A Conductor’s View on Student Auditions with Guest Lecture Artist, Maestra Steinberg
Written and compiled by Dr. September Payne
SDYS Conductor Ella Steinberg
“-this [Coastal Flutes Mock Audition Seminar] is a valuable outreach
opportunity for our talented San Diego flute students, from which we all benefit.”
It was a mid summer’s afternoon in Carmel Valley, California as eleven flute students tested their audition preparedness and competitive performance skills during San Diego Coastal Flute’s, “Two-Day Mock Audition Seminar”, lead by professional flutist/evaluators, September Payne, D.M.A., Joyce Hayutin, B.A. and Tiffany Covell, B.A..
While taking a break from class projects and rehearsals, the students listened to guest artist, Maestra Ella Steinberg, conductor of the San Diego Youth Symphony’s (SDYS) Wind Symphony, Concert Winds and Debut Winds, share what conductors look for in auditions and what she believes is the winning formula for a successful audition. “Ella speaks eloquently and poignantly; her soft, even toned voice, commands that you listen or you will miss pearls of wisdom-the perfect deportment for a conductor and an educator,” remarked Dr. Payne.
Ella opened her talk with a simple, yet direct message to the students, saying that at SDYS the conductors and adjudicators hear many good players with lots of potential, however, the majority of those who don’t get the chair or ensemble that they want, make errors that are easily correctable. While it’s evident that everyone strives to play with clean technique, their best tone and to play musically in the auditions, some come up short in one or more of the categories listed below. Ella went on to point out that most deficiencies are usually of a fundamental nature. In her message to the students, she stressed the following important points that most often elude young auditioners/
Know the audition requirements. Not clear? Ask your teacher, look on line at the organization’s home page, and email the contact person or phone.
Be prepared in every way with scales, different articulations, appropriate repertoire, sight reading, etc. Be ready to do anything asked of you without any excuse or rebuttal.
Be on time-that means early! Allow time to find parking. Allow for inclement weather.
Be organized-bring what you need: water, banana, protein bar, sweater, headphones, gloves, Kleenex? YOUR MUSIC & FLLUTE! Bring a second (real) copy for the judges. No photocopies.
Warm up well at home. You may arrive and can’t warm up, or are late. When in the warm up room, treat it as your getting settled time. Allow no more than 20 minutes in the warm up room so you don’t have to listen to everyone else and get more nervous. Talk to your teacher about finding ways to stay relaxed in those last minutes. Have a pre-audition routine that you always follow. The familiarity of it will calm you.
Nerves-practice playing nervous (the negative side) and excited (the positive side). Did you know the brain handles it the same?! Run up a flight of stairs and immediately practice playing your audition at home. Play many times for others and video record yourself before you perform. Breathe, Breathe, and Breathe! Practice deep breathing techniques, rhythmic breathing, meditation, yoga, swim, or do a sport.
Attire-your choice of clothes show how professional and respectful you are to your profession and to those who have more experience (the judges) than you. You are also a reflection and representative of your teacher’s studio. Be proud to be part of that studio. Make your teacher proud of you, not only with behind the scenes hard work, practice and courage to audition, but with your dress. No belly buttons showing, flip-flops, shorts, jeans, or gum chewing etc.
Stage Deportment and Posture-an engaged performer intrigues us, not only with their interpretation but their stage presence. The musical message is often enhanced by the visual, but is not always as germane in classical music as it is in other forms of musical entertainment. Who could imagine Madonna or MTV without the visual? For Classical music, your posture shouldn’t detract from the musical message or the ability to technically execute it. How do you “Strike a Pose?”
Rhythm and Rests-besides the correct notes and playing musically, you must play rhythmically. While this may sound obvious, it’s a criterion that sometimes escapes even advanced players. Also, observe and count out all rests under a bar length long. They are not less important in the audition than notes.
Durations-hold dotted notes, ties and long notes their full value. The committee will be counting along with you. Keep your brain turned on during these! A good example of this is Mozart’s Flute _oncerto in D Major, K 314, in which the high D, in the opening passage, must be held for four measures. Although there are many ways this note can be played, with regard to dynamics, vibrato, etc., don’t zone out. Concentrate and don’t forget to count!
Intonation-you have to learn to play all notes in tune and especially C#! The committee often consists of other instrumentalists who won’t be and shouldn’t be aware of our instrument’s pitch problems. This problem seems universal amongst flute players. Just because there are intrinsic flaws in the physical, acoustic property of the flute, or because it requires more attention, doesn’t mean you should over look it. It is still your responsibility to find where C# is. One day you will have to play Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun, which starts on a C# and Daphnis and Chloé, Suite No. 2, which is loaded with them.
Scales and More Scales! Why we ask them-well executed scales show disciplined practice. It says to us that you are willing to sit there day, week, year after year until you get fluency and speed in them. As youth orchestra judges, we see and remark on the improvements you make each year you re-audition. As repetition creates muscle memory, transcend the technical aspects of your instrument and make music! Solid scale execution allows us conductors to sleep at night, knowing that in rehearsals we won’t have to stop so much and knowing we can depend on you in the concert. At SDYS, we when ask for minors scales, play them up to the octave or the 9th, which ever makes you more comfortable. Advanced students must play two octaves and three octaves where possible. Be ready to play the key of B Major, three octaves!
Audition Repertoire-pick a piece you like! Leave us (the judges) with everything about the music. If we have to choose between two technically proficient, top level students for an ensemble, chair placement or concerto winner, it will be the person who plays with heart, (musicality). Show us heart. Provided you are technically proficient, the musical connection wins!
Repertoire level-your piece should reflect and show off your present level on your instrument. Too easy doesn’t get you anywhere. Too hard is not smart. Many students want to play pieces that are not only technically too hard for them but musically to profound for their current understanding and present development. Being eager to take on challenges is good however; your teacher has the last word on appropriate repertoire choices-for good reason. Their experience has taken them from where you are now to where they are! While preparing a piece for an audition, it’s a good idea to choose a back up piece as well, in case your first choice piece is not clean and ready by the time of the audition.
Interpretations-can’t be too bizarre. While creativity and musicality are expected, be careful not to infuse every note with your own musical personality. Owning the music by letting some of your musical instincts come through at important points is a sign of a musically mature player. If over done, however the music will sound distorted.
Tempos-choose your tempos in a fairly constrained range. Your tempos should be representative of several tempos that might be played with a professional orchestra. There are tempos in famous pieces that are ingrained in conductors and other members of the orchestras mind. To start these tempos faster or slower than the norm, will have a negative impact on the committee. It is usually obvious which players know the score and/or have already played the piece in concert. If you haven’t had the chance to perform your auditor repertoire, at least listen to several recordings and follow the score.
Sight-reading must be fluent. Take only 20 seconds to assess the excerpt. We ask sight-reading to see your musical independence. It shows your ability to think tempo, keep it under pressure and read new music at short notice. _y tapping your toe in your shoe you get a better feel for the beat, it’s your body’s metronome, and it gives yourself a pulse-a reference for rhythm! And, yes, we look for musical playing, even insight reading. We also know you are not fluent in your key signatures if you trip up on the key signature while sight-reading! We love to ask five sharps!
Practice-technical practice gets you ready to play any repertoire. If you practice well, you will play well. The purpose of practice is not solely to beat someone else but to be able to stand out amongst many, by playing your best and giving your focus to expressive, musical playing. The little things matter and we notice them!
Peaking, Creating a Time Line-start preparing early. Don’t wait until the last minute. !t the SD_F Mock Audition camp, teachers September, Joyce and Tiffany helped students create a preparation time line outline that students can use for this coming year’s competitions. There are not enough opportunities like this camp offering, that teach what is expected in auditions and give young musicians the chance to practice auditioning in semi-formal settings. Being be evaluated offers valuable preparation help for when it really counts.
A Word About Competition-compete against yourself and focus on what it takes to bring the music on the page to life and touch audience’s hearts with your own unique voice. You will not achieve that if you are busy worrying about what levels others are at and trying to out-best them. The musical connection wins!
Goals-have a life plan-where do I want to be in 5, 10, 20 years? Create short, long term goals and have high standards. Focus on your own development. Avail yourself to local master classes and competitions with your teacher’s guidance. Listen to great recorded and live artists. It’s not only about winning, because no one can win every time but it is about succeeding. If you’ve practiced intelligently, keeping the music in mind, it will show. Winning at school level competitions and winning a job in music in the real world have very different standards, but similar preparation. You have to prepare as though your practice is for the real thing.
A Proven Successful, Winning Formula for the long haul: most current professionals in the field have had four levels of teachers spanning their formative years to their first professional job. Teachers,
parents and students need to recognize when it’s time to move to the next level for a student’s development.
1. Your first nurturing teacher when you begin at a young age. Middle, grade school.
2. Another nurturing teacher but with a strong hand. Junior high.
3. ! mentor that strictly says you must do/and call you on it. High School.
4. A master, world famous level teacher-late high school, college, or for professional auditions.
NOW, FOR THE NEVERS/in the audition room NEVER play from a photo copy.
NEVER say out loud to the judges that you are nervous. We know you are.
NEVER say “I don’t like auditions”. Nobody really likes them but think about why are you here.
NEVER apologize for anything-just play as if you meant that mistake. Apologizing comes across as an excuse. “_ut I played it perfectly at home!” Although we are human and not machines, very few mistakes just happen coincidentally. They happen more often if you’re not prepared.
NEVER show too much emotion. Anger and disappointment show you think you are better than you are. For whatever reason and under pressure you were not able to perform as well.
Never let a single moment or single criticism define you! But be humble and accept where you are in your development. Let the experience fuel your next practice day! Enjoy life’s process.
SO, recapping the last 4 points, NEVER speak in an audition. This is a hard one for young players. Learn to just say thank you after your audition and exit the room. We know how difficult it is and we will regard you as grace under pressure! Go home and analyze with your teacher why you didn’t do as well as you might have. Vow to do better next time!
NEVER challenge your placement. Panel judges place you based on how you performed that day. After all it is a competition, even if it’s competing against your own standards. We generally believe the results are pretty close to where they would be, even if everyone played their best. We are also very experienced at placing the student where they need to be for their best development and we recognize potential. Trust us.
NEVER lose ensemble experience by dropping out because you didn’t get the chair you wanted. This shows arrogance and will deter you from an open mind and future learning. It’s better to play than not to play. Taking any ensemble over none will still get you some experience. It’s better to take 30th chair over no chair. If you’re on the back of the bus, you’re still on the bus, right?
NEVER just try to get by: flutists are the most competitive instrumentalist on the planet because there are so many of you! Because you live in a constant competitive environment, you practice more, and your section, more often than not, is the highest level of the entire orchestra. To stand out amongst other flutists you have to be extraordinary. That’s why the level of flute playing is ever increasing.
Winning-remember, play beyond the notes. Play with heart! Leave us with everything about the music. In the end, the musical connection wins!