BONUS POST: A real audition recap!

As you may know, we’ve been in a lull in the official challenge for the last couple of weeks. You’ll be happy to know, though, that I didn’t just immediately run off on vacation (not immediately). In fact, in my first week off, instead of recording a new post for you guys, I took a real, live audition instead.

And I won.

I know, right???

It was for a regional orchestra in Kentucky, one that I used to play with regularly when I was in school. Since I moved to Chicago, though, it was a little far away—I just couldn’t justify driving six hours for section pay comparable to what I could find in and around Chicago. So I had only played with them occasionally since graduating: a Christmas concert here, a Fourth of July there. But this audition was for a principal position. That’s a whole different ball game.

Now, I had a couple other encouraging signs I could win besides the fact I used to play in the section. I knew the person who had had the position before, I knew the general level of my competitors, and I had heard the conductor liked my playing. But most important, I had taken this audition before. When I was just finishing my master’s and moving to Chicago, the principal position was open, and the list was basically identical. I was a runner up that time—they chose someone they felt would be more permanent. Three years later, I’m still in Chicago, and the position opened up again. I’d be almost negligent not to apply.


Despite feeling like I had some advantages going into this audition, I actually had a pretty big disadvantage, too—I didn’t get the list until eight days before. It wasn’t advertised in the AFM International Musician (not a union orchestra), but they had sent out a local notice, which I guess I wasn’t quite local enough to receive. But luckily, the audition ended up being on a day that I was free and, luckily, the list touched on a lot of things I’ve been working on through this challenge.

But if I thought my first week off would be easy or undirected, I was dead wrong.

The list!

As you can see, the list wasn’t very long. There wasn’t anything I had to learn from scratch, either. But since I basically only had a week, I still had to be strategic about my preparation. That meant I focused mostly on solidifying the technical. I know all these pieces fairly well, so I wasn’t too worried about making ludicrous musical choices—I just focused on playing it safe. What I missed most was the mental preparation. In my experience, that’s a whole other layer of preparation, on top of the technical and the musical, and it makes all the difference.

Usually, once I can physically play the excerpts at a high level, I take what I’ve learned through practicing the notes and make a little plan for where I want my brain to be at any given moment in each excerpt. It helps keep my mind from racing ahead when nerves are trying to take over. I don’t have to worry about what’s ahead because I’m just concentrating on playing this triplet in first position really, really well. Now shifting to third; another triplet, checking my placement in the bow; another triplet, keeping the crescendo going; shifting in the middle of this triplet; now one sixteenth, spend a lot of bow! And three sixteenths under a slur, keep the sound good, more pressure to make up for the slower bow speed. Play each note in this next beat of sixteenths and shift, and finally, vibrate that high D!

And that’s just a few bars in Don Juan.

For me, keeping my mind under control like that takes just as much practice as my fingers. It’s not entirely separate, but as we know, the best way to execute something reliably is to practice it in isolation, and I just didn’t have the time. So I had to rely on work I’d done before—with varying success.

But we’ll get to that.


How many auditions have I taken now? Fifteen? Twenty? Something like that, and I’ve (now) won three. Every single one of them has been different.

This time, I drove in that morning and arrived at the hall about an hour and a half before my assigned time. They were still hearing principal bassoon auditions when I got there, but I was able to get a practice room right away, which was lucky. Our times were assigned ahead of time and I was second, so I didn’t even go into the communal waiting room until after I played. There were six or seven of us (many of whom it turned out I knew), and they had us all play the whole list straight through, which meant there was only one round. There was also no screen (again, not a union orchestra), but I actually like that—it’s easier to connect with the panel when they’re real humans in front of you and not disembodied voices just waiting for you to fail.

Since I started seriously taking auditions, I’ve been recording them on my phone. I just make sure I’m wearing pants with pockets, start the recording when I get to my private warm-up room, and stick it comfortably in my back pocket as I usually do. (Side note: I believe in dressing comfortably for auditions—no reason to make things harder on yourself, as long as you can be comfortable without looking like a slob in case you win. That means I often wear dark jeans and a nice top. Semi-professional, but enough like what I normally wear to not be distracting.) I’ve never had a problem, and the recordings are incredibly valuable. Seeing how things change between the practice room and the audition stage is… illuminating, to say the least.

So, in that spirit, here are a few of my excerpts side-by-side, from my run-throughs in the practice room directly before the audition, and from the audition itself.

Hindemith 1st page, practice room

Hindemith 1st page, audition

Beethoven 3 Scherzo, practice room

Beethoven 3 Scherzo, audition

Mendelssohn Scherzo 1st theme, practice room

Mendelssohn Scherzo 1st theme, audition

Shostakovich 5, practice room

Shostakovich 5, audition

Don Juan, practice room

Don Juan, audition

So that's my audition. Hopefully these comparisons are as informative for you as they are for me—because, oh man, do I still have some work to do.

Not immediately, though. A few days after this audition, I ran off to Burning Man. Did you know they have an orchestra?

I went and joined the Playa Pops for a week—I did NOT take my good instrument!

I'm on my way back to real life now, and with it will come a new Challenge post. Stay tuned!