Friday, January 16, 2009

NCMEA Eastern Regional Orchestra

Many of my students will be auditioning for North Carolina Music Educators' Association's Eastern Regional Orchestra this weekend. All of the NCMEA students that are auditioning have prepared well and are ready for the audition. As I have been working with them leading up to the audition day, I have been reminded of several basic precepts that apply to an audition. There will be several hundred string players at the auditions that are vying for relatively few spots. Having judged these auditions for well over 20 years, it has become apparent to me that each player must separate themselves from the crowd by playing more than just correct notes and rhythms. The auditioner must point out to the judges that he or she has gone beyond correct notes and can truly demonstrate the music beyond notes and rhythms. So, here is a list of points to consider and prepare for when auditioning.

1. Play Dynamics. Simply put, in my years of experience, well over 50% of the auditions that I have witnessed have not included ANY dynamic contrast. So, the quickest way to separate yourself from more than half of the others is to simply point out the dynamics to the judges. Simple.

2. Make your dynamic swings significantly wider than you think you should. Play piano pianissimo. Play forte as a fortissimo. Make your crescendos really wide. Don't be shy. Judges will remember you if you do this.

3. Don't play like there is a metronome on. Feel the phrases. Be willing to communicate through your music. Take time at the end of a phrase. Drive to the end of a swell. Find the phrasing and demonstrate it.

4. Bow placement matters. Whether it is a blind audition or not, your bow placement impacts the style of the excerpt. Seek out advise on proper bow placement for the style of the excerpt. Again, more than 50% of violin students will play every passage in the upper middle half of the bow. By simply seeking out the prper bow placement and implementing it, you will me more memorable.

5. Never stop practicing slowly. There is a category on many judges scoring system called "accuracy." For me, this is impacted positively by slow practice. I recommend that my students practice audition pieces at 1/2 tempo or below every day leading up to and including the day of the audition. A player is never too prepared to practice at a slow tempo. and, the statement, "I can play it fast, just not slow" is simply rubbish. If you can't play it slowly with accuracy, then you certainly can't play it fast with accuracy.

6. Practice your scales slowly, too. Accuracy is REALLY apparent when playing scales. 3 octave scales are part of most MENC auditions. Even once you know your scales, keep practicing them slow as well as fast. and remember, your bow placement and tone quality matters in scales, too.

7. Practice sight-reading. I recommend that my students practice sight-reading from an old sight-singing book that I own. It is always available for them to use. I try to give them a routine to use every time they sight read. We practice it together. It goes something like this:
1. Look at and consider the basic stuff - key, time signature, tempo, feel
2. Find the first key-related notes. The first c natural, the first B flat, etc
3. Take note of accidentals.
4. Take note of shifts
5. Take note of time signature changes or syncopation
6. Take note of articulations and dynamics
7. Audiate the piece. Hear it in your head. The actual pitches may be off, but you will have read the work through one time. When you play it, it will feel a lot less like sight-reading. Finger it, too, if that is permitted.
8. Go for it and don't worry about a mistake or two. If you have gone through this routine, you will have done it better than most!

I hope that you find this useful. If you read this and get something you can use, drop me a comment. I would lvoe to hear from you.

For now, good luck to all of my students this weekend and be confident. You are well-prepared.



  1. I wish your students luck. It seems like with all this advice, they'll be perfectly fine. :)

  2. I just home from the auditions. I was in the sight-reading room. We heard just about 200 violins sight-read a 12 bar passage. My brain is fried. My students all did well. I am glad to be home.