Monday, January 7, 2008

Mock Day Part III: What are We Looking For?

by JW

Happy New Year to all! PBDB is back from our holiday hiatus. We've got some good stuff coming for early 2008, including some photo and video posts, book reviews, and maybe even some liveblogging of Peabody Audition Week in all its awesome glory. For now, here's my final post on Mock Day.

After all of the What and How of Mock Day, it's time to look at the Why. What's the point of all this and what are we looking for from the students when they play?

First, we should describe some things we're not looking for. We're not looking for whether the student is ready to win a professional orchestra audition. We know in advance that many of the students simply aren't yet ready as players to reach that level. We do let students know how close they are to that level on each excerpt, but it isn't a requirement for an A. We also aren't looking to see which student "wins" or is the best player that day. Each student is only auditioning against their own abilities and potential, not against any other student's playing. We don't even expect every student to be able to play all of the excerpts at a performance tempo yet.

So what are the things we want to see on Mock Day?

- The most important by far is that we see HARD WORK. We want to hear that students know what their problem areas are and are orienting their practicing towards improving in these areas. This can often be seen in what students choose for their performance tempi. If a student who I know is struggling with their spiccato stroke takes a particular excerpt under tempo in order to maintain good bow technique, I give them a good mark for being willing to do what they need to do to build their technique. As Paul says, "If you are working as hard as you can in rep class you will earn an A. If you aren't working as hard as you can, you should ask yourself if Peabody is the right place for you."

- We are also looking for a sense that the students understand what is called for in each excerpt in terms of dynamics, bow strokes, and basic style and phrasing. Even if they don't have total mastery of it yet, we want to see that they know what they're aiming for. If, after having several classes on the Bach Badinerie from the 2nd Orchestral Suite, a student plays it like it's a lost Strauss tone poem, I begin to wonder whether they were paying attention in class...

- We want to see how well the student copes with nerves. We try to make the whole experience very similar to a real audition. We use a screen, and also do not allow the students to speak to us during their audition. The list of excerpts to be played is not posted until the day of Mocks. All these things combine to create an anxiety-inducing environment, which helps students see how they will react and practice managing those feelings effectively.

- And finally, of course we are looking for the things that would matter in any orchestral audition: intonation, rhythm, sound, musicality, and consistency and accuracy. In the end, that's what it's ultimately about for all of us. Students are here to acquire and internalize these very skills.

I hope this little series has demystified some of the process that a school like Peabody uses to teach orchestral excerpts. If you're a student at a music school right now, you most likely have an orchestral class not unlike this. If you don't, and you are interested in a musical career involving orchestra playing of any sort, I respectfully suggest that you find out why not! As I wrote here, we all need to learn how to audition well to be able to work in the orchestral field, and studying excerpts systematically is an important part of this process for most of us.

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