Auditioning

by Megumi Kanda edited by Brielan Andersen Taking auditions is a unique skill. It reminds me of shaping a rare gem; I start with a rough stone, and then cut and polish until it is abso - lutely perfect. Some people look at me sideways when they hear me say how much I love auditions, but it really is true. As I prepare, I can feel my play - ing improving which is always exciting. And for me, the audition itself is a wonderful chal - lenge to see how much of what I have pre - pared can be captured and presented.

Preparation

Throughout audition preparation and performance, even the best players may not be much better than average if the proper focus is not present. Our preparation must be approached humbly and with honest self-observation. I find tempo and pitch among the trickiest things to self- observe. Often we can get carried away as we play—perhaps we get distracted or too focused on one thing in particular, and we do not perform the way we intend. Recording myself is one of the best things I can do to observe elements of my own playing objectively. I approach the recorded material almost like I am listening to somebody else. It forces me to face the reality of what I am doing—for better or worse. I may notice a note here is slightly out of tune, or a rhythm there was slightly off. The good news is that once I can hear everything I am doing, I can fix my mistakes! While listening to my recordings, I identify the key(s) I need to focus on in order to successfully perform a given excerpt. I write them down on sticky-notes and post them on the cor - ner of the music. These notes then serve as reminders for where to direct my attention before I begin. Always be work - ing toward perfection the first time an excerpt is played, since this will obviously be our goal in an audition. Listening to full-orchestra recordings of all the pieces you are preparing is a helpful practice aid. This is particularly impor - tant for younger players who have not previously performed all the pieces requested, but we can all benefit from it. When you are performing an excerpt, ideally the listener will be able to imagine the full orchestra performing around you. Play along with recordings to help internalize how the excerpt fits within the context of the piece and orchestra. If I can hear the orchestra in my head, leading up to the excerpt and as I play, I stand a much better chance of success. As an audition approaches, it is helpful to put ourselves under pressure to simulate the audition experience. We can do this in our individual practice by playing and recording several excerpts in a row, as we would in an audition. This is a good chance to develop a pre-excerpt routine. I refer to my reminder sticky-notes, then imagine what happens in each piece before the excerpt begins. I like to imagine the piece is already going on and I am just joining for the excerpt. This puts me in the mind-set of each piece and helps me establish the proper style of each excerpt. Convincingly shifting style can be a challenge when we are playing excerpts that may last only a few seconds, but using mental imagery to create the context of each piece helps. Another way to simulate an audition is to play mock audi - tions for people. It can be for people whose musical opinions you trust, in which case requesting comments can be valu - able. Or it can be for your Aunt Edna who knows nothing about music; record yourself and make your own conclu - sions later. The important thing is to make yourself get in front of somebody else and play the excerpts in the “now”, getting them right the first time. It requires a certain amount of bravery to sit in front of friends or teachers and put it on the line, and it will probably be uncomfortable. However, auditions are uncomfortable, so whatever we can do to get used to performing with that feeling will only help the final product. Play more than one mock audition for more than one set of ears in more than one location, and mix up the order of the excerpts. There will not be many auditions during which you get to play in a familiar acoustic environment, so mixing it up can help to alleviate what could be a distraction at an audi - tion.

The Audition

In many ways auditions are about the distractions and how we overcome them. There will be many external factors at auditions, which will differ from your usual practice environ - ment. At auditions, I am comforted knowing that with proper focus at the proper time I am giving myself the best chance for success. On the audition day, some things are out of our control. We are given an audition time, but frequently the actual audition does not occur until hours later. Sometimes there is a group warm-up room and then a private warm-up room. There may be people playing everywhere. Stick with your routine as much as possible. The temptation is to play while we wait—”I’ll just test this excerpt, then this, then another.” Before long, we are no longer fresh. Warm up as you nor - mally would, and then trust your preparation. I like to take some time in the warm-up room to reinforce my mental approach to each excerpt. I try to convert any nerves into the highest possible level of concentration. When it is time for the audition, I remind myself that it is not a contest between that person down the hall who sounds really good and me. I choose to compete only with myself, to see if I can present my absolute best performance in a very spe - cific and narrow window of time. If I perform as well as I can, I have to consider my audition a success no matter the out - come. Regardless of the venue, from a reverberant concert hall stage to a fully carpeted church basement, play within your - self, staying in control of your sound and volume. To compensate for adrenaline during auditions, I reduce my for - tissimo volume down by about 5%. It is still loud, but I am able to stay fully aware and in control. My playing is cleaner as a result. Another thing I love about auditions is seeing different cities. Whenever possible, I like to plan an activity that is unique to the particular city. Even if it is something small and simple, I can look forward to it after the audition. In my younger days I liked to stay at youth hostels and get to know some other travelers. These kinds of things serve not as distractions, but as aids in keeping a healthy perspective. Finally, from a person that has played many auditions and lis - tened to many more, do not forget that the people behind the screen or sitting in front of you are rooting for you! They want nothing more than for you to do well and committees are always thrilled to hear great playing. Missed notes matter a lot less than you may think in the moment. Rely on your preparation and the tools you have cultivated along the way. For most of us, winning an audition is a process that takes time and several auditions. Learn from each experience and try to improve with every audition. Being a musician means always being a work in progress, so enjoy the journey. Good luck!
ARBAN ZONE

Megumi Kanda

Ms. Kanda’s biography appears on the GALLERY page.
Megumi Kanda Douglas Yeo Douglas Yeo Megumi Kanda and Michael Mulcahy
Megumi Kanda and Michael Mulcahy (Chicago Symphony)
MSO Principal Trombonist Megumi Kanda
MSO Principal Trombonist Megumi Kanda

Auditioning

by Megumi Kanda edited by Brielan Andersen Taking auditions is a unique skill. It reminds me of shaping a rare gem; I start with a rough stone, and then cut and polish until it is absolutely perfect. Some people look at me sideways when they hear me say how much I love auditions, but it really is true. As I prepare, I can feel my playing improving which is always exciting. And for me, the audition itself is a wonderful challenge to see how much of what I have prepared can be captured and pre - sented.

Preparation

Throughout audition preparation and perfor - mance, even the best players may not be much better than average if the proper focus is not present. Our preparation must be approached humbly and with honest self-observation. I find tempo and pitch among the trickiest things to self-observe. Often we can get carried away as we play—perhaps we get distracted or too focused on one thing in particular, and we do not perform the way we intend. Recording myself is one of the best things I can do to observe elements of my own playing objectively. I approach the recorded material almost like I am listening to somebody else. It forces me to face the reality of what I am doing—for better or worse. I may notice a note here is slightly out of tune, or a rhythm there was slightly off. The good news is that once I can hear everything I am doing, I can fix my mistakes! While listening to my recordings, I identify the key(s) I need to focus on in order to successfully perform a given excerpt. I write them down on sticky-notes and post them on the corner of the music. These notes then serve as reminders for where to direct my attention before I begin. Always be working toward perfection the first time an excerpt is played, since this will obviously be our goal in an audition. Listening to full-orchestra recordings of all the pieces you are preparing is a helpful practice aid. This is particularly important for younger players who have not previously performed all the pieces requested, but we can all benefit from it. When you are performing an excerpt, ideally the listener will be able to imagine the full orchestra performing around you. Play along with recordings to help internalize how the excerpt fits within the context of the piece and orchestra. If I can hear the orches - tra in my head, leading up to the excerpt and as I play, I stand a much better chance of success. As an audition approaches, it is helpful to put our - selves under pressure to simulate the audition experience. We can do this in our individual prac - tice by playing and recording several excerpts in a row, as we would in an audition. This is a good chance to develop a pre-excerpt rou - tine. I refer to my reminder sticky-notes, then imagine what happens in each piece before the excerpt begins. I like to imagine the piece is already going on and I am just joining for the excerpt. This puts me in the mind-set of each piece and helps me establish the proper style of each excerpt. Con - vincingly shifting style can be a challenge when we are playing excerpts that may last only a few sec - onds, but using mental imagery to create the context of each piece helps. Another way to simulate an audition is to play mock auditions for people. It can be for people whose musical opinions you trust, in which case requesting comments can be valuable. Or it can be for your Aunt Edna who knows nothing about music; record yourself and make your own conclu - sions later. The important thing is to make yourself get in front of somebody else and play the excerpts in the “now”, getting them right the first time. It requires a certain amount of bravery to sit in front of friends or teachers and put it on the line, and it will probably be uncomfortable. How - ever, auditions are uncomfortable, so whatever we can do to get used to performing with that feeling will only help the final product. Play more than one mock audition for more than one set of ears in more than one location, and mix up the order of the excerpts. There will not be many auditions during which you get to play in a familiar acoustic environment, so mixing it up can help to alleviate what could be a distraction at an audition.

The Audition

In many ways auditions are about the distractions and how we overcome them. There will be many external factors at auditions, which will differ from your usual practice environment. At auditions, I am comforted knowing that with proper focus at the proper time I am giving myself the best chance for success. On the audition day, some things are out of our control. We are given an audition time, but fre - quently the actual audition does not occur until hours later. Sometimes there is a group warm-up room and then a private warm-up room. There may be people playing everywhere. Stick with your routine as much as possible. The temptation is to play while we wait—”I’ll just test this excerpt, then this, then another.” Before long, we are no longer fresh. Warm up as you normally would, and then trust your preparation. I like to take some time in the warm-up room to reinforce my mental approach to each excerpt. I try to convert any nerves into the highest possible level of concentra - tion. When it is time for the audition, I remind myself that it is not a contest between that person down the hall who sounds really good and me. I choose to compete only with myself, to see if I can present my absolute best performance in a very specific and nar - row window of time. If I perform as well as I can, I have to consider my audition a success no matter the outcome. Regardless of the venue, from a reverberant con - cert hall stage to a fully carpeted church basement, play within yourself, staying in control of your sound and volume. To compensate for adrenaline during auditions, I reduce my fortissimo volume down by about 5%. It is still loud, but I am able to stay fully aware and in control. My playing is cleaner as a result. Another thing I love about auditions is seeing dif - ferent cities. Whenever possible, I like to plan an activity that is unique to the particular city. Even if it is something small and simple, I can look forward to it after the audition. In my younger days I liked to stay at youth hostels and get to know some other travelers. These kinds of things serve not as distractions, but as aids in keeping a healthy per - spective. Finally, from a person that has played many audi - tions and listened to many more, do not forget that the people behind the screen or sitting in front of you are rooting for you! They want nothing more than for you to do well and committees are always thrilled to hear great playing. Missed notes matter a lot less than you may think in the moment. Rely on your preparation and the tools you have cultivated along the way. For most of us, winning an audition is a process that takes time and several auditions. Learn from each experience and try to improve with every audition. Being a musician means always being a work in progress, so enjoy the journey. Good luck!
ARBAN ZONE

Megumi Kanda

Ms. Kanda’s biography appears on the GALLERY page.