Tomorrow is a big day for myself and my fellow bass faculty - We’ll be hearing bass auditioners all day and into the night. Some of you reading this blog may be among those we hear tomorrow. Or perhaps you once auditioned for Peabody or are planning to to sometime in the future. Even if you never auditioned for Peabody, the odds are good that a large percentage of readers of this blog either have auditioned for a music school or are planning to do so at some point.
There’s tons of advice out there about how to take auditions, especially professional ones. Lots of this advice is very useful, some less so. My own audition process has been helped immeasurably by the advice I’ve received from my own teachers and mentors, as well as from certain books and articles. But unfortunately, one of the things I’ve found most useful in audition prep was something I wasn’t able to experience until I had already won an audition. That thing was actually being on a voting committee for a professional bass audition.
Before I served on an audition committee, I always imagined them as consisting of scowling, bitter pros looking for any excuse to throw me and lots of other hard-working bassists to the curb; they always felt like some cross between the Supreme Court justices and a group of particularly cruel English schoolmarms. When I first was assigned to a National Symphony committee, I had already begun to realize that my impressions weren’t exactly accurate. But I didn’t fully realize how wrong I was until I actually sat through an entire audition. The first thing I learned was that most committee members were taking their jobs seriously, listening closely to applicants. The next thing I learned was how easy it was to tell if someone just didn’t have the technical elements together at a professional level; you could usually tell within a few minutes whether someone had the quality of intonation and command of the bow to be considered for the job. However, the most important thing I learned, at least in terms of how I approached my own auditioning, was this: The committee really, really wanted each candidate to play well, and in particular to play musically. They weren’t waiting for them to fail; they were hoping desperately that they would play well and be successful.
There were several reasons for this. The committee wanted to have excellent players in the orchestra, of course. They also didn’t want their time and energy wasted on inferior playing. But I think the most important reason was more visceral. Simply put, no one becomes a musician in order to hear unmusical playing. We all enjoy hearing great playing, especially playing that is expressive and communicates the meaning of the music. Anyone who could get up on that stage and achieve that feeling for us had our support. I have been on many committees where the members engaged in silent cheers and pumping their fists for the player behind the screen when that player did something particularly good!
Auditions for music schools and conservatories aren’t exactly the same as professional auditions. The goals of the auditioners and the committees are different in an educational setting, and of course there is not the same degree of anonymity. Also, many factors beyond how you play at your audition may be considered in your school applications. Still, when it comes to auditions, the lessons I learned on audition committees still apply. When any applicant comes through the door tomorrow for their Peabody audition, I and my fellow faculty will be rooting for them to play their very best and to make music above all else. If you’re auditioning for us or for any other music school, you can feel confident that the same is true anywhere you go. Hopefully, that knowledge can help you play your best and have a musically fruitful audition experience.