flute audition

Audition prep guide: 2017-18 ETSBOA All East Flute Junior High music (9-10)

These two short excerpts for the ETSBOA All-East Tennessee Honor Band are a delight to play. Both are in compound meter, emphasizing the need for young musicians to master meters outside of 4/4, 3/4, and 2/4. Both excerpts stay within a conservative range (they don’t go too high or too low) while demanding a variety of articulations and dynamics.

Examining the lyrical excerpt, the first big hurdle for many students will be the key signature. Mark Db’s and Gb’s where it will help you but try to not mark every single one. Read your articulation accurately - be sure to tongue and slur exactly where it is written. Exaggerate the crescendos and diminuendos in measures 2-5. The first beat of measures 5 and 6 are marked forte followed quickly by piano. The one note marked forte also has an accent, so really make this come out of the texture. Follow the breath mark as suggested before measure 9. Feel free to really blow and let loose in bar 9 through 11, where it’s marked forte. Enjoy your sound and open up. The piece doesn’t end where we expect it, but make it beautiful anyway and create a tasteful ritardando.

The technical passage, in 12/8, should feel light and buoyant. In addition to staying in time, you will have to switch quickly between forte and piano several times. Dynamic shifts are good to practice slowly, too. Practice exactly where you change the dynamic - for instance, in measure 16, the last G of the first beat and the first G of the second beat are two totally different dynamics. Practice your soft G first and then practice a very loud G. Practice playing them in quick succession, and then make sure you are able to make as good of a contrast in the context of the piece.

Good luck preparing, and don’t forget to practicing sightreading!

Audition prep guide: 2017-18 ETSBOA All East Flute Senior High music (11-12)

The short pieces required to audition for ETSBOA’s All East Tennessee Honor Band are divided into a lyrical selection and a technical selection. Examining the lyrical piece first, it is essential to practice this with a slow metronome, either counting by eighth note or counting by quarter note. Depending on the student, it might be better to learn this music by counting eighth notes first and then transitioning to larger quarter beats. Keeping an accurate, steady tempo through all these rhythmic changes is challenging but essential.

Even though there is a lot of black ink on the page (32nd notes, 16th note triplets), it’s important to keep the lyrical quality throughout the piece. Play these licks accurately but do not rush. In the 32nd notes leading into measure 4, play the crescendo to the fortissimo dynamic marking but try not to sound shrill or strident. Strive for a warm and inviting sound, even in extreme registers or dynamics.

Listen for the intonation of the perfect 4th interval in the first measure, and similarly check the open fifths in measures 6 and 8. Play these intervals on a piano or keyboard to get the appropriate spacing. Playing intervals with a tuner does not always tell the whole story.

There are many opportunities to breathe in this short piece but it was difficult for me to find satisfying places that go with harmonic motion and phrasing. The above recording shows where I ended up deciding to breathe. Instead of focusing so much on where to breathe, focus instead on being convincing with the breaths that you take, taking care that breaths don’t interrupt the music or become distracting.

A challenging aspect of this selection is the fortissimo marking from measure 10 to the end. There is no diminuendo marked, so be sure that you do not make one accidentally. This takes a lot of air -- and some planning with respect to breathing.

The technical selection, marked Giocoso, is fun to play as it moves through so many key changes in such a short time. Mark these carefully so you don’t make any key-related mistakes. The articulation marking in m. 16 is a little confusing - I experimented at first with making the first two notes of each beat a single tongue legato with the second two notes of each beat a double tongue staccato. In the end, it seemed so odd that I opted for a more straightforward slur two/tongue two approach for those two beats. It’s not technically what is written, but doing it the other way seemed unmusical.

Keep your sixteenth notes even and light, and space your sixteenth note triplets well so that they don’t rush. The last note, the flute’s notorious Db, can be very sharp, so take care with pitch in that spot and use a tuner. Sometimes thinking of a darker tone on the middle Db can help with the intonation.

Good luck! Don't forget to practice sightreading.

Audition prep guide: WTSBOA All-West Tennessee 9-10 flute music

A warm, rich tone is the key to the opening excerpt in A major. Make sure you articulate exactly as written in the music - do not add extra slurs. The first breath should come after measure 4, between the E half note and the first F# of measure 5. The next breath should be after the fermata. The turn, which is the squiggly symbol above the A in measure 8, is an ornament that should be played this way: A-B-A-G#-A, with a longer emphasis on the first A in the sequence. Be sure to tongue the B after the turn.

In the second short piece, marked quarter note = 112, be sure again to articulate exactly as marked. The mf marking indicates that you can play out. Count the rests in this section carefully, and practice with a metronome.

The third piece, in 6/8 time, shows off the high range. Do not be shy about giving plenty of air support to these upper register notes - if they are supported properly, they will speak with a lot of sound! That is okay as long as you support all the other mid-range pitches in the melody. Follow the dynamics exactly. For measures 36-37, crescendo to a mf or f and then drop down to mp at measure 38. Be careful to not go flat on the last note in measure 42.

The last small piece has some deliberate tricks with the articulation. Be sure to articulate the eighth notes in measure 45 but slur into the one eighth note in measure 47. Check with your metronome to make sure that your eighth notes in measure 50 relate exactly with the sixteenth notes in measures 51-53. Do not rush the eighth notes in m. 50 or you might end up in real trouble with sixteenth notes that are too fast at the end. 

Always keep a beautiful tone throughout the entire page, and endeavor to keep a consistent tempo through each piece.

Good luck! If you have specific questions, don't hesitate to get in touch with me. 

All-West: A Judge's Perspective

Since many of you participated in taking a big audition this past Saturday, I think we should consider the occasion of All-West Tennessee Honor Band auditions on a few deeper levels.

I’m not sure of the exact number, but I definitely listened to more than 120 high school flute players on Saturday. I was the scales/sight-reading judge. How on earth did so many come through the door? Everything went very quickly. I probably heard each of you for two minutes. All judges were instructed to judge the students like a solo and ensemble competition - not necessarily comparing you to each other, but instead judging against an inherent standard for how the excerpts should be best performed. I scored each of you out of 50 points on a Scantron form. A SCANTRON FORM. If you’ve never considered how messed up that is, you’re not thinking like an artist. It’s dystopian.

How can you judge a person’s rhythm on a scale from 1-50 points? It is such a bizarre thing. It felt like turning music into a sporting competition. It felt like judging gymnastics or figure skating, except with fewer standards. Does taking a faster tempo earn a higher start value? If you play a three-octave scale, but play it poorly, will you get more points than a person who played a two-octave scale evenly and with beautiful sound? It’s like gaming the system: choose the triple axel, because even if you fall, you will get more points than if you landed a double. I can’t judge music like that. I gave more points to the person who played the two-octave scale really well.

Turning music into something quantifiable, something that we can count, is the equivalent to turning it into a sport. Or worse. It’s turning art into a commodity. And even though it’s great that so many schools and young musicians participated on Saturday, I believe that this practice of mass auditions is ultimately detrimental to real music-making and to the survival of the art.

Without writing actual comments (which, if I were to have written comments for all 120 of you, it would have taken more like 3 days instead of one), the exercise is worse than meaningless. For example, a flutist in the 11-12 grade group sight-read the excerpt very well with one exception: she played it in Bb major instead of Bb minor. The rhythms were correct, the articulations were all there, the tone and expression were very nice. But what that flutist is going to see on their score sheet is this: almost perfect scales, almost perfect rhythm, almost perfect musicality -- and then a relatively low score for accuracy. She or he probably thought they played it perfectly. What the heck was wrong with that judge, to score someone like that? Their teacher is going to wonder if a mistake was made. There could be an indignant protest about the unfairness of the score. And if I had been able to write a comment, not only would this score be taken more seriously, but we wouldn’t lose a valuable teaching moment. That student would never miss another key signature again. Instead, they’re left wondering.

I have so many other examples that are similar to this, but none so clear. The process on Saturday made us all (students, teachers, judges) cogs in a horrible wheel. Many flutists who participated in the audition actually couldn’t read music that well, or were never taught the correct fingerings, but they were trying to play these difficult excerpts anyway. Some would say there is value in trying, but I disagree. I wish we could take these students and use the same time spent on learning a difficult piece in E major and instead work on the proper fingering for middle D. I wish that there was a mechanism for music educators in schools to just take things slow for those that need to go slow, but there isn’t. The sight-reading excerpts that I judged were appropriate for probably 10% of the students who auditioned. For a huge number of students, the sight-reading was too hard. For another, smaller number, it was way too easy. Why do we try this one-size-fits-all way of teaching music? Saturday’s All-West audition was an exact mirror of our capitalist system: reward those who would probably succeed anyway, and leave others so far behind that there is no hope of catching up. And the simple reasons we do it this way is regional historical tradition and lack of money.

Learning to play an instrument is really personal. It’s a different experience for every person. I wish more than anything that every school music program had a teacher specialist for each instrument. It’s unreasonable to expect band directors to know everything and to do everything. I wish there was a flute specialist in every middle and high school, if only to point out over and over that you play middle D with your first finger raised. But we don’t have this luxury: it would cost too much money. It’s on every student and their family whether they can afford private flute lessons or a working instrument. It’s on every student and their family to ensure that there is a quiet place to practice every day, that won’t bother the neighbors, or the family member who works nights and sleeps in the day. Do you see my point? This is why music education has become the provenance of the privileged. And at no time is it more obvious than at music competitions.

So, how did I judge? I couldn’t see the students, and they could see me, so I didn’t see a lot of things: terrible hand position, weird embouchures, detrimental posture. I also didn’t see all the tears, but I definitely heard crying. How did I judge?

Before you all came in, I decided on a few things, and I was consistent throughout the day:

  1. Scales were mostly judged on right notes vs. wrong ones. If you played your scale correctly in one octave, you got an automatic “good” rating. Two octaves were automatically “excellent.” If the chromatic scale was three octaves, and all the other scales were at least two octaves, and they were played with beautiful sound, that was “superior.” Some impish folks thought they could get away with playing a G major scale when they were supposed to play Gb. They were marked down heavily. You can’t pull one over on someone with perfect relative pitch.

  2. For sight-reading, extra points were awarded those who could stay in the same tempo the entire time. This was very rare. I suggest practicing this for better scores next year.

  3. I did not consider tone quality unless the flutist was scoring very high into the upper “excellent” or lower “superior” categories. If the tone was beautiful and pleasing to me, I awarded extra points, but only in the cases where the sight-reading rhythm and accuracy were already quite good.


Going forward, how do I wish this could be changed?

I wish All-West used real repertoire (Bach, Mozart, etc.) and chose it with consultation from a consortium of college and high school private teachers for each instrument. All-West tried this briefly one year by requiring the third movement of the Bach Partita. This was a totally inappropriate choice that I believe a consortium of knowledgeable flute teachers would have shot down immediately. But I don’t think we should give up on this; I think it should be tried again.

I wish All-West actually did take two days to judge, so that comments could be relayed back to the students. I believe this would actually make the entire process more educational.

Band directors should be discouraged from forcing students to audition. Students who are very far behind in development should not be forced to learn and perform music that is beyond them.

Before the auditions, every instrument should be inspected and fixed. (I can hear every band director reading this just laughing, but seriously! How can these students do well if their instruments don’t work?!)

Finally, I wish that there was a way to fund private lessons for students. This is starting to happen in certain ways with the Memphis Music Initiative, but I wish we could give scholarships to students for private lessons. I was a recipient of a private lesson scholarship for one year in high school and it made a huge difference for me and my family. 

I haven’t even commented yet about the extent to which this audition system suppresses creativity in young people. But I plead to you, reader who has made it to the end of this post: question this. Cultivate creativity in your practice and in your teaching. Don’t allow yourself to practice the same page of music every day for three months. Improvise, make up songs, and encourage your friends to do the same. Don’t let All-West be the definition of music education in our region.