Jeff Snowdon offers some tips on preparing for auditions and playing your best.
For musicians auditions can be a defining moment. Success can lead to working with other players of your calibre and above, with all the musical reward that brings. This in turn motivates you to develop into an even better musician, so it is an important rite of passage.
I hope the following thoughts will help you all on your musical journey;
1. Choose your repertoire carefully:
Audition panels are looking for particular qualities and these are not always “flashiness”. Accuracy, musical style, tone quality, secure intonation, dynamic control and above all excellent rhythm are the key characteristics.
So choose a piece that you know VERY well, not your work-in-progress which you only saw two weeks ago. It takes a long time to “grow” with a piece, often returning to it many times as it becomes more and more part of you. Only when you have lived with something so that you can play it “by-heart” can you really convey the music.
Many players have one or two “party-pieces” that they use for most auditions. Obviously at an early stage in your career you will not want to stick to one piece, but make sure you have secure “oven-ready” pieces to hand and that you find what pieces show you at your best.
For professional auditions this is a misnomer. It should not be sight-reading as a player should know the repertoire inside-out.
If you are aiming for a career as an orchestral player much of the time studying at music college is spent learning the symphonic, chamber and opera repertoire. It is worth even at junior conservatoire level starting to compile a file of standard orchestra excerpts. There are probably lists available online of all the standard excerpts for your instrument and your teacher would probably be able to give you a list. It is worth starting with the most common. As well as practising the excerpt make sure you listen to it as well – it will be quite obvious if you understand the musical context and can effectively “hear” the whole in your head (ie. who you are playing with, what are the performance traditions like rubato etc.)
Many orchestras will provide a list of prepared sight-reading and some might then put in front of you a very obscure thing to test your approach to reading a new piece. If you are genuinely sight-reading then take time to establish the rhythm in your mind and DON’T PANIC.
3. Be Alert and Flexible
Audition panels will want to know if you are quick on the uptake. Do you respond instantly to suggestions about how a passage should be played? Do you have the technical control to change dynamics and articulation on the spot. This is what conductors expect – no conductor wants to use rehearsal time asking for a particular phrasing or dynamic only to find the player does it exactly the same as before. This requires you to have the technical facility and the alertness to “get” what is being asked for.
4. Conduct yourself in a professional manner
This is a performance and your demeanour and body language will be as much part of the message that comes across as your playing. Confidence shows in so many ways, and this comes over in your personal response to the panel.
Your tuning note will often be the only chance to settle into a new acoustic which may feel very different to your normal practice room. I think it is in many ways true that we have already formed impressions about a player from the first tuning note, so make sure you are thoroughly warmed up and ready to play your best from the word go. Go into the room with your piece “buzzing” in your mind!
5. Rehearse your audition thoroughly
The more opportunities you have to play in an audition (or for that matter any performance) situation the more experienced you will become and the more relaxed you will be able to be with the panel. Get some friends to be a “mock-audition panel” for you. Make sure you know the accompaniment really well and that you use any opportunity to rehearse to establish tempos thoroughly (I’ve done a few auditions where the accompanist started at the wrong speed and I’ve had to slam the brakes or pull the tempo up on entry, which doesn’t do much for your confidence!)
Never forget the five ‘P’s: PROPER PREPARATION PREVENTS POOR PERFORMANCE
6. Focus on your performance
We all react in very different ways to stressful situations. This is a natural result of adrenaline which sets the body up for “fight or flight”. In many ways the more it means to us, the more we can find ourselves getting stressed.
Remember the panel are all players themselves. They know what it feels like and many will have had their own battles to perform their best in stressful situations. Musicians are by their nature extremely empathetic people,
Find strategies to turn any fear into excitement so that the stress of the situation makes you raise your game rather than making you go to pieces. This is one of the biggest battles for many musicians (any who say it isn’t are probably lying!). Don’t try to hide it but talk to other musicians to try to learn from their strategies – we all have them and they have often been hard-fought-for.
I recommend a very good book which helped me lot with keeping focussed and concentrated when under pressure, “The Inner Game of Tennis” by Timothy Galway. Strangely enough it’s all about playing Tennis, but ideas in it are totally relevant to our work as musicians.
7. Che Sera, Sera!
Remember that in the end we do not know our own destiny. When you look at your life through the other end of the telescope you may be surprised at what your most important achievements were …. probably nothing like what you set out to do.