guys, sometimes awesome things happen.
here’s what i mean.
as you know, i run auditionhacker. that means i spend almost every day working with students (like you) and trying to coach them through debilitating audition struggles.
those audition struggles? they suck. they hurt. it’s hard to get an audition rejection, and it’s even harder to face the fact that you’ve spent years and years doing something and you’re still not good enough.
because underneath those feelings of disappointment is another thought that’s hard to take:
“am i ever going to win an audition?”
basically my whole day is spent thinking about negative audition experiences and what to do about them. but one cool thing that happened this year is that i’ve started to see students have real audition success.
i’ve watched them address their struggles head-on and plow through their weaknesses to win jobs.
it’s been amazing.
and i want you to know that with the right work ethic… with the right approach… with the right drive and competitive spirit...
...it is possible to win an audition in an orchestra.
today’s blog is the story of 3 amazing students who transformed their audition process and won an orchestra audition.
they're each very different people (although two of them play the french horn) and each found quite different solutions for their unique audition struggles. but they have two things in common:
- they are all students in my audition preparation course the auditionhacker formula, and
- they all won orchestra auditions in 2017.
they also have something else in common, which i’ll tell you about after the interviews.
(btw. if you’re interested in signing up for the auditionhacker formula, that entire course is included in rob and noa’s winter audition boot camp. noa’s course, beyond practicing, is included too, along with 8 weeks of group sessions and direct feedback from me, noa, and the rest of the class. enrollment ends sunday night at 11:59pm.)
our first success story is about jonathan reed.
he’s a double bassist who recently won the audition for principal bass in the royal swedish opera. he also won a trial for the royal stockholm philharmonic. (stockholm’s his favorite city.)
he’s had a winding road to winning these auditions and he’s gone through a ton of struggle.
but jonathan’s a deep thinker. he’s not the kind of person to get a rejection and not do anything about it. each time he’d look inward and figure out sometime to try to improve for the next audition. needless to say, it hasn’t been an easy path.
but listen to how jonathan worked on the art of auditioning to find what worked for him (and what didn’t).
rob: how many auditions have you taken?
jonathan: i haven’t sat down and jotted down how many auditions i’ve taken, but it’s a crazy number. it’s so many that it’s a little scary. i’m a clear example of a lot of failure.
rob: i see. what was going on in these failed auditions?
jonathan: for me the hardest part is having confidence when you begin. even though i felt prepared, and i’d go in and feel awful. i would go in and just fall on my face.
rob: dang. so what did you do about it?
jonathan: well, each time i’d look back, analyze what happened, and say “well, maybe that’s what i did wrong.”
i actually bought so many audition mindset books that i got overwhelmed. but, i figured, if something worked for someone else to win an audition then i should put it into my routine to see if it works for me. so i'd try everything in my audition prep.
rob: wow, that’s brave to try so many new things. did you find things that were helpful?
jonathan: a lot of times they didn’t work at all. for instance, some people use visual cues in their music. they’ll write down a few words on the page and that helps them. that doesn’t help me... i’m not a word person. it actually made me play worse.
but some things worked great. i got this one idea from a friend - a bass player named ian hallas - which was to put the metronome at 60 and play every single note of the audition at that tempo. each note is isolated without playing the rhythm. you’re working on intonation, tone, character, dynamics, and everything else. now i do that kind of slow practice right up until audition day. i even do that right before i walk on stage. for me that's the best warmup.
rob: so basically you made incremental tweaks, tried new things each audition process, and eventually found what works for you. that’s inspiring. so how does it feel now that you’ve won a few auditions?
jonathan: i’m still working on it and it’s something i would like to do better at. but you’re going to get better auditioning the more you do. the general road is that you’re getting better all the time.
julie gerhardt almost gave up on the french horn.
good thing she didn’t.
she’s a french horn player who got her master’s at indiana. she went down a long and winding road of teaching, gigging, and auditioning. and recently, she saw her first audition success when she won the 2nd horn position in the columbus symphony orchestra in georgia.
she took a huge risk but really set herself up for success.
here's julie's story about how she decided to quit her job and dive headfirst into auditioning.
rob: so you just won 2nd horn in columbus. awesome. but let’s rewind. before you started taking auditions in earnest, what were you doing?
julie: well, at first i had a full time teaching job. but i wasn’t happy in my life. so i went to grad school and then got a bunch of freelance teaching gigs. and because of money i felt like i had to take every single gig.
rob: that must have been busy.
julie: i was doing so much freelance teaching that i was unable to get large chunks of practice time in.
rob: yeah, that sounds tough. what did you do about it?
julie: well i was quickly getting to the point in my life where i needed to either make some progress on the audition scene, or i needed to make a different life choice about my career. but i love playing the horn and have always loved playing the horn. i've have wanted to be a professional horn player since i was 12. so i said to myself, "ok, if i eventually have to make the decision to give it up, i want to know i’ve done everything in my power to make it successful."
rob: so it was sort of like one last hail mary.
julie: exactly. so i made some changes in my life. i’m doing a lot less teaching now. and now i’m able to put in the time to organize my practice sessions, which sets me up for success.
rob: what were your struggles in auditions before you freed up this extra time in your schedule?
julie: i felt like i was putting in a lot of time but that it was haphazard. and i wasn't seeing the results i wanted to see. i’d get to the audition and say to myself, “you could have done more. what if you had done this?” i needed a more systematic way to go about it.
rob: how'd you figure out what to do?
julie: i changed my approach in two main ways.
the first is that i came to realize that i need to be my own teacher when i find something that needs improvement.
like, in grad school at indiana, i was having a problem with double tonguing. my teacher, jeff nelsen, asked me to write an exercise for myself to work on it. i said, “i can’t think of anything. i’m not creative in that way.”
he looked at me and said, “it’s your job.”
all i could say was, “ok.” i added it to the list of descriptors for the job. so i accepted it and said to myself, “ok, i guess now i have to do it."
and now if my chops aren’t in shape then it's my job to figure out how to work on it. i try to be very methodical and objective. if i try one thing and it doesn’t work, i’ll try something else. i’ll bounce around until i find something that works.
rob: that’s a great method. it’s strategic, methodical, and intense. what was the second way you said helped your audition process?
julie: well, like i said, i was looking for a systematic way to approach things. i have a type A personality. i like to feel like i’m following a process and that i’m checking off boxes along the way. so when i enrolled in your course i just feel like i filled in some of those gaps and answered some of those questions for myself.
it turned out that the process, particularly phase 0 (researching the excerpts) and phase 1 (muscle-memorizing the notes) were really really helpful. they made me think about the excerpts in a deeper way than just listening to a recording while driving to a gig.
it's really nice to put in the time in an intelligent way and when i get to the audition room say, “no no no, i DID this and this and this,” and feel confident that i did my job.
rob: when you walked into the columbus audition, did you know were going to do well? and how did it feel when they finally announced your name as the winner?
julie: i didn’t know what my odds were. you never really do. i just wanted to go in and play my best. and i played very consistently with the way that i had prepared, which was very exciting.
it was a bit of a surreal experience because there were things about my audition that i would have changed. but when they offered me the job i was like, “ok…. ok! great! that’s fantastic!”
ryan everson won an audition this year as a 20 year old sophomore at the arizona state university.
he enrolled in the auditionhacker formula last december and just a few short months later won an audition to play substitute horn in the tuscon symphony.
20 YEARS OLD. WON AN AUDITION. IT TOOK TWO MONTHS.
i’m really in awe of ryan. he has this inner drive and competitiveness that pushed him to figure it out. but just like anyone, he dealt with practicing struggles and audition rejections.
check out how he tweaked his audition preparation process to overcome his obstacles.
rob: so, ryan. you’re 20 and you just won a sub audition with a professional orchestra. that’s incredible. but before this happened, you were struggling. what was going on in your auditions?
ryan: thanks rob. well, things were inconsistent in my playing and that'd make me nervous. here’s an example. say i was having trouble with a 16th note run. in the practice room i'd hit all the notes maybe 5 out of 8 times. that’s the majority, so it wasn’t too bad. but there would be 10 or 20 different things on the audition list that were like that. and so i knew that around half of those things were gonna go wrong.
rob: i see. why were so many things inconsistent?
ryan: i just didn’t know how to isolate sections or how to practice. i didn’t have a system for improving those runs. and sometimes if i'd make a mistake in practice i either wouldn’t notice or i wouldn’t know how to diagnose it.
rob: got it. well what did your practicing look like before?
ryan: i’d just play through music and if i screwed something up i'd try it again to see if it sounds better. that works sometimes but it’s not consistent or reliable.
i’d also play things really slow and then speed them up. but i got comments from teachings saying, “it’s too slow! it’s too slow!” i spent all my time muscle memorizing things at a slower tempo, so of course they were slow when i performed it.
rob: man… that must have been frustrating! what did you do?
ryan: at that point i was open to anything because i hadn’t won an audition that i was really proud of since high school, when i won the youngarts competition and got a scholarship to interlochen. i was really looking for something that could really put me over the edge. i was really open to changing anything. and fortunately enough i came onto your course (the auditionhacker formula) and it really changed everything exactly how i was hoping it would.
rob: that’s great to hear. how exactly did you change your audition preparation based on the course?
ryan: it took me like a week or so to go through the course. but progressively i began implementing it. i replaced the slow practice system that i was doing before. and i installed some new systems into my audition preparation:
- first is all the self-recording. i’ll just have my laptop recording for the entirety of the practice session. and then when something goes wrong, i can just go back and listen to it. it helped me to diagnose problems better.
- the ROAM method. what i did before was i'd just kind of jump into the piece and start playing it in random chunks. and in doing so i'd muscle-memorize a bunch of bad habits. so i really liked your system of taking things note by note and paying attention to every detail. it made my tempos are really really accurate too. now when i listen back to an audition recording, every excerpt’s within 3 or 4 clicks of the exact tempo i'm shooting for.
- mock auditions helped a ton. before, i'd only do like 1 or 2 per audition. they weren't really serious and that didn't really simulate the actual audition. i started doing realistic mock auditions and i’d do something to simulate some adverse performance situation. some of my friends thought i was pretty crazy to do stuff like running in place. if i was playing mozart's concerto in e-flat i’d put headphones on with an A drone in my ear just to mess with myself.
i feel like making to the highest levels professional music like you’ve made it is crazy and you need to have a crazy system of training yourself if you want to get there.
rob: when you walked into the audition, how did it feel different than before?
ryan: it felt like i had trained like a professional. i did the exact things that you’d done to win your spot in the new world symphony and the met. and i just felt so much more confident just becuase i knew the quality of my practicing was better.
it felt like i had gotten this secret and like i prepared in a way that set me up for success. i also knew in the back of my head that there can’t be anyone else here who’d prepared with this system and to this extent of rigor. i felt a competitive edge.
rob: wow that’s amazing. so cool. so how does winning the tuscon sub audition feel?
ryan: it’s pretty exciting. i’ll be the youngest person on stage with them for that performance. (editor’s note: that performance has already happened.)
rob: that’s insane! so you can draw a straight line from your work on the auditions to doing well in a specific audition. and you’re getting paid for it already.
ryan: yeah, absolutely, i didn’t think it was going to happen this quickly or that the results would show up this tangibly by winning auditions right away. but it’s really incredible what it’s done for me in such a short period of time. i can only imagine what this system is going to be able to do for me years and years down the road.
so. do you see a trend here?
jonathan experimented endlessly with different techniques until he found what worked for him.
julie freed up time for herself, took responsibility for her own weaknesses, and learned how to become her own teacher.
and ryan basically threw out his entire playbook and started from scratch.
each of these audition winners took a huge risk.
they each made a radical decision to change their life so they could achieve their dream to win an orchestra audition.
like ryan said… you can’t earn something crazy like a professional orchestra audition without doing something crazy to prepare.
you can’t keep doing what you’re doing and expect anything different to happen.
someone emailed me the other day asking me if they should sign up for the boot camp that we’re offering right now.
he said, “it might be risky to change my approach too drastically.”
i’m going to be blunt.
what’s risky is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
what’s risky is NOT making a radical decision to change your life.
all of the audition winners i know are driven, like ryan. they’re dedicated, like julie. they’re willing to risk the next audition in order to improve their long term audition prospects, like jonathan.
none of this is going to be easy, but i’m going to help you through this process.
i’m going to help you take a hard look at your audition preparation process and understand what’s missing. i’ll give you my absolute best strategies for preparing excerpts for auditions.
i’ll show you the exact methods that worked for me to win my job in the metropolitan opera orchestra in such incredible detail that you can just follow the steps and run your excerpts through them just like ryan did.
i’ll help you figure out how to string together an effective set of processes so that your excerpts can be more confident, more detailed, and more audition-ready than ever.
you’ll work with me on the steps of audition preparation, and you’ll work with noa kageyama from the bulletproof musician on performance psychology and mental practice.
it’s time to make a radical life change and transform your audition preparation.