Three hours a day, 10 minutes to make it

In an audition, the panel asks for pieces that demonstrate technique, intonation, dynamic range, control, and a lot of other things because audition panels are extremely objective. Who wins the job boils down to two things: 1) who was playing the best that day and 2) who the panel liked. The goal is to demonstrate the technique, intonation etc better than your peers and hope the panel likes how you chose to showcase it in your interpretation of the music you’ve played.

For you music history buffs, the Romantic era gave all orchestral instruments some really awesome repertoire. During the Industrial Revolution, instruments saw changes in their construction, new alloys and materials used. Romanticism was about expression, exploration of virtuosity, harmonies. Expression of musical ideas was primary, demanding a higher level of skill from the musician. The Romantic period became widely accepted as the birth of the virtuoso. And we’ve been pushing the envelope ever since. Auditions today ask for the fastest, hardest to play excerpts pulled from all historical periods. And our job is to wow the panel when our name is called.

I’ll be laying out, in a couple of the excerpts that flutists typically see on audition lists what we have to do and each excerpts unique challenges.

Prelude on the afternoon of a faun
Period: Impressionism
Composer: Debussy
Test of: breath control
What’s expected: play in – at most – two breaths

You can hear it below in the clip. The solo lasts from the beginning of the clip to when the harp comes in.

To illustrate the demands of this excerpt, using the metronome linked below (wordpress will not allow me to embed with iFrame tags for security reasons), put the metronome anywhere between 74 and 85 (beats per minute). Take in a slow, deliberate breath. Exhale for, oh say, about 33 beats. You may breathe only once more, preferably when you about 8 beats left, so at beat 27 or so. It may also try it with the video, but the flutist plays it on the slower side, at about 76 beats per minute.

After you’ve frustrated yourself like we sometimes do in the practice room at least once a week, take a listen to it again. Doesn’t it just sound so pretty? Go hard or go home.

Midsummer Nights Dream

Period: Romantic
Composer: Felix Mendelssohn
Test of: technique (and breath control)
What’s expected: even, clean double tonguing (fast articulation technique), completing the passage in a maximum of three breaths, with a full sound

Start at about 4:04 and listen to the end:

This excerpt is from the end of incidental music written for, as its namesake suggests, Shakespeare’s play of the same name. It’s very playful and, as most scherzos are, on the faster side, thank goodness! But not too fast, because everybody knows that the Clarinets are playing in this piece too, and Clarinets don’t double tongue. Play too fast and it looks like you don’t know the piece. Performance nerves and anxiety excluded, don’t play to fast, but the faster it is the easier it is to play in three breaths…

Oh, by the way, did I mention its just obligatto (back ground filler)? You don’t even have the melody here! But its important enough to know and demonstrative of skill that its asked for in auditions across the world.

When I was considering pursuing music as a teen I got the same speeches with “you really have to love music or your instrument to be that dedicated”. To be honest those speeches actually discouraged me. I don’t love the flute that much. In my next life, I hope I’m a double bass player, or a french horn player. (Have you heard Mahler or Brahms symphonies? They get to rock out in them. ) What I like to say that I have is follow through. Any one needs that in any profession, any endeavor in life.

For more information and perspectives on life as a classical musician and the audition process, check out Boston Magazine’s article this The AuditionIt’s a very insightful view into auditioning for the country’s best orchestra houses, including Boston’s own Boston Symphony Orchestra.