Will My Preparation For an Audition be Worth it?

I started taking professional auditions about ten years ago, actually while I was still doing my undergrad.  Back then, the Westmorland Symphony came to our campus in Pittsburgh to hold auditions-quite the luxury in hindsight.  After a year or two there and I started subbing with the Erie Phil-an orchestra I believe every classical musician has played with at some point.  Eventually I moved around and had a position with the Memphis Symphony, while subbing with Nashville and Louisville Orchestras-the period of my life I refer to as the “Freeway Philharmonic” years

This is a familiar situation in which most orchestral players find themselves: juggling School/Gigs, and then transitioning to Gigs/Auditions. Naively, I used to believe that I would seamlessly cross from one to the other: that after graduating, I would win a major audition and sit in that orchestra until I fell over dead in the middle of a Bruckner Symphony.

While that may still happen (partly due to my ill-fated love of Taco Bell, and because playing fortissimo tremolo for an hour will take a year off anyone’s life) I’ve found that the majority of classical performers spend a much longer period of time in this perpetual juggling state of playing gigs while preparing for auditions than I originally thought. Playing gigs could look like a number of different things including teaching students, playing with a per service orchestra, working a part-time job, or any means of paying the bills to get by-even if it means eating Taco Bell (win-win for me). But it’s really only the top 1 -2% of performers who land the career job right out of school.

What’s challenging about freelancing and auditioning is believing that dedicating time to practicing for an audition will be worth it. And this is what I’d like to dwell on for a moment.

Auditions have terrible odds in regards to how many people apply vs. how many people win. So deciding everyday to keep pursuing this likely rejection can start to seem like practicing for a slot machine tournament. One lousy pull of the lever at your designated time slot and all your preparations were for nothing.

But this is dangerous thinking.  Auditions are not slot machines.  Winning an audition doesn’t happen on stage behind a screen, it happens every morning when you wake up and decide that today you will try. It’s a long path that will be filled with some ups and downs. Deciding that you will show up and do the work whether or not you feel like it is what separates the successful people from those who hope something magical will happen on stage.

Not everyone will agree with me on that. And certainly not all auditions and panel members are created equally. But one of the biggest insights on taking auditions has come from being on audition panels.  As a performer, I tend to agonize over a missed note or a botched shift. But as a panel member, a little mistake is completely forgivable if the bigger picture musicianship is there.

And so, winning an audition is about collecting small wins all along your preparation timeline, and building this winning momentum so that nothing can slow you down. Collecting these small wins is what contributes to a clear musical understanding and unmistakable musicianship.

Your preparation timeline might be 1 month, 3 months, or 10 years.  Indeed some of the biggest lessons are taught by the unfortunate hand of rejection.  Nobody enjoys being rejected, and I’m not an advocate for looking for the silver lining in every situation. I understand quite well how miserable the drive home from an audition feels after failing to advance. But the bigger failure would be to not wake up the next morning (or at least the next week) and try.

So be well and practice well.


Also, since this is in fact the weekly Brew, I thought I’d add a word about coffee. A new hobby of mine is actually roasting coffee which is such an easy and quick process. If I knew how fun and easy it was, I would have started years ago. Simply grab a popcorn air popper (about $15 at your local big-box store) and some unroasted beans (about $5-6 per lb) I recommend www.SweetMarias.com. And you can roast about ½ cup in about 4 minutes flat.  It’s such an inexpensive and rewarding way to get your morning fix. (And it makes your house smell awesome!)

Audition Preparation, Audition Tips, Stories