The Orchestra Audition: Be A Well-oiled Machine

The trumpet auditioner as a machine
The trumpet auditioner as a machine

I was inspired to write this post because of the feedback and interest in my articles Orchestras are Ancient, Crumbly Ruins and Why Do We Grant So Many Trumpet Degrees? and because of a fascinating article I read from the Boston Magazine called, “The Audition,” from July 2012. The article provides a very accurate portrayal of the intense competition of the orchestral audition, in this case of a percussion audition for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

The mental stress that the author, Jennie Dorris, depicts is spot on and equally descriptive of trumpeters trying to win an orchestra job. I actually know one of the percussionists she writes about in the article–he was a colleague of mine in the U. S. Navy Band, so this article really impacted me personally. If you have about 15 minutes, I really recommend reading this article. Do it.

Now that my rants (about the disproportion of trumpet-degreed players to jobs and the sorry state many orchestras find themselves in) have somewhat subsided, I want to look more closely at this process that classical trumpeters so often endure.

The key piece of advice is to be a great trumpeter. You have to put on your Rocky Balboa. You will have to perspire, weep, and bleed your way into an orchestra. And this is good. It is a huge opportunity to grow as human beings and as musicians.

Your audition preparation has to rest on a foundation of years of preparation of the top 50 or so audition pieces (list at the bottom of this post). But especial attention should be on the top 10 excerpts, with even deeper foundation built up for the top 5 excerpts. You should work on the top five excerpts every day, religiously. The other excerpts should be given proportionately less attention the further down the list. Again, this is the FOUNDATION before the specific preparation for an audition.

When you prepare for a specific audition, keep in mind that this is like the Olympics for trumpeters. That being said, each trumpeter will have her own method of preparation. Here are my helpful tips:

  1. Set aside a LOT of time to prepare. Months and months if possible.
  2. Develop a listening list of the pieces as a whole, so that you can digest the aesthetic of each composition.
  3. Try to edit each recording (with a program like Garageband) so that you have only the specific excerpt(s). Also consider listening to these excerpts with an audio program that can slow time down or speed things up a bit without changing pitch (or that CAN change pitch if you need that).
  4. Practice with “reality checks.” By this I mean metronomes, tuners and recording devices. Get used to observing your playing objectively so that you can improve.
  5. Keep a practice journal and practice with specific goals in mind. Record in this your time spent on practicing excerpts, your appraisal of your own playing, your “gut feeling” after performing an excerpt.
  6. Develop a pattern of physical movements that help you begin each pieces as successfully as possible. Habituate this pattern.
  7. Use quality control (set arbitrary goals of–for instance–5 times in a row without a mistake) at various levels of granularity. At the beginning, you will often be working on short passages for lots of “perfect” repetitions. At the end, you will be working on large chunks of music with fewer repetitions.
  8. Play for friends and family at first. Then gradually widen your audience to more distant and more critical ears.
  9. Work with a coach/teacher.
  10. Don’t forget your basic skills on the trumpet. Remember that the audition excerpts were chosen to reveal your basic skill level.
  11. Be as fit as possible and as rested as possible during the preparatory phase.
  12. As you get very close to the audition, begin to forget about the details. Enjoy the music. Listen to other music. Rest more and more (but not too much, of course). Begin to cultivate mental practice (where you mentally rehearse the music–virtually hearing each note and passage as realistically as possible). Do all things that make you upbeat, happy, yet focused.


The 50 Most-Frequently Requested Orchestral Excerpts for Trumpet in Auditions:

Composer Work
1. Stravinsky Petrouchka
2. Mahler Symphony No. 5
3. Respighi Pines Of Rome
4. Moussorgsky/Ravel Pictures At An Exhibition
5. Beethoven Leonore Overture No. 3
6. Ravel Piano Concerto In G
7. Strauss, R. Ein Heldenleben
8. Mahler Symphony No. 3
9. Strauss, R. Don Juan
10. Brahms Academic Festival Overture
11. Bartok Concerto For Orchestra
12. Bach Magnificat
13. Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade
14. Shostakovich Symphony No. 1
15. Wagner Parsifal Prelude
16. Gershwin An American In Paris
17. Debussy Nocturnes–Fetes
18. Brahms Symphony No. 2
19. Mahler Symphony No. 2
20. Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 2
21. Schumann Symphony No. 2
22. Strauss, R. Symphony Domestica
23. Strauss, R. Also Sprach Zarathustra
24. Debussy La Mer
25. Stravinsky Firebird
26. Gershwin Piano Concerto In F
27. Mahler Symphony No. 1
28. Handel Messiah
29. Bach Mass In b minor
30. Bizet Carmen Prelude
31. Wagner Meistersinger Overture
32. Wagner Tannhauser Overture
33. Beethoven Leonore Overture No. 2
34. Rimsky-Korsakov Capriccio Espagnole
35. Tchaikovsky Capriccio Italien
36. Bach Orchestral Suite No. 3
37. Stravinsky Pulchinella
38. Prokofiev Symphony No. 5
39. Ravel Bolero
40. Wagner Siegfried’s Funeral Music
41. Bach Christmas Oratorio
42. Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4
43. Strauss, R. Don Quixote
44. Prokofiev Lt. Kije
45. Ravel Alborado Del Gracioso
46. Rimsky-Korsakov Le Coq d’Or
47. Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 1
48. Sibelius Symphony No. 2
49. Stravinsky Rite Of Spring
50. Ravel Rhapsody Espagnole


One response to “The Orchestra Audition: Be A Well-oiled Machine”

  1. thanks for the information

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