Audition Tip #4: A stream becomes a river

I do know that the title for this tip doesn’t make a lot of sense, so be patient and read through this blog – the practical tip is at the end!

Our brains are incredible, miraculous things.  Everything we do – colors we see, moving our toe a millimeter, is driven by a signal from the brain.  Our brains store literally millions of pieces of information at a sub-conscious level that are informing us every second without us actually being conscious of it.  Try to remember how you learned to read – isn’t it amazing to think that at one point in our lives, we didn’t know the letters of the alphabet?  Much less that the letters went together to form words, which form sentences, which form books, newspapers, websites, signs….It’s all there, but it’s become so automatic that we don’t even realize the volume of information that it takes for us to read.

Different types of information is stored in different places in the brain – a neurosurgeon could tell us exactly where in our brain memories are stored, large motor activities are controlled – research has even show that the lack of certain chemicals in the brain actually affects our ability to be happy.  What is miraculous, however, is that the brain can actually adapt to injury – if a certain area of the brain is injured, the brain may be able to literally move the information to another section of the brain, so that someone who lost the ability to speak, or even walk, can actually re-learn how to do so.  You may have read about Kevin Pearce’s head injury if you’ve been following the Olympics.  He is an American snowboarder who hit his forehead (yes, he was wearing a helmet), during practice for the half-pipe event.  He is at a brain-rehabilitation hospital, and will have to learn how to walk again.

If a river is blocked, small streams may start, and over time those streams will create their own beds and become rivers.

I am struck by both of these images. Our brain is quite literally who we are, and it is capable of incredibly adaptability.  Somehow, it relates to auditioning.  I went to the website of the hospital that Kevin Pearce was sent to, and found the following information about Skills Training therapy for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI):


Skills Training is based on none other than practice! Patients just practice a skill over and over until they master it. And, the more that their practice relates to something functional or useful – like driving, reading or writing, or following instructions – the better.

So, the most common way to help people with TBI improve their attention is by practicing. It helps when therapists monitor their patients’ performance and give them ideas and feedback. They also found that attention training seems to work best when people are trying to learn new, difficult functional tasks or re-learn old, complex tasks. … And, practice does lead to improvement. Ask any concert pianist or Olympic skier.

Ok, so where am I going with this?

Mental practice.

Our brains control our fingers and feet, our vocal cords.  Our brains are our musicianship, our imagination, our concept of beauty, our desire to be artists.  Martha Graham said: “That is what technique is for – liberation.”  Liberation to express what we want to express, to communicate what we want to communicate.

So, here’s the tip:

Take the time to practice your music in your head.  In your mind, hear it perfectly, musically, expressively – know exactly what you want to happen, note by note, phrase by phrase, beginning to end.  If your brain practices – your brain knows what your absolute, most wonderfully imagined performance is – the streams will become rivers.  Your brain will communicate to your fingers, your breath, your embouchure, your vocal cords – the river bed will be so deep that your audition will be truly be the best performance that you are able to give.

Audition Tip #3 – Don’t practice in your pajamas

You may have heard this before, but it bears repeating – practice in your audition outfit and shoes.  Too tight/too high shoes, a jacket that restricts your bow arm, a dress that keeps slipping – these are distractions that you don’t need when you are in the audition room!  And don’t just try everything on – play in the outfit.  What feels good walking around isn’t necessarily comfortable to perform in.  It’s surprising how much we can tolerate something uncomfortable, such as a restrictive shirt or high heels, in our daily life.  I remember a singer who wore a beautiful dress and high heels to an audition – she walked into the audition room, stood there for a second, and then asked the faculty if she could take off her shoes to sing.  She said that she could feel that the heels were that little bit too high, and her pelvis was tilting to compensate and affecting her support.  I applaud her for recognizing that fact, and having the courage to simply do what she needed to do to sing well. But – she should have tried to sing in those shoes before the audition!

On a secondary topic – what exactly are suitable audition clothes?  Besides being comfortable (see above!), I would simply recommend nice attire.  Concert dress is fine, but not necessary.  For men, a nice shirt and slacks is fine – a suit and tie is not necessary.  For women, a simple dress, blouse and skirt/slacks is suitable – a performance gown is not necessary.  Basically, look like you made an effort to look good!

An Olympic Quote – Audition Tip #2

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been watching the Olympics almost every night.  Tuesday night was the Men’s Figure Skating short program (I actually watched Wednesday – DVR is a wonderful thing!).  One of the U.S. skaters, Evan Lysacek, skated an unbelievable program – nailed absolutely everything.  In the last Winder Olympics, he totally bombed his short program – and found out later that he had the stomach flu and was severely dehydrated.  He placed 10th after the short program, then went on to complete 9 triple jumps in his long program, and moved up to 4th overall, just short of a medal.

The commentators had spent a lot of the evening talking about how the achievement is to simply be able to go out and do exactly what they had done in their practice sessions while under the enormous pressure of the Olympics – sound familiar?

Scott Hamilton,  who was the last U.S. male skater to win both the World Championship and an Olympic gold, is one of the commentators for the skating events.  He said that Evan had asked him how he had prepared for the Olympics, and I thought that his response was phenomenal – and was also a great audition tip!

“Eliminate every would’ve, could’ve or should’ve – when you step on the ice at the Olympics [walk into your audition], know that you’ve done everything that you can to prepare for this moment.” – Scott Hamilton

Audition Tip #1

We’ve written quite a few blogs about auditioning, and with our big Audition Week coming up in two short weeks, I thought it would be a good time to give some simple, practical tips that applicants can put into use for their Juilliard audition. Do search through our past blogs as well for some good suggestions – particularly past January and February blogs .

And check back – I hope that we will post every few days between now and March!

Audition Tip #1: Choose your first piece wisely

At 90% of auditions, you will be allowed to choose your first piece. This shouldn’t be a surprise – don’t decide in the moment! Think about all of the repertoire that you have prepared, and choose your first piece based on the following:

  1. You can play it in your sleep. No kidding. It’s in your fingers, in your body, and even the worst nerves will not cause a major crash-and-burn.
  2. You love the piece. Part of the job of the first piece is to get you settled – comfortable in an unfamiliar room, with the faculty panel staring at you – it’s not a situation that’s ideal for playing your best! But if you start with something that you love, you’ll create the mental space to relax and communicate the music – and after all, that’s what music is all about – communication.

Now here’s the tip in reverse:

  1. Don’t start with a flashy, showy piece just to impress. Show us your musicianship first, fingers after that. We’d rather you play something simple absolutely gorgeously than play something fiendishly difficult and not play it well (see #1 above). Save fiendishly difficult for a few minutes in, after you’ve had time to relax a bit! If the faculty want to hear it, they’ll ask for it.
  2. Don’t start with something obscure. There is absolutely no advantage to playing something that nobody knows – and frankly, it can be a disadvantage. In the relatively small amount of time of an audition, the faculty have a lot of information to gather about your playing. If they don’t know the piece, and depending on the specific piece, they may not learn much of anything – and then you’ve lost some valuable minutes! That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be interested in new repertoire for your instrument – just consider not starting your audition with it. Again, if the faculty are curious to hear it, they’ll ask for it.

Shakespeare: on applying to The J

by Sean Thorne, temporary Admissions Assistant

As a temporary staff member in the Admissions office, I am afforded the perspective of being involved without being invested. I am half way through my four month gig here at The J. I’m sure I could fill a bottomless carpet bag with all the I-wish-I-knew-that-when-I-applied-to-school moments of realization. Before the wind changes and I have to pack up shop, I’d like to pass some of those moments on to you!

So, here are the top three:

What’s in a name? Everything! Shakespeare got it wrong when he said that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Understandably, many applicants have multiple names for any number of reasons. The application process is a daunting task for both the applicant and the admissions office. We are a lich-urally processing thousands of applications, each with variable parts. When applicants put different names on different parts of the same application, that doesn’t smell sweet – it smells confusing. So, all I ask is to pleeeeease be consistent. If you don’t like your name, then just call yourself Rose.

To thine own self be true. Let’s restore some of Shakespeare’s admissions cred – he was right on this account: Know yourself. That’s not an easy observation to fulfill, but, from my position, it gives applications greater specificity. With greater specificity you’ll be able to easily define your artistic and personal goals and, more importantly, why Juilliard is a good fit for you. Plus, college is a place where you will grow academically, artistically, and personally. You will learn much about yourself, your art, and your world. This is a tough city. This is a rigorous school. The real challenge is to still love the environment causing such stress and strain. If you work hard, you’ll create a reality for yourself that you never previously imagined.

That that is is. If you have a live audition coming up: congratulations! You’ve conquered the recording pile and given the wealth of pre-screening that is no small feat. Now is the time to let go of the outcome and have fun with your audition. Think of it not as a race towards an acceptance letter, but as a shopping spree. You’re out there in the world shopping around for a school that is the best fit for your talent and potential. If we’re not a fit, then keep shopping until you find something that does. To echo the point made in Lee’s haiku below, whatever is the result of your audition here you will be provided with new opportunities and surprises that you may never imagined happening. That is, there are no bad conclusions, just different opportunities. So – come prepared. Play hard. Have fun!