8 Tips for Live and Recorded Auditions

Auditions can be nerve-wracking, regardless of whether it’s your first or 50th time. Today musicians have to be ready to audition in person in front of judges as well as prepare a video audition, which have become more and more popular since the onset of the pandemic. Both formats offer their own challenges and benefits. Check out these tips collected from CYSO’s artistic staff to help you ace your CYSO audition or anything you are auditioning for, whether it’s in-person or recorded at home.

Do Your Homework

Preparation is key to performing your best. Dr. Don DeRoche, Director of Chamber Music, suggests “listening to recordings of the pieces you’re preparing so that you know what the orchestral parts sound like.” This will help you understand how your part fits into the bigger picture. “Listen for tempos, articulations, and musical style.” This is especially beneficial when preparing a video recording because you can re-record yourself as many times as you like, each time taking note of what works and what needs improvement.

Anne McTighe, Assistant Director of String Ensembles, said that students preparing for an audition should try to “bring out the contrast in each piece to show your skill.”

Choose Your Repertoire Wisely

Some auditions will have required pre-selected excerpts for you (as is the case for CYSO’s Philharmonic and Symphony Orchestra) and some will allow you to select your own pieces. If you get to pick, there are important things to keep in mind.

Music Director Allen Tinkham recommends performing “pieces that you know thoroughly, not pieces you only recently started learning. Your audition is an opportunity to show your best work!” Dr. DeRoche added that you should “choose excerpts you can play well consistently. Don’t pick excerpts that you can play accurately only half the time.” He also suggested choosing solo material that shows off “your technique, tone, and musical ability.”

For CYSO auditions, you’ll select two contrasting pieces to show off different sets of skills. Maestro Tinkham suggests that your two pieces should be “contrasting enough to show as much of what you can do on your instrument as possible. Don’t bring two slow pieces thinking you cleverly avoided playing a technical piece. If the judges don’t hear any technical playing, they have to assume you won’t be prepared for the technically challenging orchestra pieces.” He also added that students work with their private teacher, or orchestra/band director to “choose repertoire that shows what you can do.

Keep Your Instrument In Working Order

Preparing for an audition goes beyond just your skill. It’s important to make sure that your instrument is up to the task. If it’s been a while since your instrument has had a tune-up, it may be a good idea to have it looked over before your big audition.

Dr. DeRoche suggests that students “be sure your equipment is in good playing shape. Woodwinds should have good reeds, no sticky key; Strings should have good hair on your bow and the right amount of rosin; and brass should have tuning slides in the right positions.”

Conquer Your Nerves

Nerves are inevitable in any high pressure situation, even when playing for a camera, but that doesn’t mean you have to let them get the best of you.

If you tend to get nervous at auditions, run up and down the stairs a few times at home before you practice,” suggests Anne McTighe. “This will simulate the rush you get when you’re feeling nervous and you can better prepare for how to handle it.”

Dr. DeRoche recommends that playing in different situations and for different people will help you get over the “strangeness” of the audition room for an in-person auditon. “Play your pieces many times each day. Play for teachers, friends, anyone who will listen. Play in different rooms and under a variety of conditions. This will help you to get used to playing in new, strange environments.”

First Impressions Matter

CYSO judges don’t expect students to come in concert dress for their auditions. That said, your clothes do send a message about how seriously you’re taking the audition. This is important for both live and recorded auditions!

Dressing nicely “helps show that you care,” said Anne McTighe. Maestro Tinkham added, “Dress for success! You don’t have to be extremely formal; tuxedos or ball gowns are not necessary, but you should show that you respect and appreciate the opportunity and want to give your best presentation.”

A pro tip from Anne McTighe: “Practice in your audition clothes at home to make sure they are comfortable and you can move/play in them.”

Prep for Recording Day

Recording days can be just as arduous as in-person audition days! It’s best to treat them with the same level of seriousness and commitment. The night before, make sure that all of your equipment is working—cameras are charged, the mics work and are picking up sound, the lighting looks good, etc.

Whether you’ve rented out a space to record in or you’re simply recording in your own home, it’s important to make sure that the video looks clean and that you’re presenting and playing at your best. The benefit of a recording is that you can redo as many takes as you like! “I like to limit myself to 3-5 good takes,” says Brent Taghap, violinist and CYSO Marketing Assistant. “The danger of constantly re-doing takes is that you can fall into a rut and get super frustrated. I like to do a handful of takes and wait maybe a few hours to a day before I review them, so that I can watch them objectively.”

For more tips and tricks for video auditions, read our Tips for a Great Video Audition blog.

Arrive Early, Don’t Psych Yourself Out

The big day has arrived for your in-person audition! In addition to how you’ll play, there are plenty of other things to think through before you get here and when you arrive on site.

Anne McTighe advises that students should “arrive early and take some time to get settled.”

Maestro Tinkham echoed that sentiment: “Don’t be late! Leave yourself enough time in case traffic is unexpectedly heavy, or you have some other unplanned delay; you will still be early enough to be comfortable and not stressed. Chicago is a busy place, so be prepared for anything! Also, sometimes the auditions run ahead of schedule, so you should be ready to play at least ten minutes before your scheduled audition time.”

He also added that students shouldn’t let the warm-up room stress them out. “Don’t be concerned with what other auditioners are doing. Focus on yourself and on doing your best. The same goes for when you are waiting outside the door to the audition room; what the person in there is doing has nothing to do with you, so don’t worry about it!”

Don’t Stress About the Judges

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind as you step in front of the judges for your live audition.

Concert Orchestra Conductor Michael Mascari has simple advice: “Breathe.” He suggested that students should “go over the music in [their] head for a moment before you start playing. This helps ensure that you’ve got the tempo and style established. We’ll wait for you—it’s not weird!”

Dr. DeRoche has good advice in case you get cut off by the judges while you’re playing. “Sometimes the judging panel does not have time to hear everything. Try to play the music you feel most confident with first. When the panel says they have heard enough, it doesn’t mean you played poorly, only that they have heard what they needed to hear.”

And perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when you come in for your audition: We are so glad that you’re here! Michael Mascari said, “I know it’s difficult to believe, but even though we hear hundreds of auditions, we are genuinely excited every time a new student walks into the room. We can’t wait to hear you play!

Maestro Tinkham summed it up: “We all get nervous, but remember that the judges are rooting for you. We want you to succeed!

Want more information about CYSO auditions? Visit our audition page here.

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