Struggle Today, Strength Tomorrow

Every time I prepare for an audition or a recital I find that the last week of preparation is the most difficult to endure and that has certainly been the case with this audition. I’m both mentally and physically exhausted and anxious to move onto something other than practicing, like my May goal of gardening. Practicing has been a battle this week, because as the audition approaches I find myself listening and reacting more critically than usual. I’ve also been doing more run throughs of my music and I’m having a difficult time staying completely focused, often finding that my mind has wandered off. I had another really amazing lesson with Randy Hester on Wednesday, which has given me the direction I need to survive the remainder of the week’s practice. You may be wondering what this daily “practice” entails. Back in 2010 I attended the National Flute Association’s Annual Convention in New York City. Sharon Sparrow, Acting Assistant Principal Flutist of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, gave a really great class to help fellow flutists preparing for orchestral auditions. She said that by following this process, she makes it to the final audition round every time! ( Her process is below and I’ve been loosely following it for this audition.

Sharon Sparrow’s Six Weeks To Finals 

Week 6: Get the audition list. Make two booklets of your repertoire. If the list asks for the whole piece, include the WHOLE piece in the booklet! Make an i-pod list. Clear your schedule as best as you can! (Drop volunteer stuff, committees, students if necessary) Make travel arrangements. You are ready to begin…Play through ENTIRE list. Begin to assemble your “naughty list” of excerpts. Begin each practice session with a useful warm-up (high pp, etc.) and your “naughty list”…

Week 5: Use your index cards. One excerpt per card…shuffle…draw…PRACTICE! Divide excerpts on the list by days in the week to get through all in Week 5. Make sure you are REALLY practicing…nitty gritty! Begin by doing a “mock run thru” for your recorder, then listen back three times, with three different markers…1) pitch 2) rhythm (honestly, if these two aren’t perfect, you won’t get to the second round!) 3) musicality and phrasing. Mark and practice until perfect. By this point you should be reading everyday. The mental game is just as important an element in the audition! Keep a notebook handy to record special “quotes” that are inspiring or meaningful to you. This is an important step often skipped.

Week 4: Research the place and people you are playing for. Get information on the hall, the players, their training and background, what is coming up in their season, or what they just played (can often be a clue to any sight-reading done in the final round). Do you think Lance Armstrong ever does a race without checking out the route first? Set up at least 3 formal mock auditions. Try for three contrasting locations, and 3 sets of players. Include at least ONE from a different section (not a flutist). Also include one from out of your area, someone who inspires or intimidates you…or both! Your “naughty list” should be getting shorter. It’s fun when you get to take one off the list! Find time this week to research half the pieces on your list, and play entirely through with a recording. What is the meaning behind the Brahms 4 solo? What do you know about Beethoven when he was writing Leonore? What was the style of playing when Bach wrote the St. Matthew Passion? Learn to really UNDERSTAND and LOVE what you are playing. How does each excerpt fit into the piece as a whole? They are really SO MUCH more than just excerpts! Continue with your “nitty-gritty” practice. Your recorder, metronome and tuner are your best friends! J

Week 3: Research the other half of the list and play through entire piece with a recording. Reminder: Still ALWAYS begin with a useful warm-up and your “naughty list!” At this point, you should be getting through many more index cards in a day. Enlist a friend to check you on pitch and rhythm. Have them watch a tuner or metronome light and call you out on any time you stray. Remember, these two things must be near PERFECT to get out of the Preliminaries! Also, use this week to make anything that seems challenging to you even HARDER. Faun, breathing, Scherzo, eliminate one breath. Transpose! This is the week you MUST play (and record) a formal mock audition. Remember, would you show up to a triathlon without ever riding a bike?

Week 2: Prepare for extremes in your home mock audition. Play in extreme COLD, extreme HEAT, on a full stomach, empty stomach…even on no sleep! Make a note on what was more challenging, and train yourself to focus in extreme situations. This is more important then you know, as many a player has been rattled by “extreme” circumstances that occur at the actual audition. Go the extra step…be ready for anything, actually PREPARE for anything, and you will be extremely confident! Are you still reading and writing your quotes? Begin reading a few quotes to yourself before each home mock audition and before going to bed. Sounds cheesy, but it really DOES help! This is the week for your out-of-town formal mock audition. Try to create the actual audition circumstance as much as possible. Stay in the same hotel…eat the same meal…play at the same time of day…wear the same outfit, shoes… (All the while, you are STILL “nitty-gritty” practicing every day!)

Week 1: Have a home mock audition and play through the ENTIRE LIST for your recorder. You may never listen back at all, but you HAVE to do this once! No stops…no distractions. (This took over an hour with the Detroit list!) Make sure to do mock auditions around the time of day you might play (any round) and plan an eating strategy that you get used to. You should be able to get through most index cards in 1 or 2 sessions.

Audition Day: Must have list: 1) water bottle 2) i-pod 3) snacks 4) notebook (to take notes after each round you play…you will want to look back on them) 4) book. Often the “waiting game” is the hardest part, so be ready. Come prepared. You may get stuck for long periods without access to food, and then have to play. Plan ahead!


Although today is the last day of April, my preparation continues until the preliminary audition on Monday, May 4th at 1:00pm. Feel free to send prayers or positive thoughts my way as I will need every ounce of support you’ve got! I find the final two DailyQuotes by musicians very fitting for the conclusion of this journey.