Audition season will soon be upon us. Some will be playing live auditions and making recordings in hopes of getting into colleges, summer music festivals, and seminars. Some will be preparing for auditions with professional orchestras and military bands. Some will be doing both. It can be a hectic time, juggling classes, your current job, school ensembles, mock auditions, multiple audition lists, and numerous other obligations.
With so many things going on, it can be difficult to get all your ducks in a row. For those seeking some guidance, I'd like to provide a few helpful thoughts, supported by the words of someone much wiser and more successful than myself. All quotes are from John Wooden, the legendary coach who led UCLA's basketball team to 10 NCAA Championships in 13 years.
“I consider each detail like a rivet on the wing of an airplane. Remove one rivet from the wing, and it remains intact; remove enough of them, however, and the wing falls off.”
Leading up to auditions, it is very easy to allow your responsibility for knowing a large quantity of music distract from the basics. As a result, many people begin to neglect their daily focus on fundamentals. This seems like a worthwhile, short-term sacrifice, but before you know it, your playing begins to come apart at the seams. Don't lose sight of keeping all of your fundamentals in order. If you abandon fundamentals to work exclusively on solos and excerpts, your technique will fail you when you need it most. No matter what is on the horizon, continue committing your first practice session of the day to fundamentals.
“Activity—to produce real results—must be organized and executed meticulously. Otherwise, it’s no different from children running around the playground at recess.”
When preparing for anything significant, organization is essential. You must have a plan, and you must be disciplined in executing that plan. The time for planning happens far before entering the practice room. Make a list of all the things that need to be practiced, develop an intelligent approach to each challenge, divide the workload into manageable chunks, and organize a schedule that can be maintained. Going into the practice room and working yourself to death in a disorganized fashion will only lead to failure and frustration.
"Even if you work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, your competition can do the same. Thus, what happens during that time—how effectively it is used—becomes a determining factor in who prevails in the contest.”
Anybody with work ethic (and nothing else to do!) can lock themselves in a practice room for the entire day. However, don't mistake industriousness for progress. At the end of your preparation, don't be satisfied with having worked harder than everyone. This is a nice badge of honor to carry, but it is preferable to have worked more intelligently and efficiently than the competition. If you don't have good ideas about how to use your time most effectively, seek out this information. Every day, more of it becomes available. Check out my article on audition preparation. Check out Robert Knopper's AuditionHacker website. Read through articles from Noa Kagayama's Bulletproof Musician. Check out the articles and websites of other leaders in the field. Gather these ideas and choose a path, starting today and ending with the audition dates, that will help you to be most successful. Once a path is chosen, commit to it fully.
“An organization—a team—that’s always looking up at the scoreboard will find a worthy opponent stealing the ball right out from under you. You must keep your eye on the ball, not up on the scoreboard or somewhere out in the distant future. This task, however, is not always easy to do.”
Avoid the temptation to stop and pat yourself on the back or beat yourself up at different intervals of preparation. Discipline yourself to keep your eyes on the task immediately in front of you. The most important responsibility is the next one. Perhaps that's making the next articulation as clean as possible or listening to a recording of your practice session with absolutely no distractions.
“When you start thinking about winning, you stop thinking about doing your job.”
Training yourself to be in the present is very important and extremely difficult. Our minds easily wander, spending time and energy thinking about how amazing it would be to get into the perfect school, attend the most prestigious festival, or win a coveted position in a leading ensemble. Dreaming about success is fun, and at times, beneficial for your psyche. However, make sure the lion's share of your mental capital is invested in the task at hand. You've got a lot of work to get done. The clock is ticking. You need to be maniacal about your time management, because...
“Time is tangible, a commodity as touchable as gold. Unlike gold, time cannot be recovered once lost or squandered... Only when you fully comprehend the magnitude of the potential that exists in every individual minute will you begin to treat time with the grave respect it deserves. Over the decades I’ve observed that most effective leaders do not disrespect time, not a minute. They understand that when it comes to success—real achievement—time is of the essence. And the essence of success is time... UCLA was as follows: Be on time. Period. Players—even assistant coaches—who broke this rule faced consequences. Being late showed disrespect for me, disrespect for the members of our team, and perhaps worst of all, disrespect for time itself.”
Don't be simple-minded when organizing practice time. It's not good enough determine which hours of the day will be spent practicing. Determine, in advance, which exercises, excerpts, and solos will be practiced, what aspects will be worked on, how they will be addressed, and how long it should take. Additionally, make sure to factor in the appropriate amount of time needed for rest and recovery. Work hard, but rest harder. Don't disrespect the time your mind and body need to recover from intensely focused work. Growth is more easily attained when you are physically and mentally sharp. An appropriate balance of work and rest is needed to achieve this state.
"Ignore the fates with the sure knowledge that adversity will only make you and your team stronger if you resist self-pity. How you handle bad luck, setbacks, and the vagaries of the competitive environment is one of the major differences between the champion and the also-ran. Be a realistic optimist and remind yourself that things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out. You can stumble and fall, make errors and mistakes, but you are not a failure until you start blaming others, including fate, for your results. Always believe there is a positive to be found in the negative. Things usually happen for a reason, even when you are unable to discern the reason."
Success in music doesn't come easily. Wherever there exists a limited number of positions and countless applicants, you are in for a significant challenge. Add to this equation that many aspects of music are subjective. As a result, no matter how fantastic your preparation, you will encounter varying degrees of success and failure. Long-term success will be determined by how you respond to these outcomes. Temporary excellence can be denied. Sustained excellence does not go unrewarded. Win or lose, wake up tomorrow with a good attitude, and a desire to practice and improve.
"The Swiss Alps have majestic peaks and scenic valleys. Peaks and valleys belong in the Alps, not in the temperament—the emotions—of a leader.”
If you win, please know...
"Success Breeds Satisfaction; Satisfaction Breeds Failure. A leader must set realistic goals, but once they are achieved, you must not become satisfied. Achievement will continue at the same or a greater level only if you do not permit the infection of success to take hold of you. The symptom of that infection is called complacency. Contentment with past accomplishments or acceptance of the status quo can derail [you] quickly... Getting to the top is difficult. One of the reasons staying there is so rare is because the infection sets in.”
If you lose, please remember...
“You’ll know you possess Poise when you achieve what Rudyard Kipling described in his poem written a hundred years ago: If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two imposters just the same… That’s Poise: not being thrown off stride in what you believe or how you behave because of outside events. “
Lastly, don't forget to find pleasure in your work. It's music. You love it. Remember why you are doing this in the first place. When you have a lot of things on your plate, it can be easy to get overwhelmed, forgetting that we are in the business of expressing ourselves. The fact that you have time to commit to such an endeavor is a wonderful blessing. Many people don't get the chance to pursue their dreams. Joyfully take advantage of the opportunity, and be grateful that you are in a position to chase your dreams.
“Work without joy is drudgery. Drudgery does not produce champions... You will not reach the top—success—if you are wearily trudging along, waiting for the workday to end so you can move on to something you’d rather do. As a leader, you must be filled with energy and eagerness, joy and love for what you do. If you lack Enthusiasm for your job, you cannot perform to the best of your ability. Success is unattainable without Enthusiasm.”
For a list of other valuable John Wooden quotes from his book Wooden on Leadership, read here.