When you apply for a place at Music College, you are knocking on the door to the next chapter of your life.
To ensure that the door opens for you, you should plan well and give your preparation some serious thought.
I know it’s difficult these days with so many distractions. Play Stations, Computers and the Internet (which wasn’t invented when I did my auditions!), are all hard to resist. Then of course there’s school, but you do really need to plan your audition preparation like a military operation.
After all “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail!”
You may be lucky and the audition may go well, and you feel in control and relaxed, but if you don’t prepare well, this is less likely.
We can’t cover everything about auditions in this article, but here are a few tips that might help.
Okay, let’s get started.
You must know your pieces inside out. That seems obvious, but it doesn’t always happen. When you know the piece really well, you will not be worrying about the notes, and can be musical in your performance.
Unlike some parts of the audition, the pieces are in your control. You don’t know what else the panel are going to ask you, but you will have to play the pieces, that’s for sure.
When you are nervous, you can lose up to twenty per cent of the standard you are capable of, but if you prepare thoroughly you are more likely to represent your true standard.
Know the style and tempi and treat the pieces like a “test-piece”.
If you don’t know all the Italian terms in the piece, you should look them up. It wouldn’t feel good if the panel asked you what Allegro Maestoso means and you didn’t know.
What about the composer? Is he/she French/German/English? Alive or dead?
I’m not suggesting that you know everything about the composers of your music, but it wouldn’t hurt to have some knowledge.
Back to the playing: Make sure that you play all the dynamics intended by the composer. It’s possible the panel will hear the same piece five or six times in a day. You want them to remember your performance as the one with lots of dynamic contrast.
If there is a difficult high (or low) section with an “Ossia”, play the high (or low) notes and only opt for the “easier” option if you absolutely have to. Remember you are competing against good players, and ask yourself if they are they going to take the easy option.
Last, but certainly not least, play musically, and enjoy yourself.
Remember the people on the panel are not there to criticise you, and in my experience look forward to every performance. They too are enthusiastic brass players. So, think about the music, and not the panel.
One thing you could consider, if it’s possible, is to have a lesson or two from a professional player before your audition.
If you live anywhere near a city with an Orchestra or Conservatoire, this should be fairly easy to arrange.
Many colleges offer a consultation lesson or something similar. I know it’s more tricky if you live away from a major city, but it could well be worth your while, to get a good idea of what’s involved.
Not only could you get some encouragement for your preparation, but there may be a few things you could learn, about sound, note lengths, and style, that will help you prepare for the audition.
They will also give you advice on the sort of music that’s suitable for auditions.
If this isn’t possible, then try to seek out a lesson from a teacher that has had students win a place at college and get some tips from them.
A life in performance isn’t for everybody, so you may also get some advice that will steer you in a different direction.
Your choice of music is important.
Some colleges have set pieces that you must play, and some allow you to choose your own. Make sure that you know what pieces/editions are required well in advance.
If your audition is “own choice”, then choose music that suits you and shows off your talent well, while ensuring the piece is of sufficient difficulty for this level.
Pieces we hear a lot that show the right sort of sound/style are – David, Saint Saens, Hindemith, Guilmant, Jacob etc and on Bass – Lebedev, Semler-Collery, Koetsier, Bach Cello Suites, Bozza and Ewazen.
It is quite likely that you will get some sight-reading in your audition, so be prepared for this too.
Why not practise your sight-reading? People often neglect this.
You can do this without your instrument. Do it on the bus or the train; just read through lots of pieces. Practise with any piece you can get your hands on. It doesn’t need to be for trombone. When it comes to the sight reading in your audition take your time and have a good look through the music. There’s no need to rush.
If there’s a change in tempo from allegro to largo (or similar), make sure you do it, and always keep your eye open for syncopation.
Be careful to note any clef changes, and as always, the more you observe the dynamics the better.
You know, it’s always possible that you be asked a scale or two.
Practising scales is a lifelong occupation for any trombonist. Without the need for any music you can work at articulation, intonation, high/low register, breathing, slide technique etc etc. The point I’m making is, that scales do not stop at grade 8, and it is entirely possible your panel will ask you play one, so be prepared.
Earlier I mentioned knowing something about the pieces and the composer of what you are playing. What about your general trombone knowledge?
If you are not already a Trombone geek, now could be the time to become one. Increase your knowledge of trombonists and repertoire, by listening to some recordings of good players. Not only will this broaden your knowledge of the subject that may be your living soon, and give you some good musical ideas, but could help you in your audition.
Knowing of a few fine players and hearing their recordings could help in your interview. It shows that you have initiative, and are actually interested in, and a genuine student of the trombone. Once again the Internet has a role to play here. You don’t need go to a library anymore to hear great recordings of Ian Bousfield, Joseph Alessi or Ben van Dijk.
I listen to them all the time on my “portable music library and hi-fi system”, more commonly known as a mobile phone.
Something else that could help in your interview is having some knowledge of the symphonic repertoire. (If you are applying for an orchestral course).
Knowing which composers write well for trombone is a must for budding young professionals. Why not listen to the marvellous trombone writing in symphonies by Mahler, the large brass sound in Bruckner, and the Operas of Wagner and also the beautiful trombone chorales in the Brahms and Schumann symphonies.
It wouldn’t do you any harm to listen to some of our fine Britsh jazz trombonists either. Mark Nightingale, Gordon Campbell, Richard Edwards and Andy Wood are all names for you to listen out for.
Use the months leading up to your audition to strengthen what you already know and to add to your musical knowledge, especially pertaining to your chosen subject, the trombone.
Other things to think about for your interview include knowing why you’re applying for College.
What’s your end game? –
Is it because of the great teachers ?
If so, you need to back up what you say and know a few names of the staff, and maybe where they play or played.
Is it the facilities that inspire you? Ensemble activities? History, track record ?
If you are interested in that conservatoire, be sure to let them know why, in a cohesive way, and don’t mumble. Speak clearly and try to relax as much as possible.
The panel are going to be interested to hear you. They will be friendly and hearing what you say is important.
So, I guess to summarize all of the above, you need to prepare well, practice like mad and develop as broad a knowledge of the trombone and music generally as possible. Don’t worry if your performance isn’t perfect, just do your best to show your potential.
Music is a great business to be in. Whether you wish to become a teacher, or player I wish you the very best of luck.
Adrian Morris is
Senior Tutor in Trombone at the RNCM and
Principal Bass trombone with The Halle Orchestra.