Things get kind of crazy for anyone involved in the music education system around this time of year. That’s right, it’s audition season. And with audition comes anxiety, questions about your ability, and a hundred other things. Not to mention the fact that every audition has its own rule and regulations that you have to follow. Whether auditioning for a band or for college there is a lot that goes into it, but I have some tips, tricks, and thoughts regarding the audition process.
I believe that I present myself as a better musician when the audition is face to face (rather than a blind audition). I guess this stems from the fact that with a face-to-face audition there is a human connection. In other words, I can see the people who hold my fate in their hands. There is also this idea in the back of my mind that if the judge, or person I am auditioning for, will see that I look professional and will automatically think higher of me than if I came in in sweat pants and a tee. There’s also the fact that I was raised in a household where you dressed professionally for something important such as auditions. For most everyone else that I talk to blind auditions are easier. Some people say they are easier because you can’t see the judge and their involuntary reactions to what you are doing and the fact that you are “by yourself, almost as if your are just practicing”. The one thing that I think is great about a blind audition is the fact that the judge doesn’t know who you are – they have no pre-existing biases before they hear you. You enter into an even playing field.
Just like anyone else who is auditioning, I have a routine that I go through as I prepare for the big audition. Leading up to any audition I try to put in a couple hours of practice. I practice and practice until I know the piece inside and out. This is what everyone tells you to do and it is the best strategy you can used to be prepared for an audition. The morning of the audition comes and I become nervous, so nervous that I won’t eat anything for breakfast without feeling sick. I put all these emotions aside and force myself through the motions that I have done at least once a year since 7th grade. I dress professionally. I put on nice earrings, my favorite necklace, and a comfortable shoes that give me a little bit of a height boost. After this I would take deep breaths and try to make myself eat, knowing nothing would be more embarrassing than my stomach growling in the middle of an audition. From there I would make sure I have all the right equipment and music. If there is a practice room nearby I will run through something that I’m nervous about (usually scales and rudiments).
Have something with you that gives you confidence – lucky mallets/sticks, something that reminds you of your abilities, a necklace from you favorite band.
Play something to boost your confidence.
Once I’m outside the room waiting to audition I begin freaking out and shaking with nerves. To help combat this I force myself to do something that makes me nervous every day, because I know how to combat those nerves. I talk to the other people who are auditioning. I’ve made a lot of friends, at least friends for a few minutes, because I put myself in uncomfortable positions. I remember cracking jokes, that I am sure were not funny except for the fact that we were all nervous. I remember when I auditioned here at Western Carolina University I met someone that I would grow close to. Of course I didn’t know that at the time but one of the girls in the percussion studio and I bonded that day over someone I had met a few years before in passing. Now that girl and I are close friends.
Battle the nerves how you know to.
Always arrive at least one person ahead of you.
I arrive at the room early and wait outside ready to go in and give the best that I can give. Sometimes the judges are running faster than the schedule says, sometimes someone misses their time, and sometimes the judges are running behind. I know that I know the music. I have attempted to cure my nerves. I’m ready. And then I enter the room and who knows how I actually do. I come out of the room feeling as if I’m the worst musician to ever set foot on planet earth – every single time. When I feel confident that I did well, I begin to worry, and return to thinking I’m a terrible musician. But I have come to learn that playing well is not the only thing that matters. I came into my college audition with all my music learned, my major scales, rudiments, and with the ability to sight-read. That’s all fantastic. But I also came in with some other things that I am proud to say I had. I had an amazing, tear-jerking recommendation letter. I had a thank you card thanking the Director of Percussion Studies for allowing me to take time out of his day. But the most important thing that I had was the ability to tell my judges that I was self-taught and hard working. Even if I had had an instructor or someone to teach me and prepare me for what learning actual music was I would still be able to tell the Director that I was (and still am) hardworking. I’m not afraid to “get down and dirty” – to lock myself in a practice room until I’m satisfied with my ability. From there I can only hope that the judges see the effort I have put in toward my goal.
Do your best.
Have a recommendation letter. Don't be afraid to pull some heart-strings.
Be honest. Be yourself.
The last thing I want to talk about is the actual judging. This year (2019) I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity that most music major college seniors want to get. I was given the opportunity to judge. I was given the opportunity to experience the opposite side of the event that I had participated in for more than five years. Every year the Western region of North Carolina hosts an All District Band Audition. The highest scoring students who audition are given the opportunity to participate in a band here on Western’s campus and play with some of the best musicians/clinicians from the area. Before college I had auditioned on Snare, Timpani, and Mallets every year (except for one) since my 7th grade band class. I was fortunate enough to make the band in 8th and 12th grade. My senior year I did well enough and scored high enough to be able to audition for All State. All State is where every student from across the state gets to compete to make a state band. I didn’t make the state band but it was a great experience. So when I went off to college I figured my chances of ever being near All District auditions were over. They were, until I got a phone call asking me to judge.
Life’s ironic, so I was placed as a judge in the 11-12 Upper High School Snare audition room. Of course this was the room I felt the least comfortable judging in. But it’s good to stretch your abilities so I was ready for the challenge. And I enjoyed the challenge that was presented to me. This year the way people auditioned was changed. When I auditioned on snare you had to play an etude, sight read, and play four different rudiments that the judges pre-assigned. This year the students had to play a snare etude, sight read, and play a snare/triangle etude. This was an amazing change because when you show up on Western’s campus that first day for the clinic, if you make the band, odds are you will play snare on one piece and some accessory instrument on all the other pieces, so that everyone has a chance on snare.
Having been on the other side of the auditions I had sympathy for the kids who came in shaking or the kid who ran in panting because they had just come from another audition across the high school’s campus. I also had standards. Some kids came in looking cocky and gave my fellow judge and I attitude. Others came in and were polite. Some came in prepared with their own music marked up and their own instruments. Others were not allowed into the audition room until they found a triangle and beater to borrow.
Don’t be cocky or have an attitude. You’re not better than anyone else and if you come in with an attitude, you have already set your bar lower than the people who come in and are polite.
All that to say that the judges are human as are those who are auditioning. Judges have to set aside biases, friendships, professional relationships, as well as anything from their personal lives in order to just judges someone’s musicality and ability. We set aside everything that could possibly get in the way of us judging you accurately and fairly because we wish every single one of you could make the band, get into the school, and be successful. We want you to succeed.
It was interesting being on that side of the table, and I can’t wait to do it again. I also can’t wait to take what I learned from all my auditions and teach my future students.
A Performer with a passion for Percussion.
Current News and Things I Find Interesting
On this Blog you will find 'not-so current' percussion topics that I think are important, as well as things that I find interesting and helpful. Maybe some education things will creep in?