This is a post from double bassist from Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music student Nicholas Hart. Nick will be contributing weekly posts to the bass blog about life as a music student in one of the nation’s most exclusive programs. I think readers will find this different perspective on the double bass world and the music world in general to be quite interesting, and I am looking forward to reading these posts. You will be able to read all of Nick’s contributions under the articles link in the menubar or in the sidebar under contributors. Enjoy!
This past week was our first mock audition this year at CCM. I decided to not play but instead sit on the panel and listen. It was very informative to be on the panel, and it was really enlightening about the audition process. It was behind a screen, but it was filmed to watch it in our lessons and it took place in one of the practice halls. We have these great rooms at CCM that are very large, that we use for rehearsals, and we have the privilege of using them for our studio class and rep class, and it really makes a difference. A big part of playing is realizing that the way you sound in a big room is significantly different than a practice room.
The clear difficulty in auditions is not only nerves, but also that there are many times in an audition where you will be standing outside the room, or in a hallway for a considerable amount of time before getting on stage, and not be able to play. So, we need to know the excerpts and our solo so well that we can play it perfectly completely cold along with our nerves and this is the hardest part of auditioning to overcome.
The list for this audition was as follows:
Movement of Solo Bach
First page of Mozart 39
Double and Badinerie from Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2
Don Juan – first page
Brahms 2 – Letter E to F
We graded each candidate on 4 categories- intonation, rhythm, articulation, and musicianship which included dynamics, clarity, sound, expressiveness, tempi, and any other relevant topics.
I am happy that I sat on the panel for this mock instead of playing it. I learned that unfortunately you’re playing is just a small portion of your presentation of your capabilities as a musician. The first difficult task is that the committee is sitting and looking at a screen and not the player, so our only impressions come from listening. This, unfortunately for the players, brings our attention to small details such as heavy breathing, tapping of a foot, scratching rosin off the strings, or any other habits that the players have. These habits are very inhibiting for your chance of winning the job. The reality is that the committee is looking not necessarily for the best player, but the player that they want to perform with during every concert. Bad habits such as breathing heavily can be very distracting and annoying and being that once you get in the orchestra you can be sharing a stand with a person for upwards of 25 years, they don’t want to be distracted by a person’s habits.
The pace at which you play in the audition is very important. I am not referring to tempo, as that is part of the scoring sheet, but instead to how much time you take to tune and how much time you take between excerpts. Some of the candidates went on to the next excerpt so quickly that it was almost like continuous playing. I was not able to gather my thoughts for those candidates and I found that I scored these particular candidates lower than ones who took some time between each excerpt. Also, there was candidate during the mock who took a considerably longer amount of time between excerpts than the other candidates. I realized sitting on the committee that since we are listening to the same 5 pieces, that dead time feels like an eternity. Those 2 transition minutes between candidates seems like an hour, and the time between excerpts can be even worse. The candidate that took too long between excerpts completely lost my attention and I found myself spacing out instead of listening to him.
In an audition, which I realized for the first time in this mock, playing at an accurate tempo is not the determining factor for the job. Those students who took the excerpts at quick tempi, but the clarity and articulation were missing scored very low. Yet there was one candidate who took the Badiniere in particular at quite a slow tempo, but he was in tune, in time, and had great clarity. Mr. Laszlo later pointed at that if you were to play an excerpt very well at a slow tempo in an audition, and the committee recognized the great characteristics in your playing, they would more than likely ask you to play the excerpt again at a slightly faster tempo. Of course the catch to this is that there will always be a player who plays the excerpt at the right tempo with perfect intonation, clarity, and articulation. But in an audition, clarity, accurate rhythm and intonation is most important.
So in a recap, while taking auditions there are many deciding factors outside of your playing that partake in the decision of the committee. To be successful in auditions, not only do we have to know the music inside and out, and be able to play it at any time, but we also need to get rid of potentially annoying habits, and have a good sense of pacing during our time behind that screen.
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