What I am looking for in an audition

If your music scholarship audition is coming this month, you are probably wondering what your auditioner is looking for? This is an important question to consider, the answer may surprise you.

First of all, I care a lot less about note accuracy than you probably do. An audition is a one-time shot at showing how capable you will be in a college ensemble. Note correctness provides little information to determine this. Of course, it is important, and a sloppy performance might say something negative about your capability. However, your capability to be a successful collegiate ensemble member will show more clearly in several other (more important) areas. Here are five:

1. Musical Poise - In the Concordia Wind Orchestra, we operate with a minimal amount of doubled parts. This means that it is really a big chamber group. This might be different than your high school band, where you may be one of four or five players on the 2nd trumpet part. Here, we only will use 1-2 players on that part (depending on the piece). I want to see that musicians can handle themselves independently and confidently. I want musicians who make critical judgments about how music ought to sound and then put it into action. When you play your excerpts, for example, don't ask me how to play it. Using your experience, look at the markings on the page, the title of the piece, and the note patterns. Determine the style to the best of your ability, and then execute it.

2. Expression - Music is not just notes. Cognitive research shows that developing musicians are so preoccupied with note and rhythm accuracy that there is little room for them to focus on elements of expression and style. If you play with a tasteful and wide dynamic envelope, and if you add subtle expressive detail from note to note on a journey to complete a phrase, I know that you are moving on in your musical development. And since the Concordia Wind Orchestra has controlled instrumentation, I know that you will add a noticeable expressive element to the ensemble (every individual is magnified in our setting). So, don't just pick a piece that runs you through a lot of fast passages. I'm not listening for the notes, I am listening for how you get from one note to the next. Choose a solo that offers you the chance to express yourself.

3. Control - Expert ensemble playing is a special art. I am listening to how you sustain notes - does your airstream waver, does the sound change unexpectedly, does the intonation shift? An expert ensemble player can play very softly without any of these happening. He also can shade his tone quality, use variable vibrato to make the note expressive, and can release it pristinely. Consider how important control of individual players is - if one member of the ensemble can't taper his sound into the cutoff and can't hold it steady, his deficiency will cover the excellence of the other members. For these reasons, I'll be listening far more carefully to the long notes than the short and fast ones.

4. Intonation - The average person notices timbre more than any other musical element (again, this comes from leading cognitive research). An out-of-tune player changes the timbre of his section from pure to spread and shaky. Any audience member will notice this (even if many of them can't describe the effect). If you show that you can handle the out-of-tune tendency notes on your instrument, I know that you have an intimate procedural knowledge of performance on your instrument. To learn more about intonation tendencies on your instrument, Google it (trumpet intonation tendencies, for example).

5. Who you are - This is critical at Concordia University. We are thinking about paying you through a music scholarship to represent the university. Members of our ensemble interact in significant ways with outsiders. When we go on tour, for example, you will share meals with church members, sometimes sleep at their houses, and you'll have many opportunities to interact with children. I want to make sure my ensemble projects a positive image of Concordia and a positive image for music. Kids don't hear a lot of live music - their interaction with us will be a shaping experience. They'll want to become musicians based on how we perform AND how we carry ourselves. So, briefly, I want players in my ensemble who project a caring and warm personality - a Christian demeanor.

Finally, enjoy your audition!  Why not?  You have invested hundreds to thousands of hours developing your musicianship.  Don't worry, I'll notice what you've invested.  You'll have a chance to play and to discuss music and college life with me.  You are on the brink of a new, very exciting stage in life!