Recently, I sent an email to my flute students and their parents. We live in a fast-growing community, and the level of playing here is growing right along with the population. As my some of my students enter the world of music competitions, I’ve found that many of the students and parents harbor misconceptions about competitions – from proper preparation to how to handle disappointing results, and even about the reasons to compete, or NOT compete, in the first place. Here is the email, with a few edits for smoother reading. Perhaps this will be of help to other studio teachers (and band directors!):
With the arrival of concert season comes ensemble and seating auditions, and of course, District Band audition preparation. I would like to take a moment to say a few words about competitions and auditions. Most everything I say here is applicable to concerts and other performances as well:
- Prepare early and often. Even when there isn’t an audition or competition (or concert) on your schedule, your technique practice is like money in the bank.
- Inform your teacher, accompanist, and recording technician (if applicable) WELL IN ADVANCE of your plans to create a recording. Remember, you will need to time to find a place to record, the accompanist needs time to learn your piece (and rehearse with you), and your teacher will need time to help you coordinate all this. Give your team plenty of advance notice so they can do their job well and without stress. Respect the time of others.
- Sometimes, I will advise a student not to compete. Please take this advice seriously, and know that I never make it lightly. Factors I consider include the student’s current level and the level expected for the competition, the student’s academic and extracurricular load and ability to prepare in time, the student’s mental readiness versus the stress level of the competition, and the appropriateness of the requirements to the individual student.
- You are competing only with yourself. Don’t waste time comparing yourself to other performers.
- An event need not be competitive to be worthwhile. Musicians prepare for concerts and recitals in the same way we prepare for competitions. The music matters, not the blue ribbons and trophies.
- While it is fine to have an external goal in mind, such as, “I want to make first chair,” it is much more valuable to have an internal goal in mind, one that cannot be influenced by the opinions of adjudicators, who are, after all, only human. It may be better to say, “At this audition, I want to play cleanly with no major mistakes,” or “My goal is to play with musicality and dynamics.”
- Recognize that, even with preparation and a good audition, you still may not be accepted, receive a prize, or be seated where you would like. Accept the judgement of the panel. If you made mistakes in your preparation and audition, learn from them.
- That said, there were many times during my orchestral audition days that I played to the top of my ability and was very satisfied with my performance, but was still immediately eliminated. In fact, that is what happens to most musicians MOST of the time. At my first professional audition, I was “Number 117”. In my group of 20 candidates, only one person advanced to the next round. After years of preparing for that moment, I had maybe 2 minutes to convince a committee to advance me. I failed to convince them. So did the other 18 flutists in my group who weren’t advanced. 200 flutists showed up for that preliminary round. Only one was hired for the job, and at the end of the probationary year, the orchestra still wasn’t satisfied, and held another audition. Develop a thick skin, because you WILL “lose” more than you “win”. I still considered the audition a “win”, and I’m glad I had the experience. I had many more like that. The first time I was advanced to a semi-final round, I was so stunned that my mouth opened and closed like a guppy for a few moments while I absorbed this unthinkable news!!
- But keep pushing for the goal. Remember, a competition is a TOOL. Hopefully, you’ll receive valuable feedback from the committee that will help you in your continuing quest to become a better musician.
- Recognize that no one owes you a spot in an ensemble. The person listening to the audition (except in final rounds, which are usually not anonymous) is not interested in who you study with, your grade level, or even if you were in that ensemble last year. Right or wrong, most auditions are only concerned with how you play right NOW, in this moment.
- But don’t let the moment define you. If you don’t play to your level in an audition, take a moment to review what may have gone wrong in your preparation, and then move on. Maybe you could have prepared better, and maybe there were circumstances beyond your control. Perhaps something emotional is going on in your life, or your alarm didn’t go off and you hit all the red lights on the way there, causing you to arrive later than you intended and cutting into your warm-up time. Relax. Breathe. One performance or audition simply doesn’t define YOU.
Please realize that I want what is best for ALL of my students. For some, that may mean simply participating in studio events and recitals. For others, that may mean competing regionally or nationally. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to pursue non-competitive musical endeavors. No one player is the same, and there is no one correct journey. I’m so proud that our studio has grown to the point that we have students who compete on regional (and soon, national!) levels. Enjoy the journey!