. Some are chosen for tone production, some are chosen for left hand dexterity, some are chosen for bow control, and some are chosen for rhythm. Once you identify why a particular excerpt was chosen, you know what to concentrate on when you are practicing it!

Take into consideration your practicing position as well. Do you practice sitting down? If you do, make sure you spend the last week or so ahead of time standing up. Even though we play orchestral music while seated, you will be standing for the audition, and it's amazing how much changing your center of gravity can change how you use your bow!

Above all, remember that whoever is listening to you is looking for a particular sound. If you are auditioning for an orchestra, think of the sound the orchestra has. The music director has a specific idea as to what he or she wants their orchestra to sound like, so try to do some research here. Is it rich and lush? Sparkling and bright? Deep and sonorous? Granted, there is a huge amount of subjectivity here, but if you choose your solo pieces to accentuate the general sound of the section you are auditioning for, you might have an edge.

Remember also, when you are playing in a blind audition (which means that you are behind a screen and the auditioning committee cannot see you), make sure that you do not say or do ANYTHING that can identify you individually. I would say that you would even want to go so far as to wear shoes that do not make specific sounds on wood floors (high heels, for instance). You want them to focus on your playing and not anything else.

Lastly, try to relax. Just remember that every single person going in for an audition is nervous, so you're not alone. Keep your tempo steady, hear the music in your mind before starting to play, and take your time. You might feel like you are taking an eternity while you breathe deeply for 5 seconds before starting, but the listeners won't even notice it. 

Prepare for your audition as if you are preparing for a recital, and you will be great!

Good luck!!!

The London Symphony Orchestra has a great YouTube channel with Master Classes for a variety of instruments with pointers on playing for an audition.
Maxine Kwok-Adams of the LSO gives the violin Master Class.
Rebecca Gilliver of the LSO gives the cello Master Class.
Paul Silverthorne of the LSO gives the viola Master Class.