A lot of times, we advertise our successes, but try to hide our failures. This is natural, of course, since we want to present the best version of ourselves possible. Because of this, a typical Facebook feed full of friends’ successes is not representative of the statistical reality. In any audition, one person wins, and the rest do not. At the smallest auditions, a 10:1 failure to success ratio is expected; at the largest auditions, 100:1 is normal. Even the best players lose far more auditions than they win. I think we, as a community, should be more open about sharing our losing experiences. If it was something we talked more about, maybe we’d be better about learning from those experiences.
In that light, I present here the story of an audition I did not win.
I arrived at the venue about an hour before my scheduled time and was given a private warm-up room immediately. They told me that the committee was going to take a lunch break before I played and so they’d give me a five minute warning, but I should not necessarily expect to go exactly on schedule. Additionally, the prelim list would be on the stand in the audition room and not available beforehand.
When I got into the room, I saw that the committee wanted to hear five excerpts from the list and no concerto. I played the list; nothing was perfect, but I didn’t actually miss anything. I went back to the common area to await my fate. I had just texted my wife that I was pretty sure all my little inconsistencies would disqualify me, when the personnel manager informed us that of the people who played in my hour, I was the only one who advanced. It turned out that three people had advanced ahead of me, and no one else advanced for the rest of the day.
The four finalists were given the list for the final round at this point, so we could get our music in order. This round started with the concerto before another handful of excerpts. This time, they were asking for an alto trombone excerpt. The other finalists all had altos with them, but I don’t own one. When my turn came, the proctor actually asked me if I had forgotten it downstairs. I assured him I was intending to play the alto excerpts on my big horn. It turned out that the alto excerpt was the weakest thing I played in that round. I bobbled a few articulations, but still didn’t technically miss anything. I felt good about all the rest of the excerpts I played. Overall, this round went much better for me than the prelim round.
I was the last finalist to play, so I expected a pretty quick decision after I was done. However, it took a significant amount of time for the personnel manager to bring the verdict. It turned out that after the final round, the committee was unable to choose between myself and another finalist. So, we got our horns back out for a second final round. This time the list was brutal. We started with the alto excerpt again, and then proceeded through several other heavy pieces before concluding with Wagner’s Tannhäuser. It was pretty clear the committee was throwing everything it had at us to see who would fail first.
I played the alto excerpt, and making up for the previous round, I absolutely nailed it. It was strikingly gorgeous. Then I started in on the other excerpts, and after each one, the panel asked me to make a change and play again. Finally, at the end of the list, I dove into Tannhäuser. This is usually a good excerpt for me, as I feel confident about my control of loud, sustained passages. However, by this point, my chops were showing fatigue from the tough list, and they didn’t make it all the way through. I ended up not sustaining the last phrase full value because my embouchure needed relief.
That was the deciding factor; the other candidate had survived the post-final gauntlet, and I had not. He won, and I was runner-up. It hurts, of course, to come so close but walk away empty-handed. At the same time, I am very proud of my performance throughout. I was competitive right up to the very end; and in fact I was competitive past the scheduled end of the audition. I lost, but I learned a lot both from the audition itself and from my preparation. I intend to apply the lessons I learned to the next audition and perform even better.