It's been a year. There's a reason for that, and I don't feel like getting into it.
I’ve been taking auditions since I was 21 (read: since I was nowhere near ready to be taking an orchestral audition to begin with). My first audition was for the Des Moines Symphony in 2012. My round was filled with women who were at least 10 years my senior. I remember the personnel manager descending the staircase and telling us that the committee wanted to hear everyone from that preliminary round again...except me.
It didn’t sting me at all. I remember saying, “alright, I’m hungry!” and leaving with my boyfriend (now husband) to go get pasta from an all-you-can-eat pasta place downtown. Perhaps it should have stung me, though.
It took me three auditions, three years after that audition to begin to advance to semi finals and final rounds. I remember being ecstatic the first time it happened. It was a small audition, and I was in a room amongst friends (war buddies) from graduate school. I celebrated perhaps a little too much and annoyed my competition. But I was happy! I finally did something right!
It’s taken me until now, almost 2018, to figure out that I have a method to my madness. We all talk about how to win the job, but we never talk about what usually comes before winning the job: great preparation, doing everything “right”, coming close, and leaving empty-handed. This is my current process.
1. Check your ego at the door, but don’t use that as an excuse to do poorly.
I’ve discovered that in my efforts to keep my ego at bay, I was subconsciously sabotaging myself. I never wanted to be too big for my britches, always wanted to stay humble so no one could have a bad thing to say about me.
Well, someone is always going to say something. C’est la vie. (Bite me.)
I never really understood that it was affecting my playing until I began studying with my current teacher in 2015, and it was an incredibly hard habit to break. He’s a very detail-oriented flutist; thinking about every aspect of the music. It was exhausting to step inside his line of thinking even for 30 seconds, let alone for the long term. Playing music was hard again!
To clarify, I’ve always had an element of natural talent. Admittedly, I rely on that more than I should, even now.
As I got used to this new way of thinking, I realized that I was capable of so much more than I thought. I could deliver a good performance and own the stage without making myself out to be an ass. An ego and good musicianship are not mutually exclusive.
Sounds obvious, but this was a revelation for me.
I began to realize my own worth, and that, my friends, is different from being full of yourself. In fact, I was able to connect my worth as a musician to my worth as a daughter of the Most High, but that’s a different discussion for a different time.
Once that happened, I began to see a mental shift in breaking the preliminary round barrier.
2. Find the preparation method that best works for you.
Many professionals will tell you to spend a certain amount of time on single elements of the excerpts in order to perfect them. Work on rhythm, THEN intonation, THEN sound, THEN whatever whatever.
It's a good, relatively fail-safe method if you do it right.
I, however, have no patience, energy, or time for it. I'm not in school anymore; I have adulting to worry about. (sigh)
My method is to practice in short, incredibly focused bursts with my recording device. I will play through an excerpt and play back the recording a few times, making note of every inaccuracy that I heard. I then see which things I can fix simultaneously, so I don't have to break it down into single elements.
Articulation and musical style often go hand in hand. Same with intonation and tone quality. Rhythm and evenness of technique.
If you have the time to dedicate to every aspect of an excerpt, great! But if you don't, you aren't necessarily set up for failure; you just need to improve your time management skills. This isn't to say I don't isolate certain things from time to time; I just do it when I need to. I like to work hard but I don't like to make the work hard on me.
I work slowly; I plan it out so I don't peak right before the audition and fall flat on my face. I want to be at my peak during all of my rounds. Because of this, I like to do my mock auditions only a week before the audition; that's usually when I feel most ready. My husband will put each of my rounds together, picking the most absurd set of excerpts that he can so I'm prepared for any possible scenario.
You laugh now at the thought, but one of my last auditions asked for Firebird as the first preliminary round excerpt and MAN I wasn't ready. That audition was arguably my best one, but I'm not going to be caught off guard again.
3. This is a competition between you and you, and you cannot control the outcome.
I’ve turned audition preparation into a game rather than focusing on how everyone else who's showing up is going to sound. How much better can I play this excerpt? How much sweeter can I make my sound? How much crisper can the articulation get? It’s not about what everyone else is doing, but about what I can do. This way, I can limit my frustration with myself and keep a positive attitude.
But how do you keep that positive attitude on audition day? It’s not always that simple. In the beginning, I would get wrapped up in how my competition played in the group warm-up; this affected my mental focus and most of the time, I’d go into my preliminary round and make some catastrophic mistake.
Earplugs are my best friend at auditions now. They don’t necessarily block out all of the noise, but they block out a great deal of it and allow me to focus on my own playing without my ears getting blown out by someone else. 20 flutes in a room (especially if that’s a church sanctuary) playing Midsummer Night’s Dream or Firebird over and over is probably the most obnoxious thing I have ever experienced.
Be focused on you, and what you can accomplish. On the other side of that curtain, you cannot control someone’s opinion of your playing. You could do everything right and still get cut, because your sound may not have been what that committee is looking for. Auditions are incredibly subjective; if you let every rejection get to you, you will not survive long enough to win a job.
That’s not to say that you can’t be upset, or angry if something doesn’t go your way. I’ve had phone calls to my husband in tears. I’ve been irrationally angry at results. But it’s all been directed at the situation that I was in, and there’s no one to blame. Seriously, there’s no one to blame. So let it out, and go get some sushi (my post-audition meal of choice).
4. Audition Day is a Normal Day!
Everyone talks about what you should eat on audition day to what food/drink you should be cutting from your diet so that you’re at your physical best. I take everything they say with a grain of salt because I tend to not deviate from my normal routine. I didn’t back then, when I wasn’t advancing at auditions, and I don’t deviate now, when I am.
Your success is determined by your preparation and your focus. Everyone has an opinion about what you should do on audition day, but do what works for you. If you need to cut out caffeine and alcohol three weeks before the audition, do it! If you don’t, don’t! Who cares? It’s about how you operate the best, not about how everyone else operates.
I drink my decaf coffee, like I do every morning, unless I’m already bouncing off the walls with excitement. I eat a healthy breakfast. I eat a decent lunch. I drink/eat whatever I feel I need to to maintain what is “normal” for me. I warm up with an abridged version of what I do daily, so I can maintain my optimum sound without blowing out my chops. I still maintain my habit of focusing in short bursts, as I do when I practice. “On audition day, you only have to get it right once,” I tell myself. When I’m in the group warmup, I’ll be checking Facebook, Instagram, and texting my husband; no different from any other day. When I’m in my private warm up room, I’ll pray; no different from any other day. When I’m in the audition, I perform; I’m used to it now.
You do get used to it once you’ve done it enough. That I can promise you.
Yes, auditions are hard. They’re exhausting. You’re often left with a headache at the end of the day and you just want to sleep for 15 hours while stuffing your face at the same time.
(no? Just me?)
If what you’re doing isn’t working, you can change it. I’ve found that these methods have greatly reduced my anxiety over audition days in general and put me in a much happier mental place.