The minority of instructors and mentors in my life have talked to me about this, and each have their own way of describing "playing yourself." Note, minority. So, at some level, it's not a requirement to believe in this. At the end of the day, we all are going to do our best to bring out the music, from the page to the ears, and even if it is a belief worth taking stock in, it does not guarantee a win. My personality might not be a fit for a certain orchestra, but the only way the panel will know that is if I put my personality on the table. My friends know when I'm practicing xylophone because they hear ME. That includes my sound concept, my character, my phrase tendencies, etc. All of that should be brought out in our excerpts. What's our concept of a Shostakovich loud and a Stravinsky loud? They are both pretty loud, but the characters are different. How do we make that distinction?
As auditioning musicians, there's a lot that we all have in common going into any audition. We get the same music, listen to the same pieces, hear the traditional and trending phrasings, play the same rounds, etc. But what sets us all apart? Maybe it's the tempos we choose, or the phrasings that we make. Maybe it's the instrument's color or overall sound, warmer or brighter than others in the round. But what wins over a judge who doesn't like a warmer sound, but still wants that person anyway? Maybe it's their impeccable time or intonation, or the fact that they missed less notes than everyone else. I would like to believe that it's something else.
We have to perform as well as we can, playing the page in tune, and in time, and this will do well for us in the first round. Semis, though, just doing that might not be enough, and certainly the finals will demand that special "something." The first instinct is to play the music. Well, if we're playing the page, and the phrasings (what's not on the page), isn't that the music? Well, yea, but. I've spoken to my mentors and colleagues about this a lot, and it's frustrating to know that you can play everything perfect and be cut. It's even more frustrating to know that you can, basically play the music, and still get cut as well. So what is that "it" factor?
Welp, two things. One, of course, musicality and playing the music is definitely the key to advancing and even winning in any audition, but (two) the musicianship of the candidate is what entices the panel (Their Personality). As we all are aware, every orchestra has a different feel, atmosphere, etc., and the panel is looking for not only someone who will fit into that sound, but someone who will enhance it and even give it a different feel. Musicality and phrasing is a good determinant of that, which is why it's so important to play as musically as possible while staying true to the character and the page as possible. But, if two people play the exact same phrasing with the exact same tempos and on the exact same instruments, it's the personality that separates the two. In a nut shell, allowing yourself to come out within the piece will let the panel hear you, not just the piece.
My thoughts on auditioning are, as you know, more philosophical and "transcendental," but it all comes from a desire to play the music and allow the listener to hear the orchestra. That's the goal, and if you achieve that, then you've succeeded, win or lose. I wanted to go a step further. I love feeling the music while I play. It enhances my awareness and focuses my energies as I perform. I feel different when I play a Scheherazade pianissimo than a Kije one. It's not just the tempos that are different or the rhythmic integrity, but the feel itself. I can make Kije sound like Scheherazade and vice versa. So, my feeling of music is different than yours, even though we are basically going for the same "sound concept" or character. I play Scheherazade differently than my teachers, even though we are all playing the same things. This is the difference in my opinion. The personalities and musicianship of the candidates. Now, fair warning. If you believe in this, like me, there's a big issue that we need to address.
Displaying our personality is scary. As many of us already feel vulnerable playing just the page, we might feel it even more so if we playing ourselves for people. The fear of being seen. Why is the solo asked in the final round? The panel wants to hear your interpretation of a piece that, while it has many traditional aspects (like the excerpts), allows for many subjective musical moments. A person can automatically tell when a candidate is just playing the YouTube version, or the Spotify version, but when a musician hears another musician, that makes them want to hear more. Even if you are playing a certain interpretation from a recording you like, if you try to play it exactly the same, you may end up sounding like your trying to play it exactly the same. So make it yours, play the way you want to play it and it will sound better, even if it's not exactly what a judge or teacher would do. If the character is right, and the traditions respected, it's good to go.
About these Posts
Just some thoughts about how We, ourselves, are our best source of information and how we can become more aware of our thoughts.