Auditioning is part and parcel of every flutist's life. Many flutists dread it, but despite all evidence to the contrary, auditions aren't terrible ordeals with ogres for judges who take delight in crushing the lives and hopes of those unfortunate enough to fall into their clutches. Here are some tips for understanding what happens in auditions and getting the most out of each opportunity.
What to play
The best audition pieces have an all-in-one deal. They have lyrical sections, fast technical passages, slow parts, fast parts, etc... The more contrast your piece has, the better. Auditions are generally short, 10 minutes if you're lucky, so you want a great piece that shows every facet of you as a musician in a short amount of time.
Unless it's a required piece for the audition, try not to pick a new, terrifically difficult piece and learn it in time for the audition. The best audition pieces are ones you're completely familiar and comfortable with. This is an added incentive to start working on great, showy flute pieces even if there isn't an audition in sight... that way, you've got them learned and can whip one out in no time when you need to. If you must learn a new, terrifically difficult piece, learn it as early as possible and put the piece aside if there's time. When you come back to it the second time, it'll be much better. If there isn't time to put it aside, well, then may the Force be with you. :) (Nah, I'm kidding - read my editorial for learning technical pieces here.)
Make it about the music
I am often asked what judges are listening for in auditions. The most important thing when auditioning is not playing all the right notes or rhythms, but what you're conveying across through your music. What are you saying with the flute? Why did the composer write this music, and what did he or she want you to show with it?
A lot of students get caught up in getting all the notes... natural, when one is learning the instrument and the technique is challenging, and good... notes *are* important. However, don't lose sight of just why you're auditioning, and that's not to play all the notes correctly. We're musicians, not technicians - when you're auditioning, it's to present your interpretation of a composer's musical ideas, which in turn showcases you a a musician.
This can often help take nerves away, if you get nervous while auditioning. If you make it all about the music, and what you want the judges to hear when you play, then it's not, "I'm so nervous because these people are listening to me... what if I mess up?" You're the bridge between the composer and the listener, so it takes the pressure off if you think about it this way. (I find this far more effective and far less scary than imagining the judges or audience naked or in their underwear.)
Things judges listen for
Other things to think about when you have auditions... Judges are listening for:
- Musicality: what you're saying with the music.
- Rhythms: Good rhythm is essential. Be sure you've played your piece with a metronome, but since that can easily become a crutch, also record yourself so you can listen to hear how well you play in rhythm without any rhythmic support. Count the rests as well, unless they're monstrously long. Those of only a few bars should definitely be counted. If the judges have a score, then they know what's happening in those rests, and if you count them, then they know that you know what's happening, too.
- Intonation: Do you use a tuner regularly? Know your intonation tendencies... flutes tend to go flat when we play low and sharp when we play high, and our Cs and C#s tend to be very sharp. Especially if your judges are non-flutists, anything that is out of tune will be extremely noticeable to them, because as flutists, we can get used to the fact that our high Cs can be skyscraper high, or the low notes really flat. But to a judge who's a clarinetist and not aware of flute acoustics, all he or she will think is, "Ouch, this person's out of tune." I do long tones every time I practice and use a tuner to make sure that not only do I play the notes in tune, but I get so used to playing them that way that I don't have to think about intonation as much when I'm playing... they're in tune automatically.
- Stylistic awareness: If you have to play a few pieces or excerpts of pieces for an audition, are you bringing out the proper style for each piece? Musical style varies from time period (e.g. Baroque vs Romantic) to country (French vs German), so it will be very impressive if you are musically informed about the musical traditions for each piece you play. Your best guide here besides your teacher is listening to recordings of good artists, which will help you learn how to play in a stylistically accurate way.
- Tone: Make sure you develop a variety of sounds and vibrato styles that are are musically appropriate for each piece. For instance, your tone and vibrato on a Sousa march should not sound identical to the type of tone and vibrato you'll have for the Faure Fantasy. Practice your tones and vibrato so you can make heavy, rich, dark, hollow, light, etc. sounds, and can vary the speed and depth of your vibrato to suit the style of what you're playing.
- Excerpts: If you have to play excerpts, absolutely know what the rest of the orchestra is doing during the flute solo. It's very evident when someone plays an excerpt without knowing what the piece sounds like with orchestra. Knowing the entire orchestral part, not just the excerpt, is also highly recommended.
Preparing for the audition
I recommend doing a mock audition for family and/or friends - recreate your audition as much as possible - walk into the room, be dressed as you will at the audition, etc.
Along with mock auditions, if you have any opportunities to perform your pieces before the audition, take advantage of that. The more familiar you are with how your piece tends to behave under pressure, the better your audition will go. :)
Learn your audition music as early as you can, and, if there's time, take a break from it once you've learned it well. When you come back to it, you'll be refreshed and it'll go even better the second time around. Keep yourself challenged with other repertoire, too, so you're not just doing the audition music only, but have other things to play as well.
At the audition
Dress appropriately at the audition. If you're not sure what to wear, it's better to overdress rather than underdress. Dressing well shows respect for the audition and to your audition panel. Plus, one can usually do something to look a little more casual if one feels too overdressed, but there's nothing one can do about being underdressed for the occasion except feel uncomfortable. :) I'm not going to give fashion advice as to what to wear, but there are some general guidelines of things to avoid:
- skirts that are too short
- clothes that are too tight or bare too much skin
- shoes that, while extremely cool with those 8 inch heels, might also send you catapulting across the stage... wear shoes you can walk comfortably in and can stand in for an extended length of time
- any really glittery, sparkly clothing that might be distracting to watch
- If you just polished your flute, or if you're wearing any foundation or concealer on your chin, check for an appearance of "the flutist's beard" before you go into the room. This, if you haven't gotten one before, is a black smudge that appears on your chin, either from certain chemicals in the makeup or from having polished the flute recently. (If you get one, don't panic... they rub or wash off easily.)
While we're on the subject of clothes, it's wise to dress in layers and bring a jacket or sweater. That way, whether it's hot or cold, you won't be uncomfortable but can adjust to the temperature.
Bring bottled water and some snacks if you want to when you go to audition. Depending on how they run the auditions, they may get behind (auditions can get even hours behind schedule). This way, if food isn't readily available, you won't be starving when you finally get to play, nor do you have to worry about going out to get food and being back in time for the audition. But do watch out for foods like candy, which gives you a sugar rush that abruptly plunges and could leave you lethargic at the wrong time, or foods like salty pretzels that could make you thirsty or drymouthed in the audition room.
If you think that hearing the other flutists or instrumentalists warming up is going to distract you, bring earplugs. (But skip them if you need to be able to hear your name called when it's your turn, of course.) Also bring a book, iPod, iPad, etc. to help the minutes (or hours) go by. Warmup rooms are usually scarce until 20 minutes to an hour before your audition timeslot, so you may find yourself waiting a long time, and it helps to have something to do.
Be aware of how you enter the room. Your body language will tell a lot to the judges about how you present yourself in performance, even before you play a note on the flute. Also, they could get the wrong signals from your posture or how you act. If you're nervous or shy and kind of slouch into the room, the judges could read that as "I don't want to be here." That's one thing in high school, but not in an audition room.
Be prepared to talk in your audition. If this is for a college, the audition panel doesn't want only to hear you play, they want to know who you are as a person, to see how well you would fit with the school. Be ready to answer questions about what you like to do in your free time (and girls, please don't answer "shopping"...I've heard that done and it ain't pretty), what school subjects you like, what attracts you to this particular school, etc. It's not going to be as chatty as an actual interview would be, but unless it's a blind audition, judges will generally always ask some questions of some kind. Also watch your speech when you talk. Let your "yeah" be "yes", and go light on fillers such as "um" and "like." For extra class, dust off your "sir" and "ma'am". And definitely say thank you to them before you go.
Know what you want to play first. Most often, the auditioner will say, "What would you like to start with?" So, be ready with a piece that you feel the most comfortable with, so you don't go, "Uh....well, what would you like to hear?" as I've heard many auditioners say. :)
Don't think you did something wrong if they ask you to stop playing or skip ahead sooner than you expected. You know they're on a tight schedule, so they may want to skip around and hear various things. Being asked to stop is not a negative reflection of your abilities.
Also, you can always tell the judges to feel free to tell you to skip ahead to a more technical section. They want to hear as many aspects of your playing as you want to show them, so they may tell you to skip ahead anyway.
For sightreading, there's three key elements for doing well in this.
One, you need to practice sightreading like you practice your audition material. Every day, sightread something, whether it's new flute music you haven't learned yet, clarinet etudes, violin sonatas, etc. Anything you can get your hands on that you haven't played before, play. It's easy to become discouraged about sightreading because it's often difficult for people, but the more you sightread, the better you'll become.
The second element to sightreading is simply this: look ahead while you play. When you sightread, you should not be looking at the notes you're currently playing, but looking ahead to see what comes next. Practice getting used to reading ahead as you play. It may seem hard to look ahead when you're reading music you've never seen before, but the further you can get your eyes off the notes you're currently on and scan over the ones that are coming next, the more prepared you'll be.
The third element of sightreading is rhythm. You're going to get notes wrong, which is fine. The judges will expect to hear wrong notes. But show them your grasp of the music by getting the rhythms solidly even if the notes are fumbled. If you lose the beat, double the time, change tempos, treat eighths and sixteenths the same, etc., they're going to mind that more than missing a few notes. So, whatever happens when you sightread, keep that beat steady.
It can be tricky to know what tempo to take when staring at sightread material, so quickly scan for the most black on the page. If you set your tempo around the fastest notes, then you won't have to adjust once you hit a hard spot. I guarantee you a lot of other flutists will plow into a sightreading excerpt only to trainwreck once they reach the hard stuff and realize that they set too fast a tempo. Don't be one of them. :)
Auditions are a fact of musical life. Each person finds their own best method for having good auditions, and, like everything else, the more opportunities you get to audition, the easier they are to go through. Myself, I like auditioning. It's a fun challenge to measure where I am on a given day and see how well I can play no matter what the circumstances (audition hall like an icebox, noisy construction nearby, auditions running late, no warmup rooms, etc.). The key is to not let one audition define your life. Our auditions aren't the Olympics. One bad audition (or one good audition) does not indicate your entire life's worth as a musician. It's just how you played on that particular day.
Your first few auditions may be scary simply because it's a new process, but as you get used to them, you'll find out your own methods and preferences for making the situation as comfortable as you can. I've learned the above information from my teachers and my own observations and experiences. I also recommend reading this article by Jeanne Baxtresser, my former teacher and the ultimate authority on how to audition well.