Benjamin Coy

Trombonist

Mock auditions

May 6, 2013 at 4:01 pm

When preparing for auditions, the best possible exercise is playing mock auditions for other people. Do everything you can to mimic the situation you’ll find yourself in. Play in an unfamiliar room, set up a screen, and have someone else pick the order of the excerpts. Get ready for unpleasant environments by playing in a very cold or very hot room. Climb a few flights of stairs very quickly just before playing to get yourself out of breath, or turn on a TV somewhere in your line of sight to provide a potential distraction. Record your mock audition so you can go back and consider any comments you receive against what you actually played.

The most difficult element to replicate may be stage fright. No mock audition actually carries the weight and potential consequences of a real audition, so they are by nature far more casual and therefore far easier. The best way I can suggest to create some stage fright is to choose your audience carefully. It’s always great to play for teachers or mentors, but we’re used to screwing up in front of them. We pay our teachers to listen to us sound bad and suggest ways to sound better. Sounding bad in front of a teacher is expected, and therefore there is little anxiety about that. Similarly, playing in front of students or nonmusicians carries little pressure, because no matter how badly we screw up, we know they couldn’t do it better. Instead, play for peers. The social anxiety of not wanting to be judged poorly by peers is overwhelmingly strong, and sometimes stronger than an audition scenario can offer. After all, we’re anonymous candidates behind a screen at the audition, but our colleagues will remember our performance and judge us by it. Some day, those friends will put together a chamber ensemble or find extra players for a gig, and the mock audition will (like it or not) influence who they call. This pressure makes it uncomfortable to ask them to listen to the mock audition, but of course that’s the best reason to do so.

Do as many mock auditions as possible. The goal is to be so used to doing it that playing the list for other people is a habit. Habits won’t cure the performance anxiety, but they’re what we fall back on under pressure. There has been a moment in every audition I’ve ever taken when my mind wandered – either I wondered what the committee is thinking, or I thought about what was at stake, or I anticipated the excerpt coming up, or something entirely unrelated. But during that time, the training and habits took over. Because of that, our habits on each excerpt have to be so ingrained that a mental slip like that does not ruin the audition.

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