Audition Tips, Part II
Last week, I began this Audition Tips series by addressing the importance of having a positive mindset, and selecting appropriate repertoire. This week, I would like to continue the list of tips with some advice about auditioning for undergraduate and graduate college music programs.
3. It’s all part of the audition.
When you apply to attend a collegiate music program, your goal is not merely to be the best player the professor hears on the audition day. For one thing, anyone can recognize excellent playing; a great teacher can hear the potential someone has to become a great player down the line. More important than that, when you are accepted into a studio, a teacher and an institution have determined that having you around for two, three, or four years is not a mistake. The teacher has decided that spending an hour or more alone in a room with you every week will be a positive experience, and believes that you will take that time together as seriously and value it as much as he or she does. The teacher believes that you will be a contributing member of the studio, supporting and being a great example to your colleagues. To guarantee yourself a place on the podium in this particular flavor of musical competition, you have to do a lot more than just show up and play impressively the day of the audition. Consider all of the following to be critical pieces of the application and audition process:
Do not wait until the audition day to make first contact with your prospective private instructor. That relationship should begin months, if not years before you are applying, if you would like to have the best possible chance of being accepted into the studio. Geography permitting, take at least one private lesson beforehand. Pay for it with a smile, if the teacher opts to charge you. Not only will this early cultivation of familiarity make you a known quantity and a face with a name, but it will give you the chance to make an informed decision about whether spending years of your life and many thousands of dollars to study with a given teacher is worth it. No teacher can be just right for every single student, and you can save a lot of trouble and money in the long run by making sure a teacher feels like a good fit for you.
Make sure that all of your communications are professional and respectful. Check your spelling and grammar. Find out how the people you are writing or speaking to prefer to be addressed, and address them accordingly. These are ways to show that you care, and that you are capable of paying attention to detail. Attention to detail is the habit that ties all musical learning and excellence together.
Be kind to others. An audition day sees whole families flocking to a campus under intense stress, and having the maturity and empathy to greet your competition with a sincere smile and your best wishes, hold a door for someone carrying multiple instruments, or in any way be helpful and reassuring, will keep you calm by taking your mind off your own worries, even for a moment. You might just strike up a friendship with someone who turns out to be a fellow student of yours next year, and you will certainly run into some of those people sooner or later. It’s a small world, especially if you are in music.
Do your research. Know as much as possible about how auditions are conducted at each school you apply to. Have an idea of what your schedule will be for the day well in advance, so that you can plan accordingly. Know where and when you will be given space and time to warm up. Know who will be hearing your audition or auditions (I had three separate playing auditions in one day for each of my graduate degrees at Eastman: an individual classical audition, an individual jazz audition, and a group jazz audition with all jazz applicants there on that particular audition day, with different groups of faculty present for each audition). Have the appropriate number of resumes or sheet music copies with you to distribute, plus a few extra in case more people unexpectedly show up to hear you.
Not unlike a job interview, an audition will probably find you fielding some questions. Consider what the audition panel might be likely to ask (your research and prior relationships will help with that) and have good, honest talking points to integrate into your answers. Don’t be afraid to voice strong opinions if a good answer requires it, but use your research to your advantage to avoid offending the faculty members present. For example, if you are auditioning for someone who specializes in writing or performing avant-garde music, you’ll want to avoid denigrating the work of similar performers or composers, regardless of your personal tastes. The audition panel might ask you if you have any questions for them. Have several well-conceived, non-generic questions ready to go, and listen to the answers carefully. Have more questions than you actually need, in case the panel manages to answer them before you have the chance to ask.
Send an email thanking each person you played for. This kind of follow-up, besides being polite, keeps your name ringing in the ears of the faculty who have you under consideration. You don’t want to be forgotten or lost in the shuffle, and a concise but heartfelt thank you will not only aid in avoiding that fate, but will set you apart from the many students who will inevitably fail to send any such note.