Spontaneous Audition

December 4, 2007 at 06:01 AM · I am feeling a little spontaneous. I want to drive about an hour away from here down to Rochester Eastman School of Music and Audition. Lord knows I am not ready, but I am so darn curious to just go through the whole process. The I think I will write a story about in my local newspaper. Do you think that is bad? Do you think it is cruel for me to waste their time like that?


Replies (40)

December 4, 2007 at 03:13 AM · Well, I can't drive down to Eastman since I do not have a car, but I will take a bus...

December 4, 2007 at 06:24 AM · Greetings,

there is a famous Japanes eproverb about not chasing two rabbits.

I think you should enjoy studying with Joey first.



December 4, 2007 at 07:06 AM · I think this is a bad idea, and one that is harmful to you. I strongly advise against it. When you play an audition or a performance, it should be something for which you have done everything in your power to be proud of. If you think you are unprepared, don't play. To do so would be bad for your self esteem, your reputation and your training. Use your head! Play for people only when you have given it your all.

December 4, 2007 at 12:27 PM · also, it is a waste of the very busy teachers' precious time.

December 4, 2007 at 03:17 PM · I would recommend against this. Schools like Eastman get many applicants, so a lot of time is devoted to hearing prospective students. Not every applicant has a particular school as his/her first choice, but I would presume few are going to auditions with another intent entirely than admission to the school. Also, if at some point you want to be a serious applicant, and your initial, haphazard audition turns out AWFUL, you will have to live with the auditioners/recruiters having heard you futz through it before. Sue

December 4, 2007 at 04:27 PM · Good, 'cause I was getting nervous in my boots. I will not do it!!!

December 5, 2007 at 11:12 AM · Oliver,

" Play for people only when you have given it your all. "

Would you recommend the above statement as something worthy of keeping in mind as a general rule of thumb?

I was keen to get some extra time playing with others and so 'joined' the worship group at our church. Mainly to get to know the songs, initially.

There is no sheet music given, you just play 'by ear'. Admittedly, it's more suited to more advanced players.

One guy who sometimes leads and who lives near us, (so I can attend practices there) did record 5 songs for me on DVD which I worked on over the summer and have played as 'backing' during services. Recently though, no more 'recordings' have been forthcoming. After a Friday night practice session of some songs he then had the expectation that I would also do a 'solo' with the other instruments playing in between some verses.

(Another chap did so on clarinet, but he was semi-pro at one time though had some years' break). I asked what songs we were likely to be playing and he did not suggest any from my 'repertoire'.

I did say I probably would not be playing that week and did not bring my instrument. I just felt somewhat clueless and unprepared, it was too short notice and I had no time to practice on the Saturday, which at my level of playing probably would not have sufficed.

Part of me wondered if I had just chickened out. Though with everything else (exam pieces, lesson material) I work at it hammer and tongs and try to learn it thoroughly.

Playing with virtually no preparation would have really gone against the grain.

December 5, 2007 at 12:50 PM · Hey Bernadette,

Since I have been in this particular college more and more of my performances have become spontaneous and unprepared which I guess kind of contributes to my new spirit of "Whatever! Just go for it!" And although I do believe that unprepared performances give you the skill to improvise and perform under pressure, violinist.com has made me see that, in some cases, it is rude to waste people's time, i.e. an audition at a school where time is of the importance or performance with a professional orchestra in which audience come to here seasoned or, atleast close to, seasoned professionals. However, in situations where and audience is pretty forgiving or you are not the only one on stage, I would say go for it. I think it is great that you play in such a fashion because like I mentioned above, the experience will give birth to great skill in the performance area. I, too, wish to someday master the emotions that come with the unexpectedness and pressure of performing, so when it looks like the situation will allow for it, I will take last minute engagements. As I did Last Saturday, playing chance music for a group of art students. It went well, since it was chance music...

December 5, 2007 at 02:11 PM · Hi Jasmine,

I hear ya! However, I think there is something of a difference when there is a chasm as far as ability is concerned. You are concertmaster. I am a lowly beginner. Not only to violin, I never advanced very far with music theory previously. I do 'stretch' myself somewhat, and when I have played, it did do me good to experience 'performance anxiety', which was less the second time around. I also worked my socks off to give as good a performance as possible. And people liked it (non-musicians I guess ha ha).

Once I've made some more progress and have much more practice under my belt, I will be capable of more and no doubt will get more ideas on how to improvise, play harmonies that sort of thing (which comes slowly at the mo).

It's one thing to 'mess around' during music practice - some things work, some don't.

But I don't want to be 'messing' and distracting people on a Sunday. I'd like to be a bit more prepared.

December 5, 2007 at 03:08 PM · 1st impressions are usually lasting impressions! I've had many instances when "prodigies" auditioned for me to try to get invited for a concert engagement.

In many instances, I felt that the ones that were not ready completely wasted my time. In the future, when they contacted me again, I did not give another opportunity.

So if Eastman is a school that you hope to get into, don't take the risk now until you know that you're very ready to live up to the challenge.

December 5, 2007 at 04:05 PM · Hi Bernadette,

Most Jazz musicians start out performing and playing around with music when they can barely draw the bow across the strings. Stephane Grapelli is one that comes to mind. Also, there was a fiddle player who came to perform at my school. The name escapes me right now, but he was extraordinary. When I talked to him after the concert he told me he started with the band not knowing a thing about the violin. After only two months of playing, they went on tour while he still was learning the basics of the violin on his own. So, it is okay! Except in the genre of classical music, we tend to be very, what's the word for it--serious? I don't know, but preparation is a big deal, understandably. So I would not come unprepared in front of some big classical buffs or classical lovers.

I will wait to audition!!!

December 5, 2007 at 05:11 PM · I think it would be naive to imagine that great performers who improvise come to the performance unprepared. They come very well prepared, but their preparation is of a different kind: Practicing scales and arpeggios in every conceivable key, for example, so they are ready to respond when the jazz guitarist plays a Gb diminished chord. That being said, if you are playing classical music, you had best be well prepared in the manner of a classical musician.

December 5, 2007 at 05:25 PM · Bernadette Hawes wrote: " "Play for people only when you have given it your all."

Would you recommend the above statement as something worthy of keeping in mind as a general rule of thumb?"


Only if your violin playing means alot to you.

December 5, 2007 at 06:33 PM · Jasmine Reese wrote: "I would not come unprepared in front of some big classical buffs or classical lovers."

How about in front of your own conscience?

December 5, 2007 at 06:45 PM · I play at church doing improv weekly. It's true, there is no "way to prepare" in the same way as classical. However, being warmed up is key, perhaps playing scales and arpeggios in the keys of the chords for the tunes of the week, and being daring while rehearsing and willing to say, "Sorry! that didn't work, I'll make sure to keep that section clearer/more rhythmically stable/in tune/etc." while REHEARSING (your practice time) so that you know what you can accomplish effectively when you are being a support to the congregation.

There is most definitely preparation, it's just of a different sort. When I started improv-ing, I played long notes and maybe fifths (the only notes I knew for sure were going to be played), now I weekly am gallavanting over all the positions, soaring above the melody to play descant lines on the spot. (Which reminds me, another way to prep, hum the song... hum alternate notes for the ends of phrases, if you're supposed to wait out a verse, hum a harmony to yourself -- you'll be amazed at how much it helps.)

If you aren't comfortable, I wouldn't do it, but if you're unsure, definitely play along with the band, even if you end up doing the melody. You'll gain confidence and be able to start branching out at the ends of phrases nearly right away.

December 5, 2007 at 07:41 PM · Oliver,

I think that with each genre of music the audience expects something different. So, my conscience would be pretty messed up if I came unprepared for a performance in front of people who are prepared to hear some music in the classical genre played with emotional intensity and technical grandness, but all I give them is some squeaks here and a little bit of scratches there.

Now, if I am performing for an audince made up of families looking to have a goodtime and just want to see the performer having a good time than my conscience would sting but not as much because I'd probably see all the warm smiles on their faces and be able to improvise something real quick.

Either way, my conscience would hurt a little. but I believe other genres are more forgiving in the sense that you can learn while on stage, as long as you continue to get better. Classical, you better know what you doing before you you even think about getting on the stage.

December 5, 2007 at 07:48 PM · Oliver is a wise, experienced, even profound man. It hurts me to see anybody say anything to him except "Yes, sir!"


P.S. No good performance is sloppy, keeping in mind what's considered sloppy can change with genre.

December 5, 2007 at 07:38 PM · Sorry, Mr. Miller, Sir and Mr. Steiner, Sir!

But he did ask me a non-yes or no question. :( I mean, it would have made no sense if I had just said yes sir, right?

December 5, 2007 at 08:01 PM · Sorry, I was kidding you (but not about him). And don't call me "sir." It makes me feel old when a college girl does that :) When it gets too frequent I plan to shuffle off to a nursing home.

December 5, 2007 at 07:45 PM · Valerie,

Thank you. That's definitely given me some ideas.

I don't always know what chords are going to be played, or as has happened, I was given a song in one key and then on the spot they decided to play in a different key. Fortunately I'd 'made up' a counter tune which I could easily transpose. But I don't know all the variations yet on chords (ie minor,major - which means different thirds) so I wouldn't want to be too daring yet. That's why having one or two verses on a CD I could rewind was helpful for trying different things out.

Still, it's a fun journey.

December 5, 2007 at 10:38 PM · Greetings,

Hi Jasmine. Gotta nit pick today. Sorry

>Most Jazz musicians start out performing and playing around with music when they can barely draw the bow across the strings. Stephane Grapelli is one that comes to mind.

Utterly false. And Grapelli wa sa classiclay traoijned musican with an extensive background in key board who studied at the Paris Conservortoire. He began the violin at 12 but his Jazz career came much later.

>Since I have been in this particular college more and more of my performances have become spontaneous and unprepared which I guess kind of contributes to my new spirit of "Whatever! Just go for it!" And although I do believe that unprepared performances give you the skill to improvise and perform under pressure

This is a very dangerous road to go down not only in the classical genre. The great players do not go in unprepared and improvise or be spontaneous instead. They are utterly prepared and it is that preparation whihc allows for freedom and some kind of spontenaiety of performance. It is this obligation to be prepared that makes playing the violin one of the most onerous yet profound tasks one can choose to devote ones life to.



December 5, 2007 at 10:51 PM · What about when you are asked to play willynilly by friends and family, Buri? Isn't it great skill to be able to pull such a thing off? I think my spontaneous performances could help in that form, right? And that is also what I mean in the context of Stephane Grapelli, not professional venues but more informal and comfortable environments such as a church or in front of a small crowd of people who just want to hear you play unlike on the concert stage. Stephane Grapelli and the other violinist I mentioned just knew how to pull off a spontaneous performance, the latter violinist did it through early experience, performing on stage before he even fully knew the basics of the violin. Do you believe it okay in that context?

Now (after this spontaneous post :)), I know that I would never perform spontaneously for a school audition or in some great hall or other formal occasion. That would be a giant insult to the everyone involved. And I am sure Jazz musicians, Pop Musicians, and Fiddlers prepare and give extraordinary performances because of it, but I also admire their ability to perform right off the bat or on the whim without previous preparation. And when I say previous preparation, having worked on a piece for the past two months for a specific performance.

December 5, 2007 at 11:06 PM · Jasmine-

Be careful. Yes, playing for friends and family is wonderful, as well as for "informal" gatherings and events. You do, however, owe it to yourself, the composer - and your future - to be as prepared as possible.

Are you considering Eastman as a new school? Is there a particular teacher with whom you would like to study? If so, then by all means take an audition, but make absolutely sure that your playing puts you in the most positive light and sends the right message.

December 5, 2007 at 11:14 PM · Thank you, Samuel Thompson and Buri.

I am still teen (just turned 19), so I have tendencyn to talk and type back. Maybe when I turn 20, I'll wake up and not be plagued with teenage tendencies anymore?

December 5, 2007 at 11:21 PM · Greetings,

>What about when you are asked to play willynilly by friends and family, Buri? Isn't it great skill to be able to pull such a thing off?

Being able to play the violin is a great skill. Period. That`s why the more prepared you are the bette ryou will be. When I was at Music College my then teahcer , John Ludlow , gave all his studnets some very good advice. He said that one of the most importnat things for any player is to have one piece ready to be played at a drop of a hat anywhere , anytime at a profesisonal level. It is surprising how many excellent players are so concerne dwith leanring this concerto or that showpiece that they cannot do this. Of course they can play a slightly sloppy verison of unaccompanie dBach or whatever. This advice stood me in good stead over the years and I still follow this pracitce.

>I think my spontaneous performances could help in that form, right?

I am not sure what you mean by spontaneous. Are you equating it with sight reading or not rehearsing? The same rules still apply. Play prepared means playign bette rthan not. Of course the preparation is not as simpler as just playing a piece through slowly many times in your own litlte pracitce room...

In some senses I feel some issue sare getitng confuse dhere. Playing for family and friends , people in the neighbourhood on a regualr basis is a beautiful thing and it shoudl motivate you to keep clearly worked out programs in you head that are well pracitced and can be done `spontaneously.`

Don`t know if I am getitng to the heart of what you are questionning...;)



December 5, 2007 at 11:24 PM · Yeah, you hit it right on the head, Buri. No matter where you are performing, the violin is a skill and if you can not just pick it up and play maybe you need to work a bit harder. Is that what you meant?

I always disliked that about my own violin skills. The lack of ability to just pick it up and play a piece. So, i have been trying to learn to do it in the spontaneous manner. But you have convinced me that my approach is wrong. Unfortunately, until I get really skilled at the violin, my family (friends, associates...) will continue to plague me with that haunting questions, "Play something dear, won't you?" So, I guess some of my performances will be pretty spontaneous until which time I can play something perfectly on the whim.

December 5, 2007 at 11:40 PM · OK,the spontaneous audition IS NOT in the realm of things and you know that.

BUT,playing 'off the cuff' is a gift few people have.Remember that ! Spontaneous violin playing,sans doute,is el-tremendo !

This type of playing does have its own special place:in kitchens,coffee shops,bars,family get-togethers,neighbours etc.

Not many have this ability! Several violin players will check out if the notation is not resting upon the music stand.

To play,as you suggest,is one of the greatest forms of musical expression.

To be at all sidelined by notation could have,and does have a narrowing effect upon this type of performance.

For many,playing from the heart in a brilliant,priceless endeavour which few can acheive.

So,keep practicing and do not forsake your dreams--because your dreams are you and this is good...

Playing in this fashion is NOT "willynilly" playing.This type of playing comes from your heart and your heart is true !!!

December 5, 2007 at 11:31 PM · jasmine, the spontaneous eruption of zeal is a precious thing...don't lose it and always be yourself. that is what dream is about.

(in the ideal world, all the violinists are perfectly prepared for their auditions. they wish. just ask v.commers:)

but if you say,,,i want to go to downtown rochester to make a fool of myself just to write about it,,,now that will be a different story...:)

your time shall come! patience, grasshopper!

December 6, 2007 at 03:02 AM · Jasmine is a little bit right, too. Improvised music and bands, especially non-acoustic ones, are different. I can easily see someone playing violn in a band after a month, as their second instrument or as a guest or something. They'd be playing long notes and easy riff or two, there for color. If he was a good musician, he wouldn't go beyond his ability and it wouldn't sound bad by non-classical standards, e.g. people picking apart his vibrato. And he could progress while playing in the band, like Jasmine said. That might not be ideal, but hey. Stan Getz didn't know theory (he said in an interview that I read), and Dave Brubeck couldn't read piano notation (he said in an interview I have on tape). Non-classical is the music of people with... more haphazard backgrounds. Violin in particular, he may never really become a fine jazz violinist that way, I don't know.

Regarding having one piece ready at all times, people have that question sometimes in non-classical music, usually relative beginners. Most live non-classical music is mostly improvised, and in cases where it's not, the players are still people with that skill developed to a high level. A fine improviser can just improvise some crazy entertaining stuff. So he doesn't need to have a piece prepared/memorized. But I think what Jasmine has treatened to do here, the audition, is great to do at a bar, or family reunion, or jazz at Carnegie hall, but not great to do at a music school I would think :)

December 6, 2007 at 02:45 AM · Jim- Reading your input makes me think of the violinist for "The Dave Matthews Band".

December 6, 2007 at 03:45 AM · That's basically what I was thinking of. It might not win any awards, but it's easy and doesn't necessarily sound bad in a band. You can do the same thing with a sax, not to be confused with John Coltrane or Jean Luc Ponty.

December 6, 2007 at 06:30 AM · Non-classical music seems to have a wider range of what is acceptable. In a rougher definition, music can be any form of organized sound that serves to communicate something. Usually involves notes and whatnot. But techno, for instance, focuses more on the rhythmic aspects, layering textures of sound to create a pulse-raising experience. A violin in a band may only be needed to provide a particular color or texture, and may not need to be particularly refined. In fact, a classical violinist could be too polished to produce the desired effect.

Just think of all the sounds that are possible on the violin! We limit ourselves too much, I think. Although, the pursuit of such beautiful refined tones that can be found in classical music is a wonderful ideal, I never have valued it higher in my life than other forms of music when it comes to finding musical expression that conveys what I feel. Sometimes, all I need is an open string. And sometimes, it needs to be ugly. And sometimes, I don't want to hear a violin at all.

But what has all this to do with Eastman? Basically, if you are to present yourself to Eastman, you'd better be very prepared to show such educated and refined skills that would merit their consideration, and I'm afraid their standards would be quite high. It's not something you would go into expecting your charm or individuality to win them over.

(But I don't know, maybe they go for that kind of thing. In that case, you'd better be really charming.)

But if you want to 'just' be famous, develop a sound that's marketable. I have a student who probably couldn't hold a candle to the whiz kids auditioning for the big conservatories these days, but has been offered both a full scholarship and a recording contract in Nashville this fall, just because her "fiddle" sound that she makes when playing celtic tunes is so perfectly marketable, it's crazy.

December 6, 2007 at 07:38 AM · That Dave Brubeck interview is funny. He was a reluctant student at some small conservatory, I think in California, and he'd faked being able to read music the whole time, somehow. He got caught just before graduation.

They blew a gasket. They sat him down and said they'd graduate him, but only on the condition that he never teach anywhere. He cracks up on the tape that point. He'd given the entire world lessons by then. And you probably couldn't have bought a private lesson.

Myself, I don't think classical needs to do anything differently. I don't think it's missing anything. There are those with it all together, at least at particular moments in particular pieces. Just my amateur opinion from some order of magnitude or another.

December 6, 2007 at 07:44 AM · I don't really think classical needs to do anything different either; I hope you didn't think that's what I meant.

December 6, 2007 at 11:41 AM · Misread it. My fault. And congratulations on the student. I know you've been waiting for your first to accomplish something like that :)

"Non-classical music seems to have a wider range of what is acceptable. "

I'm not sure, really. Nothing I know of emphasizes squeaky clean technique like classical, that's the thing that distinguishes it to me, but if that's just required to be authentic, lots of genres value authenticity. And other requirements are just unfamiliar to outsiders.

December 6, 2007 at 03:50 PM · I like what Emily said of non-classical having a wider range of acceptance, etc. Let's also remember folks that much of what we call "Classical" now was 'vulgar' (and I mean the Latin for'common' not obsenity, and of course some of it was risk'ey). For a long time the 'in' thing was that most, if not all music, be 'sacred' in order for it to be concidered 'formal' and 'art'. The common peoples music with it's figured bass and improvised ornamental melodies floating above it, Was called the Devil's Music, and untamed with all that improv floating above without purpose, just gobble-d-gook. Now jump to today. The same is said about nonclassical. We learned in therory that mozart and Beethoven would not use parelell perfect fiths, etc. And many would say that composision should imitate the masters. But listen to those of the classical era, they essentualy got away from the laws of 'Baroque' music. Let music evolve, even the classical of today.

December 6, 2007 at 04:13 PM · i am not sure where this improvisation talk comes out of this audition thread, but my humble opinion is that for audition for places like eastman, the last thing on your mind should be improvisation:). cross your tees and dot your eyes. play exactly as written in the score. no more, no less. to be able to do just that says a lot about you as a student, your ability to follow instructions, your teachability. that is musicianship 101.

leave the razzle-dazzle home or to the proper forum is probably the jazzy thing to do:).

December 6, 2007 at 05:02 PM · Al Ku, I think this whole other conversation stemmed from Bernadette Hawes when she asked about playing in her church even though she is a beginner. And I think, it just got a little even more off topic from there (the beauty of discussion).

Thanks Emily. Yeah, I now understand how detrimental it would be to audition for such a school as Eastman unprepared. And--No, I do not want to be famous, couldn't stand the pressure. But I do have fun performing and I want to be the best I can be at playing the violin and performing.

December 6, 2007 at 04:51 PM · Al: Your posting is so correct! I know some really amazing young musicians (they won top prizes at major international competitions and have secured contracts with recording companies such as EMI). When some of these musicians wanted to apply to Juilliard to do graduate or post-grad studies, they were "rejected" from the school because according to the audition committee, they were too "spontaneous" and took too much "artistic freedom".

As Gitlis always advised me, "To win a prize at a major competition or to get into a top music conservatory, you have to play the game. Once you get achievements then you have the credentials to back it up to do whatever you want."

So beware of "spontaneous" auditions. It can work against you very negatively.

December 6, 2007 at 04:53 PM · Oh, and I guess to be a good performer and make people feel happy and comfortable, you would have to have the right attitude, personality, character, "charm."

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