Tomorrow is a big day for high school band students in Mississippi: the first round of auditions for the Mississippi Lions All-State Band. As is the case with similar ensembles in every state, making the “Lions Band” is a crowning achievement for students in Mississippi bands. The audition process is similar to those in other states, as are the anxieties and various mitigating factors that can harm even the most prepared student’s chances for landing a seat in the ensemble. Thus, while this particular audition has occasioned my addressing this particular topic today, my comments and suggestions will apply to practically any audition at the high school level, and perhaps in a limited way to college/university and some professional auditions.
Today’s post is something of a “targeted follow-up” to my earlier post about preparing for all-state auditions. While in that post I discussed longer-term strategies for audition preparation, today my concern is the audition day itself and how to conduct oneself so as to minimize the effects of nervousness and various unforeseen circumstances while realizing maximum benefits from one’s diligent preparation. As a veteran of numerous auditions both successful and unsuccessful, I can say with some authority that these suggestions do work. The opposite behaviors work equally well…against you!
With that, here are eleven strategies for a successful audition day.
1. Don’t practice too much the day before the audition.
By this time, you have either diligently prepared for the audition or you have not, and no amount of practice the day before the audition will significantly improve your chances of making the band or earning a higher chair. Practicing too much that day, however, can cause fatigue, swelling, and perhaps even minor tissue damage which can quickly torpedo an otherwise well-prepared student’s chances at a good audition. On the day before the audition, a thorough warm-up, one or two run-throughs of the audition materials, and perhaps checking and correction of a few troublesome spots should be sufficient practice for the day.
On a related note, if your marching band is performing the night prior to the audition, try to “lay off” a little bit, particularly when playing “fight songs” and similar music in the stands. Overplaying in cold weather will do nothing good for your “chops” on audition day!
2. Get a good night’s sleep.
Getting enough rest before the audition can be difficult. Anxiety can be a sleep deterrent, and if you have to perform at a football game the night before the audition the needed hours not be there at all. Still, if at all possible getting eight hours of sleep before the audition will help to equip body and mind for the day’s task. If you live far away from the audition site, consider staying in a hotel the night before so that you will not have a long drive between (hopefully) restful sleep and the audition itself.
3. Eat a reasonable and familiar breakfast.
Somehow, the frequently-heard mantra that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is remembered and observed only when an important task is at hand. While eating well is important and certainly preferable to approaching the audition on an empty stomach, be careful to avoid both overeating and eating unfamiliar foods. Overeating can be particularly deleterious to wind players’ breathing, and can sometimes bring about perilous results when combined with the usual pre-audition “butterflies.” If possible, have breakfast at home on the day of the audition, rather than at a restaurant. If you are staying in a hotel and must “eat out,” try to eat a breakfast that is similar to what you normally eat in the mornings. The greasy and fattening foods that usually make up restaurant breakfasts can also have negative consequences at an inopportune moment, particularly if they are a departure from your usual breakfast fare.
Breakfast is good, but eat reasonably and carefully. Save any culinary overindulgence for after the audition!
4. Dress nicely.
As I mentioned in my earlier post on all-state audition preparation, the practice of “dressing up” for auditions has “fallen by the wayside” in recent years, but I believe it is still both important and helpful. Your appearance says something both to the judges and to yourself about the seriousness and care with which you are approaching your task. Dress comfortably but well; this will have a small but positive effect on both the execution and evaluation of your playing.
5. Warm-up early, and “save your chops” otherwise.
Hopefully you have a consistent daily warm-up and maintenance routine, given the myriad benefits of playing through such a routine each day. On audition day, perform your daily routine early, either in the warm-up room or perhaps even before leaving the house or hotel. After that, only come back to the horn for brief periods of maintenance, playing only middle-register sustained notes or simple patterns for a minute or two at a time. The object here is to get the “chops” working and then keep them fresh until the audition time, not to try to “cram” extra practice or preparation (as I mentioned before, that won’t work), and especially not to “show off” for other students in the warm-up room. Many promising students have ruined their auditions by “blowing their chops” in the warm-up room. Save the “showing off” until afterward, or even better, don’t do it at all.
6. Arrive at the audition site early.
In many audition situations, those that arrive early get the best choice of audition times. Arrive and register early so that you can get the time that you want along with ample time to prepare yourself. If your audition time is assigned in advance of the audition date, still plan to arrive early enough to register, find the warm-up room, etc. without having to rush. In either case, planning to arrive early also provides something of a “cushion” in case traffic problems or other unforeseen delays prevent you from reaching the audition site when you would like.
7. Drink copious amounts of water.
“Dry mouth” always seems to strike wind players at the worst possible moments—during big auditions and performances. The best way to avoid this is to stay extremely well hydrated by drinking water throughout the day. To make this cost-effective, you might consider purchasing a sport bottle with a filtration system; my favorite is the Sport Berkey.
If you are going to try this idea, do make sure to note the locations of the restrooms at the audition site!
8. “Visit” with fellow students.
One of my favorite things about low brass players is that we are a friendly and not at all egotistical bunch. Some of my favorite memories about Lions Band auditions involve getting to know fellow trombonists while “chewing the fat” in the warm-up room. While you will want to save most of your socializing for after your audition, allow a little bit of time before and after to “visit” with your fellow students. Chances are you’ll meet these folks repeatedly throughout your high school (and possibly college) careers, and in some cases long-term friendships and acquaintances can be made right there in the warm-up room.
And if you play an instrument whose players don’t talk to each other (trumpet? flute?), well, I feel sorry for you….
9. Play slowly.
If you tend to suffer from performance anxiety, as I do, then the symptoms of that anxiety can harm your audition in a number of ways. One of these is by causing you to play too fast, which can lead to problems ranging from simple stylistic inappropriateness to execution errors. I always advise students to play 15-20% slower than they “think” they should during all portions of the audition, both prepared and sight-read. This usually leads to the actual tempos being about right.
10. Take deep breaths.
Performance anxiety can also lead to shallow breathing, which can be devastating for wind players’ auditions. Always breathe deeply, both before and during the audition. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I recommend that students always breathe in the same places when playing scales and prepared pieces, and that they mark these breaths in their music for the latter. If you practice always breathing deeply in the same places when practicing, chances are you’ll continue to breathe deeply in those places during the audition.
11. Remember, “It’s just music.”
*Gasp!* What did he say? What does he mean “just music?”
I mean exactly that: it’s just music. Music is a wonderful art form; a gift from our Creator, I would argue. Those that have the ability and opportunity to perform it at a high level are particularly blessed. Still, inflating the importance of this audition in your mind will only lead to greater anxiety. If you fail to make the band, financial markets will not crash, world hunger will not increase, and new wars will not break out. It probably won’t even significantly affect your chances at college admissions or scholarships. In the grand scheme of things, it’s just not a very “big deal.” There will be other auditions, and other opportunities to play great music.
Instead of worrying about it, enjoy yourself! View your music making as the immense privilege that it is, and use even the audition itself as an opportunity to perform beautifully for those that hear you. Do that, and whatever the outcome you’ll walk away from that audition room happy and fulfilled. And whether you make the band or not, keep striving, keep working, keep improving. There’s always room to pursue and achieve better musicianship!