Whether you are out in the professional world taking major orchestral auditions or getting ready to try for your first high school honor band position, there are basic steps that can help you score that amazing job you’ve always dreamed of. However, for most of us the process of taking auditions can be a long road fraught with trial and many errors. The brave few who forge to the final blessed round will tell you that years of persistence and fortitude cleared the path to their dream—not relying only on natural talent and/or luck. The moral of the story is that consistent and purposeful practice and reflection is the only way to land that next gig—well, for most of us at least!!
The following is a list of some things I have learned (mostly the hard way…) to implement each time I set out for a new audition. This is the method that works for me—if you are seasoned enough to know what works for you, modifying the list to suite your needs will be the best plan. If you are younger and/or new to the auditioning, I encourage you to follow this technique closely for several auditions until you get a better handle on what the process is all about.
1. Make a list of all excerpts, deadlines, fee requirements, and travel plans if applicable.
My biggest advice for this one is to triple check the audition information as soon as you receive it. I’ve wasted so much time and money simply because I failed to simply follow the directions! Here is a great introductory article on how to prepare the most frequently requested orchestral excerpts.
2. Locate the music if the organization doesn’t provide it for you.
IMSLP Petrucci Music Library is a wonderful online source of free PDF downloads of music that is under public domain. While you are at it, print a copy of the scores—piano or orchestral—and organize them with the audition excerpts in a thin three-ring binder. I prefer to use clear sheet protectors to keep everything nice and neat. You’ll be thankful on audition day when your music isn’t falling all over the place. If you’re like me, you’ll be nervous enough without this added stressor.
3. Plan out your practice time.
Using the length of time you have left until the audition, make weekly goals for learning the music including gradually increasing goal tempos. This may go without saying, but it’s really important to divide longer and/or more difficult pieces into small manageable sections. This reduces frustration when learning a difficult excerpt. Sometimes I only work a measure at a time (ahem—Firebird!). I've designated a small notebook to keep track of my progress—and also to keep me from getting distracted. It’s also helpful for me to actually write down how many minutes I will spend on each piece, and then set the stopwatch on my iPhone to help me know when my time is up. Your time is a precious resource, so be deliberate in how you spend it!
4. Listen to recordings.
In my pre-graduate studies, I was reluctant to listen to recordings. Maybe it was the desire to figure it all out on my own, but I’m fairly certain it was just plain stubbornness. It took several years, but I have seen the light! Not only does listening to a great performance inspire you to create a more beautiful tone and artistic interpretation, it is crucial in learning how the piece fits together.
Please remember that the excerpt of music you are practicing is much more than your individual part. Most likely you have a pianist, other wind instruments, or an entire orchestra full of various colors, harmonies, and rhythms to coordinate. This can be very complicated—especially when you rehearse the actual piece for an actual performance. Even though you will be the only musician playing during the audition (though this isn’t always true…), your job is to show the committee/adjudicator that you fully understand the piece of music and are prepared to rehearse it with actual live musicians.
Resources I use to find great recordings are iTunes, YouTube, and Naxos. Be careful that you are listening to recordings of professional flutists with tones and technique you admire--especially on YouTube. If you tend to get distracted while listening like I do, plan to do so with either the score or your part in front of you. A pencil to mark notes in the music is also helpful.
5. Record yourself.
When it feels more comfortable to play the music at or near the indicated tempo with appropriate style, start recording yourself.. I use the iTalk app on my iPhone and my Zoom Q2 HD video recorder. I recommend sending some of your better takes to a trusted colleague or teacher and ask them for their feedback. Also, study the recordings on your own to evaluate where you should focus your energy while practicing. More often than not, the sound we think we are producing isn’t what is projecting from the flute. Recording yourself is sometimes the only way to get a true sense of what is going on. It will most likely be intimidating (or possibly depressing...) at first, but just keep trying---I promise you will improve!
6. Practice being nervous.
Maybe you are someone who never experiences the wretched nervousness (shaking/sweating/blacking out) that often accompanies the audition process, but for the rest of us, getting used to playing well despite our bodily functions is an important skill to acquire. To learn more about this process, click HERE.
7. Plan for the audition day.
The worst thing to realize while you are waiting hours to audition is that you didn’t bring enough to eat. When it comes to food and water, OVER prepare. If your blood sugar is low and your stomach is rumbling, you will not be able to think well enough to withstand the mental pressure. I usually pack a banana and a Larabar or two. Also bring something to occupy your mind (a book, magazine, or game) while you are waiting around. If listening to other flute players psyches you out, bring really great earplugs. Lastly, this is a great opportunity to triple check the audition information one last time. Be sure to know where you are going, where to park, where to walk in, and what time to be there. Wear professional but comfortable clothes, and go win that audition!!
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