by Brian Worsdale, TRYPO’s Music Director
Please note this is general audition advice, some of which may or may not apply to the upcoming TRYPO Auditions.
Brian’s article is followed by top tips from some of TRYPO’s artistic and administrative staff.
Step 1 – Choosing appropriate repertoire. (6 months or more prior to the audition)
Any audition can be a scary moment for even the most experienced player, but it doesn’t need to be. Auditions are a great way to build confidence in yourself and your music making. Just follow a few simple tips to have the best experience at your audition.
Your private teacher will, of course, be with you on this journey and will help you choose the right piece to present for an audition. Should you be without a private teacher, here are some helpful tips for selecting a work.
- Stay within your comfort zone. Choose a work that challenges but allows you to play with your highest confidence level. Don’t overreach to perform a work that you think will “WOW” the committee.
- Make sure the orchestra can play the work. It is very disheartening to audition on a work that you discover is too hard for the orchestra to prepare.
- Try to choose a work in the public domain. Rental materials are expensive and sometimes cost prohibitive for an orchestra. Be sure that your music is published and available. If you choose a work that is a “rental” the orchestra may ask you to help defray that cost.
Step 2 – Preparing for the audition.
Once you have been practicing the work and taking it to your teacher, there are some other things you can do to be “prepared” on audition day.
- Schedule time with an accompanist (as often as possible.) Having the chance to work with a live musician on your work helps to create a “relationship” that if chosen you will build with the conductor and in turn, the musicians.
- Using a pre-recorded track is good for the notion of keeping tempo etc. You can play with recordings on occasion but be careful to use them in conjunction with solo work to maintain flexibility.
- Be “Off the Page.” Many concerto competitions require memorization of the work for your audition (check the rules for the competition). Even if your audition does not require memorization, you really should be playing as though the music isn’t necessary. If you feel more comfortable with the music and it is permitted, just have it there as a reference point.
- Have the proper materials ready for your audition. If you know there is a three-judge panel, make sure that you have three sets of your solo work in addition to your own. Some state adjudication festivals (all-states etc.) require that you use originals. Please check to be sure.
- Play a mock audition. Schedule a time to hold a mock audition with friends and family and your teacher so that you can go through all the motions of audition day in advance. Be sure to follow the tips in Step 3.
- Be ready to play at any time of day. In some competition, you won’t know when you will play your audition until the day of, so be prepared to play early in the morning and late at night.
- Play your piece every day. This seems obvious, but making sure your preparation is regular builds muscle memory, which helps overcome nerves on the big day. Make sure to differentiate running through a piece or section from practicing. One is a performance, the other involves carefully breaking down issues from run-throughs into manageable chunks and problem solving individual spots so everything flows smoothly together.
Step 3 – Audition Time
- Schedule time with the audition accompanist. If you are not using your own accompanist, be sure you schedule time with the accompanist hired for the auditions. When doing so, remember that your time is limited so be sure to go over the more detailed sections of your work. Ask the accompanist to remove as many tutti’s as possible to maximize your audition time.
- Get plenty of rest. Many people will practice right up to the night before their audition. Wherever possible, I suggest you clear your mind. Have a good meal, watch a movie or enjoy quality time with loved ones and get a GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP.
- Dress for success. Judges may be just listening, but being well dressed shows that you are serious about your audition.
- Be hydrated! Make sure you drink plenty of water. Being dehydrated will cause you to be unfocused and uncentered.
- Arrive early. It is always better to be early than to be on time. Give yourself extra time to get to your audition so that you are focused for this special day.
- Show confidence. As you enter your audition, hold your head high, greet the adjudicators with a Good Morning, Afternoon or Evening.
- Thank you. Thank the adjudicators on your way out, and then take a deep breath. You did it!
All of these steps should help you do your best for a concerto competition audition. You will feel confident and continue to grow as an artist and a person.
Brian Worsdale is the music director and conductor of The Three Rivers Young Peoples Orchestras of Pittsburgh, PA and the artistic director and conductor of The French Woods Festival of The Performing Arts. He has served on the faculty of The Manhattan School of Music where he conducted the MSM Precollege Symphony. He also serves as the orchestra division head for Music For All.
1. Block out your practice time so that you make sure it’s your top priority short term until the audition. Use your best energy for practice time, instead of waiting until your homework is done.
2. Go through all your music and make a list of what needs the most work and what sounds okay. Practice the high priority places first instead of always just starting from the beginning.
3. Use the metronome for practice and then when turning it off, record yourself, and listen back to make sure your version without the metronome matches the one with the metronome.
4. Give mock auditions to anyone who will listen so you can practice getting nervous! Even a stuffed animal audience will be watching you!
5. Have confidence in your preparation!
6. At the actual audition remember that you love music and you are simply the translator of the black dots on the page. Channel Beethoven, Brahms! Relax and have fun! The committee is on your side!
Symphonette Violin Coach
I always suggest, each night for about a week before the event, while lying in bed…speed-read the music, then imagine your performance. Imagine what the room looks like, feeling totally calm and hearing yourself playing beautifully. (You do not have to hear the whole piece…the beginning and the end is enough.) Then go to sleep.
On the day of, eat a banana, play through some passages slowly, breathe. Then it’s all about the music…go and have fun!!!!
YC2 Coach & Pittsburgh Symphony Principal Piccolo
1. Focus on how you WANT the excerpts/solo to sound, NOT on avoiding mistakes. Think “I want this to sound like this!” NOT “I hope I don’t mess up this…”
2. Make sure you arrive at the audition knowing you’ve done everything you can to prepare. Then just “Hit it hard and wish it well!”
3. This isn’t for everyone, but for me, I don’t change anything dietary, etc. leading up to the audition. No weaning off caffeine, etc. I try to give the audition no more power over me than “Just another day of playing great music.”
4. Try to remember that the committee wants you to do well! No one wants you to fail.
5. Record yourself OFTEN! Then listen back and take notes!! You think you’ll remember without writing it down, but you won’t. Writing things down commits it to a different part of your brain. Then boil your notes down into action items when you practice. Much practice can happen without your instrument in your hands!
YPO Brass Coach & Pittsburgh Symphony Second/Utility Trombone
My best audition advice is to be confident! You know you’ve put in the hours, the time on your instrument, and the practice. On the day of the audition, you just need to believe in yourself and not worry about what you could have done, or about anyone else. You’re as prepared as you can be on that day, and you will go out there and play your best. Don’t think of it as an audition, but as a performance.
TRYPO Marketing & Community Engagement Coordinator & Freelance French Hornist
I had a teacher at Northwestern, Richard Oldberg, whose famous quote to me was: “DON’T PRACTICE!” And I took it to mean “perform in your practice sessions.” Try to visualize as much of the performance situation as possible (stage, people sitting out front, piano behind), and fill your mind with the thoughts of enjoying the experience “in the present” as you practice. For what it’s worth…Helped me get my head on straight for finals many times (in winning auditions).
YC2 Coach & Pittsburgh Symphony Second Horn
Slower is always better. I always tell students that I would prefer to hear correct notes and rhythms at a slightly slower tempo than something messy at full speed. As you are practicing, avoid playing through the piece from beginning to end. Focus on small sections at a time each day. Recording yourself and listening to the recording will help you to realize spots that need more work while also helping you to realize your progress.
Symphonette Viola Coach