This week, my choir is preparing for our regional honor choir auditions. In reality, we have been getting ready for these auditions since the weekend before school started when we had our choir camp. Ask any musician, and he or she will give you a laundry list of "dos" and "do nots" for auditions. However, I think I'm finally starting to figure out some of the universal best practices for them.
1. You must be competent on the material, whatever that may be.
If there is sightreading with minor keys, compound time, and intervals up to a 7th, you should be able to do those individual elements in your sleep. Prepared excerpts? Memorize them-- every note, rhythm, articulation, dynamic, and phrase. Leave nothing to chance. Almost every one gets nervous, so your autopilot mode has to crush. I always say competence leads to confidence. When you walk into a room with a thorough preparation process behind you, there is less to worry about. You'll feel better. You'll have an air about you that tells the judges, "I deserve to do this".
2. Look the part.
Solo in an oratorio? Lead role in a musical? All-State Orchestra first chair? Whatever you're auditioning for, act like you've been there before and act like you belong there. The confidence you'll bring from step one is the first half. The other half is how you present yourself. Guys, wear a suit, or at least a tie or button-down shirt. Ladies, wear a classy dress, suit, etc (I know...I don't understand women's attire-- my wife can attest to this ignorance...just wear something nice). And make sure it fits. Don't buy clothes the day of the audition. You'll literally run the risk of looking like you're in someone else's shoes!
3. Understand the audition process
Talk to folks who have been through this audition before. Get every little detail down. Ask them what may have helped them (or messed them up) in the past. If there is only 2 seconds between excerpts, that would be helpful to know. What does the room setup look like? Are there 2 judges? 3? Blind audition? All of it matters. One of the most important things I do every year with our honor choir auditions is walking the students through what they can expect, and then doing mock auditions exactly how they'll be done there.
4. Expect to learn something new
I have probably auditioned for a part, choir, ensemble, lead, etc. at least 200 times in my life. I may have gotten 10-20 percent of those, and I promise I'm not bad at music. The fact of the matter is that if you are an active musician, you're going to be trying out for many opportunities, and you're not going to get most of them. Go ahead and accept that now. Then keep working relentlessly against that reality! When you've left the audition, make mental notes of what went well and what could have been better. Write those down at some point, and then let them go for a few days. At that point, reevaluate the pluses and minuses.
5. Work hard, then double it
There are a lot of people more talented than I am at all of the things I do for a living-- teaching, composing, singing, conducting, administrating, etc. I cannot emphasize this enough. What's the great equalizer, then? As we say here in Memphis, TN, "Grit N' Grind". Work harder, smarter, faster, and more passionately than everyone around you. Every morning, I walk through the gym on my way from the parking lot to my classroom. There are always young people practicing basketball or volleyball, or some sport. Shooting free throws, setting serves-- whatever is important to their activity, they do it every day, over and over again. Do you really practice like that? If not, why?
These are just a few of my key ingredients to successful auditions. What are some of yours?