How NOT to Audition for College

It’s now the time of year when prospective college students who wish to major in music start auditioning. Auditioning for college is a major event. For most, it is something that has been planned for at least two years. Auditions at the most competitive music schools require lengthy, challenging pieces from several time periods, at least twenty minutes worth of music – especially for piano majors. This is not something that can be learned in one week, one month, or even one semester. Appropriate music that meets the audition requirements must be chosen well in advance and polished so the potential music students can present their best work.

Auditioning is HARD.

Many times, these potential music students have had experience auditioning on a smaller scale, for statewide ensembles or summer programs. But auditioning for college brings things to a whole new level as young musicians consider leaving home, often for the first time, trying to get into their dream schools, wondering how decisions or mistakes might impact their future. It’s daunting.

I hope that in this season, I can offer a little advice and levity as I tell you about my first-ever audition, which happened to take place at my first-choice school, Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL. This is actually a 2-in-1, since I auditioned on both saxophone and piano the same day.

So, here are some tips on how NOT to audition for college:

  1. DO NOT Go with Your Scales Unprepared. I really have no idea how this happened. I know that I was preparing a classical piano audition, but my private teacher was a jazzer. He didn’t tell me to practice my scales, or require them in lessons (just don’t ask.) I could spell them forwards and backwards in a split second. I guess I arrogantly thought that meant I could play them. So, I showed up at my piano audition and was asked to play an Eb Major Scale. I screwed it up. Badly. Like beginner piano student fingers twisted over fingers bad. The professor auditioning me even asked with exasperation, “How do you expect to play any repertoire when you have no technique!” I was humiliated. I felt like I was wasting his time. I was a bit angry, too. I responded by playing Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu faster than I ever had. The good man paused afterwards and said, “Well, you’ve proved me wrong.” Still, practice your scales!
  2. DO NOT Go When it is Not Audition Season. I was so confident I wanted to attend Wheaton College, I applied for early acceptance (my parents claim it was early decision.) However, because college is such an enormous life decision, I wanted to attend the “meet Wheaton College” weekend in November, before I sent in my application in December. As most music students know, regardless of when applications are due, auditions normally take place after the application deadline. The early application was due December 1. The audition days were scheduled for January, February, and March. My parents would not attend the “meet Wheaton” weekend. They told me if I went to that, they would not take me out to audition in the spring semester, and I had to audition when I went out in November. There were a few problems with this. The first was that not all the music faculty was around like at a regularly-scheduled audition day. That meant I auditioned in front of one person instead of a group (all my other college auditions were in front of groups.) I also auditioned on saxophone in front of another woodwind teacher; the saxophone teacher, who was also the jazz director, was away with the jazz ensemble that weekend. I also had two months less of preparation compared to other music students also auditioning that year. Lesson learned: if at all possible, audition on a regularly-scheduled audition day.
  3. Do NOT Go Without Your Own Instrument. Before you think I forgot my saxophone, let me make it clear that is not so! I didn’t have a good, sturdy case for my saxophone. I wanted a flight case, a molded one with a strap I could put across my shoulders that would be smaller for the plane and easier to carry while handling my luggage. My parents refused to help me get one. They also refused to let me take my saxophone on the plane and told me I had to use a school’s instrument when I got there. Yup, I auditioned on a school saxophone. To this day, I have no idea how this ridiculous scenario even transpired. As a 16yr old kid, I walked into the music department office and explained why I needed to borrow a saxophone. I was simply visiting the school, no parents present, no collateral, no money, no legal way to be held responsible for damage. The people in the office were either incredibly naive, or I was more than obviously pathetic. I practiced on it for about two hours before auditioning with it. At least I brought my own mouthpiece, reeds, and ligature. Thankfully, the saxophone was in decent working order unlike the school instruments I used in high school.
  4. Don’t Go Alone. I traveled from Rhode Island to Chicago’s O’Hare airport, my second trip on a plane. After navigating the airport and finding my shuttle to the school, I found my way to the dorm to spend the weekend sleeping on the floor in a room with girls I didn’t know. (As far as I knew, I was the only visitor that weekend without parents along. The dorm room situation was unusual.) On the day of my audition, I found my way to the music department, talked to the people I needed to talk to, made my way to a practice room, and auditioned all by my lonesome. I didn’t have a parent with me to help navigate the unfamiliar campus. And since I was auditioning at an odd time of year, my schedule for that weekend was quite different from the average visitor, so I couldn’t even roam with another visiting potential music major. Definitely do not do stressful things – very stressful – right before you audition. Auditioning students also need moral support. Not just to get through the pre-audition jitters, but to process how it went. Going alone sucks.

That’s it for my “Do Nots.”

Amazingly, despite this bizarre and harrowing audition story, I was accepted to the Wheaton College music department (and the school) for piano, saxophone, and composition. However, according to my parents the scholarships I was offered weren’t high enough, and I ended up attending my state university. I have often wondered how much more scholarship I might have been offered if the audition had gone better.

I wish all of you auditioning this season an excellent audition! Drink plenty of water and make sure to rest to keep yourself healthy. Breathe slowly and deeply. Give yourself plenty of time to find your way around. Try to schedule a trial lesson with your potential teacher. Godspeed!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.