Writing About Auditions

I love auditions.  I genuinely do.  I like how preparing for an audition makes me a much better player, and I like playing the audition game.  I like having the opportunity to play on some of our country’s great stages, and I like performing for a committee of great musicians who are listening closely to every note.  I like traveling and seeing my friends and colleagues in the waiting rooms.  I like advancing, and I really like winning.

But I don’t like talking about auditions.   Every time I write about auditioning on this blog, I squirm in my seat.  I edit and re-edit, and publish an uncomfortable over-worked little piece that doesn’t really express what I want it to, and I’ve been trying to figure out why that is.

The audition scene is insanely competitive – we routinely see fifty or more oboists come out for a single job opening.  Every one of us has prepared to our very best ability and traveled at our own expense to the audition site.  The process lasts a grueling one to three days or even longer, and consists of multiple elimination rounds of excerpts.  These mostly take place behind a screen so the committee cannot be biased.  From the perspective of the auditionee, it’s hours of waiting around followed by 10 important minutes trying to impress a blank wall, literally.  At the end of the time, there may be three or four people in the finals who will perform for an actual, visible committee and usually, though not always, one will be hired.

I am happy with my current career.  I love my job, and I love myself as a performer and a teacher – an authority in my field.  People consult me.  I am known.  When I take an audition for a bigger job, though,  I am submitting to scrutiny by others, whom I have to accept as authorities over me, and trying to win their support.  Asking for their approval.   It’s a role I rarely play in my daily life.

That’s not even the part I mind – I like the limited feedback that I get from advancing or not advancing and I know that I am still who I am back at home.  Taking auditions puts me in my place a few times a year, and I can use that.  And I get better every time I raise my excerpts back to audition level. 

What I hate is talking about it to those who don’t know the audition circuit.  I feel defensive, as though I have to explain myself and confess my weaknesses.  I have to admit that I am vulnerable, and that’s not part of my oboe persona.  I am the unfussy oboist, and I have solutions for students’ problems, and I can speak and write fluently and with authority about what I do.  Letting myself be seen as a supplicant is scary.  Not being one, exactly, but being seen that way.

And that, in a nutshell, is my problem with auditions.  I hate to admit that I’m not actually where I want to be and I’m not actually as authoritative as I claim, and I’m not actually a winner (or not recently).  I don’t like to break character in that way.  But I don’t want to keep the whole process secret, either. 

I find that writing out what I’m working on, the approaches I’m trying, and the results I’m getting is enormously helpful.  In the two years I’ve been publishing this blog I’ve been astounded at how much it has improved my playing, and my teaching, and my attitude.  Working things out in words is a wonderful aid, and I hate to miss this opportunity for improvement while I cling to my pride.  So I shall continue.  I am auditioning at the end of January for the Milwaukee Symphony, and it’s a job I want very much, and now that my Christmas “break” is at an end I will be hitting the practice room hard, trying some new approaches, and writing with humility about my progress. 

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