(crossposted from PBDB)
As I mentioned previously, Ira Gold, my colleague in the National Symphony, is teaching some of the Peabody bass students of Paul Johnson while he recovers from some surgery. He is also teaching Paul’s orchestral repertoire classes, and the students have really enjoyed all Ira has to share in this area. Ira is an excellent auditioner and has had a great deal of success on the audition circuit, and he presents his strategies for how to approach audition prep in a very clear and systematic way. He recently gave each Peabody bassist a list of his ideas regarding audition prep, and with his permission I present it here on PBDB. There is a lot of great material here for all of us to chew on!
Ira’s Audition Strategies:
1. Know the pieces you are going to perform. If you’ve performed a complete work in school, music festival, gig, or professional orchestra, this is the best way to experience the work. If you have not, buy a recording. Listen and follow along in your bass part to hear how your part fits in with the rest of the orchestra. Listen for tempo, style, and phrasing. If possible, obtain a complete score of the work and follow along with the recording.
2. When preparing specific excerpts from major works, I like to ask myself the following questions before beginning my practice.
a) What is the key signature? This is directly related back to your knowledge of scales and arpeggios, which should be practiced every day.
b) What is the time signature? Are there meter changes in the excerpt? Does the tempo change when the meter changes?
c) What is the tempo of the excerpt? Work on the excerpt slowly with a metronome. Go up one click a day so your body doesn’t feel a radical change in tempo. Start at a slow tempo so you have time to prepare for what comes next. If necessary break down the excerpt in to smaller parts. Work on one or two measures at a time until it is clean and clear. If that is too much, isolate small groupings of notes, i.e. two-six notes at a time so your mind and body has time to process all motion. Use rhythms to help with the left hand. For example, the eighth notes in Mozart 40 first and last movements can all be practiced using dotted rhythms. Put the long note on the first note of a grouping of four, then the second note of four, then the third, etc. When doing rhythms, practice them in slurs and with separate strokes.
d) What are the dynamics? Weight, speed, and bow placement are the key ingredients to dynamics. Amount of hair can also play a role.
e) What is the general style? Style for me translates to choices in sound concept, vibrato use, and bow strokes/note lengths.
3. Self-check your playing – Are you playing in tune? With a flexible and varied sound palette? With strong rhythmic pulse? With phrasing? Record yourself and see. Be honest with yourself. The more honest you are in the practice session, the more room there is for improvement. Fundamentals link back to your technical development. Develop fluency in major and minor scales and arpeggios, an arsenal of bowings, bow strokes, bow lengths, string crossings (slurs and separate), chords (thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, octaves, unisons), finger patterns. Sounds like a lot of work – it is. If you’ve built a solid foundation, making decisions is easier and more comfortable in the long run. Without it, you can always be scrambling and struggling to find something that works.
4. Relationship between you and your equipment – We have to remember that our instruments are channels for our inner voice. Allow the bass and bow to communicate back to you what it’s strengths and weaknesses are. Every bass has a threshold of sound before it bottoms out. Don’t go past this breaking point. If your bow is spongy, maybe you have to tighten the hair a little more to play louder, or if the bow is very dense and strong, maybe loosen the hair when playing pp, like the opening of Beethoven 5 scherzo. The key is to let your bass and bow work for you rather than against you.
5. Your body – This is probably the most important part. I am a strong believer in remaining physically flexible, long, and free when I play. Studying and practicing yoga has helped me achieve better balance, posture, and awareness of my muscles. I am more relaxed and play louder with less effort on days when I’ve done 30 min. or more of yoga before playing. General exercise is good for the body because it keeps the heart healthy and all of the different body systems alive and kicking. Eating healthy is becoming more important in our culture and we all know what the “junk” is that we eat. Consistent quality sleep in combination with meditation is a great addition to our lives.
6. Perform – Playing for everyone you can find before an audition has been my philosophy for many years. It’s partially to get feedback, but mostly to create an environment that resembles the actual audition. After doing this many times for a few weeks before an audition, the day of the audition feels much more relaxing and familiar.
7. Your Mind and Heart – All of us get nervous when we play, including me. The importance here is to have a healthy way to deal with your fears. There is a wealth of material to consult on performance anxiety, particularly the Don Greene books. I am a big fan of Stuart Dunkel’s The Audition Process: Anxiety Management and Coping Strategies. For me, I usually view performances as opportunities, not a danger zone. I see it as a chance to present who I am at that very moment. No matter what my strengths or weaknesses are at that moment, being honest with myself and my listeners enables me to be open and giving to an audience. I actually get excited about playing for anyone and everyone. I feel this is why I am a musician: to share my love of music with everyone and everything around me.
8. Audition Day – After a short general warm up, play through a few passages without stopping. Don’t wear yourself out. Have energy stored for “the big game” – you’ll need it when the adrenaline kicks in. As tough as it sounds, enjoy the moment. Performing is a privilege and a luxury that few have the opportunity to experience, so be thankful. The more fun you have, the better the experience will be. I’ve been at many auditions where I hear folks practicing in the warm up rooms. Unfortunately, there is not much you can fix or change the day of an audition. The bulk of the work and learning is done weeks and months before. If something isn’t perfect at the audition, just accept you are doing your absolute best. If you prepare thoroughly and efficiently, you will always improve and be better than you were before. A successful audition is one in which you play your best.
9. Moving On – An audition is a snapshot of who you are for just a few minutes. It doesn’t define your playing, your musicianship, or even your character. Take some time to reflect on what went well, and what could be improved. Congratulate yourself on the preparation, you did your very best. Now it’s time to get back to school, work, or whatever is in front of you for the near future. As you go through the audition process again, you’ll have some perspective about who you were the last time – maybe you’ve changed in some ways, other ways you’re still the same. It’s a process that I believe evolves as you evolve, continuing to create and problem solve. Remember that being a musician is a life process, and taking auditions is a kind of quirky skill we have to develop. Your mock audition, while not “real”, is very real in the sense of your preparation and performance. There won’t be a contract waiting for you after your mock audition, but that doesn’t mean that your level of commitment through this process is any less important than going for an actual job. Go for it! – Ira