I recently decided to get back on the horse and take a big national orchestral audition. It had been a couple of years, and it was time. I’ve taken many professional auditions over the years, 44 to be exact. For a student, that might seem like a lot, but it really isn’t when you think about the big picture. I mean, actors take hundreds. Dancers too. Classical musicians might take only a few before they win a job in the orchestra of the their dreams. My Dad, Santo Urso, for example, took two auditions; the first one got him into the back of the 2nd violins of the Detroit Symphony, the second got him the Assistant Concertmaster chair. Done. But the rest of us mortals, we’ll end up taking dozens until we either win the job we want, or move on to something else, musically or otherwise.
For years, it was all about the outcome; winning the job. Sure, I set little goals along the path to audition day. Ultimately though, it was all about the end result, that is until this past audition. Maybe it was the time away from the audition process, who knows, but I decided early on in my preparation exactly what I wanted to achieve during the entire process of the audition.
I set all sorts of goals. Personal goals that meant something only to me. Some were pretty basic; eliminate the extra breath here, or implement this new fingering there. Some were about my mental preparation. Some were about ways to get more from the excerpts by creating a series of companion pieces. Perhaps the biggest though, was finding a way to remain inclusively aware not only in my daily practice, but in the moment, on stage, at the audition.
This afternoon, I read a great blog post by musician and Alexander Technique teacher Bill Plake, where he speaks about your state of being when you practice. It resonated with me because that is exactly what my biggest goal was during this recent audition. I felt like for the first time in 44 of these things, I was able to really do exactly what I set out to do.
When I walked out on the stage, I took a moment to really take it all in; the sounds, the beauty of the massive concert hall, the whispers from the committee seated out in the audience behind the giant curtain, the temperature of the space … and how I felt in that space. Before each excerpt, I took a moment to look around me, breathe, and give myself the a short list of helpful instructions for how I planned to use my self in that moment. These instructions change from time to time, depending on various factors, but here at this audition I had a series of three things I told myself with regard to use of self – all of which came from three of my Alexander Technique teachers:
1. Neutral pelvis. (Thanks, Jim)
2. Fluffy ribs. (Thanks, Bob)
3. Allow my arms to suspend and float over my ribs. (Thanks, Amy)
Regardless of the challenges of each excerpt, as long as I remained inclusively aware and gave myself these three directions, I was able to musically execute each excerpt exactly how I had practiced.
I have to say, I left the stage feeling pretty awesome. I went back to my warm-up room, and did like I always do, jotting down notes in my practice/audition journal about what just happened. I started doing that years ago. It became a great way to not allow the decisions of the audition committee to color my opinion of how an audition went. We go to these things and people always ask, “How’d it go? Did you win? What did you play? How much did you play? Did you advance? Who else was there? Who advanced? Who won?” By writing down every detail immediately afterwards, it allows me to be objective and honest. If I wait until the proctor comes in with the results, it’s too late.
So, after taking some quick notes, I learned that I didn’t advance, I smiled and thanked them for a really well-run audition, and took myself out for a delicious meal. After weeks and months of planning, it was done. And for the first time ever, I felt like I met every goal I set out to meet – except one. But here’s the thing, winning the job was only one of the several goals I set.
Without giving too much away, and instead allowing you the opportunity to think about what each of these might mean for you, here are some goals to ponder with your next audition:
1. Set goals – both short and long term, small and big.
2. Play for people. This sounds obvious, but it’s pretty important. Many of my students come to their lessons saying “Ugh …this was so much better in the practice room…” Playing in front of others, particularly new people, can get the butterflies going. This is good.
3. Choose companion pieces that will help you do what you need to do with each excerpt. Choose from technical studies, études, solo and chamber repertoire. The really terrific thing about this is that when it’s all over and done with, you’ve worked up not only a list of 25 or so 1 minute excerpts, but all of this other repertoire, too. Odds are, you’ve probably also improved your relationships with each of the excerpts in the process. This is also good.
4. Work on your inclusive awareness in your daily practice. Think about the space you’re in, drawing your attention to your senses. Thoughtfully bring yourself back to balance. Remind yourself what an appropriate amount of effort is versus tension or overuse. Ask yourself what’s happening around you? What do you hear? See? Feel? Smell? Taste? Then when A-Day comes and you take the stage, you simply do what you’ve been doing all along in your daily practice.
5. Ask yourself, how are you using your body? Are you gripping when you play the most challenging excerpts? Are you taking time for constructive rest throughout your day? Are you finishing your day of practice in pain?
I set out to get all the way through the audition without any pain. This was HUGE for me, as I’ve been sidelined with playing related pain and injury many times in my career. As a Body Mapping instructor, I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about how I use my body. It meant a lot for me to climb this mountain and find a way to use my self in my practice and in the moment of the audition without pain, injury, tension, overuse, or misuse. Successfully achieving that, was in many ways much more satisfying than advancing or winning the job. Seriously.
The act of preparing an audition, or for any big performance really, makes us better. Better musicians, better players, better teachers. Sure everyone loves to win, but it’s not just about winning the job. It’s about longevity. The long game. The big picture. I’m in it for the long haul. I’m enjoying the process of practicing to improve. I’m enjoying the journey, and not solely focused on the destination.
How about you?