A Parents' Guide to Conservatory Auditions, Part 11: Winter, audition-style

January 9, 2014, 6:12 PM · Click here for a reference page to all of Karen Rile's series: A Parents' Guide to Conservatory Auditions


Welcome to winter, audition-style.

At this point, and thanks in no small part to all your cheerleading over the past 13 or 14 years, your young musician has now made it through pre-screening and has some appointments to play before admissions panels—most of which turn out to be located in the Northeast or the Great Lakes snowbelt. So while the parents of other high school seniors (pre-meds and English majors, slackers all) are sitting by the fireplace with blankets on their laps sipping hot toddies, it's time for you to pull on your mukluks and get started on Phase 2 of the audition cycle. 

Bad-weather travel is stressful. Auditions are stressful. So how do you deal with the prospect of traveling through nasty, unpredictable weather to high-stakes auditions that will determine the course of the rest of your kid's life? With excitement, it turns out. And restraint. And a humidifier, and a good pair of boots.

Above all, your duty as parent-sherpa is to stay in the background and keep up the appearance, at least, that things are under control. Think of yourself as a jolly butler, or, as the mom of a young violist put it, "a supportive coat rack." Here's a few tips to make your trips go smoothly:

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Consider driving instead of flying. If the distance is 500 miles or less, you could save time, money, and stress by driving instead of flying. A two-hour flight eats up almost as much time, door-to-door, as a seven-hour drive. When you drive you can leave whenever you want, you can bring all the extra pillows you want, and you don’t need to worry about delays, ground transportation, or the prospect of playing violin tug-o-war with an over-zealous flight attendant. Or missing your flight home and another day of work because auditions were running late.

The night before we left for my daughter’s Cleveland audition, there was a three-foot blizzard. It was a challenge getting out of our driveway, but once we hit the plowed-and-salted interstate, the trip was as easy as if it hadn’t snowed at all. We arrived at the hotel seven hours later, in plenty of time to relax, eat dinner, and wake up early for the audition. Friends from our city who flew to the audition experienced flight cancellations and delays, and arrived late at night, frazzled from the anxious prospect of not getting there at all. Of course, although it’s no trouble driving the interstate the day after a blizzard, driving through a storm is no picnic. But neither is flying in a storm. Either way, you’re in hot water (although unfortunately only metaphorically.) If you hear wind of a storm approaching, the safest choice is to drop everything and head out long before the blizzard hits—or beg for another audition date. Which is why it's a good idea, if not always possible, to book auditions early in the cycle.

When you do fly, consider Southwest, the only airline that lets you rebook economy flights with no penalty. Oh, and two free checked bags per passenger (just don't check your sheet music or audition outfit.)

Bring a second bow and extra strings. Dry winter air can lead to a bad horse-hair day, or worse, a bow that explodes in the warm-up room (it happens.) If your kid doesn’t own a second bow, she may be able to borrow one from a friend or teacher to take along for the trip. As for strings, pack a fresh set, plus a couple of spare E strings just in case. Even if hers doesn’t break, she can enjoy good karma being a hero to someone else whose does.

Bring boots. Not the cool, fashionable kind: the insulated waterproof kind. They’re bulky and don’t fit well in carry-on, but warm, dry feet are worth the trouble. You can count on every curb cut in every city from Boston to Baltimore and points west being filled with six inches of standing slush for days, or weeks, after a snowstorm.


And a heavy-duty practice mute. Your kid is going to arrive at the hotel after being cooped up all day in a car or plane, desperate to practice. Chances are, five minutes into her scales there will be a knock at the door. She will be told that she is not allowed to practice in that room you’re paying an arm-and-a-leg for. Even hotels that are normally practice-tolerant clamp down on noise during audition season, lest their regular clientele run screaming from the building never to return. Sometimes it’s possible to get the management to unlock a conference room for a few hours (it never hurts to ask) but don't count on it during audition week, when the hallways are flooded with desperate violinists jonesing for a Paganini fix. Fortunately there is a solution: a heavy practice mute ($9.99 at Shar). The violin will sound like a mosquito with laryngitis, but your kid will be able to keep her fingers flying.

tote bagAnd a sturdy tote bag. It’s going to go like this: you’ll need to report to the conservatory sometime in the early to mid-morning, but the actual audition might not be for hours. Or the audition might be early, followed by hours of theory tests, ear-training assessments, and info sessions. Your luggage is waiting for you back at the hotel. Meanwhile, a tote bag, which can be tucked flat into your suitcase during travel, is such a simple thing—yet suddenly invaluable. It will hold audition shoes and clothes, hairbrushes, water bottles, bananas, and everything else. Without one, you'll be a very inefficient butler/coatrack, dropping stuff right and left.

And a portable humidifier. I didn't know about these until my youngest daughter auditioned for acting programs and I picked up some tips from the musical theater crowd. You can find them at CVS and Rite-Aid for about $30. They're tiny and fit any kind of water bottle. A half-liter bottle will keep your hotel room, your throats, and your instruments from drying out overnight.


Stay excited. Until recently, we parents thought our job was to keep things calm, to talk in soothing, sing-song voices like yoga masters, no matter how crazy stressful the situation. But according to a recent Harvard study, staying excited is a better cure for performance anxiety than staying calm. Which makes sense: sports coaches don't try to put their athletes into a trance; they pump them up. And what's not to get excited about? Your young violinist has been preparing for these auditions for most of her life. The audition circuit is like a moveable party. Her friends—current, past, and future—are there. The auditions themselves are mini-performances. And performers love to perform.

This afternoon I discussed the Harvard study with my violinist daughter, who pointed out that the worst thing parents can do is suddenly change their behavior right before an audition. She described a long-forgotten (by me) audition day when I acted "saccharinely out-of-character" and weirded her out. So stay excited. But stay yourself.

Don't crowd your kid. Staying in character doesn't mean that you shouldn't exercise impulse control. Resist the urge to plaster your ear against the door or peer through the keyhole during your the audition. In fact, consider leaving the hallway, or even the building until it's over. And don't pump him for details. He will tell you how it went in his own time. Or maybe not. I know, it doesn't seem fair after such a huge investment of your heart, soul, and pocketbook.

But that's how it goes: this is his life, not yours, after all. In any case, there is often very little correlation between the outcome of an audition and how it seemed to go. Student after student will report that they were rejected from schools where they played flawless auditions and accepted with large scholarships when they flubbed. Remind him of this, and then go out for ice cream (or, perhaps more appropriate, a hot toddy for you and a hot chocolate for him.) Enjoy the journey.


January 10, 2014 at 08:30 PM · Karen, thank you! Once again, loads of great tips for grownups, with or without kids. I particularly like the most are these tips, as they apply to all sorts of performance/competition situations:

“staying excited is a better cure for performance anxiety than staying calm.”

“Don’t suddenly change behavior right before an audition.

“very little correlation between the outcome of an audition and how it seemed to go”

I love your more practical advice as well. And BTW, Laurie’s v.com tote is one of the best out there, even better than my Baggu bags.


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