Hello Hello! Now that I'm in winter quasi-hibernation, or maybe I'm coming out of audition prep hibernation? I have blog posts for days to churn out!
The last few weeks have been intense! Performances every weekend, rehearsals almost every night, auditions to prepare for, proposal edits to consider, research to do, not to mention all the normal stuff that has to happen (my dog won't walk herself!)
I did 2 auditions in 10 days and lived to tell the tale. More than that actually, I won. With every audition I do, I am gradually refining my preparation process and game day routine. You can prepare like a champion, practice hours every day, and then right before your time slot those silly nerves kick in and turn you into a useless heap of jittery limbs, clumsy fingers, and sweaty palms. Not Fair!
There are professionals out there who really have some insight into the preparation process (hint hint Nathan Cole), and those people have won way bigger, more prestigious auditions than I have. They can tell you things like what fingering to use, what bowing works best, how to practice that one specific passage for the best results. I don't think I can do that yet. What I do think I have finally figured out is my audition day routine and necessities.
Many moons ago, when I was a high school student at Brevard, there was a lecture on successful orchestra audition taking. One of the speakers (whose name, of course, I can't remember) was a percussionist, and he was cool. Like way cool. Like, ride his longboard around summer camp cool. At the time he was the principal percussionist of the Pittsburgh Symphony. He made a point of emphasizing that this is a race. You train for this with the same dedication you would for the Olympics. You do everything it takes to win. You arrive at the venue prepared to be there for a full day BECAUSE YOU HAVE PREPARED TO WIN...and winning, where auditions are concerned, can take all day or even a few days.
I don't claim to have it all figured out but here are a few things that I bring with me.
1. Bring your own copies of the excerpts and solo.
Kind of a no brainer - you want your fingerings, markings, and personal reminders. Typically, the orchestra will supply copies, but they will look completely different than what you've been staring at for months now. Just bring them. Even if you're concerto is memorized (which it should be if you're really prepared) bring a copy.
2. Notes and Reminders
I was so nervous at a recent audition that I had to remind myself to smile. Silly Right? Smiling relieves stress (so they say). If you're like me and can't stop talking when you're nervous try to joke a little with whoever is fetching you and transporting you to the 'chamber of doom' it will relieve just a little of that anxiety and dread. I try to induce some backstage yawning to keep my jaw relaxed and my brain oxygenated.
The notes I write (like those seen above) are general and broad. All of my specific notes are contained within the relevant excerpt. This is just the stuff I need to remember to set the right tone for the entire audition.
Not just any old snack - something healthy. I pack bananas and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I know everyone claims that the potassium in bananas relieves nerves and that is a good reason to eat them, but I take my queue from runners and eat bananas for the type of energy they release. Throw in some protein from the peanut butter, mixed with some whole grain bread, and you're fueling a machine that can stay in the game for miles and miles, or hours and hours.
This might just be all in my head, but these rescue pastilles claim to relieve stress and honestly I need as much of that as I can get! Plus they're a yummy treat backstage.
Nerves got your heart racing? You probably don't even realize how much faster you're speeding through those excerpts as a warm up. The last thing you want to do is lose control or panic because you feel out of control RIGHT before your audition. I keep a metronome handy to make sure I'm locked into my ideal tempo at all times.
You want to be so in tune it hurts when you hit the audition room. I am constantly tuning before an audition. I recommend getting your hands on a metronome/tuner that does both. The one pictured gives drones, frequencies, beats, and subdivisions. I don't think I would be able to perform some of the excerpts at a high level if it weren't for all of these functions.
6. A Book
Sometimes audition days involve more waiting than playing. I tend to get antsy if I'm left idle for too long. I don't want to overplay so I bring a book with me. In between rounds (if I make it that far) I trade off between reading and playing to keep myself warmed up but also sane.
This is for listening (duh). I spend much time leading up to auditions listening to the repertoire. It becomes my running playlist, my driving playlist, my blog writing playlist, you name it. It is really helpful to have access to the music backstage as well. I also use music to get myself pumped up to perform and compete - Michael Phelps and I have so much in common - so it is not uncommon to find me listening to Rihanna, Beyoncé, or some other non-classical #bosslady before I perform. Anything to get you in that winning zone.
Lots and Lots of H2O!!!! Flush those nerves away! I don't know about you, but I get a dry mouth when I'm nervous. I often feel parched before a performance and filled with the intense desire to guzzle fluids. So to save myself the anxiety of running back and forth to a water fountain I just bring a huge container of my own and refill it as needed.
9. Other Repertoire
Let's face it, if you don't have a solid grip on the excerpts and your concerto by audition day you're probably not prepared. I tend to work myself into a bit of a lather if I keep playing the audition repertoire over and over again backstage. I get really hung up on little mistakes, and it tends to hurt me in the audition. To stay warmed up and prepared, I pack some music that no orchestra committee cares about hearing. I am a devout Flesch practicer. He's my man. Rarely a day goes by that my dog does not wince at my Flesch scales, arpeggios, 3rds, 6ths, octaves, 10ths, broken 3rds, and chromatic scales. When I first get to the audition, this is typically the first thing I pull out and start playing.
As a pedagogical exercise, I have been playing through 'student' etudes lately, and some of them are so beautiful! I have two books of Mazas Etudes, and I think they are all wonderful. He writes lovely melodies and the technical demands are not Paganini level impossible making for a nice mental break from Schumann Scherzo, Don Juan, Midsummer Night's Dream, etc. This music keeps me warmed up and fresh without the anxiety and mind games of excerpts. Keep it Calm. That's the name of my backstage game
A pain reliever is so helpful to have on hand! You might not need it, but who knows, better to be prepared! I don't drink coffee on audition days because it makes me too jittery. Unfortunately, that means sometimes I get a withdrawal headache (ugh! Addiction is no joke!) or maybe it is tension related. Or maybe your period started that morning, and you're battling serious cramps on top of audition day jitters (yeah, that definitely happened, and it was NOT fun). Either way - having something on hand to relieve that discomfort is tremendously helpful.
My how New Age, Right? Lavender is proven to have a calming effect. Why do you think there's all that Lavender scented bubble bath out there? I do carry this little bottle with me. I used to put a dab on my wrists, but now I just take a nice, long sniff periodically.
There are a few things always included in my day that are not pictured above. The following are the other things I do prior to an audition to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible.
Airplane Mode is for more than just the Sky
Stay off of social media! Who cares what inflammatory comment or article somebody just posted on Facebook 3 minutes ago?! Is there any photo on Instagram that you NEED to see right now? NOPE! Who needs that kind of distraction!? Just to be safe, I put my phone on airplane mode. Several years ago I was backstage at a concerto competition and looked at my phone to see what time it was. My screen lit up with a text message from an unexpected number that totally threw me off. My head was not in the game, and I finished 3rd. This was really frustrating! I was distracted when I couldn't afford to be distracted and when there's a job or money on the line you don't have the luxury of distraction like that.
I do think it is important to have a support team, so I will send update texts or make a phone call to a loved one if I need a little love or played poorly and need to blow off a little steam before the (potential) next round.
A good breakfast
I am blessed with a magnificent person in my life who has gone to school for nutrition. She is pretty much on speed dial in situations like this (or all the time...Hi Madeline) to consult with regarding fueling events such as this. Madeline is a classically trained musician, and she is acutely aware of the stress of auditions and performing. Who do you think introduced me to Natural Calm all those years ago???
I'm pretty good about eating well, but I have not had hours of schooling on the subject. To cover my bases, I check in with Mad Dog to make sure I'm not going to regret my breakfast choices later on in the day (don't mind the autocorrect here - iphones still can't exactly read our minds yet).
You know that thing where you get all panicky and feel out of control? These yoga people figured that one out a while ago and I have to say it is an awesome inclusion to audition days. I don't sit on a Turkish Rug and meditate for hours the morning of but I do close my eyes and do the following breathing exercise before hitting the stage. Yes, the proctor will look at you with concern like 'OMG what is going on!? Has this candidate lost their mind? Do I need to call a Doctor? Or maybe a psych ward?' But when you win it will all be worth it.
A great resource regarding the inclusion of yoga in your preparation is Musician's Yoga by Mia Olson. As a yoga teacher, performer, and educator she has done a wonderful job of applying yoga to the unique environment of performers.
Comfortable Shoes and clothes
This is probably not the best time to try out those cute new heels or that pantsuit. Stick with the tried and true. You don't want to suddenly discover you can't lift your bow arm fast enough minutes before your audition time.
Wonder Woman Pose
According to Amy Cuddy, your behavior and emotions are firmly tied. The most powerful leaders don't merely think a certain way, they carry themselves a certain way. You should do the same.
Or fake it til you make it? (At least in the bathroom mirror right before the audition).
Best of Luck to anyone taking an audition soon! I hope this is helpful!
What do you do to prepare for auditions? Any suggestions or recommendations?
Leave a comment below!