Yet another week has come and gone! Happy Friday everyone! Last week I talked about the recording process; How to prepare, and some tips and tricks to smoother recording sessions. Well, let me catch you up on what’s gone on since then:
My practice sessions were rough and my chops weren’t feeling it.
I had to make a mock audition tape for a class and had a REALLY bad time.
I almost cried in my class on Tuesday because I was so embarrassed about it. A friend of mine listened and she didn’t think it was as bad as I thought. But it wasn’t my best foot forward and I was really disappointed in myself.
Yesterday we had our final class “audition”. I placed second and honestly I got such great feedback that I felt like a winner.
That is a brief summary of my past week, but I want to talk about it in depth a little bit.
Let me be clear that because I offer tips and tricks to things, it doesn’t mean that I never struggle myself! Of course I do, but the tips and tricks I've found definitely make things easier. For example, I left out a step that I usually don’t this past weekend when trying to record. It not only made things more difficult, but also added to my frustration. I spent over 7 hours total in three days trying to record a tape. It was sure a more lengthy tape than I had been making in the past few months, but regardless of the length, I didn’t stick to what I knew worked because I was under time constraints. It happens. We have bad playing days, we forget about things, and sometimes we just get ourselves into a crunch. The thing to remember and realize is that this is normal. Days like this happen to everyone. It's about taking a minute to breathe, and come back in a better head space. It’s also about learning to manage your frustrations.
We watched my tape in class and I was definitely my worst critic. In addition to that, it was so obviously noticeable in my tape that I was giving up. In the end I just slammed my horn down on my lap and that was it. I was not happy. I know I’m better than that, but that was all I had left in me. Sometimes we hit a wall. Sometimes we let our frustrations get the best of us, and my teacher let me know that it is absolutely okay to feel like this; that this happens to everyone. Because it does! His suggestion was to keep a better poker face. I agree. I could have done a MUCH better job with being noticeably frustrated. But again, this was a learning experience.
After class on Tuesday I needed a break, so I took Wednesday off. I wasn’t sure if that day off was going to set me up for failure on Thursday for our actual class audition.
It didn’t. I actually think the day away set me up for success. Did I win the audition? No, but I placed a close second and got some amazing feedback from the panel of judges we had. I played great, they thought so too, gave me some suggestions for audition improvement, and I felt great after. I was really proud that I got to turn this all around.
While this audition was just to wrap up our Audition Prep class with all the brass students, I learned a lot from this experience. It also made me realize how far my audition prep has come, and how successful what I’m doing now is proving to be. Back in 2019 when I started at Mannes for my Masters, we had our placement auditions. 3 weeks out from the placement, I took a lesson with my current teacher, David Jolley. He told me that every day from then until the audition, I need to plack mock auditions for myself daily. Record myself playing the full list, listen back, evaluate and work out my problem spots. Every day moving forward that was exactly what I did, and let me tell you, mock auditions work. I placed in the top 3 of my studio.
Moving forward, when audition season rolled around last year, I took the opportunity to not only play daily mock auditions for myself 2 weeks out every day, but I also played them for my teacher in lessons and for my friends who were willing to listen! Mock auditions were hugely successful for me and many of my friends. I learned a lot about preparation, but I also learned a lot from my colleagues and watching their process as well.
While yes, there is much more than mock auditions that went into my preparation, I do think that my success in feeling comfortable in the audition hotseat was from having put myself in similar situations prior. Learning to make myself nervous whether it was for my friends, or just my camera was key to finding out how to make myself stay in the zone.
So mock auditions. What, how, and why?
What are mock auditions? Playing your list of solos, excerpts, etc. for your friends or yourself without stopping or being interrupted. Planning for multiple scenarios whether it be being asked to play something louder, or playing in an order that isn’t very friendly (Horn ex. Ravel Piano Concerto to Shostakovich 5, low tutti. No thanks!). Imagining every possible outcome, and experience you could encounter. Mock auditions start from taking your seat, to walking off stage. The mindset you need to perform in high stake auditions is something that must be practiced and learned. Everyone is so different so you need to figure out what makes you work, and what makes you tick. Something David Jolley and I talk a lot about is this trance state of mind using subdivision. When you sit down for your first excerpt, you already should have the subdivision for the first excerpt running in your mind. Whether you need to empty your spit, blow air through the instrument, or do any sort of ritual you have, that subdivision never stops. Between excerpts, the subdivision doesn’t stop, but changes tempo and character. This is continuous until the very last note of the round ends. I practice this a lot. This keeps me focused and in the zone. Some people also use ‘Centering Down”, a technique taught by Don Greene, between excerpts, or visualization. Each person has their own art of concentration that helps them get through auditions. Oftentimes we use these, or start to talk about them when trying to control our performance anxiety. They sure are helpful tools for that too!
How do you set up a mock audition? First decide if you want to play for anyone. Your friends? Your teacher? Or just yourself today? Once you’ve decided, I highly recommend recording the audition. If you’re just playing for yourself or your teacher, you’ll definitely want to reflect back. When I play mock auditions for friends, I rely on their ears to give me feedback. Sometimes your friends don’t get to hear you individually as much as you or your teacher may. They’re a fresh set of ears that might hear things you don’t. Plus, as long as you’re picking the right people with the right intentions to listen to you, then you’ll get feedback and critiques that you should 100% take and implement. Your friends should want you to succeed as much as you want them to!
Again, practice from start to finish. From the moment you walk in the room, to the minute you leave. Practice staying in a certain frame of mind, and analyze that at the end too. Can you stay in the zone? Do you get distracted easily? Is your performance anxiety getting the best of you? Identify what’s happening internally so you can fix it if need be. It’s a lot of trial and error as well to find the best methods of success. That’s also why mock auditions are great, because you get unlimited tries to figure out the best method for you!
Why do a mock audition? First, it’s great to get yourself nervous so you can semi feel like you’re in a real audition scenario. This is practice for the real thing. We need to practice auditioning just as much as we practice the excerpts themselves. We can know the excerpts inside and out as much as we want, but if we can’t control our anxiety, thoughts, or feelings, they can absolutely get the best of us in a real life setting. Once you’re on a roll with playing for people, it doesn’t seem as scary! Additionally, running your excerpts any which way will prepare you for whatever is asked. That way you aren’t nervous playing excerpt after excerpt, and are comfortable with anything that could be called next.
While there are going to be off days, missed notes, disappointment in yourself, we have to remember that it is common! Everyone has been there and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. The best thing to do is to prepare in a way where you know you’re setting yourself up for success, even if you don’t achieve it. The preparation process is the biggest feat! If you’re having a bad day, step away from the instrument and come back tomorrow. Resting and giving yourself time when you're stressed or frustrated is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Allow yourself to heal.
That is it for this week! Reminder! I am accepting both horn and piano students of any age into my private studio. Contact me or see my website regarding rates. I’m also offering FREE consultations for any advice you may need overcoming performance anxiety, identifying tension, creating a new practice structure and more. Contact me today and let’s set something up! Coaching options are available after the initial consultation.
Happy holidays and have a productive week of positive practicing!