In January, I had the first audition of 2018. The last audition I had was in October 2017, and so it had been a little while since that experience.
Some good news for anyone following my journey: I am not one of those who gets lucky (or is talented and prepared enough) and wins their first audition. Or even has success within the first five auditions. Possibly not even within the first ten, although I haven’t quite taken that many yet.
This process really is a journey for me, involving many different aspects of playing and mental preparation.
To reflect on January’s audition:
Preparation: I felt reasonably secure with the whole list for this audition. Of course some things are always stronger than others but unlike some auditions I had taken in the past, there was nothing that stood out as a particular worry by the time the audition day rolled around.
What happened on the day: As soon as we were dealt the preliminary repertoire (no solo, just five excerpts) I felt reassured by the selection of excerpts that were requested. They were all pieces I was more comfortable with, I had played several of them in the orchestra, and felt like I had a good handle on all of them both technically and musically. I got to the venue and had plenty of time to warm up and be comfortable. So far, so good. I felt nervous, but mainly in the excited sense, and everything seemed manageable.
When I entered the audition room, however, my body had other plans. I started playing the first excerpt and my arms felt wooden and stiff – far from ideal. Somehow I made it through with no major mishaps, but the sound quality was lacking in the warmth and freedom I was searching for and suddenly unable to access. And it didn’t get better. The second excerpt, Mendelssohn Scherzo, is where I felt like I really “lost it”. My hands and arms felt as if they were trembling so much that I couldn’t keep a hold on the bow, let alone create an elegant spiccato, and my left hand was on total autopilot, tight and unforgiving and relying on preparation and training to simply get the notes out. It was as if I was trying to deliver a monologue on stage and my throat had constricted to the point of not being able to get out the words. We have all watched nervous performers, who are struggling so much that we cannot help but to feel sorry for them in empathy. On that day, I was that performer.
After that second excerpt it was all I could do to simply execute the remaining excerpts, and although like the first excerpt there were no identifiable major mishaps, the overall performance was far from the standard I expected of myself after many hours in the practice room. My body never relaxed and my heart rate remained so elevated that it seemed to be pounding in my ears, for many minutes after I left the audition room and packed up my viola. The most frustrating aspect of the audition was that because of the extent of the nerves I experienced, I didn’t feel that I had given myself a legitimate representation, and was not at all surprised not to advance to the next round.
But that is in fact perhaps the major battle that the majority face regarding auditions. If it was easy to perform just as well as we can possibly play, auditions would feel very different. Each of us has different aspects of our playing that are stronger and weaker than others, and of course we all work on these things constantly. But each of us also deals with an individual response to the pressure of the audition situation, and we must find a way to work on these things as well in order to allow the progress we make in the practice room to show in performance. That’s part of the reason why taking real auditions serves as such an educational and valuable guide – it allows us to diagnose what we can improve for the next one like no other “mock” audition experience can quite replicate.
And a part of that is undoubtedly a mental barrier, for me at least. I had noticed at prior auditions the feeling of “I don’t deserve to be here taking this”. Which, regardless of whether it’s true, is not a constructive way to make progress. There is always someone out there who is better than you, and someone out there worse than you. You are not here to prove that you are the best musician who ever lived. You are here to try to present yourself at YOUR best, and whether the panel decides they like that is largely out of your hands. There are obvious fundamentals of music that need to be attended to, and there will be certain opportunities that demand more experience or a higher standard. But once you have decided to pursue an audition, it is not constructive to harbour any feelings that it is out of your league, or that you are not good enough to deserve the attention of the panel.
Major words of wisdom for myself: Allow yourself to do your best, and don’t make the decision for the panel by doubting your own abilities and projecting that doubt in your playing.
Before this audition, I was convinced that my nervous responses were due to a lack of feeling adequately prepared. But since this experience I have realised that nerves are their own separate beast, at least for me at this stage of my playing development. So I have decided to take what measures I can for the next audition – and for me right now, that means trying a beta blocker (for the very first time) to try to calm the physical symptoms, and incorporating meditation techniques to try and calm my mental anxieties.
More on that later!
Until next time,