By Evan Kuhlmann, Acting Principal Bassoon, Oregon Symphony. Juilliard BM 2006.
A note from Lee Cioppa, Associate Dean for Admissions: A few weeks ago, when I got the idea to write a blog on audition advice with tips from Juilliard faculty and students, I contacted Evan. You’ll see from his bio that Evan won his current position while still a student here, and I knew that the process he went through to win the job would still be very fresh – and clearly he has highly developed auditioning skills! Evan sent such good advice that I thought he should have his own blog entry.
The 3 weeks before the audition: You have already decided your repertoire, and have a good command of it. This last period of time is more for building consistency than preparing the music. To this aim, practicing for 1-2 hours 2-3 times every day will be much more helpful than marathon cramming sessions.
The day before the audition: Get plenty of sleep, avoid spicy/unfamiliar/dehydrating/junk foods and strenuous physical activity, play a slow and simple melody in your practice session and focus on beauty of sound, relax, smile, laugh, drink plenty of fluids but avoid those high in sugar/caffeine, bananas calm the nervous system, apples and celery prevent drymouth.
The day of the audition: Eat breakfast, and not just a mocha and a pastry at Starbucks. Allow plenty of time for travel. Arriving a little early is helpful, arriving several hours early is not. Don’t hesitate to ask the site staff for help. Be conscious of your energy level while warming up. Smile and say hello to the committee, they want you to do your best also. Remember the beauty of sound (see yesterday). If you are given a suggestion, take it as a good thing and try to thoughtfully employ the advice.
Advice from the other side: Eventually I began serving on audition committees, and here are some thoughts on what I hear. Strong fundamentals are very important, and your command of the instrument is best displayed on a piece of a complimentary level of difficulty. A student that brings their artistry to a piece within their technical command is more impressive than a student that compromises their artistry for a piece beyond their technical command. Teachers love to see a student whose playing conveys their enjoyment, whose preparation conveys their dedication, and whose flexibility in response to suggestion conveys their open-mindedness.
More ideas to help build consistency: Schedule extra private lessons, record yourself, study the full scores of the music you are going to present, listen to your favorite recordings for inspiration, attend live performances, know the English translations of any foreign language musical terms in your audition repertoire, practice with an accompanist, read a book or go see a movie between practice sessions to relax and maintain perspective, play your audition repertoire in your audition outfit to make sure you will be comfortable, etc.
About nerves: I think nerves are great. They’re a reminder that you’re excited to perform. That excitement also means that you care about the music, and you have fun playing it. So don’t forget that we do this because we love it, if you have any questions don’t be afraid to ask, and good luck!