The Audition – Takeaways for Student Musicians

A recent article in Boston Magazine revealed a powerful, ongoing, and long-overdue conversation about what classical musicians face when they audition for a renowned orchestra.

The article follows the path of two 30-something percussionists who audition for the one of the rare, coveted spots in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. After dedicating the bulk of their lives over an extended period of time to prepare for their auditions, one is turned down after the first live round. The other is hired on but loses the job prior to receiving tenure.

Conductors, symphony musicians, and others have been publicly acknowledging their appreciation for writer Jennie Dorris’ article, “The Audition.”  They’re commenting and blogging about their own audition nightmares with a sense of relief that the process has been blown wide-open. Some of them are suggesting changes to the orchestral audition process to bring a more humane experience to both the candidates and the committee of decision-makers.

So how does this article relate to auditioning for music school? What are the takeaways?

1. After a minimum of four years studying your instrument (or vocal performance) and practicing endless hours, you’re likely to find the college music audition process to be stressful. It’s also long and drawn out, especially compared to applying to college in other majors (see “5 Ways to Survive the Music School Audition”).

2. “The Audition” author Jennie Dorris, a percussionist herself, says it’s important to go into audition season with your eyes wide open. Understand the process and know what you’re stepping in to.

3. According to Kimberly Fisher, Principle Second Violinist with The Philadelphia Orchestra and Artistic Director of the Philadelphia International Music Festival, you’re smart to prepare your repertoire early, well in advance of your actual auditions. She suggests taking your repertoire out and performing it alot –– and in increasingly more difficult or challenging venues. The feedback you receive will be invaluable, and the confidence you gain will serve you well.

4. The story of the two excellent musicians in “The Audition” who don’t make the cut clearly underscores the hard fact that no matter how well you prepare, you may not get what you’ve worked so hard for.

5. How do you define “success” and “failure” for yourself? Your definitions keep your options limited or expansive. They also have great impact on how open you are to finding the right school and ultimately the right career path if your original plans aren’t attainable.

6. Along the lines of #5 above: If you don’t succeed in getting what you’d hoped for, can you shift gears without feeling like a loser? As Jennie Dorris says, you need to enter the audition process with the realization that you could end up in the “minors.”

7. If performance anxiety is your #1 enemy, what can you do about it? Far too many professional musicians rely on beta-blockers to manage performance anxiety. Interestingly enough, the use of beta-blockers in sports competitions are banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Instead, the Alexander Technique and cognitive behavioral techniques tend to be more long-lasting and without side effects or dependency issues.

As audition season sneaks up on everyone, you will serve yourself well by coming to terms with what else beside mastering your instrument is necessary for surviving and flourishing in the competitive world of music. Everything you learn for music school auditions will also serve you when you’re ready to take a leap into the professional world, whether or not orchestral auditions are in your future.

Please comment below on your audition experiences and/or how you advise music students to prepare for auditions. We welcome your input and encourage dialogue!

For more on auditions, see “Applying and Auditioning” on

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