For most people, the college application process ends the second the “submit” button is pressed. Fill out a few blanks, write a generic essay about what some dead guy’s quote means to you, then play the waiting game. Unfortunately, as a music major, that’s the easy part. After hitting “submit,” the horrifically nerve-wracking audition comes next.
My first instrument is clarinet, which I’d played for eight years when the fateful audition day rolled around. I started learning guitar two years later: first rock, then jazz, and finally classical. So I had three different auditions to prepare for (clarinet, jazz and classical guitar), because I had no idea which one of the three would make me happiest. Finding enough practice time was hard, then I lost my desire to play jazz, so that was one less set of auditions to worry about.
My first audition was for clarinet in Pittsburgh. There was still snow on the ground from a storm that raged a week earlier. I bundled myself up and walked to the music building, checked in, and began the most heart-wrenching wait of my life. It was terrifying to see other applicants come in looking more professional than me. When my turn finally came, I walked into the recital hall. In a welcoming tone, members of the clarinet faculty asked me the normal pre-audition questions (“Where are you from?” “What will you play?”). They ended up asking me to play about half of what I had prepared, and they completely skipped one requirement of the audition. They followed up with some post-audition questions. I was so nervous that I could barely piece together a sentence.
The next two auditions, in Rochester and Baltimore, were both similar to my first one, right down to the weather. But, those two auditions were less terrifying. I had been playing classical guitar for less time than clarinet, yet I wasn’t as nervous. I have to thank my teacher for helping me prepare for the mental part of auditioning. Also, ignorance is bliss: I didn’t know until after my audition that I was playing in front of one the most eminent guitarists of the 21st century (Manuel Barrueco at Peabody).
What should one expect on audition day? It is difficult to go to a strange place and play in front of very respected players. But for me, the most intimidating part was questioning my ability compared to all the other auditionees. How am I to know if the person sitting next to me is some competition winner or related to John Williams or Julian Bream?
The biggest secret for having a successful audition is to take a deep breath and don’t panic. As long as you try your best, it doesn’t matter how good everyone else is. The jury is sympathetic, most of them have attended auditions for years; they know everyone is incredibly nervous. If you know you’re a good player, you’ll do fine. If you don’t know, start believing that you are. My Dad (also new to this process) told me that I did everything I could, so all that’s left is to have a great time. Regardless, he’d still be proud. That was one of the most important things I realized before going in to my audition.
Auditions are scary, but surprisingly short. Even the best players have issues with nerves at some point. Think of this as a chance to learn how to deal with those nerve problems. If they let you pick which piece to start with, pick your favorite, even if it’s not your best. Potential is just as important as technique. Then, take a deep breath and dive right in. If you put in enough preparation, anything is possible. Just make sure not to hold your breath for an entire five-minute piece!
Anthony Isenberg (Garden City, NY) studied classical guitar with Christopher Gotzen-Berg (professor of classical guitar at Molloy College) while he was in high school. He has been accepted into Ray Chester’s studio at the Peabody Conservatory for the fall of 2013. He is also a member of the Long Island Classical Guitar Society, and has performed in master classes for Joanne Castellani and Richard Patterson.