shenghua hu is a seriously inspiring dude. he got into the MET orchestra last year after winning a job in the 2nd violin section. then, just a year later, he took the audition for principal 2nd violin and won!
despite the fact that his locker is two away from my own at the MET, i hadn't really gotten to know him too well. maybe it was the language barrier (he is a native chinese speaker) or maybe it's the fact that i spend most of my time pre-show and during intermission hiding in the lounge writing blogs.
anyway, after he won his second big audition in as many years, i wanted to find out what had helped him do so well consistently.
his answers were thoughtful, thought-provoking, and overall just seriously really cool. thanks so much to shenghua for his time and energy. enjoy!
want a head start on audition preparation?
here's my 5-step guide to constructing your preparation process and optimizing it for maximum results.
rob: how did you think this audition was going to turn out? did you expect the results you got?
shenghua: i didn't apply for the audition when i first heard about it. i thought it was going to be very competitive. actually, my wife is the one who encouraged me to try out. but since this is my first year with the MET, i had very limited experience, so i didn’t expect to win this position.
r: on average, how much time went into practicing for this audition?
s: as soon as i knew i was taking the audition, i tried to aim for at least 4 hours of practice every day.
r: did you have any specific methods for preparing for this audition like slow practice or chunking?
s: that's my secret, but today i'm willing to share!
first of all, having the right attitude and the right motivation is crucial. always remember that the strongest competition is with yourself.
second, staying cool and calm as you're practicing is really important. listen closely to your intonation. the judges are listening to you play solo, so intonation is really important. i spent lots time practicing my intonation; i pretended i was blind and i use blinders to cover my eyes so that my ears would have a chance to become more sensitive.
finally, there's definitely a psychological aspect to my preparation. i remember at my first audition, my legs and hands were shaking the entire time and i completely lost control. then i started to practice that as a component of audition preparation! i would run 5 minutes on the treadmill before i practiced, or i would get up at 4:00 in the morning and grab the violin to play the excerpts without a warm up.
r: did you do anything differently this time around compared to past auditions? what kind of results have you gotten in the past?
s: i did make some changes for this audition. after having worked with the MET for a year, i realized i also needed to learn the story and the intent of the operas i was playing, not just the notes. so before i'd start practicing an opera, i study the story for that opera in order to understand composer’s actual meaning.
i've been auditioning for 5 years. i did win two auditions during that time before the MET: the albany symphony orchestra in 2012, and the assistant principal 2nd violin in the hudson valley philharmonic in 2013. but there were also 30 other auditions that i did not win.
r: would you say that preparing for a second violin audition is different than a principal violin audition? how are they different? how do you prepare differently?
s: honestly, there was not big difference in my preparation. the only difference was the repertoire: the principal audition asked for solo pieces in addition to opera and symphonic excerpts.
r: what advice would you give someone who is just starting out on their audition journey?
s: taking auditions is a long journey. my advise is to never give up. always be strong in your heart and practice in the right way.
r: what advice would you give someone who has faced multiple job rejections? how have you dealt with rejection in the past?
s: think about the problems you faced during your auditions seriously. there will be things you must fix, but don't let it get you down. face it and make it better!
auditioning comes with lots of rejection. when rejection happens, i go home, practice, and work even harder. practice makes perfect!
r: did you feel prepared for this audition? did anything happen during the audition that you didn't expect?
s: actually, right before the audition, i felt that i was 100% ready for the audition.
and yes, something unexpected did happen. they asked me to play the cadenza of the concerto during the super-final round. this was the first time i was ever asked to play the cadenza!
r: how do you feel now that you've won this job and how did you celebrate?
s: i am very excited that i won the audition, but also i have to face the huge responsibility. when i came out from the stage door after i won the audition, i saw my wife sitting there waiting for me; she was about six months pregnant. i hugged her and the baby in her belly. we haven’t celebrated yet, but i'm sure we will during the summer.
r: how many mock auditions did you do to prepare? with whom?
s: at home, i had a mock audition every week. i used a curtain as a screen with my wife and two cats sitting behind it. my wife is a pianist, and luckily she has very picky ears. if i play one note out of tune, she will stop me right away and tell me.
r: what made you decide to take this audition?
s: my wife and baby. the baby is coming in september. of course i want give him a better life, but most importantly, i want to be an example for him. it doesn’t matter the result, but we always have to keep going and try something new, never stopping. my wife kept a diary while i was preparing. and she has recorded all our memories we've made together. we will share the story to our child when he grows up.
there is a chinese idiom: “live and learn.” i am still young and cannot miss any opportunities to progress.
r: if there was one thing you could go back and tell your younger self about auditioning, what would it be?
s: i would tell myself, “thank you for never giving up.” as i said, i have lost almost 30 times at auditions, but finally i landed my dream job with the MET. i am really enjoying working with my colleagues here. they are all great musicians, and everyone is super nice to me. i feel like this is my second family in the united states.