The Fearless Flutist:
musings on confidence, the music world, and everything flute.
There is nothing that frustrates me more than when colleagues express their sympathy over a lost audition or competition. This isn’t to say I’m ungrateful for how much they care (really, I love you guys, and you’re all wonderful), but it adds to the stigma that losing is bad and you should feel bad.
In times of loss, we really learn the most about ourselves. Loss of a loved one, a job, a competition…it doesn’t matter. It’s at these times that we are tested the most. We are sad, sometimes miserable, and we cannot understand why something like this would happen.
The fact of the matter is: it’s part of life, no matter what.
So, I was cut from the preliminary round at my most recent audition, which happened to be my first piccolo audition. Frustrating, yes, but fine. I treated myself to greasy fast food afterwards, and the next day I set out to make a list of what I could do better.
Hint: This is something EVERYONE should be doing. EVERYONE. No exceptions. It’ll bruise your ego, but it’s good for you, I promise.
Here’s what my list looked like:
After you make a list, you need a strategy moving forward. Crafting this strategy sometimes requires trial and error, even if you’re at an advanced stage. That’s okay! As we grow older, our brains change and sometimes the best way we learn changes, too. There is no shame in changing your method if it no longer works for you. From here, I’ll take the four points I’ve listed and I will briefly discuss my strategy (and other strategies you can try).
The tuner is my friend, the tuner is my friend…if I say it enough times, it’ll be true, right?
A tuner is a great tool, but we can often find ourselves so dependent upon it that we don’t use it correctly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen colleagues leave the tuner on their stand during a rehearsal, trying to keep themselves at A=440.
You can’t do that. WRONG!
Great intonation doesn’t start with relying on a tuner to stay in tune, but with listening and developing your ear. In a large ensemble rehearsal, you take your A from the oboe and off you go; from there, it is everyone’s responsibility to listen to each other to make sure everyone is in tune. Leaving a tuner on your stand won’t help you if you’re a lone flute battling the first violins. You’re going to lose that fight.
I’ve had a year off from school, and very limited ensemble experience within that year, so I know my ear has suffered. To mitigate the risk of sounding horrible, I have started to practice with a tuner in this way:
I play my long tone set (B natural to B flat) with the tuner, watching it and taking note of what my lips and airstream are doing to get the note in tune. I sometimes do this a couple of times, in case I’m feeling mentally slow that day. Then, I play the set again, but this time I try to recall how those notes sounded when they were in tune before I look at the tuner to correct myself. I feel this is the best way to train your ear.
Another method you can try, if you’re feeling brave, is to put your tuner on the music stand, turn it around to face a camera (your phone camera will work), and proceed to play your long tones. From there, you can listen back to the video recording and see what’s going on with the tuner, and take note of your pitch tendencies.
Finally, practicing with a drone is a fantastic way to keep your ear in check if you don’t currently have a group to play with. I’ve purchased the Tunable app on my iPad (It’s also in the Google Play App Store for $2.95) and you can set it up to play chords for you to tune with. If you have the time, check it out; I find it rather fun.
This is something that I don’t do enough of. I’m not ashamed to admit it because if I admit it enough, I know I’ll make it a habit.
A good microphone is a good investment. I’m currently using a Zoom H2N. It’s small, but it gets the job done to make a great audio recording. You can find it here (with the accessory pack, headphones, and card) on Amazon if you need an upgrade: https://www.amazon.com/Zoom-Portable-Recorder-Headphones-Accessory/dp/B01FKKK3QU/ref=pd_lpo_267_tr_t_2?ie=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=NY859Y015852XW0X8JDS
However, ask your friends what they use and see what they recommend if you’re budget-conscious.
When it comes to listening back to your recordings, also invest in a good pair of headphones. I love my husband’s noise-cancelling headphones, paired with his new laptop. Shop around and see what you can find!
These go hand-in-hand with recording yourself if you’re the nervous type. For me, when the red light turns on, I get quite nervous, and it helps to use recording as a mock audition when I don’t have anyone around who can listen to me.
For orchestral auditions: I recently purchased a copy of Sharon Sparrow’s 6 Weeks to Finals and I love her idea of using notecards in your practicing. She describes in the book that you write every excerpt on a separate notecard, and you pull a certain amount out of your stack to work on. I plan to implement this in a mock audition sort of way: shuffle the deck, and pull out 5 or 6 excerpts to use in each “round”. In my last audition, we didn’t start the preliminary round with the required concerto, which definitely threw me off. With this method, I imagine there will be no surprises in excerpt choice in the future. Here’s hoping!
For any other competition: We’re always told to perform as much as possible, but sometimes the opportunities are slim. This is where YouTube and SmartMusic come in. Both are great ways to play with your accompaniment if you cannot find an accompanist. I know for a fact that the piano accompaniment for the Mozart Concerto in G is on YouTube…now you have no excuse as to why you can’t make your Mozart sound great :)
Prepare the Whole Excerpt (Seriously)
When I saw that the audition required only the opening of Tchaikovsky 4, mvt. 3, I was ecstatic. Less work for me, right?
Well, I got to the audition, and I was told by the committee, “We didn’t ask you to prepare the fast part, but if you have, go ahead.”
Me, internally: “seriously?”
I’m sure there were more reasons for me to be cut from the audition early on, but it wouldn’t surprise me if my choice to prepare only what was asked was one of those reasons.
Make the time. If you see a list and think, “oh, that’s weird that they aren’t asking me to prepare this excerpt out of this piece,” just make the time to prepare it. You never know what might happen on stage.
This also goes for competitions, too. If you know you have to prepare so much repertoire and you only have so much time given to you to compete, don’t cut corners to save yourself some grief. I remember a competition in graduate school when I was supposed to prepare the entire Prokofiev Sonata, but I decided to give more attention to the first three movements instead of the last, because my accompanist and I were short on time.
Well, sure enough, the judge asked for the last movement.
We managed to play it pretty well (even though we only ran through it once) and I was awarded honorable mention that day, but lesson learned: make the time. Plan to prepare well.
If you lose, it’s not the end of the world. Do what you need to make yourself feel better while you’re down, but pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get back to work. Analyze what you could have done better and just move forward. When you think about it, it’s not that difficult.