Mar 8, 2004

Auditions, Schmauditions

Auditions, like democracy, are a very poor system. And, like democracy, other options are much worse. This discussion is aimed at not only those who audition, but those who listen to auditions.

Think of yourself as a door to door salesman. Most of the time you are going to get the door slammed in your face. Do you go home and cry? No, you go to the next door and try again. You have to become immune to rejection. Unfortunately, auditions aren't that frequent so each one takes on an importance that is deceiving. But, auditions still are still a door to door selling business just spread out over a large time frame. Take solace in the fact that usually the best player for that position didn't get the job because it wasn't their day, it was someone else's. Auditions don't show very much how someone is going to function in an ensemble. Those are two different animals. An audition is a solo performance and playing in an orchestra is an ensemble performance. Someone can be very nervous in an audition and have no nerve problems in an ensemble and vice-versa. To illustrate how inaccurate auditions are in judging talent and ability, let's take two auditionees for example. One is a great player who would fill the position admirably and the other is someone who is not good enough to even be auditioning. Chances are both will end up with the same results. That is why we should not take the results of auditions so seriously.

That said, let's examine some rules to live by to be more successful in auditions. First of all, don't go to an audition with any preconceptions. The chances are, what ever you imagined will be wrong. Most audition committees don't know exactly what they are looking for collectively, because they want someone to come in and convince them that you are the "ONE". Be yourself and don't listen to rumors about what they are looking for. Also, don't change your game plan at the last minute because of what you perceive. It is probably a false apparition. My first rule of thumb would be to "Make a Great sound!" My dynamic range would be governed by my ability to make a great sound. I wouldn't play louder than I could make a great sound and I wouldn't play softer that I could make a great sound. In other words, don't volunteer grossness in your loud playing or thinness in your soft playing. If they want it louder or softer let them ask, and make them take responsibility for any excesses, loud or soft. Also, if you can't play William Tell at 108, take it at a tempo that makes you sound more comfortable. In addition, people have a tendency to take Hungarian March too fast. I like a tempo that allows for maximum sound production, and that would mean a slower tempo than is usually taken.

Another mistake people make is practicing in a small room, (after all, who has a conert hall to practice in?) and playing to the acoustics in that room instead of the room they are going to audition in. I often tell my students preparing for auditions to "fill the hall with sound" This is not a volume thing it is a resonance consideration.

Nerves are a major problem in audtions. The secret to liviing with nerves, as I see it , is concentration. Realize that you are going to be nervous, but that you are going to play anyway. If I get nervous in a performance I just put more expression into my playing, which makes me concentrate more on the music and less on the people who are listening. Tune everything out except what you are trying to do with the music. Worrying about things you can not control, like what they think of you is a big mistake. This detracts from the thing that you can control; your performance. Please yourself first, present your wares by making sure your sample case has a quality product, and is nicely presented. If the answer is "No", get ready and go to the next door. Just because one potential customer said no doesn't mean the next one will . Remember you only need one Yes.

I now want to direct my comments to those of you who will some time serve as a judge on an audition committee. Note - perfect auditions don't impress me very much. In fact, a friend of mine in the Vienna Philharmonic said that when someone plays a note-perfect audition for that orchestra it is considered a negative thing because it is felt that the auditionee didn't try hard enough to take musical chances which would have increased the odds of missing a few notes. This is a very enlightened view and I wish more organizations would follow suit. I like to hear a great sound with a definite musical personality that takes what is written on the paper and actually makes more out of it than just the notes. This means style, expression (a singing sound), and capturing the character of each musical moment.


This article has been translated into Polish by Lukasz Michalski.

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