Successful College Auditions
Barbara Hopkins, D.M.A
Winning admission to a college music program is an important step on the way to a musical career. As the flute teacher at the University of Connecticut, I listen to dozens of auditions by prospective students every year. Many of these students are well prepared for the experience. Some are under-prepared or misguided. I am offering this article in the hope of helping prospective students prepare for the experience.
As soon as you start thinking about music as a career or a major, start taking lessons with the best teacher you can find. Remember that you will be competing against people who have had years of lessons with good teachers. What makes a good teacher? You are looking for a flute specialist. Your band director is a generalist; she has some knowledge about many instruments. Working on fine points of tone production, vibrato, etc. is best done with a flute specialist. I recommend that your teacher have at least a bachelor's degree in music, with flute as their major instrument. He/she should also have experience teaching and performing. If your community has a professional orchestra, or a college music department with a flutist on the faculty, that would be a good place to start your search. Questions to ask prospective teachers include: what level students do they work with? Do they prepare students for competitions like All State and college auditions, and how have their students performed? You want a teacher who has had success preparing students for what you want to do.
High School School Juniors
Enter your area's All State or Regional Band competitions. If there is a local youth orchestra, audition for that, too. You need to know how you measure up against your competitors, and it will give you practice auditioning. Get your playing to the highest level you can. You want to spend your senior year polishing your audition pieces, not struggling to get your playing to an acceptable level.
High School Seniors
Make a list of programs you are interested in applying to. Note when their auditions are, and what their requirements are. Narrow your choices down and do your homework on them. Find out about the departments, teachers, and programs. You may decide to approach a teacher for a meeting or a lesson. Prepare carefully for this lesson, both in terms of what you will play for them, and what you what to ask them about the department and their teaching. Be prepared to pay their regular lesson fee. This may be more than you're used to paying your high school teacher, but it is well worth it. Expect the teacher to give you feedback about your playing and information about the school, but not assurances about whether you'll be accepted.
Choose music for your auditions carefully. Make sure you follow the guidelines of the schools you're applying to. It is best to choose standard repertoire, as the audition committee will know it, and be able to judge you accurately. Choose music you can play well. The hardest piece you can play may not be a good choice, if it will fall apart under stress. However, make sure you have a high enough degree of difficulty in your program to show that you can do college level work. Show that you can play music of different styles. Music by composers from different style periods is better than movements from the same sonata. Learn whole pieces or movements. The audition committee may ask you to skip to a more difficult section, or may ask to hear an entire piece or movement. Teachers are looking for: appropriate technical development, including double tonguing; tonal development, including vibrato; and musical ability, including phrasing and intonation.
Don't get too caught up in matters of Baroque and Classical style and ornamentation. These are topics you'll work on in college. One caveat: if you choose to use your All-State solo as an audition piece, be aware that you may have many competitors playing the same piece, and this may not be to your benefit. Make sure you have at least one other piece prepared.
At the audition
Show that you're the kind of student a professor will want to teach. Be respectful and polite. Dress appropriately. You don't need to dress elaborately, but show that you take your audition seriously. Don't wear casual clothes, such as jeans. Eat breakfast and get enough sleep before the audition, so you can play your best. We understand that you may be nervous, and will take that into consideration. We want you to play your best, too. Play from printed music, not copies. Show that you care enough to invest in your own music. Make sure that you can pronounce the names of the composers and pieces you're playing, even if they're in a foreign language. Know the keys of the pieces you're playing, not just the sonata or concerto number. Be prepared to be asked to stop and to jump to another movement or another piece. The audition committee will probably be writing while you're playing. Don't worry; this is normal. An audition is not a lesson; you may be able to ask questions about the program, but don't expect feedback or advice about whether you'll be admitted.
Every audition is a learning experience. Evaluate what you did well, and what could use improvement. If you play several auditions, each one should improve. You many want to schedule your easier auditions first, and save the more competitive ones for later. If you follow these guidelines, you will enhance your chances of being admitted to the music program of your choice.
This article was originally published in Flute Talk, March 2006.
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Barbara Hopkins, Flutist