AUDITIONS! The “A” word that strikes fear in the hearts of musicians of all ages! I wish I could tell you there is an easier way, but I cannot. What I can do is offer some helpful advice on how to play the best audition possible. As someone who has been auditioning youth orchestra players at all levels for over 45 years, I am a fairly good judge on what constitutes a successful audition.
Each year, I audition all instruments in Chicago Orchestral Music Academy's Protégé Philharmonic, our youth orchestra for high school and advanced junior high school students. This gives me the opportunity to interact with these students and give them instant feedback. Especially with the younger players, it also gives me the opportunity to try to settle their nerves, so they are not so frightened and can play their best.
The first thing I look for when I am conducting auditions is how well a musician has prepared the audition. This tells me a lot of things: (a) how serious a musician they are; (b) how much they want the position; and (c) their sense of pride in their ability to make music. Always prepare well!
The second thing I look for is attention to detail, which includes rhythm, dynamics and intonation. I audition players as young as 6th grade, doing their first audition, all the way up to very experienced musicians. No matter the level, attention to detail shows me their potential as an orchestra player. Technique varies widely from player to player, but a musician attempting to play the music, and not just the notes, will usually score higher points. More technique will come with age and experience. It’s the attention to detail that separates those musicians who “play the notes,” but a musician attempting to play the music, and not just the notes, will always score higher. It’s the attention to detail that separates those musicians who “play the notes,” and those musicians who “play the music.”
A good attitude is critical to a successful audition. If it’s a close call, the decision will ultimately go in favor of the musician with the better attitude. Personally, I’ll take a less talented player with a good attitude over a more talented player with a bad attitude. A good orchestra is comprised of a number of players working together for the good of the ensemble. A player with a bad attitude can drag down the whole ensemble if an attitude problem gets in the way of that process. No conductor wants to deal with it!
Auditions determine all musicians’ future successes at every level. It should definitely be in a good youth orchestra program, like Chicago Orchestral Academy's Protégé Philharmonic. Get lots of experience playing as much orchestral literature as possible (we play 4 full concerts of top orchestral literature a year), prepare well, and go confidently in the direction of your dreams!