Audition Preparation
by Olivia Gutoff, Artistic Director Emerita

Here are some tips as you prepare for auditions: We conductors are looking for a lot of qualities as we listen to you. It becomes immediately obvious when you are well prepared!

First of all, be “conversant” in your scales. Think of scales as a means to introduce yourself to the conductor. They need to be played with confidence, with a big, full tone, and played well in-tune. Don’t ever take scales for granted! Competence in scales gives one a foundation for being able to play music skillfully. Scales are the vehicles for conquering the technical demands of your music and for conquering sightreading, which I will address later.

The next part of your audition is your solo. Are the conductors interested in technical solos? Yes, BUT not if MUSIC is sacrificed! We would prefer to hear something played with beauty and expression, with style and a lovely tone, and with excellent tuning, rather than a technical piece that sacrifices any of those qualities. Technique for technique’s sake is not music to us. Until you are playing expressively and in tune, lots of notes are not going to impress us. If you play fast and sloppy on your prepared piece, we must consider that your practice habits need improvement. Since musicians generally work on their solos over a long period of time, it is important to us that you display thorough preparation, especially considering the fact that the MCYO orchestras rehearse only once a week, and there are only a few rehearsals before each concert. We must have confidence that you can prepare well.

Sightreading! You might say, ugh! But its importance cannot be emphasized enough. The first two aspects of sightreading that are important are: (1) recognition of the key of the piece (scale knowledge!) and (2) good reading of rhythms.
Not only the correct execution of rhythms, but the proper counting of note values is essential. Our orchestras are large in size in order to emulate the symphony orchestra setting. Can you imagine a large group trying to play together without the fundamentals of good counting skills? One might say, “I can’t sightread well, but I can take the music home and work it out.” Included in learning to play one’s instrument well are good sightreading skills, especially for the orchestra setting. Again, with so few rehearsals to prepare for concerts, it is essential that we sightread music well so we can start work right way. Time is of the essence. We do expect you to take your music home to work on details, but that does not change the importance of skillful sightreading. Sightreading skills are developed just as normal reading skills are developed. As in every learned skill, there is a process. You learn your ABC’s (scales) and you start by reading easy music. You read more and more to build your “musical vocabulary”. As you advance, you read with greater fluency and knowledge.
To reach a high level of proficiency in sightreading one must have an advanced vocabulary (scale knowledge, key signature and rhythmic recognition), and one must have the ability to include expressive qualities. This would put the sight-reading of the advanced musician near a performance level. You can practice for sightreading! Just do it! Start by reading something easy.

Be sure you

  • observe the key signature
  • count carefully
  • watch for accidentals and rhythmic changes
  • observe your dynamics
  • play at a tempo where you feel you can get through the music without stopping (slower is better)
  • try your best to be expressive!
  • look up the words at the beginnings of your music, like “andante”, “allegro”, “maestoso”, “giocoso”, etc., since they are clues about the speed and/or style of the music.

Include sightreading in your daily practice so you can be fluent in your music reading! Above All, Be Expressive Think of your audition as an interview. Know that you will have competition. You want to appear confident and knowledgeable, and you want to convince the conductors that you are just the right person for their orchestra! First impressions are important. Preparation should be thorough. Prove yourself technically and above all, be expressive!
Good luck to all of you!