A graduate of Wheaton College (IL) and New York University, Douglas Yeo has been bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since 1985 and is on the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music. From 1981-85 he was bass trombonist with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. This article offers practical suggestions about preparing for an orchestral audition. While written from a trombonists' point of view, most of the principles herein are applicable to players of any instrument.
In my many years of teaching on the college level, I have taught hundreds of lessons, given dozens of master classes and written scores of articles. But in spite of the wide variety of topics I have spoken or written on, I am most often asked "How did you get your job?" The question is asked honestly, although I suspect those who ask are secretly hopeful for some secret I could impart to them. Alas, there are no secrets, only common sense compounded with a great deal of work.
Of course hard work does not always lead to the end of the rainbow. As a Christian, I understand that the best - even the only - place for me to be at any given time is where God wants me to be, whether or not it is what I want. In the years before I got my first full time orchestral job, my understanding of this important Truth was very incomplete; I would often pray, "God, you know how much I want to play in an orchestra. You've given me a talent to play the trombone. Please just let me win this audition and I'll stop bothering you about this." It was not until I allowed myself to entertain the very real possibility that an orchestral career was not what God wanted for me did I experience real freedom in audition taking, as I recognized that the audition was not a "do-or-die" proposition, but rather a way of seeking confirmation of God's will for my life.
The psalmist writes, "When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, The moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him?" (Psalm 8:3,4 NASB) A profound thought, indeed. But it has a practical application in our lives as well. For if the creator of the universe, the One who holds the galaxies together, desires that you be a member of "X" Symphony Orchestra, do you honestly think he would allow something as trivial as a missed note at an audition to prevent you from winning the job? This realization does not give the Christian freedom from working hard, but rather reminds us that God is God, and He will do His work through us in ways we often cannot understand. Our goal is to seek His will and way, and to conform our lives to it in order that we can experience the "peace that passes understanding."
What I have endeavored to do here is to outline some practical steps any musician can take toward audition readiness. But I write this being influenced deeply by the Creator of all things. Working toward a goal can be a noble pursuit, but working toward a goal in the Spirit of Truth can provide understanding and satisfaction beyond measure. Don't forget the biggest piece of the puzzle in your preparation. Without knowing Him, you may win the job, but will not have the satisfaction you seek.
Preparing for an orchestral audition does not begin in a practice room with
an audition list and a copy of the Berlioz Hungarian March on your music
stand. It begins years earlier, before you know what an eight-service-week
is, before you care a whit about tour conditions, and before you even know
(or care) what the job even pays. It begins on that day when something
inside of you says, "I love music and want to spend my life devoted to the
pursuit of making great music for the enjoyment of myself and others."
It's exciting, it's exhilarating, but it doesn't happen overnight. Many a student has tried and failed, not for lack of talent or perseverance, but for short-sightedness. There is far more to winning an orchestral audition than playing excerpts. This essay is an outgrowth of my own experiences - as a student, an audition candidate, a member of an audition committee, an orchestral player, and a teacher.
What follows works for me, and it has worked for my most successful
students. But it is by no means the last - or even the complete - word on
the subject. Take these words and seek out the thoughts and wisdom of
others, carefully processing all the information until you find a process
in which you feel comfortable. The road is long and full of pitfalls and
frustrations, but should you succeed, you will be rewarded with a lifetime
of inexpressible joy as you grapple daily with that re-creative process
known as music.
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