Guide to the Intricacies of a Music Audition, by Jessica Chen
Music majors are infamous for the “starving musician” stereotype. The competition for any kind of flute audition is extremely fierce, with hundreds or even thousands of candidates trying for one spot. Even worse, many orchestras and other classical ensembles are downsizing due to lack of funding. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, job growth for musicians is expected to grow only ten percent for the next few years. Thousands of musicians graduate from music schools each year, flooding the market. The judging committee faces the challenge of listening to many qualified performers.
The New York Philharmonic has a grueling audition for both the player and the judging panel. “The whole process consisted of three rounds over 10 days: a preliminary, semi-final, and final round,” says Yoobin Son, 2nd flute of the New York Philharmonic. Keeping nerves at bay and perfecting every detail is essential for winning the audition. Many nonmusical factors play into this, including logistics, attire and diet. These seemingly trivial matters can make or break a crucial audition.
Before the day of the audition, there are important logistics to be considered. Many professional flutists create an audition routine that consists of different warm-up exercises. Each musician’s routine is different and should include slow and fast warm-ups. Experiment and choose the combination of exercises that allows for the best possible tone and technique in the shortest time frame (most practice rooms are only guaranteed for about 15 minutes). Having a routine (instead of playing a random assortment of pieces) is more relaxing and will lessen anxiety.
If an accompanist is necessary, ask fellow musicians or teachers in the area about the best accompanists. A competent accompanist can improve the quality of the performance, while a subpar one can wreck carefully prepared pieces. According to Oberlin Conservatory: “A professional [accompanist] will never make mistakes (well, at least very rarely), and will in fact work around your tempo and will minimize performance errors.” A rehearsal should definitely be arranged before the performance to work out any kinks in the music. You can aid the accompanist by giving them a clean copy of the music with measure numbers and pages in an easy-to-turn format.
Another aspect of before-audition logistics is to know where the audition building is and the exact room if possible. It may seem obvious, but it will prevent the terrifying situation of being lost in an unfamiliar place (especially if the audition is held at night). If you are traveling, be sure to book transportation and hotels ahead of time. Nothing is worse than arriving late to an audition and giving your judges a bad impression from the very start.
Wearing the appropriate clothes for an audition is a gesture of respect for the judges. Jeans and t-shirts are generally unacceptable. However, an audition does not have to be extremely formal – opulent ball gowns and tuxedos are not required. For men, it is best to wear slacks and a collared shirt with a tie (suit jacket may or may not be necessary, depending on formality of the audition). For women, a blouse and a pair of slacks or a long skirt are fine. A simple dress is also appropriate. Oberlin advises: “A word of caution – if you get nervous easily when you perform, wear nice pants: even the longest skirt will show your shaking legs!” Shoes should be formal (no sneakers or sandals) but comfortable. Too-tight shoes or wobbly heels can be very distracting and take away from the performance. Jewelry, make-up, and other accessories should be low key; it is best to wear little or none. The proper attire gives the judging panel a pleasant first impression.
Immediately before the performance, a couple of aspects of the audition should be considered. Hopefully there will be a practice room, but there are often limited practice rooms and too many candidates. In that case, the next best choice is the bathroom. Yes, the bathroom. This is a little-known tip from many musicians. The bathroom has excellent acoustics, even if it may seem awkward with people walking in and out. It even has a mirror to check posture, instrument alignment, and embouchure – a feature that a normal practice room does not have. As an added bonus, if you need to go to the bathroom before the performance, you will not have to run around in a panic trying to locate one.
An audition day may have several performances, so be prepared with something to eat. Son continues: “If I had not had two granola bars with me that day, I might not now be the second flutist in the New York Phil.” Milk or anything containing lactose is not recommended for wind players because it causes excessive saliva. In general, musicians should stay hydrated and refrain from caffeine on the audition day.
An audition can be an exhilarating experience, whether or not it was successful. Keeping these tips in mind can help you perform at an even higher level. Mark Sparks, principal flute of the St. Louis Symphony, says: “Preparing for performance…is a personal art form.” Being prepared for the audition doesn’t just mean the preparation of the repertoire; it also means sitting down and researching the audition location and ways to get there.
It means creating an audition routine and marking their accompanist’s music with measure numbers.
It means picking the perfect outfit, finding a practice room, and eating the right foods. All these elements and more contribute to the golden performance
__ Create an audition routine (experiment with different warm-ups).
__ Try to duplicate audition conditions (if you get sweaty palms, practice after washing your
hands; if your heartbeat gets much faster, run before practicing; etc.).
__ Contact an accompanist if necessary, preferably at least a week in advance.
__ Mark the music with any cuts or changes.
__ Research the audition building (is it on a campus? Is it in a residential area or a business
__ Find out where the audition room is (get a map of the building or ask some locals).
__ Book transportation and lodging (a few weeks to a month earlier is ideal).
__ Choose your audition outfit (you may want to borrow or buy clothes/accessories).
__ Pack food into your music bag or bring money if there are stores nearby.
Jessica Chen is the co-1st principal of California Youth Symphony’s Associate Orchestra. She has received numerous awards for her flute performances and was in the 2013 Honor Orchestra of America. She has participated in masterclasses with flutists such as Mimi Stillman and Ginny Broffitt. Jessica currently studies with Jill Heinke. See: http://www.cys.org/media/soloist_profiles/jessicachen_flute.html
You can hear Jessica playing Poem by Griffes at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nMEgPJdkR0
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