Written for Overture magazine (January 2020), official journal of AFM Local 47 Los Angeles.
Concerts and auditions should be approached very differently. They require their own unique preparation, mindset, strategy, focus, and commitment. A few weeks before an important audition, things begin changing, which is stressful in and of itself. Your daily schedule shifts as you put in time on the excerpts. If the audition is not local, you need to make arrangements for travel and lodging. The week before an audition, you will feel the extra pressure of having limited preparation time. You may get fixated on the pieces that are not totally ready. Worrying about those things before an audition may cause insomnia, as will thinking about the extra money, energy, and time that you’ve been spending.
On the other hand, the week before a concert is much less stressful than an out-of-town audition. Even if the concert has an exposed entrance or long solo, you’ll be performing it on familiar ground and operating from your home base. During the week before, you’ll be sleeping in your own bed and have access to your own kitchen, TV, and computer. There’s no place like home.
Performing an audition on the road is stressful. There’s packing, getting to the airport, managing your luggage and instrument, getting to the hotel, finding a place to practice, eating, adjusting for jet lag or altitude, and waking up in a different place, all by yourself. In the morning, you will probably experience an adrenaline rush, with a racing heart and rampage of thoughts about the audition, with lots of unknowns in the meantime.
When you arrive at the audition site and check in, you need to find out the time that you are supposed to start, what the list will be, where you can warm up, where the green room is, when you are allowed to go in there, how long might you be in the green room, how much notice will the proctor give you, and where are the bathrooms located? When you’re waiting at the audition, it feels immensely different than waiting before a performance.
At concerts and operas, musicians perform for large audiences that are mostly appreciative, respectful, and quiet (other than coughing and candy wrappers). The performances last from one to three hours. If you make a mistake or two during that time it’s rarely big deal. At most auditions, the panel may not seem very appreciative, and might make noise or seem distracted while you perform.
At auditions, the listeners will be actively judging and critically evaluating everything that you do. They will be noting any reason to dismiss you as soon as they have justification. Numerous qualified candidates need to be screened before they’re done. If you get off to a bad start, you could be there less than a minute before you hear the dreaded words, “Thank you. Next.”
If you approach an audition with the same mindset as a concert, you are setting yourself up to hear those words. A professional audition is not like performing under a conductor and interacting with an ensemble when you l have time to get into the flow of the music. It’s very different at an audition, where you are required to perform a series of self-initiated short excerpts, that may be radically different from one another, or actually repeat an excerpt with technical or stylistic changes if requested by the panel.
Another major difference between a performance and an audition is how the adrenaline affects you. This hormone will likely be surging through your nervous system by the time you reach the green room. It will be much more than you’re accustomed to at regular performances. The adrenaline can be released just by thinking about the possible consequences of the audition.
The difference in the adrenaline levels is related to outcomes. With performance, there is no winning or losing, only degrees of competence. Unless you have a disaster, there are no real consequences for one less than stellar performance. At auditions, you only get that one shot: you either win the audition and sign the contract, or you do not.
Every audition is a competition, pure and simple, and needs to be treated as such. The other candidates are there for only one reason: to win the competition. They also spent considerable time, money, and energy on the audition, without any compensation, or guarantee of success. Only one competitor wins. I encourage my clients to train for auditions the way athletes train for important competition.
In the 2016 Games in Rio, the athletes who I trained reached the Olympic podium with 14 medals, including 5 gold. Since then, over fifty musicians that have trained with me won positions in major orchestras around the world. Learn more about this proven training technique in my next article!