Rhythm, intonation, rhythm, rhythm

My trainer told me today that he was on facebook and noticed how all of my recent posts were about cookies.  This is true.  I figured it was time for a non-cookie post!

I’ve gotten some questions about my advice for how to prepare for orchestra auditions.  Honestly, I’m hardly an expert on this, as I’ve only ever won one full time audition and a handful of regional auditions, but hey, it’s the internet!  Anyone can write anything and people will believe it.

Just kidding.

Oh, is this supposed to be a serious post?  (Fine, I’ll give it a whirl.  Also make sure you’ve read “Orchestral Auditions for Non-Musicians.“)

Let’s assume you’ve been practicing the violin since you were a young child, and you have spent several years in college really perfecting your craft. (Otherwise I really can’t help you, sorry.) You’ve decided it’s time to enter the “real world” and so you are entering the horrific world of orchestra auditions.  Or maybe you’re still in school but you are auditioning for a part time job in a regional orchestra (that you just might keep for the next 20 years!).

So you get the list of excerpts to prepare.  You may already know some of them.  You may not.  I would allow 1 to 3 months to prepare.  I like to make a CD of a variety of recordings to listen to in the car (former Suzuki child, plus, my use of CDs definitely shows my age.)

What will the committee be looking/listening for?  Rhythm, intonation, rhythm, and rhythm.  At least that’s what my teacher in school told me.  I’ve been told conflicting information, such as intonation, intonation, rhythm, intonation.  I think you get the point though.  Without rhythm (use a metronome, marry it, make it your best friend) and intonation (ditto with a tuner or drone) you don’t have a chance.   A recording device is helpful as well, so you can really hear yourself.

Next step:  make it interesting.  Especially for violinists, anyone can play with perfect intonation and rhythm.  (Do I actually believe that?  No, but that’s what people say…and maybe anyone can for 30 seconds occasionally).  I’ve heard the phrase “pleasing tone” being bandied about.  That means an inoffensive tone, with a nice (not too fast, not to slow) vibrato to go with it.

Other advice I’ve been given over the years:  Follow the printed dynamics.  Play accents when they are marked and only when they are marked.  Do the tempo markings.  Know what else is happening in the orchestra while you are playing alone, but never play too soft or too loud (even though you likely WOULD in the section.)  In fact, don’t play much like you would in the section at all.  Play like you would fit into any section.  Don’t play too loud.  Make sure to play loud enough.  Use contrast.  Don’t worry about contrast too much and just focus on intonation and rhythm.  Don’t sound like you are just focusing on intonation and rhythm.  Anybody can play perfectly in tune.  If you play perfectly in tune you will be the only one.  No one plays a perfect audition.  We’ve never hired somebody who played a perfect audition.  No one played perfectly enough to get hired.

I kid you not.  That paragraph is full of actual advice I’ve been given by professionals.  In a nutshell…work your butt off, practice as much as you can, definitely work with a metronome and tuner and trust your ears, but ultimately, the committee is crazy and often has no real idea of what they want.  You can do your best, and it might never be good enough.  Or one day you’ll get lucky, win a job, and then within a period of a few years, will forget how hard it was and how much of that was good luck and the audition committee smiling upon you, and assume that you are good enough for any orchestra and that people who don’t have orchestra jobs are lesser musicians.  Or you’ll spend decades complaining about how hard your orchestra job is…to people that work three times harder for a third of the money doing the same thing you do but in crappier orchestras.

But this is meant to be a positive and inspirational post, so I won’t get into the bitterness of orchestral musicians, or musicians, or non-orchestral musicians (or my own bitterness)  Because nothing, nothing beats playing a Mahler symphony.  Nothing!

Is this post helpful?  Probably not.  Remember.  Practice, practice, practice.  If you are sleeping, somebody else is practicing.

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One of the best things to do to prepare for orchestral auditions is to take orchestral auditions.  The more auditions you take, the more you learn what parts of your preparation are effective and what parts are not.  You’ll also learn how you react to intense pressure and get more accustomed to “performing” in an audition setting, which is completely different than any other setting.  I always think of it this way:  in a concert or recital, people are there to enjoy your performance and be entertained.  In an audition, people are waiting for you to mess up so they can eliminate you and move on to the next candidate.  Or perhaps for you to be so much better than the other candidates that they can hire you.  But either way they are not looking to be entertained, or to enjoy themselves.

I could probably go on for a long time, talking about auditions.  I’ll take questions though, in the comments.  Like I said, I’m not an expert by any means, but I’ve taken my share of auditions, and can certainly offer my unique perspective and advice.

3 thoughts on “Rhythm, intonation, rhythm, rhythm”

  1. Do they ever give you cookies for making it to the finals? I’ve never been given cookies at an audition. I’ve eaten lots of them immediately after tho. Perhaps your trainer won’t read the comments section.

  2. I think you might be right about some things just being up in the air. I mean, yeah, there are definitely absolutes that we know anyone is listening for like perfect intonation and rhythm, but there are lots of candidates that could pull that off, so how do they really justify their final choice? Is there any bias once the screen is out of the picture? Does anyone on the audition panel personally know the person auditioning? (Is that allowed?) and does that affect their choice?

    At this point, I don’t even care about “snagging” an orchestra position–I’m not even sure if it’s what I really want anymore, if it’s not something I really have control over. Right now, my focuses have turned to becoming a better teacher and by default, I feel that I have to continually improve my playing skills to feed into my teaching.

    Did you ever feel stress when you held your orchestra positions? Would you rather play in an orchestra than teach or both? Thanks for the post! I really enjoy reading about other musicians’ experiences and thoughts:)

    1. Lots of candidates that could pull that off, but few do in any given day. If a committee is choosing based on that, that’s stupid, in my opinion. But then again, what else do they have to go by? When you eliminate based on five minutes…

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