Think for a moment from the perspective of the audience…the people listening to your audition. They will have heard many musicians play the same music, over and over again. How can you distinguish yourself from a crowd of players that have practiced this music for weeks? Of course you want to play all the right notes, rhythms, articulations, dynamics, etc., but let’s assume everyone doing the audition can do that. How do you sound special?
In spite of all of the details of “correctness,” what trumps everything is your ability to make music…to move someone…to engage them…to tell a story. An actor has to invest something of himself into the role…to do much more than just read the part. Don’t just play the notes like a machine. Think of the emotions and the messages that should be conveyed…they could change in a heartbeat. If you were playing the soundtrack for a movie, what would the accompanying images be? Hold those images in mind and support them with your music.
Exaggerate the musical contrasts, like changes in dynamics. You can feel the differences because you are the player, but the listener needs a little more help to notice what you may think is obvious. Be careful with vibrato. Many players use it to cover up a fundamentally weak sound, which only makes things things worse. Also, the tendency with less experienced players is to let the airstream sag even more as their attention is turned to producing a vibrato. Make the quality of your sound (which is based on great fundamentals) a priority.
It is better to be able to play some of the piece very well, than to hack through the entire selection poorly…and if you are having trouble playing the music at the correct tempo it is better to play the music slightly slower in the audition than to play at the correct tempo, but with several mistakes. I would rather be counted out for the lack of quantity in the audition than the lack of quality. If people can hear you shine it is much easier for them to imagine your potential…and how you would sound at the correct tempo or through the remainder of the piece. Chances are though, if you can play part of the audition music at a very high level of quality you will be able to play the entire piece that way.
Finally, once you feel you are ready, practice the actual performance…playing straight through the piece as though it were the audition. Do this as many times as you can each day, but not ever more than once at a time. Wait a minimum of 15 minutes before playing the audition again, but intervals of an hour or more are even better. Come at it relatively “cold,” that is, only with the minimal warmup you will most likely have right before your audition. Play standing or seated, and in different rooms with your horn pointed in various directions. The idea is to create as many unfamiliar acoustic and lighting environments as possible so you are not distracted by a different one on audition day. Perform for as many people as you can…especially in front of people you may be uncomfortable playing in front of, like parents (?), non musician friends, etc. Record yourself, either audio alone or video with audio (this would be best). Hear and see what what others will. When you are not preoccupied with performing you can listen and observe even better, so critique yourself and make the needed adjustments. Visualize yourself (as vividly as possible) having a great audition. Hear yourself in your mind playing the music perfectly, with a beautiful sound. It has been proven that visualization works, so conceive, believe and achieve! By the time you get to your audition you will be ready for just about anything!
Sightreading is also a requirement for the All State Audition. Use a book like Getchell and Hovey’s First Book of Practical Studies (there is also a Second Book as well), which is a series of short pieces that gradually increase in complexity. Start at the level you can easily play correctly and play a new piece each day, following these two approaches: 1) Play the music at the tempo you can play everything correctly, which includes dynamics, and articulation. This will mean a much slower tempo, but going slow is your secret weapon. Your vision will be come expanded and more acute, and your ability to process and execute more musical direction will also increase. 2) Play the music at the correct tempo, keeping your place no matter how many notes you miss. This means you may not even play all of the notes, but you are prioritizing the beat. Music exists in the context of time, and this approach will help you to become more aware of this most important truth. Practice your sightreading every day.
Get a good night’s sleep the night before the audition, and don’t overeat (especially heavy foods) or starve yourself that day. Also, take your time and get a good warmup. It’s natural to be nervous before you play…even the best players get butterflies. Research has discovered that the best performances occur when that energy is converted to musical energy, so be encouraged if you feel your stomach doing flip flops! At the audition, don’t rush into playing the pieces without being mentally and physically ready. Take a couple of slow, deep breaths to relax and center yourself first, and imagine yourself playing the first few measures to get your mind up to speed before you play.
Remember that audiences (including those who will be auditioning you) want to see you succeed. We all love music and want to hear musicians play their best. Even if you don’t sound like the great Hardenberger or Nakariakov but have prepared well and given it your best effort, then relax and enjoy the music making when you perform. Greatness comes over time, and if you are practicing and preparing correctly you are on the road to greatness. Be proud of that! Every audition you play gives you more experience and confidence, so audition as often as you can.
As I mentioned earlier, these are just a few ideas on the subjects of auditions and sightreading (be sure to check out the earlier post- Audition Strategies: Part One). I would be interested in hearing your ideas as well.