Today, I’d like to introduce myself to you and give you a little peek into my background! I hope it gives you some insight and encourages you on your journey.
I grew up in a smallish town—Salem, Missouri. And, let me tell you… we lived in the middle of nowhere. Literally. Like, a “house-surrounded-by-eighty-acres-of-woods” nowhere. Not ideal for a teenager wanting to hang out with her friends (and this was WAY before texting—even before widespread internet, if you can even imagine!)
I started playing flute when I was eleven and took to it quickly. I had a musical family (dad was my band director), and honestly, I didn’t have to work that hard to get first chair in my band most of the time.
You might be thinking--- oh geez. That must have been so hard. Poor you.
But don’t let my circumstances fool you. Sure, it wasn’t too hard to swing first chair out of the two others in my middle school band… but once I got to high school and started auditioning for things like All-District Band and especially All-State Band, I had a rude awakening.
My natural ability wasn’t cutting it anymore. And I had no clue how to practice—or even how to make myself practice.
So, you can only imagine what happened when I stepped into my first All State Band audition.
Had I prepared? A little. Did I know what I was getting myself into? NO.
I wasn’t prepared for the hundreds of other flute players who would be there—sounding AMAZing. This freaked me out so much that I actually blacked out during my audition. I have no idea what came out of my flute—or if anything came out at all! All I know is that I didn’t make call-backs, and I was so down on myself about it.
It didn’t have to be.
If I knew then what I know now---and if I had access to experienced flute teachers close by, my audition experiences would have been much smoother. I just needed someone to help me believe I could achieve my goal—and someone to show me how.
It took me about fifteen more years to learn how to prepare well for auditions and combat audition anxiety—and I have to say that I am in a MUCH better place then I was then. However, I want to do everything I can to share my experience with flute players just like you so that you don’t have to walk out of your auditions and performances feeling like you didn’t do as well as you wanted to.
Thank you so much for reading my story! If any of it resonated with you, I hope you will join me and the other flutists in my tribe as we crush those amazing goals you have. Be sure to follow me on YouTube for weekly videos and on Instagram for all of my studio and home life shenanigans. I can’t wait to hang out with you there!
Have an amazing day… and Happy Practicing!
It's the moment you've been waiting for!
Get started on your All-State Band Flute audition today with these FREE starter videos, tip sheets and ASB Scales eBook!
Here's to a fabulous audition season!
Mastering the notes and rhythms of a piece is only one small part of learning music. Much more artistry lies in the ability to convey the style and message the composer intended. Do you know who composed your piece? Do you know when in history that composer lived and penned the music you are playing? Do you know the ins and outs of that particular period of music history?
When I was a young high-school and college music student, I rarely spent time thinking about these things. It was my goal to "get-by" with just learning most of the notes and rhythms and trying to pass my juries and perform my recitals without making too many mistakes. I felt like a trained monkey with little to offer in terms of emotion or style. I just wanted to survive without the dreaded violent shaking and blackouts that often plagued my performances..
Well, I'm here to tell you that this is a very sad existence. Music is so much more than playing everything "perfectly" and I guarantee you will glean much more excitement and satisfaction from your musical pursuits if you can enter into the lives and purposes of those who composed the pieces you are learning. Becoming familiar with the social norms and events that were occurring in these time periods adds a whole new layer of understanding and connection your audience (or jury panel) is sure to appreciate.
To explore the historical context of the piece you are learning, here's a handy guide:
1. Research the composer and the musical period in which the piece was written. These times are approximate--there is much debate over the actual dates of each period.
2. Find out the purpose of the music.
3. How does the historical context relate to the performance practice of the piece?
4. If possible, look for recordings from the time period the piece was written, or a modern recording that uses period instruments and styles. As you are listening, make notes about the performer's interpretation.
As you explore the historical context of your piece, here are some handy online resources:
Oxford Music Encyclopedia
Famous Composers by Musical Period
Learn Listening Online
If you are really interested in learning more, go to your local university's music library and start exploring! Most music librarians are very eager to point you in the direction of your research--make good use of their expertise!
I hope this guide is helpful for you in your study--leave me a note in the comments to let me know how your music preparation is going!
I'm embarrassed to say that I was around thirty years old before I really knew how important it was to practice for a rehearsal.
This is a bold and humbling statement coming from a woman who has spent the past fourteen years of her life studying the flute and teaching students, but when I think about why it took this long it really does make perfect sense.
When I was younger, music came as naturally to me as drinking water. I can't remember a time when I couldn't harmonize or pick up the rhythm of a song in a snap. I have my musical parents to thank and it made music study through most of high school a breeze. Rarely did I have a need to practice my flute or choir music--just going through it in rehearsal was enough for me--and even then I was often VERY bored.
Thankfully, I was blessed with parents who saw this and decided to take chunks out of their own time and budget to make sure I had a flute teacher (the nearest one was over two hours away...). I LOVED flute lessons. My teacher, Ms. Cowens, challenged me musically and encouraged me to move outside of my comfort zone. The one thing I never really got the hang of, however, was practicing.
Though I was able to slip through my high school years without practicing a whole lot, I was always disappointed when I didn't make the All-State Band or when I didn't receive a high enough rating on my solos and ensembles at contest. I always went in with the ability to play the music--but since I had only learned my own part (and even that was a bit shaky)--I never had a full awareness of the grand musical scheme of my piece. Thus, when it came time to perform before judges or an audience, my delivery was anything but convincing as I sheepishly waded through the notes on the page. I don't know WHAT I thought I was playing, but it was definitely not music.
In addition to performing way under my potential, looking back, I know I frustrated many people in my unprepared path. Stumbling through solos while patient pianists waited graciously on their bench, playing my supporting musical line as loudly as I could while another ensemble member actually had the melody line, coming in at the wrong time during band rehearsals because I didn't know how my part fit into the rest of the piece...I could go on and on.
It wasn't until I was in the middle of preparing orchestral auditions that it finally clicked. My professor, Alice Dade, asked me one day what the bassoon was doing while I was playing the flute solo from Beethoven's Leonore Overture.
I was baffled.
Why in the world would I know? I play the FLUTE.
It was then that she asked me to play the excerpt again while she sang the entire bassoon part along with me. All of a sudden I could feel the flow the music was supposed to have--I didn't come in late--and I knew exactly how to tune--all because I had part of the bigger musical picture right there in front of me.
I am a slooooow learner...
Since this fateful day in Professor Dade's studio, I have worked on learning ALL of the piece I am working on. If it's an orchestral excerpt, I learn the whole symphony to the point I can sing along with other parts while I'm listening--and at the very least I learn what is going on during the section I am preparing. If it's a solo with piano accompaniment, I learn what the pianist has in their score. If it's a small chamber ensemble, I learn everyone else's part. I listen to recordings. I look at scores. I record myself. I play with as many quality recordings I can find. I do as much as I can so that when I show up to rehearse with other musical professionals, I am as prepared as I can possibly be. Only then can we use the rehearsal to actually bring the MUSIC out--and not spend all of our time on rhythms, transitions, etc...
If you can relate as someone who struggles with preparedness before a rehearsal, here are some pointers. Even if you don't have time or the equipment to do everything listed, just doing one or two things will improve things drastically.
Collaborative Rehearsals: How To Prepare
1. Learn as Much of the Music as You Can
2. Use Recordings
3. Take Notes as You Prepare
4. Go Forth and Rehearse!
Whether you are out in the professional world taking major orchestral auditions or getting ready to try for your first high school honor band position, there are basic steps that can help you score that amazing job you’ve always dreamed of. However, for most of us the process of taking auditions can be a long road fraught with trial and many errors. The brave few who forge to the final blessed round will tell you that years of persistence and fortitude cleared the path to their dream—not relying only on natural talent and/or luck. The moral of the story is that consistent and purposeful practice and reflection is the only way to land that next gig—well, for most of us at least!!
The following is a list of some things I have learned (mostly the hard way…) to implement each time I set out for a new audition. This is the method that works for me—if you are seasoned enough to know what works for you, modifying the list to suite your needs will be the best plan. If you are younger and/or new to the auditioning, I encourage you to follow this technique closely for several auditions until you get a better handle on what the process is all about.
1. Make a list of all excerpts, deadlines, fee requirements, and travel plans if applicable.
My biggest advice for this one is to triple check the audition information as soon as you receive it. I’ve wasted so much time and money simply because I failed to simply follow the directions! Here is a great introductory article on how to prepare the most frequently requested orchestral excerpts.
2. Locate the music if the organization doesn’t provide it for you.
IMSLP Petrucci Music Library is a wonderful online source of free PDF downloads of music that is under public domain. While you are at it, print a copy of the scores—piano or orchestral—and organize them with the audition excerpts in a thin three-ring binder. I prefer to use clear sheet protectors to keep everything nice and neat. You’ll be thankful on audition day when your music isn’t falling all over the place. If you’re like me, you’ll be nervous enough without this added stressor.
3. Plan out your practice time.
Using the length of time you have left until the audition, make weekly goals for learning the music including gradually increasing goal tempos. This may go without saying, but it’s really important to divide longer and/or more difficult pieces into small manageable sections. This reduces frustration when learning a difficult excerpt. Sometimes I only work a measure at a time (ahem—Firebird!). I've designated a small notebook to keep track of my progress—and also to keep me from getting distracted. It’s also helpful for me to actually write down how many minutes I will spend on each piece, and then set the stopwatch on my iPhone to help me know when my time is up. Your time is a precious resource, so be deliberate in how you spend it!
4. Listen to recordings.
In my pre-graduate studies, I was reluctant to listen to recordings. Maybe it was the desire to figure it all out on my own, but I’m fairly certain it was just plain stubbornness. It took several years, but I have seen the light! Not only does listening to a great performance inspire you to create a more beautiful tone and artistic interpretation, it is crucial in learning how the piece fits together.
Please remember that the excerpt of music you are practicing is much more than your individual part. Most likely you have a pianist, other wind instruments, or an entire orchestra full of various colors, harmonies, and rhythms to coordinate. This can be very complicated—especially when you rehearse the actual piece for an actual performance. Even though you will be the only musician playing during the audition (though this isn’t always true…), your job is to show the committee/adjudicator that you fully understand the piece of music and are prepared to rehearse it with actual live musicians.
Resources I use to find great recordings are iTunes, YouTube, and Naxos. Be careful that you are listening to recordings of professional flutists with tones and technique you admire--especially on YouTube. If you tend to get distracted while listening like I do, plan to do so with either the score or your part in front of you. A pencil to mark notes in the music is also helpful.
5. Record yourself.
When it feels more comfortable to play the music at or near the indicated tempo with appropriate style, start recording yourself.. I use the iTalk app on my iPhone and my Zoom Q2 HD video recorder. I recommend sending some of your better takes to a trusted colleague or teacher and ask them for their feedback. Also, study the recordings on your own to evaluate where you should focus your energy while practicing. More often than not, the sound we think we are producing isn’t what is projecting from the flute. Recording yourself is sometimes the only way to get a true sense of what is going on. It will most likely be intimidating (or possibly depressing...) at first, but just keep trying---I promise you will improve!
6. Practice being nervous.
Maybe you are someone who never experiences the wretched nervousness (shaking/sweating/blacking out) that often accompanies the audition process, but for the rest of us, getting used to playing well despite our bodily functions is an important skill to acquire. To learn more about this process, click HERE.
7. Plan for the audition day.
The worst thing to realize while you are waiting hours to audition is that you didn’t bring enough to eat. When it comes to food and water, OVER prepare. If your blood sugar is low and your stomach is rumbling, you will not be able to think well enough to withstand the mental pressure. I usually pack a banana and a Larabar or two. Also bring something to occupy your mind (a book, magazine, or game) while you are waiting around. If listening to other flute players psyches you out, bring really great earplugs. Lastly, this is a great opportunity to triple check the audition information one last time. Be sure to know where you are going, where to park, where to walk in, and what time to be there. Wear professional but comfortable clothes, and go win that audition!!
Today I've invited my friend and trusted colleague Elysia at Crecelius Flute Studio to share her recent blog on sight-reading. I've been playing with this woman for four years now, and she is KILLER when it comes to reading new (and especially difficult) music. .
Whoops my butt every time...
In all seriousness though, reading duets with Elysia is so exciting because I come away from the experience challenged and inspired to work more and more to "up" my sight-reading game. :)
So...without further adieu...
Click on over to Flutey Things And How To Play Notes: Sight Reading and I'll see you again on Monday.
Happy Practicing, Everyone!!
The Blog Vault