Auditions are not a big deal to me anymore, but they are a huge deal now more than ever. Huh? With all the perceived stress and judgments that are wrongly connected to the act and event of auditioning, it's no wonder why people tend to shy away from or fear it. I started taking performance auditions in elementary school, just for a ranking ranging from good to superior (already a labeling issue), and at first I wouldn't get nervous. But when I started connecting my success with pleasing my teachers or my family, nerves immediately set in. This would only get worse as I got older resulting in paranoia, depression and anxiety attacks. These imposed definitions and characteristics of the AUdition made me see it as an AWdition, regretting and even dreading taking them. Luckily, one of my private teachers, Eric Millstein, took time to talk to me and help me see not only auditions differently, but music performance in general.
The audition is not what you think it is, it's way simpler and way less stressful. The first thing to do is to accept this as truth. The majority of people may believe that it is this huge event, which it "is", and is extremely stressful, which it "is", and even the musical culture currently has these descriptions habitually attached to it. Living and working outside these labels is the first step to liberating yourself from the fears and anxieties of it. It's not easy to do, because it really feels like you're the only person, like you are the odd ball for feeling so calm and almost passive about the entire event. You may feel like, "Why aren't I nervous? Something must be wrong?" or "It can't be that easy." In actuality, there are more people who think that auditions are simple and even easy than you know, and they do win jobs more often than the ones who are gripped by fear.
Now, why is it simpler and less stressful? As human beings we tend to attach all types of ideas and excuses/reasons with what we do ("I have to cook because I'm hungry"), but the problem arises when we attach a worst case future scenario to our actions ("I have to cook or I'll starve to death"). Often our reasons behind what we do are completely valid, but the danger of assuming or speculating the future or results is what creates the anxiety. Stay in the moment and don't try to predict the future. Yes, we have to prepare heavily for the audition, but that's it! It is not, "I have to play perfectly or I will get cut." Many people play perfect rounds and still get cut, and often people with one or two mistakes get passed along to the second or final round. Even in the final round, some mistakes can be made and they still win! Simplicity wins here. We prepare for an audition so that we are prepared for it. We don't even prepare to win, or to play our best. We prepare so that we are prepared. Nothing more, nothing less. If you rest in the fact that you are prepared, it really takes some of the fear away because you know you came prepared, not, you came to win or you came to impress the judges. Yes, we all want to win, but if we prepare with that mentality we risk clouding and missing certain things.
The first professional audition I advanced in, I felt extremely prepared for and I went in so confident to the point that I stopped caring about whether or not I would hit a right or wrong note. I just played and even did things I hadn't practiced, but felt in the moment. Sadly, the one excerpt that I did not do this, in my first round, was the one where I felt the need to do a bunch of impressive things to get through the round. Because of this, some musical ideas that I imported sounded outside the character of the piece, even though I thought they sounded impressive. They asked the same excerpt in the second round and it was because of this that I was cut. Honestly, you cannot know what is impressive to anyone, so why even try to do it? It's when we aren't trying that it happens, it's when we play the music so truthfully that the panel hears the orchestra behind you that they are in awe.
Auditions are a major event, yes, and you cannot take it lightly or haphazardly. Auditions can be stressful, yes, because there's a lot of material to learn and often money, potential or otherwise, attached to it. The hard thing for us to do is to ignore all of the unnecessary chatter and noise that these potentials and reasons can create within and around us. Negativity (caused by realistic logic or unrealistic speculation) of any kind will cloud not only your actual audition, but the process leading up to it. There have been some smaller auditions where I had prepared and played extremely well, made it to the finals, and could literally feel the negative energy coming from behind the screen. There have also been some where the job had so much negative opinions or history that I feared winning it! Being aware of these things can help you navigate through them better and make the process and event a lot less stressful and way easier to deal with.
For me, now, I see auditions with a sense of awe. It's amazing being in that zone of playing for people the way I want to. A zone where I can literally sense the panel or the atmosphere of the hall and orchestra and play to that! I literally want to improvise and find new things in my pieces while I'm presenting what I've prepared. It's exhilarating and does make me nervous because of how vulnerable and almost, no literally how unsure I am of what will come out, even though I've planned so much! But, I've learned to accept that, because even though you plan and practice to the point of perfection, you really don't know what that moment will produce. So, I don't try to know, I let the moment guide my preparation, my interpretation, and my presentation. When I won the Detroit Fellowship, I literally did not think about my strategies or prepared crescendos and phrasings. I listened to the hall, sensed the panel, felt the energy that the orchestra left behind, and played with that. I lost and found myself in the music and at the end of the round I won the Fellowship. I even struggled with the fact that I won, because it felt like I hadn't done anything! The finals felt easy, effortless and I thought that because I didn't struggle that I didn't deserve to win. But, actually, that's the whole reason I did win.
That's been my standard ever since. Making the process and the event easy, effortless, playing my way, not trying to impress but trying to play truthfully and honestly in that moment, not only in auditions but in every performance. It may not be the "norm" for auditioning, but it works for me and that's exactly what you should find for yourself. A system where you will be so prepared that you can just play the music the way you want, not giving way to fear of mistakes, fear or judgment and fear of loss and winning. Caution: the system does not guarantee "victory". It can only prepare you for playing the notes, traditional and trendy phrasing, etc. The magic happens when you play so truthfully and honestly that the music comes to life, the orchestra can be heard in your playing, and "you" disappear. In the words of Eric, "Just think about the music. It's all about the music."