Auditions are a way of life for the performing artist. Whether a musician wants to gain entrance to a music conservatory, be accepted into an ensemble, or perhaps be hired for a teaching position, musicians are required to audition as part of the hiring or entry process. This begins in middle school, when students audition for regional music festivals, and continues through into high school and beyond. In the early years, the process is pretty straight forward; a committee determines audition repertoire, and students prepare a required piece and required scales and arpeggios. Even at the professional orchestral level, there are required lists of excerpts from the standard repertoire with which candidates will compete for a place in the orchestra.
The candidate must demonstrate with the required repertoire a variety of competencies involving playing with excellence, including overall musicianship, technical prowess, tone, intonation and overall command of the instrument. He or she will also be required to read music they presumably haven’t prepared to prove that he or she has the necessary music reading skills to succeed in an environment of little rehearsal time.
In addition, the candidate is required to play a solo piece, but this piece is sometimes left to the auditioning musician to select. Similarly, an actor/singer auditioning for a role in a musical is generally left to select his or her own song and frequently a monologue as well. This is when it is important to understand what the solo selection must facilitate being accomplished.
When selecting a solo piece for an audition, the selection should showcase the performers strengths, and all of the competencies that are demonstrated in required repertoire. The selection should have contrasting sections where both expressiveness and tone can be shown in lyrical passages, and technical virtuosity and musicianship in faster parts. The range of the piece should be such that the performer plays or sings in all areas of his or range, though with an emphasis the strongest portion of his or her tessitura. It will not do to sing a popular song with a narrow range and little contrast. For example, the Jackson 5 hit “ABC” is a poor choice because it encompasses a limited range. Judges can’t tell if you can sing up in your voice if you’re only singing within the interval of a 6th in your low to mid range. “I Dreamed a Dream,” on the other hand, is an excellent choice. It demands good control of the voice, and uses a reasonably wide range of pitches. Someone singing this song will give the judges a good idea of what the singer is capable of doing with his or her voice.
It is also a good idea to select a song or piece that is not what most others are likely to select. As a clarinetist, I can be fairly certain that most other clarinetists will be playing the first movement of the Mozart concerto, so it makes sense to select something else. Judges will appreciate the change of pace, and your performance will sound fresh and vibrant because of the variety you bring to their day. It also allows your performance to be adjudicated without comparison to others, which is an advantage. You will succeed or fail more on your own performance, independent of what others have or will do. If you must play a required solo, then of course everyone will be playing the same solo repertoire. In that case, it is a good idea to separate yourself from others through interpretation. While it is not advisable to do anything too radical in an audition, a nuance here and a different articulation there can bring variety and freshness to an otherwise repetitive experience for those judges.
While distinguishing yourself among the field is good, you should not preoccupy yourself with thinking about or competing with others. It is easy, especially for students and those inexperienced at auditioning, to become worried by someone playing the same solo they will play at a faster tempo, or in some way that sounds “better” than how they anticipate they will sound. Whatever limitations are present in the preparation, doing what was prepared the way it was practiced will surely sound better than trying something for the first time at the audition. There will be enough variances due to nervousness and perhaps spontaneous musical decisions without consciously changing the game plan before even starting to play. Faster isn’t always better, but a high level of musicianship won’t let anyone down.