Monday, February 5, 2018

On College Auditions

Here is what I have gleaned from a scant 2 years of listening to college auditions.  I’m sure more experienced teachers will have lots more to say, and I probably will too after more years, but so far:

1) Be cautious when asking for special treatment regarding an audition time.  Requesting special treatment shows that you probably lack knowledge of how the professional classical music world functions, and it shows some disrespect for the teacher and the institution you are auditioning for. (Unless of course there is a direct conflict with audition day for another school).  For major symphonies, auditions are planned far in advance for a particular day.  You either make it to the audition that day or you don’t take the audition.  If you wake up with a bad cold that day, oh well, sucks for you, but that’s life. It’s not fair, but that’s how it is.  You pay your own travel expenses, and you work your schedule around it, so if your cousin is getting married the same the same day as the big audition, it’s either the wedding or the audition, no way around it.  So the professional musicians you are auditioning for don’t have a lot of patience for the excuses that you have to miss an audition date.  College audition dates are usually published months in advance, so you should plan your schedule accordingly.  It might be difficult for you to travel to the audition location, but chances are that someone is coming from further than you are.  And remember, once you are a professional musician, you are responsible for getting yourself to auditions on your own dime, so get used to it.  Of the candidates who asked me for special treatment regarding auditions, most (but not all) either had no business being a performance major or they weren’t really that serious about joining my studio.  When it comes down to it, asking for a special audition time implies that your time is more important than that of the person or people you are auditioning for, or that of the other candidates.  Obviously, sometimes there are extenuating circumstances, but you are better off sticking to the audition schedule than asking for special treatment.

2)  Know a little bit about the pieces you are playing for your audition.  You should be able to tell me a little bit about the composer (like when and where they lived) and the piece (like when it was written, for what audience or musicians, and what style/time period).  You should also, obviously, know the correct tempo to play it in, and of course play the correct rhythm, notes, and dynamics.  Although it is generally better to play a piece slightly under tempo and accurately than to play it the tempo it’s marked, but poorly, you should attempt to play the piece close to its tempo marking and not significantly slower.  You’d be better off playing a piece that you know very well up to tempo than a newer piece too slowly. In addition, was your piece originally written for oboe?  Is it part of the standard literature?  Does it fit the audition requirements listed for the school?  These are all important considerations.

3)  Know a little about the person and school you are auditioning for.  In the days of Google, it is inexcusable not to do a little online research before you play for someone.  What schools did they attend?  What professional experience do they have? What does that tell you about what they might expect from you?  Does the program you are auditioning for suit your educational goals?  Why are you auditioning for them?  For example, if you would prefer to major in music education and not performance, auditioning for a performance degree might not be the best option for you,  and you should make sure the school offers an education major.  Are you hoping for a major orchestral career?  Choose a school with a good orchestra to play in, not one with a chamber music focus. Or vice versa:  if you want to have a chamber music career, choose a school with strong chamber music faculty and requirements, rather than one that focuses on its orchestral program. 

4) Most audition candidates were already prepared for the other obvious advice: dress nicely, show up on time, behave respectfully.  Perhaps this is because that advice applies to any interview and not just an audition.  However, I would offer some advice on a much more basic level.  Are you sure you want to pursue a music performance degree, and that you are prepared to do so?  This degree has very specific requirements, and the field is extremely competitive.  Do some research on what it takes to, say, play in the LA Phil.  I like to compare it to major league sports.  Do you think someone who wants to play professional basketball has a chance of doing so if they’ve never played on a team before college?  The same applies to an aspiring musician:  you just will not be competitive in the field if you’ve never played in an orchestra or had any lessons on your instrument before you arrive in college.  This is not to say that you cannot still make a career out of music, but it will not be in the LA Phil.  And it will be difficult, and require a lot of hard work and sacrifice.  In America, we like to think that you can do anything with hard work.  To a certain extent, this is true.  But there is such a thing as starting too late to actually be competitive in an extremely difficult field.  So, I am the bearer of bad news:  It is unrealistic to hope for a career in a major orchestra if you have never had a lesson or played in an orchestra and you are 17 years old.  You will be competing with people who already have more than 10 years of experience than you.  This setback is extremely difficult to overcome.  Like a career in sports, you might find opportunities teaching or coaching and you might even make it to the minor leagues, but the majors are, realistically, unattainable.  Job opportunities in music are generally very few.  In our culture, because of the prevalence of sports, most people realize that they have no chance of playing pro basketball if they haven’t at least played on their school’s varsity team.  But because many of us have no contact with high-level classical music, we don’t have any idea of what it actually takes to get there.  I’d really like to address the band & orchestra directors out there.  As a music educator, I completely understand that you want to encourage your students’ appreciation and enjoyment of music.  But please talk to your students about the realities of a career in classical music before encouraging them to audition for a performance degree. 

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