Civic Orchestra Talk

I was asked to do a talk with members of the Chicago Symphony's Civic Orchestra about my experiences in auditions. I covered a lot of topics, and I hope to post a video of clips from that conversation soon. In the meantime, here is my outline of the questions that were posed to me in preparation of the event. Enjoy!


How teaching/working with students has informed your playing or your audition prep

I think teaching forces you to explain how you execute things instinctively, out loud and in detail. In doing so, you may find crucial information for your own personal development. Students can have strengths and weaknesses which could be similar or different from your own. Seeing how the students learns, plays and expresses themselves can inform your own playing in different ways.

Growing up in the Percussion Scholarship Group , I really was given a strong technical foundation, to the point where each week we would be given a new piece or new exercises. Nothing felt stagnant or stale, and even if we were working on the same technical aspect, we would always approach it differently until it was perfected. Having this variability in my lessons helped me learn how to explore my technique and practice by myself, and that has always influenced my teaching and now my auditioning.

Had I not had a music class in elementary school, I would not be in this position, more than likely. I’d be playing drum set in a church band probably, which would be fun of course, but the experience I’ve had as a classical musician, the places I’ve gone, the people I’ve met, none of that would’ve happened had I not had a music teacher at school who gave me the opportunity to try it out. I’ve maintained contact with them to this day and I’m always thankful to them for their support and for them believing in me. I try to do as many school visits as I can, just to give back and try to motivate another young student to follow their dreams with hard work and passion.


Specific tips/strategies you’ve used in preparing for auditions

Don’t take it personally. Play the way you want, not what you think the panel wants. Someone should be able to transcribe what you played, and it be exactly what the music is. You can’t want the job too much, don’t over hype it.


What’s your specific audition preparation routine?

Memorize all the excerpts. Play them along with multiple recordings. Slow practice them to find physical and musical defects in the performance. Should be able to play the excerpt perfectly 10x’s in a row. Visualize and audiate the excerpts in your mind, mental practice. Find what happens to the body when nerves enter, find something that triggers a similar response, and expose yourself to it as often as possible. Mine was horror films.


How have you adapted it based on auditions you’ve taken?

I’ve put more emphasis on the mental aspects of auditioning. Developing the mindset and focus needed to execute a successful audition. If your daily practice is efficient, when audition prep time comes along, all you’ll have to do is play the list down, fix minor things, and focus on the audition day mindset and physical awareness, instead of just the musical execution.


What feedback (if any) have you received after auditions, and how were you able to incorporate it?

Personally, I couldn’t take criticism well when the stakes behind them were high. It’s a source of high anxiety for me. So, I either ignored the comments I got, at least for the time being, or I refused to view them entirely. However, I would accept all comments from mock auditions and lessons, which I felt were the best example of what my peak level could produce. During the audition itself, I can always tell and remember when something went awry. Either a tempo was off, or something was unclear, or not phrased properly, I could remember exactly what happened, why it happened, and what I needed to do to prevent or fix it. So looking at the comments seemed pointless to me, especially when I already knew what the problem was, or if there was a problem that normally was not there.


What non-musical practices (if any) have you incorporated into your audition preparation, and how have they been helpful?

Meditation, body scanning, and listening to philosophical and motivation podcasts. These were the biggest influences, not only in my prep but in my entire technical development. Meditation away from the instrument helped me to quiet my mind and train myself how to focus. Turning my practice into a meditation just liberated me to do anything I wanted without the stress of needing to improve or win a job. Body scanning allowed me to analyze how my body was reacting to what I played or thought. Philosophy helped me develop better and healthier mindsets around auditions and practicing. Motivational podcasts helped boost my esteem, determination and confidence.


What lessons or takeaways did you get from your time with the Detroit Symphony? How did it influence your audition preparation?

Just play the music. Forget technique, forget perfection. Just play the way you play. Literally, after I accepted this, I advanced in every audition I took after that. I began preparing auditions as if I were just going to play the pieces in an actual concert. It made everything easier. Auditions are easy, that’s what I learned from Detroit.  


What are your short-term priorities as a new member in an orchestra?

Have the season planned out for the section assignments and set-ups, publish my book, and begin building my drum studio.


How would you like to see your career develop?

I want to keep taking auditions, finish my series of books, teach masterclasses clinics on not only playing but the spiritual and mental aspects of musicianship, teach at a college on some level, create a summer camp or intensive for drumming and meditation, teach online as well as in person. Have my own drum stick and perhaps a drum.