Auditions- both sides of the table

By Gareth Davies  -  11 January 2015

Audition...One of the most powerful words in the music business. On one side of the table sit the panel, silent, critical, pencils sharpened ready to puncture the fragile bubble of competence and self belief you’ve carefully constructed for yourself. To them, auditions are a testing ground for talent where they are in an all powerful position. For the panel, auditions give them the power to decide the direction your career is going to take with the stroke of their pen. And you? The very mention of an audition gets your palms sweaty, your heart-rate increases like Starbucks have opened an outlet in your chest and any self confidence you had has disappeared down the toilet that you seem inexplicably drawn to…

Gareth Davies, principal flute of the LSO

Sound familiar? Well, we’ve all been there. It’s not nice, it’s not a perfect system whether you’re auditioning for a job in the LSO, music college or even if you’re doing your grade 1. Playing in front of strangers who are listening to you critically is terrifying, but lets be honest, every time you walk on the stage if you make it into the profession, it’s pretty much the same thing. However, it’s not all bad news. 

This year marks 20 years since I first managed to audition successfully for the principal flute job in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. I’ve often looked back at that day when trying to encourage students and wondered what it was that I did that made them decide to employ a fresh college graduate with a CV printed in really big writing to make it  fill the page. It’s all a bit of a blur and to be honest, after seeing auditions from both sides of the divide, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no perfect way to audition. I’m afraid I can’t give you a list of things you should do that will guarantee you a foot in the door (apart from looking smart, learning the requested repertoire and washing beforehand).

This year marked a new learning experience for me in audition procedure. Having auditioned myself, and auditioned many, many players for LSO woodwind positions, this year were two firsts. Before Christmas I was on the panel at the Royal College of Music, where I teach, auditioning prospective undergraduates. At the same time across various conservatoires around London, my son was auditioning to gain a place in the brass faculties. I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that the single most scary audition experience for me so far has been waiting in the cafe at Trinity Laban completely impotent as my son did his thing in a room just out of earshot. It was for me, a matter of lack of control. I couldn’t do anything to help him, it was all down to his playing and the decision of the panel. Later as I sat listening to hundreds of flute players, I smiled a knowing smile at the nail biting parents who lined the corridors. For once, when I told a nervous looking mum that I knew exactly how she felt, I wasn’t just being nice. But it did help me reach a conclusion, not about how you should audition, you have to be yourself, but how to approach an audition.

When all the young flute players were trying to impress me with their playing at the RCM, they were desperate to get a place. At the same time, I was desperate for them to play well. I want excellent pupils who will fly through college on a surge of musical enthusiasm. I want the best raw material I can find. Sometimes it’s not perfect, but sometimes there is a spark that ignites the room. It’s unmistakeable. If someone who has this spark makes a mistake, it doesn’t matter, all is not lost. When you play for me in any audition, the panel and I want you to play well. Don’t ever forget that. We may sometimes look scary or bored, but we want you as much as you want the place/job/grade 1 distinction.

My son was offered 4 places and 3 scholarships. When I got into college it was on a reserve place- he is already being more successful than me and I’m delighted for him. That’s 4 colleges who want him to come and study with them and three who want him so much, they’re prepare to put money on it. He was scared auditioning but ultimately now, the power is in his hands, not the audition panels.

Think about that next time you walk into a room to audition. It can be a terrifying experience, but always remember, no matter how aloof the panel behind that desk look, they want you to play well, they want you to be the one, they want you to be that spark they are looking for. It may look like it, but they don’t have all of the power, a large proportion is in your hands. So don’t walk into the room and just see the sharp pencils and the pile of excerpts. It’s just an audition and there will be others - I was only successful in one audition, just one! I got nowhere in all the others. I got one college place. I got one job which eventually led to another. But once is enough, so smile, play well and try not to look like you’re about to get sent down for life. To misquote my oncologist; An audition is just a word, not a sentence.


Read more of Gareth's thoughts at http://www.garethdaviesonline.com

About Gareth Davies

Gareth Davies has been Principal Flute of the London Symphony Orchestra for the last 15 years. His first book, The Show Must Go On was one of the books of the year in the Financial Times and Classical Music Magazine. His blog, Postcards from the Front Line is available on his website www.garethdaviesonline.com He tweets as @flutelicious which seemed like a good name at the time...

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