When I decided to become a musician, I had NO IDEA how tough it would be. I didn’t know that my friends in other fields would land jobs immediately out of college and that I would still be chugging along. I couldn’t know how frustrating it would be to audition again and again and be rejected again and again. Thinking back, I was pretty clueless about what it meant to have an orchestral career or, rather, how greatly the odds were stacked against me landing said job.
This has led to sleepless nights wondering questions like: If I don’t win an audition, will I be happy as a full-time freelancer or teacher? How much longer can I put the rest of my life on hold while tunnel-visioning through these precious years of professional development for the sole purpose of winning an orchestral job? Whatever my answer is at any given moment, there is still a residual sense of unease because I have no idea what will happen in the future.
And because so many of us desperately want to play in an orchestra, it’s difficult to remember that self-worth is not solely weighed on an audition. (And if this is the career path we choose, there is a lot on the line: steady paycheck, validation and, frankly, ego!)
Auditions bring out the best in me and propel my musicianship forward, but at times they bring to the forefront the worst of me. When I calculate what’s on the line, I’m often crippled with negativity, anxiety, and doubt. But whatever career path we choose, and regardless of where we stand on the journey, we need to show ourselves kindness and patience.
While I don’t feel totally qualified to write about how to win auditions, I do have a couple thoughts on self-care for those of us who are struggling to “keep it real” during audition season:
1) Live your life
Arthur Rubinstein wrote: “Never practice more than three or four hours a day. No one can concentrate longer than that, and you must spend the rest of your time learning about life and love and art and all of the wonderful things in this world. If a young person sits in the practice room all day, what can [they] possibly have to express in [their] music?”
It’s safe to say that most of us feel guilty if we don’t practice, listen and score study at least x-hours each day. But even through hard work and devotion to the craft, we do ourselves a disservice by opting out of that lunch date with a friend, or by staying inside on a sunny day to master the exposition of a concerto. Does it matter how we play a 30 second excerpt? How clearly we can articulate, and how legato that phrase can be? Well, yes! But does it define us in the context of our lives? Probably not. By excluding ourselves from other experiences, we eliminate the potential to grow as musicians outside of the practice room.
2) Musicianship is a lifelong journey
Whether we’re pursuing an orchestral career or not, the beauty of being a musician is that there’s no ceiling. There is always more to learn, and wonderful (or devastating) things to invite new inspiration. When singularly focused on doing one thing — in this case winning auditions — it’s inevitable that our lives will be out of balance. As explained by yoga teacher Fiji McAlpine (she has online classes, check them out!), only focusing on one thing is like walking around with a thumb in front of our face. Study and observe everything about the thumb: the length of the nail, cuticles, any nail ridges it may have, etc. Now, with the thumb still in front of our face, shift the gaze to notice everything else around our thumb. Shift between these two perspectives often. It’s an important reminder to look beyond an audition (win or lose), and continue to grow as a human being, first, and as a musician, second.
Despite the struggles of auditioning and the instability of being a musician, I still love what I do. As for me and my audition process, I have a suspicion that with hard work and positive headspace, good things will happen. I can’t promise that I’ll ever win one, but for now — onward to the next audition!
By Civic Fellow and flute Christy Kim
TOP IMAGE | A brick wall stands between the public and Teatro alla Scalla in Milan. | © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017