Student auditions

I hear auditions on a pretty frequent basis: my college students audition for placement in university ensembles, prospective students audition for admissions and scholarships, high school musicians audition for the honor band the university hosts. It is pretty routine for me, but clearly sometimes extremely stressful for them.

I thought it might be helpful to some auditioning students to have some idea what is going on in my mind while I am listening to auditions. I expect my thoughts are reasonably typical of someone who hears these kinds of auditions regularly. Bear in mind of course that I’m not talking about extreme high-pressure situations like auditions for full-time positions in major orchestras, or even for admissions to a big brand-name university/conservatory; I’m generally hearing students within a range of ability and preparation levels.

Photo, VermontJm
Photo, VermontJm

Firstly, I am more or less a regular guy and not looking for nit-picky reasons to deny you your goal. Some students seem to be overly stressed about tiny matters of protocol: will he be mad if I knock on the door? Will he be mad if I DON’T knock on the door? Just be your best, most professional self, and exercise a little common sense.

Dress in a way that makes you feel put-together and confident, and play it at least a little safe in terms of social acceptability. Don’t give me reason to be distracted from your playing.

I am sympathetic to circumstances. If you are auditioning in my office and my phone rings, I probably won’t fault you if you get momentarily startled or distracted. It isn’t meant as a test of your focus; it’s just a phone call. Shrug it off and jump back in. If your reed is causing you problems and you want to switch, just explain in a few words that that is what you are doing, and do it quickly.

I am probably hearing lots of auditions, or otherwise in the middle of a busy day. Even though this audition may feel like a major life event to you, I need to keep the process moving. Please don’t slow things down unnecessarily. Come in ready to play, do your thing, and make a polite but prompt exit.

I am more concerned about the kind of musician you are than I am about the precise events of the audition. If your playing is generally accurate, poised, and expressive, then you don’t need to fret about a missed note or two. I’m not really counting. I’m absorbing the larger picture and evaluating your potential. The flip side of this is that I’m unimpressed if you are putting all your eggs in one basket: I played a lot of wrong notes and my tone was airy and my dynamics were flatlined but BOY DID I PLAY FAST.

Please don’t invest too much of your self-worth in the outcome. The final results involve a lot of things outside your control, like how well other people played. In some cases, The List doesn’t really reflect a straight-up ranking anyway: for a saxophone section, baritone isn’t necessarily last chair—it might just be a case of me trying to build the best possible section using the various strengths of those auditioning.

If you didn’t get the chair placement or scholarship level that you wanted, take it as a challenge to improve your playing. If you get verbal or written comments, take them seriously and use them as a basis for some new practicing goals.

Good luck!

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