As my students who are enrolled in local band programs finalize their preparations for the local District Band Auditions this weekend, I prepare to give my usual last-lesson-before-the-audition speech, multiple times. The speech is different for each student, of course, but there are some things I say to every student. The statement that gets the most strange looks is, “Dress for success.” Whenever I say this, the students look at me like I’ve just fallen out of a very tall tree, because they know that I know that this audition is a blind audition – meaning that the adjudicators cannot see the candidates.
And so I respond, “I know.”
It’s still a good idea to dress to do business. You don’t need to dress for a Cotillion Grand Ball, mind you, and you need to make sure what you’re wearing is comfortable. You’ll be spending time sitting on bleachers in a high school gym, and possibly sitting on the floor of a high school hallway as well. And you need to be able to breathe well and move around easily.
But, it really does help your mindset to dress like you mean to do something important that day – like you came to win. Because you did? Didn’t you?
(If you didn’t, we need to have a chat, and that’s another post.)
You came to play well, and your stylin’ duds will be a great reminder of that fact. Additionally, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of dressing for these events. You never know when you’re going to meet someone who could be a good, helpful contact or mentor in the future, and you want to make a good impression. Additionally, you will be taken more seriously if you are dressed for success. For example, if something goes awry with your audition process, and you need to speak to someone in charge, a well-dressed and groomed candidate speaking calmly and firmly and in a non-confrontational manner will get better results.
A few years ago, a student of mine who was in a position to win first chair was not given the proper amount of warm-up time. This had to do, we later learned, with a miscommunication between the judges and the runners. When a runner came to collect her from the warm-up room, mere seconds after she had been deposited there, my student said, “I’m sorry, but I just arrived here, and I need a few minutes to warm up.” The runner replied that the judges had told her to collect the group of students in the room. I’m proud to say that my student stood up for herself and the younger students who were in the room with her by responding, “We just got here. You are required to give us proper warm-up time. We are not ready yet. Please find an adult if you wish to discuss this further.” Now, my student was dressed for the audition in a comfortable but put-together outfit. Imagine her saying the same thing while wearing an oversized tee, ratty jeans, and tennis shoes. It’s perhaps not fair, but the better-dressed version has a better chance of successfully advocating for herself. (Yes, she got first chair – in the event you’re wondering.)
The other thing I say to my students that sometimes gets me strange looks is, “Don’t order anything from the concession stand until after your audition. Or at least save it for after.” Often, the band boosters or another organization from the host school will set up a concession stand as a way to keep hungry teens fed as they wait hours on end for a five minute audition slot, and as a way to make money. Unfortunately, the food at these stands is not always the healthiest option for audition day.
Now look, I’m all for supporting local band programs. Please do take note that this fall I have purchased my Krispy Kremes from one local band, the famed apple dumplings from another, citrus from son’s program, and my Christmas tree from another local program is sitting on my porch right now, ready for pruning and fluffing. (Hint, hint to my husband, if he is reading this . . . )
I send my own son to these auditions with a little dough for the concessions, but I give him the same advice. Wait. Until. The. Audition. Is. Done.
There is a boatload of hard research and circumstantial evidence now available to support this statement: Musicians are athletes. Flutist Paula Robison said it first. The rest of us are now catching on. Look, would you eat a fried chicken sandwich before a swim meet? Before a soccer game? Before a tennis match? See how ridiculous that sounds? So don’t put that kind of food in your body before you put it to the test of performing in a sterile room in front of strangers hidden behind a screen.
Do eat well before your audition. Try to eat your usual breakfast. If you are like my husband and don’t like to eat first thing in the morning, then don’t. But do pack lots of healthy snacks, and a toothbrush and toothpaste or floss picks in case something gets stuck in your teeth. You don’t want to play an audition with something stuck in your teeth! Avoid gigantic meals and unhealthy food choices, but do carry snacks and water. A few years ago, I read an interview with a flutist who had just won a major orchestral position. She mentioned how long and grueling the process was. And she said that she would not be in her new position with this major orchestra had she not had an energy bar in her bag that day.
Other tips I give my students:
- Get a good night’s rest. Staying up late to practice will do you no good. Tell your friends, in no uncertain terms, that you will socialize with them TOMORROW night, and go to bed. Early.
- Because you’re probably going to have to get up early. (My son’s call time to be at school to catch the bus this year is 6 am.)
- If you can do this without waking your household or neighbors, or if you have a very supportive household or neighbors, warm up at home. It will be the only time all day that you’ll be alone until the audition room (in this district). And you’ll feel better having already played that day, when you get to the warm-up room you’re sharing with other people. I know it means you have to get up even earlier, but at this point, what’s the difference? Super early is super early.
- In addition to snacks and water, pack other things to do. Books, video games, card games, ear phones. Anything to keep you occupied. If you’re going to be waiting in a room where others are warming up, the headphones are key. You really don’t want to put yourself through the psychological mind games of listening to others warm up.
- Pack a hygiene kit. Lip balm, hand lotion, feminine products. Yes. Those too. No surprises on audition day. You’re ready for anything. Hair clips and ties if you have hair that likes to get in your eyes.
- Come to win. (We’re back to that now.) That said, you have hopefully already defined what a successful audition means to you. If it’s your first audition, your goal may be getting through the day without throwing up. Or maybe it’s just playing clean. Or maybe you want to be able to demonstrate musicality and style in this most (aesthetically) sterile of settings.
Whatever your goal, you’re more likely to achieve it if you prepare for both the audition and the more practical and mundane aspects of the day. Think like an athlete, behave like a pro, and play like the artist you are.