There are two new job openings in the Orchestra for a section first violin and section viola player. Ever wondered what it’s like to audition for an orchestra? Our Assistant Principal Viola Player, Marcin Swoboda, gives you a behind-the-scenes look!
The audition process here at the CPO is not unlike audition processes elsewhere. Candidates are given a predetermined list of excerpts from major symphonic works and, having prepared them to the best of their ability, they arrive on the day of the audition and do their best to show a panel of about eight musicians that they are better than the 20-odd other people who showed up that day. The CPO is nice about it, though. Space permitting, we provide separate warm-up rooms for all of our candidates as well as bottled water and, if you’re lucky, SUBWAY cookies! There are usually three rounds to an audition. The first round is used to choose competent players who are clearly playing at sufficiently high technical and musical levels. The second round is similar, but usually features more problematic excerpts. The final round often includes performing a concerto, which gives the audition committee a better understanding of the limits of a given player’s dynamic, technical and musical ranges.
I was lucky because the audition listing came up for my job 3 months in advance of the audition date, which is pretty rare. I was also lucky because I was in the perfect place to prepare an audition: music school. I made sure to practice a minimum of 3 hours per day and, for the first two months, I only practice slowly (somewhere between one half and three-quarters of the final tempo marking). I also quit drinking alcohol, which is quite a feat when you’re in Montreal in your twenties! In the final month before the audition I made it my goal to schedule daily performances of at least three of the excerpts for a friend or colleague. This, I think, was invaluable to my success. It gave me the opportunity to practice not only the music, but also practice battling my inner demons in the spotlight. It allowed me to get over my nasty habit of focusing on the negative aspects of a performance, during the performance. Before each of these “mini auditions” I would take a moment to visualize actually being in the concert hall with 8 people listening to me behind a screen. Having dealt with that pressure mentally every day for a month made it a lot easier to deal with on the day of the audition.
If I were to choose three pieces of advice for potential candidates they would be:
1) Practice slowly more often than practicing up to tempo
2) Play for people (preferably musicians – you get more nervous that way) as often as you can – it isn’t easy, especially if you’re out of school, but force yourself to do it and try to do it every day for at least a week ahead of the audition.
3) Visualize participating in the process of the audition before each performance – it makes you infinitely more comfortable on the day of the audition.
Auditions are, in my opinion, the worst possible performance experience. I think it would be hard to find an orchestral musician who disagrees with me. However, with the proper mental and physical preparation they can be extremely rewarding and enriching learning experiences.