Prescreening and audition season is just around the corner.

My last November as an undergraduate student preparing for my graduate prescreenings was a complete blackout of stress and crying. As a high school student preparing for undergraduate auditions I was utterly baffled as to how anything worked and whether or not I was sufficiently prepared. Here is some advice to help keep you on track this audition season:

The organizational requirements…

  • What are the audition fees?
  • Is there a prescreening required (are there rounds)?
  • Can it be in person or can it be a tape?
  • What are the audition dates (is it during the week or weekend)?

Planning how many schools you apply to – planning your budget for school fees AND audition fees. Keep in mind that usually the school of music has a separate fee from the university you are applying to – don’t stretch yourself too thin.

Know if there is just one round of auditions or if you are required to send in a prescreening. If there is… do you need to have an accompanist? Is there specific repertoire for prescreening? Do you have or need to get equipment for a high quality prescreening (nowadays phones are pretty good, but you might want to invest in a good microphone to present your playing in the best light. Here is one mic recommendation (Zoom iQ6) that is compatible with iOS.

Do you need to plan to travel? If the school is out of state/international are you eligible to send in a tape? With COVID schools are more likely to accept tapes than live auditions so you may be able to forgo unnecessary travel. Also with planning look ahead at your schedule – what are the specific dates for your instrument? Clear your schedule 3-4 months in advance to avoid issues during audition season.


The music requirements…

  • Is your instrument in good shape?
  • What scales do you need prepared?
  • What repertoire do you need prepared?*
  • *Two contrasting pieces or movements is a very commonly asked requirement. Clarify with the faculty at the school you are applying or your teacher what would be appropriate.

The first thing you should consider before preparing for auditions is the condition of your instrument. You do not want to have your instrument break down or put off a much needed service during audition season. Get it taken care of BEFORE you start preparing (at least 3 months) before your auditions so that you have one less thing to worry about!

Ask the faculty (if not abundantly clear on the audition list) what scales you will be required to play. What kind of articulation? Is there a preference for tempo and rhythm (band style v. straight eighths)?

Again ask the faculty if you have any confusion about the repertoire listed. Is there a specific edition asked for?


Mental preparation

  • Remember: The faculty are not looking for someone who is perfect, they are looking for someone they can TEACH. If you make a few mistakes that is fine, it’s how you handle them and respond to feedback that is so much more important!!
  • Practice tip: Work on starting pieces/excerpts once you feel like you’ve got a piece down. If you are able to get yourself centered, comfortable with the opening of pieces it will help maintain stability throughout. If you are nervous starting a piece, you may start to snowball.
  • Practice tip: Closer to the audition date (1 month or so) practice with the increased heart rate, high energy. Go run up/down the stairs; do jumping jacks; etc. before you run a piece to help acclimate to the way your body responds under stress.
  • Plan out your day of the audition so that you know what to expect. Will there be exams (theory/ear training)? Will you have an interview? Knowing what to expect can help alleviate some of the audition day anxiety.

What tips do you have for college auditions? Share them in the comments below!

Approach

The first time I see an excerpt I have never played before the first thing I do is look into the composer and work. I look for specific details that will help inform how the excerpt should be performed, here is a very basic outline of what I research:

  • WHEN the composer was alive (What musical era and style were they studying)?
  • WHERE the composer lived or frequently traveled (Regions play a large role in performance style, so this will directly play into the “when” through a better understanding of the era and style).
  • WHO the composer listened to, worked for, or was close to (Who influenced this composer)?
  • WHAT were this composer’s notable works (Is the excerpt being requested well-known and/or frequently heard)?

You can look at the wikipedia page for a preliminary search, however, I STRONGLY recommend looking for reputable sources to verify any claims. Academic journals like JSTOR, Google Scholar, EBSCO, ProQuest, or your own school’s library can be used if you are not familiar with music history or have resources on hand to verify what you see on the wiki page.

After researching the context, I will collect recordings and gradually sift through them to determine which ones reflect either my own or one of the faculty’s preferred interpretations. I listen for things like:

  • Tempo – this is a big one, you want to get your goal tempo in your ears if you are listening to 2 very different recordings (one that takes the minimum and one that is pushing the max) it will make it more difficult for your to internalize the pulse.
  • Balance/ensemble – how clearly can I heard the solo in my excerpt AS WELL AS the accompanying voices. Or rephrasing that: can I determine my own role in relationship to the other instruments?
  • Tone/intonation/quality – is the recording something I want to emulate? Does it sound good?

Finally, I will start to analyze the score (similar to how I was critically listening to the recordings) and determine my role in the excerpt. Having an understanding of music history (and the theory concepts that were used during that era) help immensely.


Peter and the Wolf

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) was a Russian pianist, conductor and composer. At this time, the music produced was heavily restricted/moderated by the government. Prokofiev wrote for a wide array of music genres: Ballets and Operas, Symphonies, Concertos, Piano Sonatas, etc. And some of his most known works include “The Love for Three Oranges”, “Lieutenant Kij√©”, “Romeo and Juliet”, and “Peter and the Wolf”.

Peter and the Wolf was commissioned in 1936 to be a musical symphony for children. In this work, the flute plays the role of a bird; the other instruments take on the role of Peter and the other animals. The REH. 2-4 excerpt the first time the bird is featured, and is frequently requested in auditions. The narrator says, “”All is quiet,” chirped the bird…”

Below the flute solo is highlighted in yellow while the reduction (violas and oboe) is on a grand staff.

The 4 measure, opening bird call is completely alone. The solo repeats from REH. 2-3 to 3-4 with only one small difference in the flute part, but the real change happens in the accompaniment. The chords and tonicization aren’t of major emphasis in this solo, however, Prokofiev does ends each section of the solo with a prolonged G Major 7th chord. The G Major chord is reinforced by the accompaniment which places G on the stronger beats (1 and 3) while adding chromatic neighboring tones such as Ab and F# to lead back to the note G.


Leonore Overture No. 3

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was a German composer and pianist. When talking about Beethoven, scholars refer to his music and life within the boundaries of 3 distinct periods shaped by life events and can be tracked through Beethoven’s compositions. The years are estimated, but have been though to be as follows: Early Period (ending 1802), Middle Period (1802-1812), and Late Period (1812-1827). Beethoven was an influential Classical composer, however, as he matured be began pushing the boundaries for his time (for example, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was not well received by early audiences – particularly for the use of the choir in the final movement). And the year of his dead informally marked the switch between the Classical and Romantic eras.

The Leonore Overture No. 3 was composed c. 1805 for his only opera, Fidelio which had 4 overtures (3 Leonore overtures and 1 Fidelio). The Overture No. 3 is placed before the curtain rises, overshadowing the plot before the final scene. This work fits into Beethoven’s middle period which is also referred to as his “Eroica” or heroic period as referenced in his 3rd (Eroica) Symphony. In Leonore Overture No, 3, the flute has 2 commonly requested excerpts in this one being the opening while the other is m. 328-360.

The first 4 bars of the overture are tutti – it is essential to be aware of the context since intonation, dynamics, and control are on full display here.

Skipping ahead to the 2nd excerpt, the use of tonic (G Major) versus dominant (D) is on full display – which was common during the Classical period to use the I to V/ V to I progression. The flute solo is highlighted in yellow while the response/answer from the bassoon is highlighted in purple.

Leading up to the flute solo, Beethoven creates tension with tutti Major 2nd (C to D) before the flute ascends with eighth notes from D4 to G5. The pedal D from m. 324-329 (as seen by the Ds placed on beat 1 and 3) switches to the “tonic” G pedal from m. 330-339.

Briefly, m. 340-341, the pedal goes back to the dominant as flute restates m. 336-337 up a Perfect 5th. Then, returns to G pedal as the solo line transitions to the triplet section. Similar to the Peter and the Wolf excerpt, Beethoven uses neighbor tones to lead up and down to the tonic and 3rd (G and B).

To end the solo the flute has to hold D6 for 8 measures – whilst maintaining good intonation, tone, pp, and minimal vibrato. The line highlighted in purple, are predominantly strings which take over the melody as the flute tapers off the solo.


How do you approach orchestral excerpts? What are your favorite excerpts to study or play? Share in the comment section below!