#VPA – Music Performance

Tag: #VPA – Music Performance

The Art of Auditioning (Part II)

By Abby Atwater ’19


 It’s audition time! I hope my last article provided some valuable information on preparing for the audition. Now the audition is nearing and it is time to really buckle down. This post will focus on the actual audition as well as some additional non-musical preparation and well-being that may not always be taken into consideration as much as the musical aspects.


Plan Ahead

 Unless it is in a nearby city that you can very easily travel to and from, arrive to the audition city at least one night before the audition. Travelling the day of is quite risky and many auditions will often start rather early in the morning so this just wouldn’t be entirely practical. Remember to pack appropriate clothing, audition materials, money for food, and, of course, your instrument! See if you have a chance to play in the audition space the night before to get an idea for acoustics and make sure everything is sounding good. Realize that you may be spending a full day taking auditions if you advance so remain near the vicinity and don’t plan on leaving until later that night or the next day.

Make sure your instrument is in top playing condition

 A few weeks or maybe a month before the audition, take your instrument in for a tune up. Make sure it’s well oiled, keys and pads are in good shape, and there aren’t damages that could hinder your ability to play well.

Come prepared with repair tools, extra reeds, rosin, etc…

 I don’t want to caution anyone to “expect the worst” when it comes to auditioning, but come prepared with tools and materials in case things do go wrong mechanically. Bring screwdrivers, cork grease, extra reeds (new/unopened and old ones that might work better in a different environment), rosin, valve oil, reed working tools- whatever you may need. A lot could potentially go wrong while traveling and a malfunctioning instrument is one stressor nobody wants to deal with.

Try to stay healthy

 Make sure to take time for yourself and be well-rested for your audition. Get a good night’s sleep, drink lots of water, and eat good foods: bananas help calm nerves, carbs are good to provide energy, and try to avoid greasy, dense food that might not sit well. Possibly take some time between warming up and the audition to meditate or go on a short walk. Try to keep yourself as healthy as you can leading up to the audition. You don’t have complete control over how your immune system functions so it may be a challenge to overcome an illness to deliver a great audition, but try your best and just don’t push yourself too hard.

Warm up the day of

 Although it is tempting to want to show up to the site of your audition on the day of and just run through all your excerpts, this is not an effective way to prepare yourself. Spend time with a meaningful, complete warm up consisting of long tones, scales, thirds, arpeggios, extended range, and articulations exercises. This will help to prepare you both mentally and physically. I have been told numerous times that “it is never too late for slow practice” so spend time slow practicing spots in some of the excerpts and do not just run them carelessly.Dress Properly

 Even though you are behind a screen, you should be dressed as if you are attending an interview. If you win the position, later that day you will probably meet the audition committee and/or the music director so be dressed to impress. Another important, but unfortunate note: do not wear heels. Although orchestras have progressed a lot in this aspect, hearing heels walk into the room can indicate to the audition committee that a woman is about to audition and there can still be some bias held in this field. It is sad to admit this is still a concern today and that the shoes you wear could influence the committee as much as your actual audition does, but wearing flats or even going in barefoot would be the recommended way to go.


Talk behind the screen!

 Similar to the dilemma with wearing heels, you don’t want to give anything away about yourself from behind the screen. Talking and even sneezing or coughing can be a giveaway about your gender. The audition committee uses the blind auditioning process to conceal your identity as best as possible and to not create any bias so your playing is all that they have to consider. Abide to the no speaking rule and only communicate very softly or nonverbally if absolutely necessary to the proctor that will likely be behind the screen with you.

Overdo it the day of/before the audition

 Definitely make sure to warm up and have your chops in good playing condition, but don’t practice 5 hours the day before your audition. You will be exhausted plus you don’t want to psych yourself out with a lengthy practice session.

Be intimidated hearing others warming up

 The day of the audition (and even the night before when staying at your hotel), there is going to be an abundance of very talented musicians present. Sometimes what you hear behind closed doors is not actually as impressive as what you hear in person. You can hear someone play the runs in the cadenza from Dances of Galanta at a wickedly fast speed and doubt yourself for playing it at a slower or more standard tempo, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that musician is any better especially if there is a lack of musicality behind the playing (see my next point about this).

Expect to play a “perfect” audition

 There is no such thing as “perfection” so don’t expect your audition to be perfect. Play the best you can with good rhythm, pitch, and expression. Even if you feel like you messed something up and it wasn’t the best audition you have had, the audition committee might not have even noticed or are impressed and see something in you. This might be the audition you end up winning!

Be defeated and give up if you don’t win the position

 I have heard from so many musicians that it can take 20-30 auditions before landing an orchestral job. You are bound to face rejection while auditioning and it is completely OK. It doesn’t mean you are a bad musician or that you will never land a job so be persistent. Even if at first you don’t succeed, one day you could be playing on a famous stage like those in Carnegie Hall or the Musikverein.

 Consider auditions to be the musician’s equivalent of an interview: you’re displaying your talents in an attempt to impress a selection committee and a great deal of preparation goes into it. The only thing that’s really different is the fact that all the “speaking” is done through your instrument and not verbally. Being a good musician is one thing, but knowing how to nail an audition is a skill of its own.

Feel free to check out some of these other helpful links from musicians who have won orchestral jobs!:

o  http://stringsmagazine.com/12-ways-to-ace-your-orchestral-audition/

o  https://bulletproofmusician.com/how-to-win-an-audition-thoughts-from-3-renowned-performer-teachers/

o  https://www.dwerden.com/tu-articles-pokorny-audition.cfm

o  https://slippedisc.com/2014/03/inside-tips-how-to-pass-an-orchestra-audition/

o  http://www.yeodoug.com/resources/symphony_auditions/yeoauditions.html

The Art of Auditioning (Part 1)

By Abby Atwater ’19


 Are you an instrumentalist interested in performing in an orchestra one day? Perhaps the Chicago Symphony, or maybe you would like to play in the pit of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. I aspire to be a professional clarinetist and play in an ensemble like one of these one day. At the moment, I can’t say exactly who/where/what it will be- orchestra, wind band, opera, ballet, chamber ensemble- but I am very determined to succeed in this field. No matter what kind of ensemble, there is always one generally despised process to go through before securing the job: the audition.

 In the past few years, I have become very fascinated with learning about the “art” of auditioning and I would like to share some of that with you. In these two posts, I have compiled a list of the “dos” and “don’ts” when it comes to taking a professional audition that should help improve your chances of landing that esteemed position you are aiming for. This first post will focus on the process throughout the weeks and months leading up to the audition while studying and refining the audition material. The second post will discuss the week or so immediately before the audition, the audition itself, and the audition results.


Turn in a polished, high-quality resume and cover letter

 Many orchestras will require a resume and/or cover letter for you to even be invited to audition. Include performance-specific experience and awards on top of your resume to highlight your musical accomplishments. In the cover letter, explain why you want this position, what you know about it, and why you believe you are well-qualified. Make sure to have an extra set of eyes read over these before submitting them.

Rhythm, intonation, articulation, and tone are everything!

 Really nailing these four aspects of playing are vital in an audition. Practice a ton with a tuner and metronome. Use a drone to tune intervals especially in more lyrical passages where tuning can be most tricky. Make sure to know your tuning tendencies in general and be able to make proper adjustments on the go. Also, tuning varies for ensembles usually between A=440-442 so tune to whatever that orchestra tunes to. When practicing with a metronome, use a variety of subdivisions. For pieces that have contrasting accompanimental rhythms from your own part, like the bassoon eighth notes in the first movement of Beethoven 6 or the cello triplets in the third movement of Beethoven 8, have those rhythms clicking to imitate the orchestra playing. When playing in the actual audition, take time before each excerpt to really internalize pulse and know what is going on in the music. Practice slowly and be very attentive to all aspects of your playing. Record yourself and keep a chart/take notes about practice sessions so you don’t forget what you worked on or need to improve on for next time.

Make sure you have ALL the excerpts prepared and practice in different orders

 Double and triple check the audition requirements to make sure you are preparing all the right works and the specific excerpts they ask for (you don’t want to end up having to do some spontaneous sight-reading at the audition). When practicing and running through all the excerpts, switch up the order in which you play them since you likely won’t know the exact order the committee will ask for the excerpts to be played in. I am not sure if it works this way in most professional auditions, but I have had various auditions where I got to choose the order I play my excerpts. If this occurs, start with your best one to give a strong first impression and make sure to end with another that is also quite strong so you can both start and end on a good note ♫ (got to throw in some musical humor here).

Research the orchestra you’re applying for

 Orchestras around the world have drastically different sounds from one another and their conductors take many different approaches to the music. The Philadelphia Orchestra sounds very different from the Los Angeles Philharmonic which is also remarkably different from orchestras across the sea such as the Berlin Philharmonic or London Symphony. Attend concerts and/or listen to recordings of the orchestra you are applying for to get an idea of the sound they are looking for especially from the other musicians currently in the orchestra who play your instrument. Also get familiar with the kind of repertoire the orchestra tends to program or perform frequently to get an idea of what you are in for.

Play in front of others, take lessons, and receive advice on the material

 It is always good to have feedback from other people especially other musicians that might be in the same boat as you preparing for auditions. Get some family and friends together to play through your audition repertoire (blind or not) to get some feedback, get yourself out of practice mode and into performance mode, and calm your nerves. Take lessons from other professionals who have gone through this process. It is definitely beneficial to study with someone who plays in an orchestra and it is especially helpful to study with someone who has recently (I would say in the last five years or so) won an orchestral job. Since the art of auditioning has changed over time, it is good to hear from someone who has experience winning a modern-day audition.

Mental practice

 Sometimes you don’t always need to physically practice with your instrument to get a lot accomplished. Set aside some time to mentally practice/ practice parts of the music away from your instrument: score study, sing the music to yourself, or vividly imagine yourself performing. These can all be effective ways to be purposefully thinking about the music in a less strenuous way than playing it (this is also great to do to spend time while traveling).


Only know the excerpts

 It is important that you know the full works for the excerpts you are playing and not just those 20 or so bars of the piece you are required to play. Members of audition committees will be able to tell if you know them- at my ensemble audition this year, one faculty member actually thanked me for knowing the full works just based on what he heard from my excerpts so that was a pretty proud moment for me! Also be familiar with when you are melody or accompaniment and what other instruments play during the excerpts: know that second clarinet and bassoons are also playing in the second movement of Brahms 3 and that flutes have the melody in the beginning of the Mendelssohn Scherzo, not first clarinet. Listen to a variety of recordings and even try to look up master classes for each excerpt to get a better understanding for interpretation.

Forget to play musically

While you should be particularly concerned about playing with very precise rhythms, pitch, and dynamics, be sure to play expressively and musically. This can be a determining aspect when it comes down to selecting between players that play these other elements wonderfully. When you are practicing, try recording yourself once playing the excerpts rather conservatory, adhering to all the “rules” of the music. Then challenge yourself to take some risks with the music, but still keep it contained and nail the essential aspects. Exaggerate dynamics, spin the long notes, and try different tempi. Be prepared for the committee to ask you to change something and demonstrate your flexibility on the spot at the audition!

Put off practicing to the last minute

 There are dozens of commonly asked for excerpts in nearly all auditions, excerpts you will be working on for essentially your entire life. Don’t take for granted the fact that you know these excerpts well and can pull them off with just a week or two of practicing them. Start (re)learning them as soon as you find out the audition requirements- I would recommend at least eight to ten weeks in advance. Try to approach each excerpt like it’s your first time working on it: listen to a variety of recordings to get an idea for style/tempi and break it down to its basics with slow practice and thorough tuner/metronome work.

Fail to understand theory and history of the pieces

Do some research on your pieces to know historical events at the time they were written, backgrounds of the composers, and any other relevant information. This information as well as being familiar with other works by the composers and their contemporaries can highly influence the ways they are played. Also, have a general understanding behind some music theory aspects of the music. A full harmonic analysis probably isn’t necessary, but at least have an idea when chords are changing and the importance of what scale degree you play.

Applying to Grad School for Music Performance Part III: A Few Last Things to Consider


What will make your audition great/ make you a good candidate for schools?

  • There is no such thing as a “perfect audition” so if you mess up a little, don’t worry about it too much. Play musically, confidently, and with passion. Trust yourself that you have spent a lot of time preparing for the audition and it will show through in your playing. The audition committee is not looking for perfection, but instead a student that has potential and they will enjoy teaching.
  • Know your music! Know all the standard excerpts, solo repertoire, method books, and chamber music for your instrument. Be familiar with standard symphonic repertoire as well.
  • Do your research on the school and teacher so you are familiar with the institute and the kind of instruction you will receive. Reach out to the professors and, if time and money allow, take a lesson from the instructor before auditioning.
  • Some auditions may include a lesson from the instructor. Be open to criticism and show that you are able to make adjustments/ improvements on the spot.
  • Have a general goal in mind of what you want to do while attending the school and what you want to achieve post-graduation. This will likely be asked in the application process or at your auditions.
  • Get teaching experience on your major instrument and secondary instruments if possible.

Hidden Costs:

  • Application fees: Most applications cost $100+ so be prepared to spend a couple hundred dollars on all of these if there are several schools you are highly considering.
  • Accompanists: Not all schools require accompaniment in the auditions, but some might. Discuss with your accompanist how much they would like for rehearsals and recordings.
  • Recording spaces and equipment: This can cost a bit of money, but it can also be practically free if you reserve a room a space at school and use your own recording device.
  • Flights: These can cost anywhere between $100 and $500. Check frequently for good deals on flights and consider your options. If you have access to a car, consider driving to some locations- there will be some money involved to cover the cost of gas, but it will still be considerably cheaper. 
  • Hotels: Costs for hotels can vary. Consider staying at motels, hostels, Airbnb, with current students at the school, or with friends/family that might live in the area where you are auditioning. These could all be some cheaper options.
  • Spending money for travel: You will have to purchase meals when you travel and may want to go shopping if there is time so bring some spending money.  

Abbey Atwater ‘19

Career Peer Educator

Applying to Grad School for Music Performance Part II: Timeline


There are many steps towards applying to graduate schools and you should start thinking about this process early (junior year of college). Here is a step-by-step procedure in the process of applying to grad schools and how to organize the details:

Finding schools to apply to

  • Considering the tips from above, form a list of several schools that interest you and create a chart to keep track of all the information about the schools and their application/ audition processes. Definitely include more schools than you plan to actually apply to and then start narrowing down your options after really getting familiar with each school (this changed many times for me so it is helpful having all the information easily accessible). Then, I recommend making a chart for every school that contains the following information:
    • Location
    • Teacher(s)
    • Cost of Attendance
    • Application Fee
    • Prescreening Audition Requirements
    • Prescreening/Application Due Date
    • Live Audition Dates
    • Live Audition Requirements
    • Link to Site
    • Application Requirements
    • Academic Requirements
    • Scholarship and Financial Aid Available
    • Financial Aid Application
    • Other Comments (population, safety, surrounding opportunities etc. . .)

*This is also a good template to use when looking into music festivals!*

Audition Repertoire

  • Make a list of all the repertoire required for these auditions so it is easy to locate in one place.
  • Start preparing EARLY. Know everything you have to work on before leaving school for the summer and spend the summer working on all the audition requirements. Take many lessons and know the pieces inside and out!
  • Practice productively and do your musical homework! Listen to multiple recordings, practice with a tuner and metronome, score study, record yourself, etc. . .  

Application and Academic Requirements

  • Start working on your resume, CV, personal statement, biography, repertoire list, and additional essays early so you have them all ready to go! You may just have to make some slight alterations to vary from school to school.
  • Get your transcripts! Check which schools require official transcripts and which can be unofficial to save money. Lawrence’s transcripts freeze around finals time so if you need your applications submitted by December 1st, get them by Thanksgiving (the earlier the better), unless you need your fall grades.
  • Ask for letters of recommendation well in advance so your recommenders have time for them to be well-written and so they can submit the forms on time. Ask during the summer or right when you get back for the start of classes.
  • Most schools will offer a generous amount of financial aid so know this sort of information in advance and fill out forms accordingly (they will often be due at the time the application is due).
  • Also, review music theory (including aural skills and sight singing), music history, and keyboard skills! You will probably have to take more of these classes in graduate school and the placement exams might happen at the time of your audition so be prepared.

Prescreening Recordings:

  • Don’t wait until the last minute to get this done. Save yourself time if you need to remake a recording.
  • Be professional! Dress nicely, play in a nice space, use good quality recording equipment, avoid extraneous sounds and distractions, and don’t say more than you need to if anything at all (let the music do all the speaking).
  • Reserve a date, time, and space far in advance and find a friend to help.
  • If any music requires an accompanist, ask someone well in advance and communicate about when and where the recording session(s) will be held.

Live Auditions:           

  • Select an audition date and book flights and a hotel room ASAP (the school might be able to assist you with this).
  • Be working on repertoire for live auditions at the time you work on prescreening material (it may be a fast turnaround by the time you are accepted to advance from prescreening and not much time to prepare new music).
  • Packing: make sure you have all your music, equipment, forms, and dress clothes- do not forget your instrument! Have repair tools with you in case of an emergency and know how to care for your instrument on your flight.
  • Arrive early! Try to fly in at least a day before auditions (flights may be delayed or canceled) and get familiar with the layout of the campus well before your audition so you are not completely lost. Also, try to play in some of their performing spaces ahead of time or wherever the audition will be.
  • Understand you will likely have to miss some school for these auditions so contact professors and organize your schoolwork accordingly.

Dates/Times to start putting all this into action:

  • Throughout all of undergrad: Build up a vast knowledge for music (repertoire, performers, orchestras, festivals, competitions, etc. . .) and be able to perform most of the standard repertoire for your instrument.
  • Winter through summer break of junior year in undergrad: Make a list of schools you are interested in and start narrowing these options down to determine which schools you will apply to. As you continue to do research, start reaching out to teachers and get lessons from them over the summer or during the fall if it is possible. Start working on audition repertoire.
  • Fall of senior year: Ask for letters of recommendation ASAP, obtain transcripts, record prescreening auditions, and work on/ submit application materials. December 1st is the national deadline for these so try to have everything done by mid-November.
  • Winter of senior year: Take live auditions (some schools may accept recorded auditions or may have regional auditions, but auditioning in person is usually recommended).
  • May 1stNational deadline for college decisions. 

Abbey Atwater ‘19

Career Peer Educator

Applying to Grad School for Music Performance Part I: What to Consider


Why grad school?

  • Consider your options post-undergrad: Is graduate school the best route to assist you in finding a job in your field? Will this investment be worth it in the end? As a performer, it definitely can benefit you when looking for professional work, but it is not always necessarily required.
  • Do not do it just because everyone else in your studio or school is doing it- do it if you feel like this is the right path for you.
  •  Some people prefer taking a gap year after feeling burnt out from undergrad. Others would prefer to continue their education and do not want to take the risk of losing their drive.
  • Student debt really becomes a concern after undergrad so taking a gap year (or a few) or not attending graduate school at all is always an option in order to repay this debt.
  • Graduate school is not for everyone and that is ok!

What schools should I look into? These are the top things to consider:                      


  • Find someone who is a big name for your instrument/ voice and will help you make connections with other professional musicians/ organizations. Also, take time to read bios and listen to these teachers as performers- find someone who you admire and who you would like to influence your sound.You want to find a good fit: someone you will get along with that will push you hard and teach you a lot, but not someone that will push you over the edge.
  • Another aspect to consider is who best will prepare you for current real-life auditions. “Older” professors with many years of experience teaching and performing might have some of the top reputations in the business, but may not have taken a professional audition in decades. The art of taking and winning auditions has changed drastically from just 10 years ago so working with people with more recent auditioning experience can be just as beneficial.

Name/reputation of the school

  • Aim BIG and look into schools known for their musical excellence (schools you see in performers’ bios). Some schools have reputations for landing people jobs so find those schools that have high employment rates.
  • View ratings of the school/ professors and see what kind of overall rankings the school has.
  • You will be faced with competition everywhere you go, but some schools might be a bit more fiercely competitive than others might be. Is this something you would like or are you looking for a more supportive, sympathetic institute?


  • Find schools in areas that will have many performing and teaching opportunities available. Also, try to find schools located near first-rate orchestras so you have the opportunity to attend their concerts and connect with those musicians (places like NYC, Chicago, and Philadelphia are bound to offer great opportunities for freelancing and all have top-notch orchestras).
  • Location can be important. Consider if you want to be somewhere hot or cold; rainy or dry; East, West, or Midwest; rural or urban- these can all be factors to consider.

Other Important things to consider:

Cost and Finances

  • Graduate schools are expensive and the cost to attend is often a deciding factor in where people choose to go. Do not let this hinder you from still looking into great (but expensive) schools. If they really want you to attend, schools will find a way to make this possible and cover much or all of the cost for you. Graduate students are usually prioritized for financial aid and many schools offer graduate assistantships where you teach undergrad students of your voice or instrument.
  • Consider if you will be living on or off campus and how much living expenses will cost.

School Culture and Size

  • Can you imagine yourself attending this school? Are the students and faculty people you get along with and are people who will motivate you to grow more as a musician? You will be there for at least two years so make sure you can work well with your other colleagues.
  • Are you looking for a smaller conservatory or a large state school? There can be considerable differences between the kinds of opportunities available and challenges you face at large versus small schools so think about what kind of environment you will thrive best in.
  • Having gone through four years of undergrad, you have probably built up a strong support system of friends or are in a committed relationship. Are you ok potentially going to school on the other side of the country from your friends and family? There are various ways to cope, but this can be a concern for many students. There are always going to be plenty of people to meet and befriend in graduate school!

Abbey Atwater ‘19

Career Peer Educator