This article was published in the August 2018 SEMFA Newsletter.
It is nearing the end of summer, which means that many of you are likely beginning to (or have already been working hard at) preparing for your fall orchestra placement auditions at school. It can be difficult to jump back into audition preparation mode after a (hopefully) relaxing summer vacation, and this transition can often feel overwhelming and stressful. I tend to place great importance on fall ensemble auditions, feeling pressured that it is an opportunity for me to show the improvements I made over summer vacation. Unfortunately, this pressure can quickly turn into negativity in my practice sessions, causing me to notice how much room I still have to grow rather than how much progress I have been making. I have recently started recording myself during my practice sessions again, and while this has been a very useful tool in teaching myself and improving, it has also caused me to be consumed by all of the flaws I hear while listening back to each take. While noticing these imperfections is an important step in learning how to improve during your practice sessions, it is easy to become so consumed by these flaws to the point where you never are truly able to enjoy listening to yourself play in recordings.
To give a specific example, the other day I was practicing the Leonore allegro excerpt in preparation of my first graduate school orchestra placement audition next month. I began by first recording a run-through of this excerpt, and then listening back. The first - and only - things I noticed when listening were that my tempo was inconsistent, I was losing sound in the upper register triplets towards the end, my pitch was poor throughout, my dynamic changes were not drastic enough, I did not match the style of each entrance, and I fell slightly short of the sustained "D" at the end. While noticing all of these things at once helped me to determine my next practicing steps in order to improve this excerpt, I began to feel very defeated and overwhelmed knowing that I had a limited amount of time to fix all of these flaws. I was desperate for a way to get the work done that I needed to while not making myself miserable in the process, so I began experimenting. I started by focusing on one element of my playing that I wished to improve on, and began focused practice work on that alone. After I felt like I made a substantial amount of progress working with a metronome and solidifying my technique in the fast runs, I recorded myself again and noticed a significant amount of improvement in my tempo consistency. Next, I wanted to focus on maintaining a full sound during the high-register triplets section, so I began to practice this at a slower tempo with a more consistent tone color throughout while also maintaining tempo consistency at this slower tempo. After I felt comfortable with my improvement in both areas, I recorded myself again and noticed a significant improvement in both my tempo consistency and tone quality. By focusing on one section that I wished to improve on at a time, I noticed that it became much easier to feel proud of the progress I was making and feel satisfied at the end of each of my practice sessions rather than feeling continuously overwhelmed and unhappy with myself. It also helped me to retain the work I put in over a longer period of time, keeping each of these elements in mind as I continued to play these excerpts through various mock auditions and in private lessons for my teachers.
Practicing and performing orchestral excerpts never truly go away over the course of many flutists' careers, so learning them really thoroughly and carefully the first time will be extremely beneficial as you continue to pull them back out for various orchestral auditions in the future. This can also help you to develop a positive relationship with orchestral excerpts and can help you learn how to practice and play them more confidently. I know many people, myself included, who sometimes carry a lot of baggage with specific standard excerpts. Sometimes freeing yourself of the anxiety and fear that can come along with learning these excerpts can be as simple as stripping down the layers of your practicing, focusing on one element at a time until your hard work turns into an orchestral masterpiece.
By: Francesca Leo