Editor’s note: When the subject of student auditions for college music programs came up, we turned to Tom Myer, the professor of saxophone at UC Boulder’s College of Music. Below Tom provides audition tips, from his perspective, for you to share directly with your students.
Your college audition is extremely important. In most cases, your audition for acceptance into the college or department of music is also your audition for a scholarship. My single best word of advice is to make contact with the college professor of the specific studio (flute, violin, percussion, etc.) for which you are auditioning WELL IN ADVANCE of the actual audition.
A ten minute audition simply is not enough time for faculty to get to know you or for you to get to know faculty. Making contact and/or taking a lesson prior to your audition really allows faculty to know if you are someone who will fit into their studio: the best candidate is not always the single most talented performer. I always encourage visiting students to observe rehearsals, lessons, and our weekly studio class as well as meet other saxophone majors, and take a lesson to help everyone to get a sense of whether this might be the perfect fit.
What to Play
Play something flashy. Wow everyone. This of course implies a great deal of preparation and a high level of performance. Play solo repertoire for your instrument. College websites often list suggested pieces and occasionally indicate required repertoire. Generally, a few movements from solo repertoire is appropriate.
Make an effort to show contrasting styles. Play repertoire that sounds good when played alone without piano accompaniment. A short etude can be effective but playing ONLY the all-state audition music will not show us your knowledge of the repertoire for your instrument. Jazz is appropriate only if the degree in which you intend to pursue has a jazz component. Orchestral excerpts may be appropriate depending on your instrument. Contact the professor ahead of time and ask them if your repertoire selections are appropriate.
Your job is to convince your hosts that you really want to join their program. Smile sincerely. When a student enters the room for an audition, I always ask, “What do you have prepared for us today?” If you answer by providing a list of selected movements from five different pieces, the evaluation committee will likely be very impressed. If you prepare only the 2nd alto part from your high school’s last marching band show (I have actually experienced this) the committee will not be impressed. I almost always say, “Please play whatever you would like first.” Put your best foot forward by playing something you are comfortable with.
Of course, it’s normal to be a bit nervous. Practice playing through your audition material for your friends, teacher and family. There is no substitute for good preparation. Take private lessons and have your teacher help you with the audition material. Remember, audition committees are on your side. They want you to do well. They are rooting for you.
From the Evaluator’s Point of View
You must realize that most students will come into an audition and play the right notes and rhythms etc. However, what can separate you from others is playing that consists of clear and accurate rhythm (this is often difficult for many high school students when asked to play alone), beautiful tone, characteristic vibrato (if appropriate), and most of all, mature musical phrasing.
Audition in Person
A live audition gives the audition committee a chance to meet you, gives you a chance to visit the campus and shows faculty that you are serious about considering the school. Students from out of state sometimes send in an audition on video. Last year, a high school student submitted an audition video of what I consider to be graduate level repertoire, and the quality of his performance was “off the charts.”
However, this potential student had not previously contacted me at all, not even an email. It was obvious that he was sending his recording off to many schools just to see what kind of scholarships he would be offered. Clearly, he did not have much interest in my school. Both because I had a large pool of applicants and because I knew this student would be highly recruited by other schools, my financial offer to him was exactly zero dollars.
Also, please understand that there is no advantage in waiting until the last audition day. Many faculty make a video recording of your audition so that we can go back and compare auditions later. The last possible day for auditions is always booked solid with 10 minute auditions for several hours. By the end of the day the committee is often exhausted.
For the Saxophonist
Most saxophonists audition on the alto sax because the vast majority of quality repertoire is written for alto. A well-played baroque piece on soprano or baritone saxophone can be lovely. Be aware of the room you will play in. If you audition in a small room, it may not be appropriate to play the altissimo section from the Dahl Concerto. If you are considering playing a jazz piece, check with the teacher about whether this is appropriate or not for the audition. Not all schools or teachers are interested in hearing this. Consider playing a jazz transcription. This will tell the audition committee a lot about your jazz playing. Jamming along with an Aebersold recording is generally not recommended. It is appropriate to change mouthpieces to play jazz on a jazz mouthpiece and classical on a classical mouthpiece.
In closing, the most important thing for you to do is to directly contact the teacher of the school you are hoping to attend. The teacher will give you very clear expectations, recommendations, and information to make sure you audition will be as successful as possible.
Tom Myer is the professor of saxophone at the College of Music at the University of Colorado Boulder. He received his MM in woodwind performance and jazz studies from North Texas State University and his undergraduate in music education from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. He’s worked for Woody Herman, Nelson Riddle, Dave Grusin, Doc Severinsen and many more, premiered new works at the World Saxophone Congress, and has commissioned pieces in both classical and jazz. His recording Harbison, San Antonio was recently released by Albany Records.
Audition photo courtesy of the College of Music, University of Colorado Boulder