Your Next Audition

21 April 2016

Everyone has to play auditions. This is true from the 8th grade clarinetist who is trying to get into the junior high band to the young professional auditioning for one of the world's great orchestras. Even the surgeon who plays the clarinet in the “doctor’s symphony” may take an audition for the opportunity to perform the Mozart clarinet concerto with his orchestra. Auditions are a part of our musical experience. It is an experience that should be enjoyed just as much as one enjoys the experience of a performance. Unfortunately, for most clarinetists the mention of an audition is like hearing the dentist prescribe a root canal procedure. In even the best of times, getting ready for an audition can sometimes feel like a daunting task.

The key to performing a successful audition is in allowing ample time for a thoughtful and methodical period of practice and preparation. I remember that my teacher, Yehuda Gilad, always lectured me on the importance of executing a very calculated practice for auditions. He said, “When you are on stage, everything leaves you EXCEPT your preparation.” Thousands of performances and dozens of auditions have taught me that this is quite true. After 27 years of performance, I now know that I will always get nervous. But, with the correct kind of preparation, I can be very familiar, comfortable, musical, and technically secure as the butterflies nervously flutter in my stomach when I walk on stage. I have broken down the pre-audition preparation period into 5 stages that I would like to share with you.

Preparation step number one: Acquisition and organization of music

Acquiring the music for an audition might seem like an obvious step in preparing for an audition, but you would be surprised at how many musicians do not make the effort to make sure they have the correct music. There are many editions of the clarinet repertoire, and having the wrong edition of music can set you up for an immediate dismissal by the audition committee. Some orchestras and bands distribute photocopies of the exact music that will be on the stand during an audition. Unfortunately, this is not the norm. Most organizations, from the state honor band all the way to the New York Philharmonic, send a list of repertoire through the mail. It is crucial to perform from an unedited manuscript because edited versions have additions that are not in the original. The committee will be reading from the original. For example, If the all state honor band lists the Weber Concertino as one of the required pieces, do not play from the edited version that might have been included as an etude in one of the many clarinet studies books. Practice and perform from the full Weber Concertino part that comes as a set with a piano reduction. Many versions of “solo repertoire” that are included in clarinet studies books contain incorrect dynamics and have altered notes in order make the piece of music easier. Similarly, if you are preparing for an orchestral audition, do not practice from an orchestral excerpt studies book. Orchestral excerpt books are wonderful for learning and studying other clarinetists’ interpretations of clarinet solos. However, the excerpts in orchestral studies books are only the excerpts. For example, the Mendelssohn Scherzo excerpt in he International Music’s Orchestral Studies Volume II is missing four very important bars of the first clarinet part. These “tutti” bars are always included in any audition asking for Mendelssohn's Scherzo, yet oddly missing from the excerpt book. The audition committee will notice these missing bars of music if you neglect to play them.

All orchestra auditions should be performed from the original part and one can order the first clarinet part from a music publishing house or music store. It is also important to make sure the part that you acquire is the same edition that the committee requires on their audition list. A piece of music like The Firebird Suite by Igor Stravinsky has had many incarnations and editions. Each edition is titled by the year that is re-edited. For example, there is a Firebird Suite edition 1910,1919,1945 and the most recent version, the 1919 Suite re-orchestrated in 1989 by McAlister.

If you are going to carry more than one part onto the audition stage, it is important to organize the music into a single folder. This can be a big folder with pockets or a homemade spiral bound book of photocopies that can be bound at the neighborhood copy center. Walking on stage with a bushel of music under your arm is a challenge, and dropping an armload of music on stage is embarrassing and a real confidence destroyer. By preparing a simple system of organization for your music, you will walk into your practice room or on to the stage with an accurate and concise collection of repertoire.

Preparation step number two: Practicing with technology

The modern day clarinetist is blessed to have an array of audition improving technology at his or her fingertips. The most basic of these technology aids is the compact disk and also the MP3 player. These two devices allow a clarinet player to rifle through a half dozen recorded versions of the Rimsky-Korsakov's Capricco Espagnol in a matter of minutes. Uploading or "ripping" the clarinet orchestral and solo repertoire into a computer as MP3s enables a clarinetist to learn and instantly study multiple versions of music by clicking away at the computer's mouse. Listening to the orchestration or accompaniment and understanding how the clarinet fits into the music being performed is essential to the preparation process. Too many errors of musical interpretation occur due to a lack of basic listening knowledge of the repertoire that is being practiced.

Using a metronome is helpful. But recording one's self (on a cassette or minidisk) with a metronome during practice is like receiving all of the answers for a calculus test! We have all practiced with a metronome from the very beginning of our music studies and I believe that this continued and unpleasant tradition has made our ears unable to hear some of the imperfections that the metronome is revealing. By listening to a recording of our own playing, while accompanied with a metronome, we can hear exactly how we may be misaligned with the beat. I have noticed that this can save not only hours, but sometimes weeks of practicing. It is always a wonderfully confident feeling to perform a technically challenging passage after this type of metronome preparation.

Preparation step number three: Prepare for the audition environment

Repetitious practicing and preparation can lead to successful auditions only if it is done with the audition environment in mind. I have asked many of my students, "Why didn't your audition go better?" My students always give me the same answer, "I felt so nervous and unfamiliar with sitting down and only having one chance to play each passage!" Many clarinetists spend hours practicing the opening of the Mozart Concerto without ever playing it "cold." Playing "cold" means that you start a piece of music with at least 20 seconds of silence before you form your embouchure around the mouthpiece. Becoming familiar with this uncomfortable feeling can be calming, and this period of silence is also helpful for making a strong first impression. It would be a shame if one spent weeks perfecting the first two pages of Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe for a symphony audition and not be able to get the first note to speak. This can easily occur if the clarinetist is not prepared for the audition committee to ask for a two minute delay while the committee completes their notes for the previous candidate.

Preparation step number four: Final run through(s) for clarinetists and non-clarinetists

The practice room is not the stage. Unfortunately, many performers realize this too late and come home from an audition feeling as if they had just taken a round trip to the planet Mars. But this doesn't have to be the story of every audition. Mock auditions are the best way to prepare for the physical and mental challenge of standing alone on stage and being judged. I have learned from my own experience that performing a mock audition for clarinet players is helpful in pin pointing many technical and musical flaws that have gone unnoticed in preparation. In addition to mock auditions for clarinet colleagues, playing for non-clarinet players aids in finding out how an audition performance is perceived in its entirety.

Preparation step number five: Touch ups with honesty

After all the study, practice, and mock auditions are completed, one difficult step remains: Honest self-analysis. Recording your mock auditions and being honest about what you hear is the hardest thing to do. By being truthful about what needs to be improved and taking the time to fix it before your big audition day, one can avoid being the sad rejected individual walking away from their audition saying, "I don't know what they are looking for? I think I played everything perfectly!"

I believe that every musician has a personal “bank account” of confidence. We all make positive “deposits” into this account when we have successful performance experiences and negative “withdrawals” of our confidence after poor performances or auditions. Preparing in an organized and thoughtful manner can deposit heaps of confidence into your account to be used for your big day. There is nothing more calming and reassuring than walking out on the stage knowing that you have done everything possible to prepare in the best way that you could. As soon as the music starts, “Everything leaves you except your preparation.”