Choose Your Own Audition
Co-authored by Nathan Cole, First Associate Concertmaster of the LA Phil & Akiko Tarumoto, Assistant Concertmaster of the LA Phil
WARNING! This article is not like other articles. Do not read it straight through from beginning to end. YOU and YOU alone are responsible for what happens in the story. As you read, you will be asked to make choices. They could lead to success…or disaster! But don’t despair. At any time, YOU can go back and make a different choice, changing the path of your story.
Note: all of the choices outlined below were actually presented to Nathan and Akiko over the course of their audition careers.
Ready? Start at #1, just below
The Big City Philharmonic is holding a violin audition, and YOU are invited! Although you’ve only been out of graduate school for a year, you’ve already taken several orchestra auditions. But never one as big as this! You’ve been practicing the list for the last two months, and now the audition is just a week away. As you reread your official invitation letter, your heart races and your palms begin to sweat. If you’re feeling this way now, how much worse will it be on stage in Big City?
Slow down, you tell yourself. I’ve still got a week. A lot can happen in a week. Just about anything, in fact! You realize that even with all that work behind you, the choices you make in these final days just may decide whether you leave Big City with a job…or just your violin case.
As you ponder how this final week could play out, your phone rings. It’s the Big City area code! “This is the personnel manager for the Big City Philharmonic. We’re suddenly down a violinist for this coming week’s program, and I’m wondering if you’d be able to get here tomorrow to sub with us?”
You don’t know what to say. You’ve never gotten a call like this before. Subbing with Big City would mean getting to meet the people you hope to join, playing on the very stage on which you’ll audition, immersing yourself in the Big City sound! But it would also mean taking precious time away from your audition preparation for a bunch of rehearsals and concerts. You had pictured a week of “you-time”, not one crammed with extra work. But you remember that for some previous auditions, you’ve driven yourself crazy during that last week of solitary prep. “Well? Are you available?”
To accept and fly to Big City that night, go to #3
To decline and stay home for the week, go to #4
You hesitate for a moment, then before you know it you hear yourself accepting excitedly. Of course, you say. It even turns out an orchestra member has a vacant apartment they’d rent you for $80 a day right near the hall so your lodging arrangements are set—plus you can’t help but suspect that someone must really want you to join the orchestra if they’re going to such lengths to accommodate you.
The week flies by in a blur of nerves and excitement. You try to be yourself, but extra-nice, and you sense that people around you appreciate your attention to detail. Each moment you’re onstage you imagine that you’re playing alone for an eager committee, filling the hall with the sound of your playing exactly as you want them to hear it.
On the evening of the last concert, as you’re warming up onstage in your seat, the concertmaster walks by and hears you playing a few bars of Mozart 5 you’ve been having a little trouble with. He stops, interrupts his conversation with a colleague and introduces himself. Before you have a chance to be flattered at the greeting, he quickly tells you that he wouldn’t do that fingering you were just using and hastily demonstrates an alternative before exiting the stage.
With that, you play the concert and try to settle down for a good night of sleep before the big day.
“I’m sorry,” you tell the personnel manager. “With my audition coming up at the end of the week, I’m worried that I’d be taking too much on. I should focus on playing my best audition.”
“Well, I certainly understand that,” he replies. “Maybe another time. Hey, maybe permanently! You never know. See you at the end of the week.”
As you end the call, you wonder if you made the right choice. After a minute, though, you’re sure it’s for the best. You had a plan, and now you’re sticking with it.
You spend the week refining your two concerto movements and the entire list of excerpts. By Friday, you’re tired enough that you can’t imagine having played four rehearsals and several concerts into the bargain. You’re so tired, in fact, that you have a sneaking suspicion you’ve forgotten something…
By the time you’re in the cab line at the Big City airport, you’re ready to find a pillow for your head. You know that you should get some practicing in before sleep though, since your audition is the next morning. You’ll reevaluate once you get to Michael’s place.
When Michael opens the door to his one-bedroom apartment, it feels like you’re back at undergrad again! “Like the music?” he asks as he opens his arms for a hug. “Brahms 4, right? Thought it would inspire you for tomorrow, the big day!” You look past him to see that he still has the old big-screen TV in the living room, with the Playstation hooked up.
“Don’t worry about dinner, I already ordered pizza, just like old times!” he says. After pizza, and catching up, and a few games on Playstation, you’re pretty worn out. And that’s before he brings out the Blue Moon. “I didn’t forget about your favorite beer!” he says with a grin. “And of course…orange slices!”
The next morning, on your way to the hall for the drawing of numbers, you realize you should have had a bit less pizza…and a lot less beer! Even after half an hour of warming up, your fingers barely obey your brain. If only you had gotten a solid evening of practice and a full night’s sleep! Surely today would feel different, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, you’ll never know. As the personnel manager calls you to the stage, you already know in your heart that today’s not your day. THE END
Wait! I want to stay in a hotel instead! Go to #6
You let Michael know that you appreciate his offer, but that for this trip, you’ve got to focus on the audition. You promise to hang out afterward, win or lose. “OK, you always knew how to lock it down and get things done. But after the audition, we’re heading to Blarney’s and filling up on Blue Moon!”
Your flight into Big City is pretty smooth, other than that baby crying every half hour. Oh well, if you’re going to shut out distractions that are out of your control, that baby’s a good place to start! You breathe a sigh of relief once you’re in the cab to your hotel. A clean bed, a quiet room…you know you’ve made the right choice.
The room is just as you expected: quiet, but maybe a bit too quiet. All you can hear are the excerpts bouncing around your head. You’ve brought something along for just such a circumstance: a prescription sleep medication left over from your cousin’s last visit. “Works like magic,” he told you. “A solid eight hours, no matter what.” That sounds like just what the doctor ordered.
To take the sleep meds before bed, go to #9
To try to sleep on your own, go to #10
It’s a beautiful morning and you just can’t imagine spending the next five hours indoors playing. Although you can’t stop turning over everything you’re going to play in your mind you decide walking in the park and listening to Brahms concerto will ultimately get you in a better mindset than playing everything over and over. As you breathe in the crisp autumn air and feel your muscles relaxing with each step, you know you chose wisely.
Soon, though, it’s time to head over to the hall. As you are led backstage, you feel a lump rise in your throat. You can hear Mozart’s 4th and 5th concerti, Don Juan, Mozart 39, the Mendelssohn scherzo–everyone sounds like they’re Heifetz. You’re shown into your cramped dressing room and the personnel manager immediately lets you know that the all candidates are going to be able to have their choice of concerto to start. Perfect! You knew that if this situation arose you’d choose Mozart concerto, which you feel highlights your strengths. You know it very well and your nuance and musicality give it a lot of character which you hope makes it stand out from the crowd.
During the course of your warmup, however, you hear the person next door boisterously racing through large stretches of Sibelius concerto. Initially you roll your eyes and feel satisfied knowing that your Mozart won’t blend into a landscape of hysterically presented Romantic concertos. After a few minutes of trying not to listen, however, your self assurance begins to give in to doubts about your choice. Sibelius is pretty flashy and virtuosic, and you don’t want to look like the wuss who picked Mozart because it felt more comfortable. After all, your Brahms is nothing to sneeze at either.
Now it’s time to pick numbers, and you’re still undecided. Mr Sibelius comes out of his room at the same time as you and gives you a smug glance as he breezes past. That’s it, you say. I’m going to smoke this guy.
To play the Brahms concerto, go to #13
To play the Mozart, go to #14
After mulling over the various things you could do to pass the time before starting to play, you realize that your mind is racing and the only thing that will soothe your nerves is actually having your hands on your instrument. By 9 am you’re feeling limber and have touched on all the tricky passages you’re most concerned about. By 11 am, however, you realize you’ve been playing full tilt for hours and you’re tired, but when you walk away for a few minutes you’re consumed with more ideas about shifts you should practice and excerpts that need to go well. You get a small rest as you head to the hall but your hands already feel like rubber as you walk down the street and by the time you get to your warm up room they feel like icy blocks. You are informed that the committee is running late and won’t hear you until 2:45. Desperate to get back some of the warmth and comfort you experienced earlier that morning playing, you decide to continue playing at full speed and volume.
But it doesn’t happen. By the time you hear a knock at the door announcing your turn to play, you realize your best playing happened back at the apartment. Afterwards, you’re actually relieved that you didn’t advance. There’s no way you would have had the energy to keep playing anyway. THE END
I changed my mind, I want to have a relaxing morning! Go to #7
You decide that sleep is the most important gift you can give yourself the night before your audition. I guess I won’t have that nightcap after all, you tell yourself, since mixing alcohol and meds is a no-no. You take the dose printed on your cousin’s medicine bottle, figuring that since you’re the same size, you should get his “solid eight hours” of sleep.
Seinfeld re-runs are on TV, so you settle in for a bit of harmless laughter before you drift off. As George and Jerry rehash their latest relationships, you feel a warm, fuzzy feeling. You decide to make sure you’re all ready for bed before you get too tired. Is it supposed to work this quickly?
As you get up to brush your teeth, you’re none too steady on your feet. Easy now, you say out loud. A few minutes later, as darkness starts to close in around the edges of your vision, you remember to set your alarm for 8 AM. You’re pretty sure you’ll be up by then, but just in case…
The next thing you remember is your alarm blaring. You can barely get your eyes open to read the time: 8:45! Has it been sounding all this time? You jump out of bed and crash to the floor. Something isn’t right. You had planned on leaving the hotel at 9 in order to get to the hall for the drawing of numbers, but now you’re not showered and you haven’t eaten anything! In fact, you can barely put one foot in front of the other. Am I sure about that dosage I took?
Fine motor skills aren’t looking good, judging by the difficulty you’re having getting your clothes on. Unfortunately, violin playing requires a fair amount of fine motor control. It looks like today isn’t going to be your day. THE END
On second thought, I wish I hadn’t taken those sleep meds! Go to #10
No new meds, no new routines, you say, and that’s final. You toss those sleep meds in the trash. Why had you kept them around for so long, anyway? You decide that unwinding with a little TV will have to be good enough.
As expected, it’s not the best night of sleep you’ve ever had, but it’s no disaster either. Some tossing and turning, but a solid night. You breathe a sigh of relief when your 8 AM alarm wakes you up and you feel like yourself. You appreciate the fact that there’s a coffee-maker in your room, so that you can get just a bit of caffeine in you early. You don’t want to put that off until close to your audition!
You arrive at the hall on time, and see a few familiar faces at the number-drawing. You tell yourself that you can socialize after it’s all over. Everyone else looks so loose! How is it that you’re the only nervous one? You draw number 3, right in the middle of your group. Sam, who you know from a summer festival a few years back, gets unlucky 1. Now he’s nervous!
As soon as the personnel manager leaves, Sam runs over to you. “I can’t believe I’m 1… I couldn’t find my Don Juan music this morning and I was planning on asking the personnel manager for a copy so that I could put some markings in before I play. But now there’s no time! You’re 3… could I borrow your part for my prelim? You always had such great fingerings and bowings, and I just can’t play from a blank part!”
How could you forget Don Juan of all pieces, you wonder, before considering Sam’s dilemma. You’re not best friends or anything, and after all, this is business. But all the same, what’s the harm in letting him take your music for a few minutes?
To give Sam your Don Juan part, go to #12
To politely decline, go to #11
“Sam, I feel for you, but I have my routine for auditions. I have to have my music with me so that I can go over my markings. Why don’t we find the personnel manager right now, and I’ll see if I can get that copy and bring it to your room so that you have a few minutes to mark it up. That’s the best I can do.”
Sam looks hurt, but not surprised. “Well, I guess I’d handle it the same way. Hey, this shouldn’t make or break me, right?”
You make your way to your assigned warm-up room. Thank goodness Big City gives you individual rooms! You’ve taken a few of these where everyone has to play together in one big holding pen. Here you’ve just got a common hallway. But wow, everyone sounds great drifting through that hallway! Scales and arpeggios at blazing speed, every concerto and excerpt in the book whizzing by… suddenly you feel way behind! You’re going to have to up your game if you want to advance.
Slow down now, you caution yourself. You can’t win this thing right now. But you certainly could get through the whole list in the 30 minutes you have before you’re likely to go on stage. You’d have all the music under your fingers then, but you’d be skipping your usual warmup.
To make sure and play all your solos and excerpts in tempo, go to #15
To do your usual warmup, skipping some of the list, go to #16
Although it feels like handing over a family heirloom, you give Sam your Don Juan part. “Just make sure to hand it right back to me when you come off, OK?” you plead. Sam gives you the thumbs up.
You hang around in the hallway waiting for Sam’s prelim to finish. Just then, nature calls and you feel that you must rush to the restroom. You know that every moment counts and that Sam might walk off stage any second. But you just can’t wait.
You’re sure that you were only in the restroom for a minute, but when you come back out your heart sinks. The room that was assigned to Sam is empty! Where is he? You’ve already lost fifteen minutes of your warmup time and now you don’t have your Don Juan. You see the personnel manager in the hallway and ask, with more panic in your voice than you had hoped, “Where is Sam? Have you seen Sam?”
“Sam? Haven’t seen him since he was done. You must’ve just missed him.” You retreat to your room, rush a warmup and walk onto stage to play. During your concerto, your thoughts drift continuously toward Strauss, and the blank Big City part you’ll have to use if they ask for Don Juan. Sure enough, it’s one of the first excerpts they want to hear.
As you begin that most familiar of excerpts, you reflect on how funny it is that the piece you’ve practiced the most suddenly looks completely new without any of your markings! You could almost laugh out loud, if you weren’t distracted by wave after wave of out-of-tune passagework. THE END
What was I thinking? I shouldn’t have given up my Don Juan part! Go to #11
So Brahms it is. What better way to announce that you’re better than the person who just played than to come out and blow everyone away with the bold opening of that concerto? You’ve heard it argued that subtle musicianship doesn’t play at orchestra auditions. Better to really come out shooting.
You’re number 3, and before long it’s time to play. As you are led towards the stage, you pass the previous candidate—not Mr. Sibelius after all. This girl looks pleased and is carrying her Mozart concerto music on the top of her stack of music. A lump rises in your throat as you walk out. You could use the comfort zone the Mozart provided right about now, but it’s too late to switch back. You begin the Brahms and it’s not quite the stuff of your bold predictions. You’re tense and you end up going through the motions more than anything else. After playing this and your first excerpt, you’re feeling a little better, but it’s too late. You leave knowing that nothing about your audition was particularly remarkable, and when you find out the results 45 minutes later you realize the committee agrees. THE END
Why did I listen to the guy next door? Let me do it over again. Go to #14
What better way to take down the competition than with your strongest weapon? You’ll start with Mozart. You draw number 3, a comfortable spot that will give you about a half an hour to keep playing. And you’re feeling good about committing to the Mozart–except that at this precise moment, you feel that the high A in the sequence partway into the Allegro isn’t singing properly. This was the very spot where the concertmaster had suggested that you begin on the A string so as to avoid an awkward shift up on the E. It hasn’t bothered you in the past few days but you now feel that it sounds especially anemic, perhaps because of nerves.
You re-finger the passage beginning on the A string and the full, singing tone you achieve has you wondering why you initially dismissed his suggestion a few days ago. But you’re not sure it’s wise to make a big change at the last second.
To use the new fingering, go to #21
To keep your original fingering, go to #22
No time to lose! You figure that the personnel manager will come and get you for your first round in about half an hour. You launch into your Mozart concerto. The vibrato is a bit slow, and your hand feels pretty stiff in general. You don’t really have your sound centered yet. In fact, not much of anything feels centered or in balance! Is this how it’s going to be on stage? Maybe this is a telling dress rehearsal!
Before you know it, the Mozart exposition is done, and it’s time for the excerpts. Only twenty-five minutes to get through them all! Mendelssohn Midsummer Night’s Dream, Don Juan, the Schumann Scherzo, Brahms 4, Mozart 39, Beethoven 3 and 9, Schubert 2, have you forgotten anything? Oh yes, Debussy’s La Mer. Whew! You’re exhausted, but you played it all. And just in time! The personnel manager should be here any minute.
Only he doesn’t appear. You don’t want to cool down at this point, so you race through your Brahms again. Still no personnel manager. What’s going on? Another Don Juan. Schumann, again. Maybe once more…that wasn’t very well in tune. You can do better! And you’ll have to! Where is that personnel manager?
By the time the personnel manager appears, twenty minutes later, you’re spent. You can barely move either hand. You follow him onto the stage, dreading how the Mozart is going to feel. Your first few notes confirm your fears: your tone is as tired as you are. You can almost hear the committee members muttering, “Must have left their best playing in the warmup room.” THE END
OK, so I should have conserved my energy. Let me try that instead! Go to #16
Slow and steady, you tell yourself. Just like you’ve done this whole week, you stick to your routine: a nice fifteen-minute warmup. Even if that only leaves you fifteen more minutes to go through the list, you figure the gamble is worth it. You’re a little nervous each time you look at the clock, but before long, your hands feel alive and your sound is strong.
After playing your Mozart and Brahms concerto openings, you decide to take a short break and wander into the hallway. As soon as you open the door, you see a very excited candidate rushing toward you. She’s nobody you know from before, but you remember seeing her at the drawing of numbers. She has a strange energy to her.
“You won’t believe this, but I was just in the bathroom and you can totally hear what’s going on on stage! So I just heard the first couple of excerpts after the concerto. If you go in there now, you can hear the rest of the list and then we can pool our information. We could know the whole order! I would have stayed in there but I didn’t want to arouse suspicion. Can you help out?”
It would certainly be useful to know what the committee was hearing. Instead of walking out cold, you’d know which concerto they were hearing, plus all the excerpts and in which order. You could plan your whole first round! On the other hand, do you really need inside information to do your best?
To take the next bathroom shift, go to #20
To decline and continue your warmup, go to #19
The next morning, your eyes fly open when light starts filtering in. After tossing and turning for half an hour you decide you’re awake for good and get out of bed and shower. You were hoping to sleep at least a couple more hours because your audition isn’t until 2 pm, but now you’re up and about and wondering what to do with your extra time. You could go for a run…or at least a walk…suddenly, an idea takes root in your mind. You’ll just start playing since all you can think about is the audition anyway. You can warm up slowly, luxuriating in the vast window of time you have to get comfortable, take some breaks, ease into your day.
To go for a walk and postpone practicing for a few hours, go to #7
To immediately take out your instrument and start playing, go to #8
Your travel arrangements! Part of turning down the sub work in Big City was to avoid the stress of flying out that night, but now you’ve forgotten about buying your ticket at all. You rush to the computer and find, to your relief, that there’s still a cheap fare to Big City.
But where will you stay? Hotels are expensive. Surely you know somebody in town that you could stay with. You look through your Facebook friends to see who’s in Big City. Michael’s name jumps out at you. Wow, it’s been a while. You and Michael hung out all the time in undergrad. Lots of bad movies and even worse junk food. It would be fun to see him again, and he’s definitely let you know over the years that you always have a place to stay in Big City.
But you have second thoughts. Hotels are expensive, yes, but didn’t you just turn down a week of sub work to focus on you? Wouldn’t hanging out with Michael the night before the audition go in the opposite direction? Then again, who’s more supportive than a friend?
To take Michael up on his offer to stay with him, go to #5
To book a hotel in Big City, go to #6
“This may sound strange, but I think I’d actually prefer not to know what they’re going to hear. It might make me more nervous,” you tell your fellow candidate. You barely stop yourself from adding, “Besides, that’s the most ridiculous request I’ve ever heard at an audition!”
“OK, but it’s everyone’s loss,” she replies. “We should stick together instead of just being out for ourselves!”
You manage to part company and continue your warmup. It should be any minute now! And sure enough, there’s the knock at the door. Before you open it, you have a sudden thought. You’ve known several people who have recorded their own auditions. After the fact, they had a record of exactly what had gone well and what hadn’t. Memory can be such a funny thing, after all.
There’s just one problem: Big City forbids the recording of its auditions and warns you right on the audition list that you could be dismissed at any time for violating its policy. But how would they ever know? You could just turn on your phone’s recorder app right now and slip it into your pocket. But you’d better hurry!
To grab your phone and record your audition, go to #24
To leave your phone and audition without recording, go to #23
“OK,” you tell your fellow candidate, “I’ll do it. Which bathroom was it again?” She points the way, and you’re off down the hall.
You enter the bathroom and lock the door. At first you don’t hear anything. Was this other girl crazy? Then you hear what you think was a violin note. But certainly not enough to identify a piece. You’re about to give up this mission when you look up and see an air vent close to the ceiling. What few sounds there are seem to be coming from up there.
You could actually get closer by standing on the toilet seat, ridiculous as that sounds. What the heck, you tell yourself, I’m already in here and besides, I’m on a mission to help all of us! You carefully put one foot on the seat, then the other, and when you stand all the way up, your ear is roughly even with the vent. This must have been what that other girl was doing.
Suddenly, the sound is crystal clear! There’s the Mendelssohn Scherzo, followed by the end of the first movement of Brahms 4. Then Don Juan. Then…nothing. That must be the end of the prelims list. Unless this candidate just got cut off early. It wasn’t the strongest playing in the world, after all. You won’t know for sure until you pool your info with that other girl. Now, to get out this precarious position…
You find yourself looking up at a group of eyes staring down at you. Your vision goes in and out, your ears are buzzing, and your head feels like it’s caught in a vice. Gradually you realize that you’re on the bathroom floor.
“You there? Are you with us? Where are you?” one of the faces asks you.
“Big…City…the audition…when’s my turn? I’m number…wait, what’s my number?”
“Audition? You’re in no shape to play! We’ve got to get you checked out for a concussion. You’ve got a nasty lump on your head. Do you know what happened?”
By now you do know what happened, but it isn’t something you feel like sharing with the personnel manager. You should have known this was a fool’s errand. THE END
Actually, let me skip the bathroom duty! Go to #19
It’s time. As you walk out onstage a thin carpet path muffles your steps. Aside from a few noises of shuffling papers and muffled coughs, there’s unsettling silence before you put your bow to the string to begin Mozart. Initially you feel tight but as you begin the allegro you realize it’s going well. And your new fingering works well, not counting the moment of terror where you almost forget to switch over to the A string. The top A sings out with a full, relaxed tone and you can almost sense the concertmaster enjoying your performance.
You realize you’re just not comfortable with the new fingering, and you’d hate to crash and burn because you’re obsessing over it during the entire concerto opening. Having made your decision, you finally feel ready just as you’re summoned to the stage. You begin your concerto and are feeling good, and you’re pleased to hear the sequence to the top A sound almost exactly as it did with the concertmaster’s fingering.
Better safe than sorry, you tell yourself. It would have been nice to have a record of this audition to compare to the feedback you’ll get, but it’s not worth getting tossed out. You open the door for the personnel manager and follow him on stage.
Once he announces your number, he asks you to play your Romantic concerto. So you launch into Brahms, and within a few seconds you feel the adrenaline coursing through your veins. Fortunately, you anticipated that, and Brahms is a piece that can stand a little extra “juice”! But the first excerpt they ask after the Brahms is from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, the scherzo.
Now, the Mendelssohn is a quiet, delicate excerpt. For some reason, you’ve always felt self-conscious about your dynamic for this one. Suddenly, you doubt whether you’ve been playing softly enough this whole time. Surely the committee here in Big City will want a special dynamic, right? The only problem is that you’re still feeling a little shaky from the adrenaline dump in the Brahms.
To reach for your minimum dynamic for the Mendelssohn, go to #29
To bump up the Mendelssohn dynamic and play it safe, go to #28
Grabbing your phone, you quickly navigate to the recorder app and start the recording before slipping the phone into your pocket. You open the door for the personnel manager and follow him onto stage. It’s warm out there! Definitely a different temperature from your warmup room. The sweat starts to bead on your brow.
You’re just nervous, you reassure yourself. Normal nerves, it isn’t really hot out here. Then why the sweat? You reach into your pocket for the handkerchief you always keep there for just such an occasion. Quickly pulling out the handkerchief, you suddenly realize that your phone was in the same pocket!
You watch helplessly as the phone flies through the air and crashes onto the bare wood of the stage. The personnel manager rushes over to pick it up, while you hear a commotion from behind the screen. “You’re recording the audition? That’s specifically against the Big City rules,” he tells you sternly. “I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
As you trudge off stage, a lump in your throat, you realize that your recorder is still running. Blinking back tears, you shut it off as you imagine how many comments this recording will get on Facebook. THE END
OK, I’ll do it without the recorder… Go to #23
You’re feeling cautiously optimistic after your strong start in the concerto, and you take a deep breath as you turn towards the music stand to begin your excerpts. First up is the slow movement of Beethoven 9. The personnel manager picks up the orchestra’s excerpt to show you where to begin, and you’re suddenly gripped with uncertainty. The bowings are completely opposite from yours. You open your mouth to ask if you should use the orchestra part since it’s so different from yours but they’ve already returned to their seat ten feet away and you can sense the committee’s impatient silence behind the screen. But what are your choices? Will they be able to tell if you’re not doing their bowings? Do they care? A rising tide of panic is starting to wash over you as you hear a slightly edgy voice from the audience: “Is the candidate ready?”
To use your own music, go to #26
To use the orchestra part, go to #27
You’re feeling a little shaky as you put your bow to the string and try to focus on your own music on the stand. You know what, there’s a screen so they can’t really tell what bowing you’re using, and you really can’t remember any mention of having to do exactly what the orchestra part said. Besides it’s way too late. Unfortunately, your mind is humming with these thoughts and you end the excerpt feeling like it didn’t go very well. Your bow changes were rough and you didn’t shape the phrases at all how you planned. There’s a small voice of defeat growing inside your head but you ignore it and suddenly think, what if I asked to do it over again? A friend once told you that whatever happens during an audition, you just suck it up. But your instinct is telling you to ask.
To ask to play the excerpt again, go to #31
To go on to the next excerpt, go to #30
You barely remember not to shout out “yes”—after all, they’re not supposed to hear your voice—and resolve to use the orchestra’s part. Basically, it’s just reversing the bowing you were using so it should be easy to tell your brain to play “up” instead of “down” for a few lines. You hurriedly switch out your part on the stand in front of you, take a deep breath, and move your bow down onto the string. Except you already forgot their part is marked up bow. You try to change direction mid-air, unintentionally catch your string, and instead of beautiful grace notes there’s only the sound of panicked crunching. You try to pull it together, but you’re unable to think of anything else during this excerpt and the one you play afterwards. You’re not at all surprised when you hear a curt “thank you” signaling the premature end of your audition. THE END
Wait, I want to use my own music instead! Go to #26
You decide to bump up the dynamic for the Mendelssohn scherzo just a bit, even to mezzo-piano. You figure that quality sound and rock-solid rhythm are more important than any particular volume. You put it out there solidly, if a tad on the strong side. But you’re happy with how you hold it together through all those off-the-string eighths and sixteenths. Score one for relative dynamics!
As soon as you finish the Mendelssohn, the personnel manager requests Debussy’s La Mer. Oh boy, you think, just the one I wanted to avoid. Only a few nights ago, you were on YouTube, and you found a video of the Big City Philharmonic playing the Debussy. It was pretty wildly different, both in tempo and style, from what you had been practicing.
Is that what they’ll be expecting? you ask yourself. Is that the Big City way?
To play the Debussy your way, go to #33
To play it like you saw in the video, go to #32
OK, Big City committee: get ready for a dazzling pianissimo!
You steel yourself for the softest off-the-string strokes that you can play. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, after all! Your first notes emerge from the violin like ethereal wood sprites, dancing through the air, floating to the committee members’ ears. You can’t believe it! You’re playing just as you always hoped you would.
At that moment, one of the eighth notes comes crashing to the ground. Another follows, and soon the sixteenths are being dragged down as well. Your arm seizes up, the bow refuses to bounce! As panic grips your mind, you try to will your fingers to relax. Any moment now, this feeling will go away…
Instead, you hear a terrible sound: the bow scraping across your strings on its way down to the floor! In an effort to maintain the impossible dynamic, you relaxed your fingers so much that they let go of the bow. You haven’t even finished bending over to retrieve it by the time you hear those dreaded words: “Thank you very much.” THE END
I guess I should have played a safer dynamic… Go to #28
Before you can ask, the personnel manager has returned and is pointing to the next excerpt: Don Juan. You realize you’d better move on mentally or else. Thanks to the mock auditions you did in preparation, you are able to quiet your insides and focus on the pulse of the Strauss. Rushing is your biggest enemy. By doing this, you’re able to stay focused and shut out your dissatisfaction with the previous excerpt, and the committee asks you to move on to two more excerpts. By the time you leave the stage, you know that they have forgotten all about the Beethoven and you’re feeling upbeat.
When the personnel manager comes over to discuss the next excerpt, you quickly but calmly ask about the possibility of a do-over. He furrows his brow and directs the question into his headset. He pauses for a moment then shoots a seemingly skeptical look at you as he says “The committee will allow you to play the Beethoven again.” Well, there’s no going back now and you’d better make this one count. You begin again and this time, your phrasing and dynamics are just as you planned. It seems to pay off, for after a few more excerpts the committee seems satisfied and you leave the stage feeling optimistic.
Taking an extra few seconds, you summon the Debussy video from your memory. The tempo was quite brisk, the dynamics extreme. You’re finally ready to give it a go.
Playing the Debussy this way feels like an out-of-body experience! It’s as if the conductor from the video were in control, shaping your bow strokes and coaxing you along. It’s a wild ride, that’s for sure! As you lean into the animando, your bow starts to lose control. No worries, you think to yourself, this is the Big City way! Their conductor won’t let me down!
Then, to your horror, you remember that the conductor from the video was not the current Big City music director: it was Leonard Bernstein, in all his gyrating glory! That video was from forty years ago! None of the people in the video are around to judge this audition!
As both your left and right hands crash and burn, you have a sudden vision of Bernstein chuckling in between sips of scotch. As you hang your head, you think to yourself, you’ve screwed me again, Lenny! THE END
Hold on, let me try the Debussy my way. Go to #33
You shake the memory of that YouTube video out of your head. Instead, you reach for the same key words you always use to set the beginning of this excerpt: poise, dance, wave. Hopefully the committee will buy your version. The excerpt starts with a long trill, and while you’re counting the beats, you suddenly remember that the YouTube video of the Debussy was from quite a long time ago. You’re certain that you’re better off sticking to what you know.
And with the Debussy safely behind you, the personnel manager leads you back to your room. Things could have gone better, but then again, they might have gone a great deal worse as well. Surprisingly, you don’t have long to wait before the personnel manager opens your door to deliver good news: you’ve made the finals! Past the imposing figure of the personnel manager, you can already see dejected hopefuls walking down the hallway, cases in hand.
Thirty minutes to go. As you stretch your legs in the hallway, you hear concerto practice coming from a couple other rooms. Bartok, you say to yourself, chuckling. That must be Erica…she’s the only one I know who plays that one at auditions. And that slide sounds exactly like her! You guys practically grew up together, and you know she really wants this job too. She must have been in a different prelim group, since you hadn’t run into her yet.
It might take the edge off to see a familiar face, and to commiserate about this big day.
To ignore Erica and return to your room, go to #35
To knock on Erica’s door for a chat, go to #36
It feels like hours that you’re waiting in your dressing room to hear anything, but it’s actually 45 minutes before the personnel manager comes to tell you…you’ve advanced to the finals! You are trembling with excitement and your mind immediately starts churning with strategies. Aside from that first excerpt, your last round felt good. But for the most part, those were excerpts that highlight your strengths. You can’t help but start thinking about your weakest excerpt, the first movement of Schubert 2, and calculate that the odds of the committee asking for it in this round are very high since they haven’t heard it yet. As you begin warming up on the excerpt, you grow more and more frustrated with your right arm. Your spiccato sounds sluggish and muddy, almost like your bow hair isn’t gripping the strings properly. Just to see, you switch to your spare bow which has fresher hair on it. Problem seemingly solved. But you still feel convinced that your regular bow is the one for all the other excerpts. You suddenly think, what if I brought both of them out?
To bring two bows with you, go to #37
To use your regular bow for everything, go to #38
I’d better let Erica have her warmup, you say to yourself. I guess I wouldn’t want anyone bothering me right now. You return to your room and sit down for just a few minutes of calm breathing. As you breathe in for three seconds, then out for six, you realize that no matter how today comes out, this is the best audition experience you’ve had so far. You remember, too, that even though the pressure seems greater for the finals, you have the luxury of knowing that the committee already likes your playing. They voted for you, after all!
In the final round, nothing very remarkable happens. It’s always more fun for you to play for people rather than a screen, although you do wonder how the committee feels about seeing a new face. Should I have accepted that week of sub work after all? you think, before quickly clearing your head of this foolishness. This round will be a round of no regrets, playing or otherwise.
Then, before you realize it, your time on stage is done. Well, you did play two concerto expositions and seven excerpts, but it seemed to fly by in a flash! This time, the wait in your room is interminable. You don’t know whether to stay warm or not: Big City has been known to hold a second, super-final round.
Out of the blue, there’s a knock at the door. When you open it, you see not just the personnel manager, but the music director as well! “Congratulations,” says the MD. “I’d like you to join the Big City Philharmonic.”
Your mind is reeling, and you’re not sure just what you’re saying to the MD. But somewhere in the center of it all, you hold onto a sense of satisfaction that you did this audition your way. You had a plan, you stuck with it, and you rolled with the Big City punches. And today your number came up.
Looks like you owe Michael a phone call: you guys have some drinking up to do! THE END
Knock, knock. Suddenly, you wonder if you’ve made a big mistake: maybe this isn’t Erica at all, but someone else playing Bartok! Erica opens the door, however, allaying that fear. But she gives you a strange look as you say hi and congratulations. She returns the congrats, but it does seem as though she’s waiting for you to state your business. You haven’t really seen this side of her before!
“Your Bartok sounds great through the door,” you offer, immediately wondering whether that sounds condescending. “I’m sure it sounds great not through the door too,” you continue, but you’re certain that sounds fake.
“Thanks…it’s what I always play for these,” Erica replies, and now you’re sure she wants to get back to practicing. As you make your exit and walk back down the hall, she calls out, “Good luck!”
Erica’s Bartok really does sound great, that’s the thing. As she starts it back up, you wonder if Bartok would have been a better choice for you. Fight fire with fire? But then your Bartok would be competing with hers…no, Brahms is the right piece for you. But she’ll be playing right before you. What will the committee think if you don’t really nail the opening? You might already have lost at that point!
By the time you walk onto stage forty-five minutes later, you feel lost. Erica was never the type to play mind games, but she’s gotten in your head. You start the Brahms, trying desperately to inject it with excitement, interest, anything to sway the committee members. Now that you can see their faces, they seem so…unimpressed!
Your final round is filled with self-doubt and recrimination. At the end of it, you can’t remember how you played, only how you wish you had. The wait in your room is endless. You hear voices in the hallway, a knock on another door. Is it Erica’s door?
Then, footsteps and a knock at your door: it’s the personnel manager and the Music Director! The personnel manager speaks first. “We have news for you, and I know it won’t be what you wanted to hear. The committee has decided not to hire anyone from this audition.” You can’t decide whether you’re crushed, or just relieved that Erica didn’t beat you.
“But I wanted you to know,” says the MD, “that I really enjoyed your audition. We’ll be doing this again in six months, and I’d like for you to start in the finals. I think that with a little more conviction, you’d have a winning audition. Sometimes these votes come down to the smallest things.” THE END
You’re convinced. Two bows it is. When the time comes, you head out feeling a little self conscious as you pass the personnel manager and he makes a dumb joke about whether you’re going to use both bows at once. You briefly consider leaving one backstage but decide you’re going for it. Since it’s the finals, the screen is gone and you think you notice some committee members elbowing each other and rolling their eyes, but maybe that’s just your audition-induced paranoia. Holding your regular bow, you put the spare on the stand.
It’s super awkward when the committee asks for the first excerpt–La Mer–and you have to shuffle two bows and your music around with one hand. During the extra time this takes you notice a definite air of irritation from the committee and this starts to create a distraction in your mind that eventually overtakes all your audition focus. This is made worse when a gesture with your scroll during Mahler 9 accidentally knocks the extra bow off the stand, clattering loudly and drawing gasps from the committee members.
Perhaps it’s coincidence, but that’s the last excerpt they hear. No Schubert after all. The last thought you have as you leave the stage is that the gin martini and hot fudge sundae you’re going to inhale in 20 minutes are going to taste amazing. THE END
You realize the folly of making any changes at this point. The bow has been working for you and the last thing you need is a distraction, either for you or for the committee. It’s not long before you’re called to the stage for your final round. As you walk onstage, you realize you’re not nearly as nervous as you were for previous rounds. Somehow the smiling faces of your listeners and the knowledge that they already like your playing fills you with confidence, and suddenly the audition feels less like a trial and more like a fun concert. You can tell they’re enjoying your Brahms concerto and this in turn makes you comfortable enough to add spontaneity to your phrasing. The excerpts feel good too, even La Mer, which is your least favorite. After the first movement of Brahms 4, the head of the committee smiles and says thank you. You can hardly believe it. You’re done…and it went well! Before they can change their minds, you smile back and hurry offstage, back to your room.
In an hour there’s a knock at your door. You answer, your face aglow with nervous optimism. The personnel manager says only to come with him, no violin necessary. You are inwardly bursting with questions but remain silent as you follow him back to the stage. The door opens and the committee is standing there to greet you—the newest member of Big City Philharmonic! You meet several of your new colleagues but don’t remember many names. There’ll be plenty of time for that. In the meantime, you go back and jubilantly pack your things. Too bad there’s no champagne showers or diamond studded championship rings. But you say to yourself, this is the closest you’ll ever get to feeling like LeBron James in June 2016. THE END
Written by Nathan Cole and Akiko Tarumoto
Akiko Tarumoto began her violin studies at age five. Her principal teachers have been Masao Kawasaki, Dorothy DeLay, and Glenn Dicterow. A native of Eastchester, New York, Tarumoto studied at the preparatory division of the Juilliard School and received her Bachelor’s degree in English and American Literature with honors from Harvard University in 1998. In 2000 she received her Master of Music degree from the Juilliard School and joined the second violin section of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
In 2004 she was appointed to the first violin section of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Daniel Barenboim. While in Chicago, she performed on the Rush Hour and Chicago Symphony chamber series, at the Winter Chamber Music Festival at Northwestern University, and on the MusicNOW contemporary series.
Tarumoto returned to the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the fall of 2011 as a member of the second violin section, and was appointed to fifth chair of the first violin section in March 2015. In January 2017 she was named Assistant Concertmaster. She is a frequent performer on the LA Phil’s Chamber Music and Green Umbrella series and has been featured as a soloist with the orchestra. Tarumoto has performed in the summer festivals of Aspen, Taos, and Spoleto, Italy. She has also appeared at the Mimir Festival in Fort Worth, Texas, and at the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington in Kentucky. Her husband is First Associate Concertmaster Nathan Cole.
Nathan Cole, First Associate Concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is one of the world’s leading coaches for the violin audition repertoire. Previously a member of the Chicago Symphony and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, he has sat on audition committees for nearly every orchestral instrument. He has also performed as guest concertmaster for the orchestras of Houston, Minnesota, Oregon, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, and Seattle.
Nathan’s passion is helping violinists reach their potential in the practice room, concert hall, and audition stage. Through one-on-one coaching, master classes, blog posts, and videos, he shares detailed knowledge that is typically taught only inside elite conservatories. His “New York Philharmonic Audition Challenge” invites violinists from all over the world to follow Nathan’s own audition preparation timeline. It has already been adapted for other instruments including flute and viola.
Born to professional flutists in Lexington, Kentucky, Nathan started violin at age four in a Suzuki program. He earned his Bachelor of Music at the Curtis Institute, where he spent less time practicing solo pieces than he should have, and more time rehearsing string quartets. His wife, Akiko Tarumoto, is Assistant Concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
You can visit and write Nathan at www.natesviolin.com.