By Shane Griffin

You’ve taken care of your research, submitted you paperwork and prescreen, and been practicing for months (actually years), and it is now time for the audition. You’ve set your travel arrangements, the school has sent you your audition weekend information, and you are ready to play. What other factors remain and what will this experience be like?

You are more than likely traveling to the school’s audition weekend and they will have some kind of registration that you need to take care of. This is pretty straight-forward and the schools I went to actually handed me a folder that had been prepared with all kinds of pertinent information. Remember, the school is actually on your side. They want you to be at ease so that you can perform your best. They want to see how well you can play, not just how well you can cope with the excess stress we are all under during audition season.

During registration you will receive your audition times and locations (though you may have already received this beforehand), places you can warm-up, and a schedule of other recommended activities. Usually, there is some kind of welcome session, question and answer session, or sometimes even a small faculty recital. Some of these may be beneficial, but in my opinion they are all secondary to your real purpose, the audition.

When you receive your audition times and location, go find where it is you will be playing. Some campuses are small and this will take 2 minutes, others are very large and you will be thankful that you know exactly where you are supposed to go. It is amazing how much it can lower your stress level to know where you are supposed to be and exactly how to get there. How horrifying would it be for you to sprint into an audition, winded and sweating, because you thought the MA meant Musical Arts Center instead of Music Annex?

At this point, another round of the “waiting game” begins. Make sure you have plenty of time to warm-up and run through some of you excerpts. Remember, this is not the time to fix things or change the way you play something. That was a month ago. Do not let other individuals’ playing abilities or interpretations get in your head during the warm-up period. You are auditioning for Graduate School; of course the other players are good. Do not let it psych you out. Many people make the mistake of getting in their own head after hearing the person before them audition or warm-up. Don’t fall victim to this psychological trap.

Once you are in the audition room, things may vary a bit from location to location. At the schools were I auditioned everything was relatively laid back. I was given my choice of where to begin, which excerpts I would play from my list, etc. All of the professors were very accommodating and understanding, even cracking jokes to cool my nerves a bit. Speaking of nerves, let’s address that issue. They will be there. Even if you never experience performance anxiety, you will feel the nerves of the audition. Auditions are fundamentally different than performances in that in a performance, people came to see you play the mistakes you make, while minimized through practice, are what they are, small imperfections in an imperfect, human activity. In an audition, your acceptance to the institution is on the line, and that acceptance can have an effect on your career, which is daunting and complicates our view of mistakes. Don’t let it. The professors are professional musicians, and know that mistakes happen, so do not let it snowball. So you dropped a note on Porgy. So what? It’s over. Don’t let that stress carry over into your snare drum playing, or your marimba solo. Your ability to continue to perform at a high level, even after making mistakes, is important, and professors are taking it into consideration in their evaluations (professors, please correct me if I’m wrong, and I’d love your two cents).

There are several things that can help you control your nerves. The first is preparation. Over prepare for the audition. You don’t want to just play your piece and “get it right,” you want to show the panel why you are better then the other 10-100 candidates that applied. Prepare to leave no doubt in their mind who their choice should be, and then trust your preparation. The second is your mindset about auditions. Do you have a healthy mindset? Are you honest with yourself about how good you are? Often times, we are dishonest with ourselves about how good we are, and then expect higher results than we are prepared to deliver, thus letting ourselves down, and snowballing out of control. Being honest with yourself helps you find your true weaknesses and prepare to face them, and it also helps your mindset while playing and auditioning. The third, and most controversial nerve control technique, is the use of beta blockers. If you don’t know what beta blockers are, they are basically prescription pills that prevent your body from experiencing any of the physical reactions that are brought on by stress and nervousness. They are designed to lower your heart rate and are often used for people with panic attack issues and hypertension. The arguments for and against beta blockers are another blog post entirely (which is now on my “to write” list), but they can benefit you as a player, and is something that everyone should weigh the pros and cons for on their own.

The three things mentioned above, while helping you perform better, will also improve your poise, which is one of the two most important characteristics to display during an audition: poise and professionalism. To me, poise is basically your composure while playing. Are you easily thrown off of your game? Do you play with confidence and passion? Do you have a good “poker face,” or do you freak out every time you make a mistake? Professionalism is basically how you act throughout the process, both while playing and not. Are you dressed professionally? Do you have all of the gear you need? Did you bring a copy of your Resume, Repertoire list, and Music for the panel? These little things show that you know what is going on, and you are prepared for the situation.

There are two things that are important to take into each audition. First you need your gear. This includes any sticks, mallets, accessory instruments, snare drums and of course any music you may need. I have two rules I attempt to follow while traveling for auditions and professional engagements. The first rule is most necessary when you break the second: dress for the business you are traveling for. This ensures that you will have at least one outfit to wear if the airline loses your bag. The second is to avoid checking any bags when traveling for auditions or other short-term professional engagements. When flying you get a carry-on and one “personal bag.” So, figure out how to pack all of your clothes, mallets, and accessories into a carry-on, and then treat your snare drum like your “personal bag.” You can generally get hooked up with a snare stand upon arrival. I personally didn’t take a snare drum or cymbals to any of my auditions as it seemed to simplify the flying process and left me lugging around less gear on audition day. This is a very personal choice, however. Do whatever will make you feel most comfortable.

The other thing you need to have is an audition packet. This is a professionally presented copy of your resumé, references, repertoire list, and all solo literature you plan on playing. You need to ensure that you have a copy for everyone on the panel, so print and bind an extra copy if you need too. They may or may not use this, but even if they don’t, it shows that you are prepared and if it looks nice, it shows that you are professional. Don’t give them the crumpled up copy of your music that’s been in the bottom of your stick bag since you memorized the solo. First impressions are crucial, especially when they are your only impression. Maximize this opportunity and use it to your advantage.

I hope this overview of the audition experience helps you mentally prepare for your audition day. What questions do you have about your upcoming auditions? What did you do to set yourself apart on audition day? Have any great audition stories? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Originally posted on DrumChattr on October 13, 2010 by Shane Griffin.

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The photo in this post is used under the Creative Commons License: Attribution – NonCommercial – No Derivs 2.0 by Jason Lander on Flickr.com.

Dave Gerhart

Dave Gerhart

Dr. Dave Gerhart, Product Manager, Percussion for Yamaha Corporation of America and Lecturer of Percussion at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music at CSU, Long Beach, is a nationally recognized performer, composer, and educator. Dr. Gerhart, originally from Fairfield, California, holds a D.M.A. from the University of Southern California, M.M. in Percussion Performance and Instrumental Conducting and a B.M. in Music Education from California State University, Long Beach.
Dave Gerhart

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