How to Take an Orchestra Audition
by Brad Howland
The competition these days to get into an orchestra is fierce. It is not unusual to have 50 players try out for a single position in an average orchestra, something paying in the range of $25-30,000/year. A prestigious orchestra in the United States can draw up to 300 people. Faced with these numbers, audition committees try to eliminate as many as possible in the opening rounds. Here’s how improve your chances of winning that first job.
Careful preparation is essential for success. You must have a plan. Choose from the following suggestions whatever seems helpful to you. Come up with a strategy, and write it down!
Learn everything you can about the excerpts. Go to the music library and listen to them in the context of the entire piece. Use a score to find out what is going on in the rest of the orchestra. Read the program notes to get a sense of the composer’s intentions. Remember that you have to convince a majority of the audition committee that you are experienced, and have performed these works many times, even if you haven’t.
Practice multiple repetitions of the excerpts to program your “automatic pilot,” and simulate the stress of the audition. Practise at different tempos. When you get tired, practise the excerpts down the octave.
Play mock auditions, making them as realistic as possible. Reserve a large room, and ask several friends, musicians, or teachers to come and be the committee. Dress up in your audition clothes. Assign a personnel manager. Have your “committee” make notes for future reference.
• Mentally rehearse the audition. Visualize yourself playing really well.
• Record yourself a lot! See how close the actual performance comes to the mental image.
• Draw the excerpts from a hat and play in random order. Get yourself ready for anything.
• Whenever possible, play the excerpts with a section.
I’m drawing on my experience here of listening to dozens of brass auditions for our orchestra. Believe it or not, to get past the first round, you don’t have to be great! So many people crack up in the first round that if you can basically play the music on the page, without missing too many notes, and with decent intonation and rhythm you will probably get voted to the next round.
It’s in the final rounds that your advanced musicianship must be displayed. Here the committee is listening for more subjective things, like phrasing and sound quality. So few brass players phrase that if you do anything at all you will sound great! You can’t predict what kind of sound they are looking for, but here’s a tip: never, never play too loud ! If you lose control you are toast.
If you are asked a question by the committee, or asked to play something a certain way, listen carefully and make sure you do it. If you don’t understand the suggestion ask for clarification. Do what they want, even if it means sacrificing something else in your playing. Just do it!
If the music director comes down to conduct you through an excerpt, play from memory and look him/her right in the eyes (this happened to me – I did this and won the audition).
Focus on the strong aspects of your playing and work to bring them across. Have an “ace in the hole.”
Be realistic. Don’t give up if you don’t get anywhere the first few tries. It takes a while to achieve that special “audition awareness,” and to learn to cope with the stress. Playing an orchestra audition is possibly the hardest thing you will ever do.
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