Auditions : Let it happen

June 4, 2013

Having been immersed in studying pedagogy for the past 8 years, I’ve been unravelling the mystery of what worked and what didn’t. I had always been a good, dutiful student, but I needed to transcend this in order to become an autonomous musician. I’m starting a short series of essays on this process here. 

This post focuses on auditions. 

Below is a letter on behalf of musicians, past and present, who experienced this approach to audition preparation. 

Dear master teachers, 

When we come to your master class, we are a room full of passionate people who would die for music. We are no yet finished paintings, but we love music to the core of our beings. We come because we want it so badly. We are hungry for advice and hang onto every word you say. For instance, at a master class that I attended back in the day, a teacher made a recommendation in passing, an innocuous one, that we eat a banana before an audition. Six months later, word had gotten out and there was not a single auditionee in the warmup room that was banana-less. It was as if the banana became a the magic food that would calm our nerves, create refined  musicianship and repair faulty technique. The passing comment became an irrefutable truth. We heard banana and we came with bananas. I’m not for or against the banana but I think this illustrates the craving we have for advice and the respect we have for you. 

We’ve been micro-managed. We’ve been told exactly where and how to play everything. How loud, how soft, how long, how short, how everything. We’ve been told what to think, when to breathe, before and during an audition. We prepare with metronomes and tuners. We prepare with pianists. We study recordings and scores. Your teaching, an unfortunate consequence of its nature, touches a childlike, subservient place in us. You teach us what to eat and how to breathe. 

What we haven’t been given is freedom. We rarely hear about autonomy. We haven’t been taught that the audition is a comfortable a place, a private space. We haven’t been taught that an audition is a place where you can let spontaneous musical expression happen. We haven’t been taught that an audition can inspire musicianship and bring out new ideas, even experimentation. We’ve been taught to have a plan and to strategize. 

In German, they say, “lass es passieren” or, let it happen. This isn’t the American idea of letting go, as in letting go of attachment to the outcome.  It is an active space of letting ideas happen: allowing for a spontaneous new ornament or seeing a phrase in a new way. We’ve all felt energized when we’ve been able to perform this way and as listeners, we cherish this in live performances. We can move from auditions that are well executed to auditions that are alive. 

To all of the teachers,  please allow me to show you how differently the audition looks without you. I can, even through a closed door, hear the musical plan. I can see the desire, the nerves, the effort to clam the nerves, the strategy. I can hear the strategy. What was missing was you. You weren’t there inspiring us. There aren’t genuine smiles. There’s not even nervous laughter that comes when we stand up to play for you. I didn’t see joy. I didn’t see fun. 

Can I ask you a favor? I am too old and too far out of school for this to apply to me, but can you encourage independence? Can you treat them as artists and help them develop their own voice? Can you teach them to support each other? Can you honor their musical ideas, even debate them? 

To the students who have read along, can you change things yourselves? Can you can change the mood of an audition and make it a party. Can you make it like it is in the summer master class? In those classes, you support each other, get new ideas and come through changed. Can you huddle around the door and clap for the person who comes out. Can that person then bow, proud of having taken another step along the path? 

Please, if you dare to try this, let me know! I’d love to see this somber audition mood transformed. I’d love to see you play better for having been there. 

Thanks everybody!  Thanks for reading.  This is a letter and therefore welcomes replies. 

With sincerity,

Jennifer Borkowski

One Response to “Auditions : Let it happen”

  1. Jerry Pritchard Says:

    Great post, Jennifer. A topic all too neglected.

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