It’s a new year – the holidays are over as are the parties and festivities. Hopefully you are well-rested and ready to face the challenges that lie ahead.
Now is a good time to start thinking about where you might audition and what you need to prepare. Yes, it seems a way off yet, but you will be surprised how quickly these things come around and there is a lot to prepare to ensure that you make the right impression and decision.
Having been through the audition circuit myself, I would like to give some advice to those who are auditioning soon.
- Find a teacher you want to study with
This might seem easy enough. You pick a teacher that you admire, right? But remember you will be with this teacher for anything between 1 and 4 years. Therefore, you need to be a good fit. The only way to know this is to get some lessons with different teachers (“consultation lessons”). I always knew that I wanted to study with William Bennett since I was about 15. I went to his summer school for a few years before I auditioned at the Royal Academy of Music. He got to know my playing and noticed how I improved each year. So when it came to the actual audition, he was almost rooting for me to play well and that is never a bad thing!
Nowadays, not many teachers give summer schools by themselves, but may be at other festivals or schools with other teachers. For example, The Oxford Flute Summer School has an impressive line up of teachers who teach at various music colleges.
Alternatively, get a teacher’s contact information from the music college or their website and contact them directly. I started taking lessons with Sebastian Bell (who was then the Head of Woodwind at RAM) when I was 15 years old after writing a letter to him. I was rather naive back then, but luckily he invited me up to London for a consultation lesson. I had lessons regularly with him until I went to RAM.
2. Know what you need to prepare and … prepare it!
Most music colleges ask for 2 contrasting pieces, sight-reading and possibly scales and arpeggios. Be prepared to also do transposition and improvisation.
Pick pieces that show you at your best. Don’t try to second guess what the panel will want to hear, but instead pick pieces that you know well and that you love. This will come across in the audition. Make sure they are contrasting in period, style, tempo etc. ánd are of sufficient technical difficulty. In other words, don’t play Faure Fantasie and Gaubert Nocturne and Allegro Scherzando. Contemporary music is not often a great idea unless this is something you really love and the professors take a big interest in personally. Remember that you will be playing with a staff accompanist (unless you bring your own, which is even better), so pick pieces that you can rehearse easily in 5-10 minutes. Pianists hate Ibert concerto and Chant de Linos, just saying. If you have more than a few months to prepare your repertoire, take some time away from the music and come back with fresh ears and eyes a couple of months before the audition.
3. Visit the colleges
Go to some masterclasses and concerts at the music colleges you are interested in so you get a feel for the place. Ask students what it is like to study there – they are usually happy to help since they were in a similar situation as you.
4. Be prepared to play early
If you are not a morning person, then you need to change your ways! Start waking up and practising early to get used to playing well in the morning. Auditions will sometimes have 2 rounds – one in the morning and the other a bit later on. Both rounds need you at your best- no compromises.
5. Have a back-up plan
Sometimes, things don’t pan out the way you would like, so it’s important that you don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Make sure you audition at more than just one school and have a plan B should you not get in to your school of choice. Similarly, don’t spread yourself out too much- I wouldn’t recommend auditioning for more than 4 or 5 colleges- it can be a big strain emotionally and physically and you want to give your best.
6. Be yourself
Like I mentioned before, don’t try to second-guess the panel. It may even turn out that the professors you thought would be on the panel might be away that day. Play your best and just know that you can’t please everyone. Some people do get places in every college they apply to, but that is a happy coincidence. Be open-minded and show that you are a great student that will be enjoyable to teach every week. In other words, smile and show enthusiasm.
7. Practise playing under pressure
Do as much performing of your repertoire as you can, whether in masterclasses, concerts, exams or just in front of friends. This will prepare you for the hardest aspect of auditions- nerves! Nerves can be turned into a strength- they show you care about the music and playing well. But don’t let them control you. Breathing is key and learning how to keep a steady airstream is important. I might talk about nerves more in a future blog, but putting yourself under pressure is a good place to start.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or message me. This guide will not guarantee you a place at music college, but I hope it will prove to be useful in your preparations.
Thanks for reading and happy fluting!