Mar 9, 2006

Audition first aid

This month's column will be short, concise and one of the most valuable essays in this series, and will focus on a most important and frequently overlooked topic: preparing excerpts for auditions. If someone has an audition to prepare for, they usually start several months ahead practicing those excerpts many times each day until they can play them without mistakes. This will continue right up until the audition. The audition may or may not go well. The problem with auditions and any public performance is, the player only gets one chance to play their best on each excerpt and/or solo, and that is a separate skill that is not honed in the practice room unless a specific program to develop that skill is undertaken. Every brass instrument has certain excerpts that are standard and likely to appear on most auditions. Part of a brass players education is to study and be able to competently perform those excerpts in an audition situation. The most difficult aspect of auditions/ performance is being able to play close to one's best the first and only time you pick up the horn, because there are very few second chances in auditions and none in performances. Yet that is a skill that is very seldom developed because when we are in our practice room we have as many chances as necessary to play our best, which masks the lack of skill required to nail that excerpt the first time.

Here's a program that will develop that skill and give someone a reasonable chance of playing their best, whatever that is.

Of course you would start preparing repertoire long before an audition, playing it as many times as necessary each day to master it both technically and musically. As the audition got closer you would gradually cut down the number of chances needed in each session to play your best on each excerpt, until finally you would only have one chance every practice session to play each excerpt. If you messed up an excerpt you would have to wait till your next practice session to get the chance to play it again, thereby forcing you to develop the skill of focus and concentration and whatever else (there may be different skills needed for different people, depending on your personality,) is necessary to play your best THE FIRST TIME, which is the secret to doing well in auditions. Just using this concept will reveal by trial and error, the skills you need to develop to achieve the results you want in auditions. Those skills could be radically different from what you are depending on now, so this should be something that is worth spending a good deal of time and energy perfecting, instead of a crash course just before an audition. My friend and colleague Ed Kleinhammer used to say "make your practice room an audition, and the audition your practice room."

And now for the stupidest comment I ever heard at an audition. A student of mine (a very fine player) auditioned for the Grant Park Symphony in Chicago several years ago. One of the excerpts he was asked to play was the solo from the Russian Easter Overture. After the audition when he asked someone on the audition committee (a string player) what was wrong with that particular excerpt, the reply was; "the other player was able to do it without vibrato."

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