College Audition Help. PLEASEE!!

November 28, 2014 at 07:39 AM · I will be auditioning for the music education program at Murray State next fall. I do not have a teacher because of financial reasons but I'm a very hard worker and not much stops me from doing what I want. However I'm having a lot of trouble deciding on an audition piece. The audition requirements are that you must play 1 or 2 pieces that are five minutes in length. I really want to show of my strong point which are my vibrato skills and my way of interpreting a very lyrical piece and making it my own. I also want to show my flexibility off so I want to play to contrasting pieces. I'm pretty much 100% decided on my fast piece which is Bach's gigue from partita no. 2. I need a slow lyrical piece. I was thinking about meditation from Thais or maybe Mozart's 2nd movement from concerto no. 3.

Replies (42)

November 28, 2014 at 02:37 PM · My opinion, is don't play Mozart if you want to use vibrato. Meditation from Thais is a good option. The theme from Schindler's List is a favorite of mine, and it'd be nice if the audition accepts music from movies. There's also solo Kreisler. Overall, I would say that vibrato is good in works from 1850 onwards, so go for that period of time.

November 28, 2014 at 06:05 PM · How about one of the Beethoven Romances?

November 28, 2014 at 10:30 PM · Not sure I would agree with you about not using vibrato in Mozart, Ezequiel! I don't know if you meant that Mozart would not be the best choice to show off a "big vibrato", in which case I would agree. But in general, for college auditions, just play two selections that fit the requirements (in this case, wide open) and with which you're very comfortable in various circumstances.

November 28, 2014 at 11:38 PM · For this particular type of audition, vibrato in the slow movement of Mozart is perfectly fine.

I was already thinking Thais before you mentioned it. Liebesleid by Kreisler is another good choice, very playable and a lovely way to showcase a nice vibrato. But only play what you're comfortable with.

November 29, 2014 at 01:04 AM · Thais and the gigue are fine. Time them, maybe you can take the first repeat in the Bach. Most recordings of the gigue that I have heard are around mm 84, but 72 played cleanly would be preferable.

December 2, 2014 at 04:30 AM · Another possibility for a slow piece would be the second movnment of the Mendelssohn Concerto. It does have some pretty complex double stops, but if you could do that, it would demonstrate even more ability. I think it would be best to play something from the romantic period since you are already playing Bach.

December 2, 2014 at 05:31 AM · With all due respect, the slow movement of the Mendelssohn is way beyond someone who is not taking private lessons, and who is playing at the Meditation from Thais level.

I do not mean to denigrate the OP. I teach applied violin to music education students, some of whom, like the OP, come to university with little to no private lesson experience due to financial reasons. These are usually hard working and extremely motivated students, and several have become excellent and well respected local middle and high school orchestra directors.

December 3, 2014 at 02:25 AM · It would really depend upon the skill of the individual. I have known people with no lessons that are better than people who have been taking lesons for years.

December 3, 2014 at 10:05 PM · A good piece for displaying vibrato and emotion is the Gabriel Faure "Pavane"

And also the "Siciliene" of Maria Theresa Paradis.

For a full blown romantic movement there is the 2nd movement of the Wieniawski D minor Concerto.

The 1st two examples are short in length but the Wieniawski is quite long.

December 3, 2014 at 11:43 PM · "I do not mean to denigrate the OP" Don't you?

December 4, 2014 at 12:04 AM · She's being accurate. Reality is not always as fluffy as we'd like it to be.

As long as you play something within your ability range that allows you to show off your strengths, the committee will have no problems identifying your abilities, and determining if their program will suit your needs. It puzzles me that so many people so focused on auditioning with specific pieces, when the reality is that any competent teacher can assess your technical level in under a minute of playing (and many times with much less time), regardless of the piece you play.

December 4, 2014 at 12:09 AM · Oh, good grief. An honest assessment of a student's likely level is not a denigration.

I have taught many students like the OP, who come into a university music education program with little to no private lesson experience under their belts. They are typically wonderful students to teach; they tend to be hard-working and extremely self-motivated. Are they capable of playing Mendelssohn concerto, no; do they make excellent teachers and mentors for students in their programs, yes.

One of the big points in their favor very often is that they are well aware of what they do not know. Such students are eminently more teachable than those who think that they know more than I do, even if the latter start out technically superior.

December 4, 2014 at 03:30 PM · You make it sound like Meditation from Thais is a "beginners piece".

December 4, 2014 at 04:05 PM · Nobody said "Meditation" was a "beginner" piece. But it's NOT comparable to the second movement of the Mendelssohn. Meditation doesn't even have ANY double stops. It's routinely assigned to intermediate students. One hears it on student recitals along with things like the Accolay A Minor Concerto. The Massanet is in Volume 5 of "Solos for Young Violinists" by Barbara Barber along with the first movement of the Viotti No. 23. That defines the "level" pretty well I think. (Personally I find the Viotti quite a bit harder than the Massanet). The Massanet is not going to "wow" the judges, but if the OP needs a slow romantic piece for her audition, and that's the best she has prepared, and especially if she is not going to have any professional lessons, then that's what she should play, and without apology.

December 4, 2014 at 06:27 PM · I think the OP will be fine with Thais. I don't know who is teaching at Murray State, but if I hear the audition of a prospective Music Education student and there is evidence of hard work and a decent ear, I'm happy to work with them.

I would much, much rather work with a violinist at the intermediate level than with a violinist who walks in with the attitude that he already knows everything and that nothing I have to say is worth considering. Such a student cannot be helped.

December 5, 2014 at 02:39 AM · According to their web site, Murray State's sole violin faculty member is Associate Professor of Music Sue-Jean Park.

December 5, 2014 at 03:46 AM · Dr. Park seems pretty well prepared! She studied with Erick Friedman. And, she carries the rank of Associate Professors which normally means one is tenured, which means she is less likely to leave the institution halfway through your degree program.

December 15, 2014 at 03:37 PM · Autumn, please don't fire your teacher when you've learned the Beethoven. If and when you learn that piece, I bet you'll find that you're more receptive and responsive to what a great teacher can do for you than at any time previously. I wish I could experience that, but sadly I never will.

December 15, 2014 at 04:17 PM · "You can write a condensed version of your piece...after all, you are supposed to be a musician, not just a violinist! "

No, just... no. I actually felt my stomach drop at this advice for an audition. I also, cannot even begin to touch base on what was said in Philip Voll's second post. The subject has been hashed around elsewhere. =p

If you're without a teacher, I'd be leery of Mozart given the intricacies required. The 2nd movement is gorgeous, but like the other Mozart's you still need to be fairly calculated playing it. That being said, Thais is perfectly suitable if that's what the OP has prepared.

December 15, 2014 at 04:42 PM · Yes. Terrible advice is routinely given around here. It's up to the reader to filter it out, I suppose.

An audition is kind of like meeting your boyfriend's parents for the first time--it's best to err on the side of too conservative. Yes, the requirements are very open-ended as far as college auditions go, but the unfortunate reality is that universities are large institutions that change slowly. I wish that creativity were a bigger part of formal music education, and I'm working to make that happen, but the current situation is that the vast majority of audition candidates will be better served by performing a standard. Wait until you get into the school and then perform your own pieces at an ad hoc concert, or your recital with your teacher's approval.

December 15, 2014 at 07:35 PM · Philip, some of us are actually okay with reality. Not everyone wants to fantasize about becoming a virtuoso, and one shouldn't have to feel inferior just on that count alone. I look at how much I practice, how much time I'm likely to have for practicing in the future, and how far I've come over the past few years. I'm improving at a trajectory that will not have me playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto within my lifetime. Having said that, I'm enjoying the violin very much. I practice, I play in groups, and while it would certainly be nice to have more skill, I'm OKAY with where I am. That's good enough for me. If it's not good enough for you, then we should continue this conversation off-line because my next comments will heavily salted with obscenities.

The reason colleges don't measure your creativity is because it's not measurable in any kind of objective way. They can, however, determine whether you can play scales in tune at a serviceable tempo.

December 15, 2014 at 07:49 PM · Composition programs, creative writing programs and art programs all manage to include creative projects in their admission processes. I consider it an aspect of well-rounded musicianship, so I wish it were more highly regarded by the system. It isn't at the present, though. And it's not fair to tell the kids who are auditioning to lead the charge.

December 16, 2014 at 01:06 AM · I have to confess that I don't understand why the Beethoven is considered the summit of violinistic accomplishment. It's a beautiful piece of music, yes. It requires thoughtful interpretation so it doesn't sound like endless noodling on scales, yes. It requires precise execution, yes. But at the moment I have no notion why it's not taught / learned more frequently given its baseline technical level. Why are students allowed to butcher many other works in the name of pedagogy, but not this concerto?

December 16, 2014 at 01:26 AM · The Beethoven violin concerto is deceptively difficult; harder to play well than Tchaikovsky, for example, and much harder than Mendelssohn. I don't teach it because I don't have any students at that level, although I am currently teaching Saint-Saens #3, Lalo, Scottish Fantasy ("Scratch Frantically"), and the Bach g minor fugue.

I studied it in graduate school, but I never considered playing it for auditions. And I strongly recommend that people do NOT try playing Beethoven for auditions unless they can play it perfectly. We very seldom hear Beethoven at our auditions, and when we do, typically the candidate does not advance.

December 16, 2014 at 05:34 AM · I've heard the general wisdom that one should not play the Beethoven concerto for auditions (at any level) or, by and large, for competitions (again at any level). But I'm curious why it's generally only taught to students thought capable of playing it well, when most of the other repertoire is commonly taught to students merely capable of getting through it. There seems to be more reverence reserved for it. ;-)

December 16, 2014 at 01:27 PM · Lydia, I'm also not entirely sure why the Beethoven is so off-limits, but I know that it is. Here's the thing about auditions: it's not to your advantage to try to game them or be stunningly individualistic. That's just not how classical auditions work. And the person who boldly tries to change the process during the audition is the person who won't win the audition.

In my experience, most people at a symphony audition are going to play Tchaikovsky or Sibelius. I don't know exactly why. I think the Tchaikovsky is seen as a more whiz-bang concerto and therefore easier to dazzle even if it's not letter perfect, which I think is a little unfair, but then that's been my favorite concerto for a long time. Sibelius starts right off the bat with a beautiful, haunting melody, so it works well in an audition setting. Brahms is a tougher sell because it starts immediately with some fireworks and double stops, and then there's the tenths later on to worry about. Mendelssohn is easy note-wise, but difficult to pull off at an audition because of its relative simplicity. Beethoven, as we know, is off-limits.

Those are what I see when the orchestra specifies a list of a concertos. Beyond that, you might hear some outliers, especially if the panel is okay with hearing a 20th century concerto. Then you might get Prokofiev or Barber (I personally have played Barber at an audition, although I'm not sure it's the best choice--what do you think, Mary Ellen?)

For a college audition, the repertoire list is different, but the basic process is the same. Auditioning is really a separate skill than performing. It's kind of like test taking--some people are amazing at giving the test exactly what it wants, but the skill doesn't translate to reality, whereas others are perfectly capable in the subject area but routinely bomb tests because of anxiety or other reasons. Especially at an orchestra audition, there is absolutely no human element to the process. It's basically the coldest, most sterile environment one can imagine for creating music, and it's usually a miserable experience for everyone involved. (Although I've never been on the other side of the screen, I don't envy those who have to sit over there listening to other people collapse under the pressure all day, or on a good run, hear fifty great Mendelssohn scherzos in a row and have to choose whose was the best.) But that's the way it is, for now at least. You are rewarded for how well you can perform within the parameters of the system, not for subverting it.

December 16, 2014 at 01:53 PM · Lydia, I've heard the same about Mozart 3, solo Bach, even Kreutzer No. 2. Meanwhile completely butchering the Lalo is just fine.

December 16, 2014 at 01:57 PM · Butchering the Lalo IS fine. (Not my favorite piece....)

I do know what Lydia is talking about, though. I suppose everyone has his pet piece that he only likes to hear a certain way, but the Beethoven really is on a special pedestal.

December 16, 2014 at 02:01 PM · Believe it or not, those of us on the other side of the screen are pulling for people to play well.

The most popular concertos are Tchaikovsky and Sibelius. Tchaik is the perfect audition concerto because you can lay into it right away and work out your nerves. Sibelius needs a little more control at the beginning but also offers opportunities to play out fairly early on. Some people play Brahms but fewer people should than do. Brahms needs to be very clean. Mendelssohn is, IMO, a terrible choice for auditions not because it is too easy but because the octaves on the first page are very difficult to play perfectly in tune under audition stress, and if you play the octaves out of tune, thank you very much and we stop listening.

Few people play either Prokofiev, probably because they both have uncomfortable openings, though I like to hear the occasional g minor. #1 is difficult for auditions in every respect and I think I've only heard it once or twice.

Barber is not a good choice for a professional orchestra audition, at least the first movement (which is what we require, a first movement) because it is too easy. Even if played well, a solid Tchaik or Sibelius will easily overshadow a good Barber. I don't think I've ever heard a Bruch g minor or Lalo at a professional audition.

Beethoven only works if it is played perfectly, and very few people play it as well as they think they do. I can't think of any winner of a SAS audition in the past 25 years who played Beethoven. Dorothy Delay put it at the end of her Class 3 list for a reason. It is freaking hard.

We've heard the occasional outliers--Stravinsky once, I think, once in awhile a Bartok or a Korngold. They work if the candidate can really pull them off, which again, fewer people can than think they can.

It is more important to play extremely well than it is to play extremely hard material, although there is a line and Barber, IMO, is below that line. When I won principal 2nd in SAS, there was a Bach requirement. I played the preludio to the E Major. A clean Preludio beats a slightly compromised Fugue any day of the week. My default Mozart when I was taking auditions was #4 because (a) I like it better than #5, and (b) I like it better than #5. The majority of candidates do play #5 but an excellent #3 or #4 will beat a slightly compromised #5.

Everyone on the other side of the screen knows exactly what it is like to be up there; we all went through it and we feel for the candidate whose nerves come through in her playing. There is a different audition culture at every orchestra but in SA the very occasional slightly out of tune note is more easily forgiven than bad rhythm. I don't care how well in tune you play or how beautiful your sound is; if you can't play in rhythm, I don't want you in my section. There is hardly anything more destructive to section ensemble than someone who can't keep a steady tempo. That includes counting short rests exactly. Come in slightly early after a rest in DJ and I will be making a note of it.

And now we are very far from the OP's question, but I hope it is helpful to lurkers.

December 16, 2014 at 02:57 PM · I was asking more broadly, "Why isn't the Beethoven taught more, even though it's not a good audition or competition work?" but the somewhat-more-related-to-the-OP's-question digression into what works at auditions is a very interesting one. :-)

When I was a high schooler, Sibelius seemed to be the concerto of choice for getting into the city's youth symphony (Chicago). My teacher correctly gauged that a highly precise Mozart #4 would be a workable choice, though, when I auditioned for it.

I used the Tchaikovsky to audition for things in my late teens, including community-group concertmaster positions. This backfired once when I was asked to start not at the beginning of the concerto, but in the middle, where the theme returns as double-stops, which was a brutal way to begin when nervous.

An interesting question is whether or not, at the high school or college level, "more difficult" tends to win out over "less difficult but played better" -- either at competitions or at auditions. I suspect the answer is "the older you get, the more perfection is prized over difficulty" -- small children butchering dazzling things at high speed will generally win out over small children playing easier repertoire well, but that becomes less true as cuteness fades.

December 16, 2014 at 03:11 PM · "Less difficult but played better" will win out over "more difficult" IF the "less difficult" is hard enough and good enough. A perfect Vivaldi a minor, to use an extreme example, will not beat an imperfect Tchaikovsky, although if the Tchaikovsky is bad enough, it won't win either. Sometimes there is no winner.

Any judge who knows his/her stuff will not give awards to small children butchering difficult pieces, but unfortunately there are plenty of judges at the school/youth orchestra level who are dazzled by terrible pyrotechnics. I think that is an awful disservice to the child.

December 16, 2014 at 03:12 PM · Yes, that's the impression I've gotten about the Barber. I was advised to play it, so I did, but I think it really is just too easy. (I do love it, though.)

"Accurate beats hard" is true, but only to a point, like Mary Ellen said.

I also do know that those behind the screen are rooting for those doing the auditions, but it's hard to feel that way when you're up there. It's kind of like the Wizard of Oz: the voice of God comes from behind the curtain, and it's damn intimidating!

December 16, 2014 at 03:15 PM · As far as Bach goes, what comes down on the "too easy" side? Are the gigues too easy? (I know we've kind of hijacked the thread, but it is an audition thread!)

December 16, 2014 at 03:17 PM · The first four movements of Bach d minor are a great choice for a college music education audition, but they are too easy for a professional audition. I would also not recommend the other gigues.

To answer Lydia's question, I don't teach the Beethoven because it is much more difficult than many people seem to think, and because I refuse to teach any student a piece which the student has no chance of playing reasonably well. There is nothing satisfying about a piece which the student cannot work up to even a reasonably listenable level, either for the teacher or for the student.

When my current best high school student came to his first lesson a couple of years ago with the Prokofiev g minor from his previous teacher, I flatly refused to teach him that piece. I think he was relieved; he knew it was too hard. (He plays Saint-Saens very well indeed.)

December 16, 2014 at 03:43 PM · "Well-played is more important than hard" only goes so far even at a youth orchestra level, too. For instance, I had a student take the side-by-side audition here in town. They threw a beast of an excerpt from the "Moldau" at the kids, something I would have to practice pretty carefully myself to feel comfortable playing at an audition. My student wanted to play at like quarter tempo, reasoning that slow and accurate was better than fast and inaccurate. Well, honey, that only goes so far. :) I told her she could probably get away with doing it a little bit under, but it still had to be recognizable. (Teacher brag: she was accepted!)

December 16, 2014 at 06:08 PM · > It is more important to play extremely well

> than it is to play extremely hard material


If people reading this thread come away with a single good idea, it is this one from Mary Ellen here!

December 17, 2014 at 05:28 AM · The Beethoven Romances (particularly the F major) are a pretty common choice for youth symphony auditions, or kids' competitions that require a lyrical work. Broadly, they're commonly taught to kids, since they're pedagogically valuable.

December 17, 2014 at 07:41 AM · This sure went someplace else. To address what was addressed towards me:

"musicians compose you know?, it's even part of the course in music education! :-) unless audtions specify, nothing stops you write your own. Besides if you cannot play your own compositions, there will be no cadenzas, there will only be only three coffee breaks in a violin concerto! :-) where is your logic????


As somebody stated after my post, it's fine if you want to play something you compose AFTER you're in your school/program. And even then, unless you're a composition major then you're not going to be writing your own pieces much, if at all since your focus is on the Violin or whichever instrument of choice.

To be frank, school/programs/orchestral auditions are to be conducted much like a business meeting. The panel or the person has a broad knowledge of the repertoire for the given instrument(s). That knowledge allows them to have a starting point for judging/grading/scoring the audition. So, a Violinist should always audition from the standard or requested repertoire. We're not going to listen to a cadenza or pretty much most of what's prepared. There just isn't that much time in a day to do so. Compose your pieces after the audition or acceptance. I wholly endorse doing so. But, walking into an audition with a piece you condensed (super bad form showing you cannot handle the real literature) or an original work that I have no ways of knowing anything about or what you're trying to show me. The only true exception are those who are auditioning for composition or submitting an original work to be performed. Or, having been commissioned.

Far as Cadenzas are concerned, those are an entirely different beasts altogether. After 30 years playing, as well as writing many cadenzas, a coffee break actually does sound much more enjoyable!

And the Beethoven Concerto, I've heard it about a dozen times. Like Mary Ellen's story, those who did play it never advanced or accepted. Music like Mozart, one wrong note just kills it personally, not to mention the style. It is by far one of the only concerto which is naked and exposed. I had a student wanting to play it and I put Berg in front of them instead. ;-)

His Romances, namely the 2nd one is pretty standard and relatively easy to put together assuming you have the faculty for it. If not, then stick with Thais still.

April 8, 2016 at 03:33 PM · I just want to say that this is a facinating thread with tons of good information.

I know that I have little chance (let's be real, no chance but that won't stop me trying should I ever get the slightest opportunity hahaha) of ever winning a professional audition and only slightly more in a good amature orchestra given that I started at 34 and only have a year in. Oh well, I love playing and love playing in the community orchestra I joined. We are currently doing beethoven 1st symphony and I am happy because I am going to be able to play the entire piece in tune and in time, just taking a few of the more difficult double stops out and only playing the top (2nd violin).

Still, it would be really exciting to win an audition sometime even if it were a community orchestra. It won't be for years but that is my goal.

Either way, as long as I can play in an orchestra I will be happy. I LOVE the sound and feel of playing in an orchestra. There is something about it that really makes the music come alive.


April 8, 2016 at 07:51 PM · FYI in professional orchestras we almost always divide double stops--it's the default unless they are specifically marked nondivisi or we are asked not to divide by either the conductor or the concertmaster. Or unless context makes it clear that all notes should be played--i.e. ff triple stops at the end of a movement.

April 8, 2016 at 08:20 PM · Regarding Beethoven and auditions, someone in my daughter's studio did his grad school auditions last year with Beethoven. He's now in Kantor's studio at Rice. That said, she noted herself (no knowledge of this thread) that it probably wouldn't work as a choice for most people; it just suited him.

April 8, 2016 at 09:49 PM · At the community-orchestra level, I think the Mendelssohn or Bruch are the most common concertos for people hoping to play 1st violin. People who expect to play 2nd violin play all kinds of things, though.

I did a recent community orchestra audition where by far the most common concerto was Tchaikovsky, so choices can really vary based on the skill level of the aspirants.

I've done community-orchestra auditions myself with Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Prokofiev No. 1, and Beethoven. I don't think the repertoire choice matters a great deal there, as long as whatever you pick is a reasonable demonstration of your capabilities.

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