Today I am excited to share a conversation I recently had with Charlie Rosmarin (percussion) and Hannah Ji (violin), two close friends of mine who were among the very first people to try out the Audition Playbook. Both Hannah and Charlie have won jobs in the past few weeks! Hannah won a contract with the St. Louis Symphony and Charlie is the newest percussion fellow at the New World Symphony. Read below to learn about their processes, experiences, and recent audition successes.
Up to this point, how many auditions have you each taken?
CR: If you count school auditions, festivals, professional auditions.... many many. I'd taken ten professional auditions before this one.
HJ: Three auditions so far.
How many weeks did you spend preparing for these auditions?
CR: Generally, I like to have lots of time. Six weeks used to be what was best for me. Over time, that amount has shrunk. An old roommate, Michael Harper, used what he called 'the shotgun approach' where he took every audition that came up. Sometimes five in a month, and it would work really well for him. I admire that. This particular audition was unusual for me in that it came exactly three weeks after another one I'd taken in Utah. So, less time than I'm used to. For one of those weeks, I was heavily booked with two performances, and I knew I'd have minimal access to practice room time. So it was a new sort of challenge, in that there was about half the time I'd normally allot toward physical practicing. But since I was still invested in getting into NWS, my mind kicked into gear with strategizing and planning. It all reminded me of the Bernstein quote: "To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time."
HJ: The audition was on April 30th, and I had started about a month before. According to my Audition Playbook, March 28th to be exact. I think this was actually crucial because for those first three auditions I did not really start prepping until 2 weeks before.
Were you preparing for other performances/auditions/competitions at the same time? How did you juggle that?
CR: Throughout that over-committed week, I tried to realistically count how many practice hours I would be able to get in a day. i.e. hours where I'd be able to really focus, and that I wouldn't be dead on my feet. Some days, there was only time for two solid hours, or none! No matter how busy, each day I made a point of warming up thoroughly. I wanted to rehearse the act of getting ready to play on audition day. How many exercises and how many minutes would it take for me to feel like I was mentally and physically ready to perform? Relaxation in both areas was a big focus. I was lucky that there was no repertoire on the audition list which was altogether new. Everything had been prepared for performance at least once in the past. If I had some free time at my rehearsals, I would mentally practice the rep that seemed fuzzy.
HJ: I actually had a jury and a recital the week before the audition which turned out to be a nightmare. Besides practicing a lot more than I should have, I focused on whatever was coming up one by one, and at the same time, I played my excerpts for my friends and mentors as much as I could— even the day of my recital.
How many mock auditions did you do to prepare?
CR: Not many for this one. A few for my teacher. Maybe just one or two outside that. But this audition came on the heels of Utah, for which I had performed many mocks. So I felt like I was still retaining a strong sense of my performance tendencies.
HJ: I played seven mock auditions.
How often did you record?
CR: A whole lot. I hooked up a microphone to my computer and recorded through Audacity every session. At Utah, a panelist had given a comment which essentially said, "I can hear when someone has recorded themselves and really knows what they're presenting, rather than being biased by what they think they're presenting." I would put myself in 'performance mode' and record what happens. Sometimes recording a whole mock, sometimes just an individual excerpt in the 'performance mindset'. Then I'd listen back and not give any lenience with flaws! I'd assume that every flaw occurred for a fixable reason. Even the weird, flukey, "never-done-that-before" mistakes that you get in mocks--those are usually because your body has unnecessary tension in it.
HJ: Every other day until a week before. I didn’t have time and just wanted to play things through while thinking about big picture stuff.
How much time and focus do you spend on mental practice or rehearsal?
CR: More and more. Last summer, a BSO musician said, "If you can imagine yourself doing it wrong, you're not ready to do it yet." I was like, dang. Loved that! On the morning of a prelim, I allot a little time to just mentally run through the super standard rep which I'm likely to play that day. Empty handed, eyes closed. Maybe a metronome on, but under tempo. It puts me at ease with the rep, and makes warming up easier, strangely.
HJ: I just listened to the excerpts a lot... for me especially, the problem was getting the techniques right and learning the excerpts itself. The orchestral playing and what they look for in auditions is so different from solo or chamber playing which is definitely what I’m more used to, and switching back and forth definitely was more challenging than performing/playing itself.
For both of you, this is your first big win (but many more are to come!) -- what do you think did differently or better this time around that made the biggest difference?
CR: A few things--knowing what every item on the list sounds like in performance (i.e. recording myself). A lot of real confidence can be drawn from that. Muscle relaxation continues to be a big focus; all the hard work goes out the window if you try to play with loads of bodily tension. And lastly--this will sound vague--engaging the mind throughout the process. There's no formula to doing it, which just means you have to get creative. New approaches, new games, rewriting the excerpts a little bit for fun... it all keeps your mind sharp.
HJ: Basically for me it’s just practicing! And a lottttt of metronome work and getting the character right without jeopardizing the technical things. I think playing for others definitely helped a lot as well. I've always had a problem with procrastinating and I think prepping for this audition actually helped me break the habit.
What's the biggest thing you learned this time around about your playing, your preparation skills, or even yourself?
CR: The New World percussion audition is unscreened, and I know that your visual presentation is taken into consideration. So I set out to eliminate any strange 'faces' or postures that might be happening as I play. I wanted to look clean, professional, elegant. I'd put the camera on the music stand, filming my face as I played the rep. I'd watch to see what sort of faces I made, and at which junctures in the music. Brow furrows, nose wrinkles, grimaces, eye shuts, jaw clenches, jaw drops... I do them all from time to time!! The first few times you watch back, it's pretty horrifying. Then you develop a feel for if/when you're doing it. It seems like a cosmetic, non-musical chore to concern yourself with. I always considered it as much. But it was one of those 'everything-is-connected' moments, where you make a positive change in one area and it affects nearly everything.
HJ: Trust the process... And instead of thinking “I’m gonna win this, I really want this,” it was more “ok whatever happens happens...” But I think that’s also because I was just absolutely exhausted towards the end... but definitely keeping your cool helps.
How did the Audition Playbook help you better prepare and which parts did you most utilize?
CR: The Four Phases Checklist continues to be a big help in making sure I've dotted my i's and crossed my t's. There's a lot of steps to organizing yourself for an audition, and I'm usually overlooking something. You don't want to get caught in a distant city without enough triangle clips. The Initial Assessments help me honestly focus on the skills that need building. This audition had a snare drum etude which is bitchingly hard. Finding the vocab to make it come off as easy and cool was a process of discovery. Having an organized space to keep track of everything made it a lot more feasible. The Scenario Planning was really relevant for this audition, because it was unscreened. So the panel was free to ask me any question they pleased. Generally I'm good at winging it in conversation, but auditions add this level of over-analyzing everything that gets said... At what point upon entering the room do I say hello? How far is too far away for me to go up and shake their hands? I know it's stupid, but I eventually settled on a 'tone' I could strike during the audition that would keep things upbeat but professional.
HJ: I think mainly the Technique and Repertoire Assessments, making sure that I stay organized and not neglect any excerpts, and the Audition Day Script. Definitely used the Recording charts as well. I wouldn’t say I’m a disorganized person but this definitely helped me a lot to stay on track with my prep. My favorite part was definitely the recording section.
What are some favorite practice or preparation tools and resources? (Apps, websites, etc)
CR: Audacity is my favorite for self-recording, and also for making click tracks. The Amazing Slow Downer is my favorite for analyzing professional recordings (there's no pitch shifting). For practice notes, I use a combination of Evernote and a good old-fashioned marble journal. The journal gets the day-to-day, nitty gritty thoughts, and Evernote gets the golden nuggets of wisdom which sometimes appear. The sort of things I'd want to be reminded of when I pick up the excerpt next time. Airplane mode is great, and I don't use it enough. Turning off notifications from Snapchat and Facebook was a good move. Remember that these companies' business strategies consist of interrupting your productivity.
HJ: I have this app called Tunable that Mr. Tenenbom, the violist of the Orion Quartet and faculty member at Curtis recommended. I use it to better control my vibrato width/frequencies. Also I use Dr. Beat for all the metronome works including subdivisions. It also has a cool drone effect for intonation work at the same time
What's your ideal pre-audition meal?
CR: I don't eat much on audition day if I can avoid it. Usually just coffee, an apple, a granola bar. The night before, I like pad Thai and edamame. Or Chipotle. If a city doesn't have either of those things, you don't want to work in that city.
HJ: I don’t really eat before my auditions... definitely no coffee, which is always so difficult for me. But I drink lots of water and always bring two bananas for before and after. If there are more rounds then I bring more— the next thing you know I basically have a banana tree in my bag.
How do you manage your energy levels -- with all spikes and drops -- through the long, grueling day of an audition?
CR: Drinking water. Taking beta blockers if you're feeling skittish. Not playing too much--I'm pretty sure there's a limited amount of performative energy available to you each day. So don't exhaust it in the warm-up room. And when you're on stage, leave it all on the floor!
HJ: I definitely stay away from people and keep it to myself— with auditions nowadays you just run into literally everyone. It’s nice to catch up with them but I’d rather do it after my audition. For St. Louis, I went back to my hotel in between rounds and watched The Office for a little to save my strength but also to not drive myself crazy thinking about the audition.
Do you have any pre-audition rituals? Or superstitions?
CR: I often end up clipping my toenails on the morning of an audition--can't explain it. Some underwater basket-weaving, if time permits.
HJ: Bananas. I don’t even like bananas but I always have one before and after I play. Also centering, right before I go on stage. Proctors sometimes look at me funny after, but if it works it works!
Lastly -- importantly -- how did you celebrate?
CR: I'm giving myself a couple weeks of me-time. This semester has been freaking bonkers. So I'm sleeping like I'm trying to survive the winter. And making the most of my last days in Los Angeles!
HJ: The audition was on my birthday! But I was so tired afterward, so we celebrated a day later with great food and drinks and then went to a Cardinals game— I love sports!
Congratulations to you both!