Friday, August 12, 2005

audition habits, part III

This is the third part in a series of posts summarizing the audition advice of Thomas Freer (TF), assistant principal timpanist and section percussionist in the Cleveland Orchestra. The previous post covered some strategies to streamline the preparation process before you even enter the practice room - categorizing the list, compiling recordings, studying tempi, marking your parts. The majority of TF's audition advice, though, was very much concerned with the kind of day-to-day work necessary to prepare for an audition - specifically, how to recreate the experience of taking an audition in obsessive detail; or as he put it, how to "practice auditioning".

1. Consistency: the hobgoblin of successful audition candidates

At its most basic level, to “practice auditioning” is simple common sense: of course we should make every effort to simulate the audition situation, so we can make that situation as comfortable and familiar as possible. You may not have an hour to warm up - so practice being ready to perform in 15 minutes, or with no warm-up at all. You won’t audition in a tiny practice room, so play in different acoustics, and get used to projecting in a larger space. If your audition is scheduled for 10 am, reserve your most intense practice sessions for the morning, so you’ll know how everything feels at that time. Wear clothing similar to what you’ll be wearing on the audition day - you don’t want to be thinking about how funny your shirt feels or how your shoes make you an inch taller than usual. The more ways you can find to approximate actual audition situations in your practice, the better prepared and more confident you will be.

clear the stage, I'm trying to practice auditioning! Posted by Picasa

2. You need lots of warm bodies; comments can be nice, too

In order to truly simulate an audition, of course, you need an audition panel to listen. Most people would agree that “playing for people” is a vital step in developing audition chops - however, the usefulness is not so much in the feedback as the presence of people, and their ability to throw you unexpected demands. Give your audition panelists the clipboards and excerpts, as they will always want to write comments. But don’t let it become a masterclass situation, and don’t reduce your pool of panelists to people who play Don Juan better than you can - their job isn’t to solve your problems, but to sit behind a screen and force you to solve them yourself.

If you play as many mock auditions as TF recommends - as much as 90% of your practicing as the date approaches - you’ll amass an overwhelming array of comments, more than you could hope to absorb. You’ll also inevitably find a few which are helpful, and which you'll want to assimilate into your playing - if every comment sheet has the same criticism, they all might have a point! In general, though, you want to trust yourself, your teacher, maybe another musician or two whose input you value highly - and take everything else with massive doses of salt.

3. Trusting yourself means watching yourself

No matter how many brilliant musicians you are able to corral behind a screen to listen, the most helpful corrections will made by listening to yourself. Therefore recording and reviewing practice sessions, and especially practice auditions, is invaluable. TF highly recommends using a video camera whenever possible, as there are some problems that are just easier to fix if we can see them. Audio recordings can also reveal plenty of intonation, articulation, or rhythm problems, but video makes the process of diagnosing and fixing these problems much faster and more exact.

In either case, a recording is only useful if we are able listen to it and analyze it carefully. As TF said, as musicians we tend to not record ourselves enough, and when we do record we tend to listen back in a haphazard way. He recommended reviewing each take at least four times, emphasizing a different element on each playback:

  1. Time - compare your tempo to what you intended. If the excerpt is in a strict tempo, check to see if your recording will sync with a metronome.
  2. Rhythm - listen to rhythmic relationships, paying particular attention to the solidity and character of the rhythmic gestures
  3. Intonation - concentrate on your pitch
  4. General musicality - now that you've isolated several elements, take a big picture view - are the sound and phrasing, appropriate, and can you hear the orchestra?

Since attending TF's classes, I've listened to a few of my practice recordings in this way, and it's given me an incredible amount of useful information. My previous habit was to listen exclusively to sound quality, or just form a general impression - "I cacked a note on the Mozart, but the Beethoven rocked." Using TF's more systematic approach, I've been able to glean much more constructive criticism - "The Mendelssohn drags in the quarter notes, and the Brahms needs a clearer sense of direction." I'm sure that using video I could give myself even more useful comments, addressing bow placement, left hand technique, and general tension - I may even want to play back the tape a couple extra times to check for grooming errors and dumb facial expressions!

The next installment of "audition habits of a highly effective percussionist" includes advice for the day of the audition, plus some stuff that I didn't manage to fit into the first three installments. Thanks again to Tom Freer for all his help, and feel free to comment with your audition advice and suggestions!


Anonymous said...

I like your blog. Thanks for making it available.
- Wendy

Matt Heller said...

Thanks for reading, and for your interesting website. When my sister got married last summer, they made bobble-head dolls of the entire wedding party. It seemed like a sort of dorky idea at the time, but I still have my bobble (here's a photo), and it always reminds me of what a crazy wedding that was! I'll be sure to borrow some of your ideas if I'm ever asked to throw a bridal shower.

Anonymous said...

Hey, you have a swell blog here! I will definitely visit your site again ! I have a cholesterol site. It all but treats everything that concerns cholesterol material. If you possess the time, your are welcome to come and check it out.

Wendy said...

The bobbleheads are cool. Did they 'make' them or have a company make them?

Matt Heller said...

anonymous cholesterol person - I appreciate your feedback, and I hope we all possess some time to take care of our health - or else we might not have time left for much of anything! Thanks for your website!

wendy - They ordered them through a website called They had to secretively obtain frontal and profile photos, but it's worth the effort if you love bizarre souvenirs!

Wendy said...

Thanks Matt!
I do love bizarre novelty things. I'll definitely look into those bobbleheads.
P.S. Sorry that this is so off topic.