Whether you’re a classical player or jazzer, professional or student, sooner or later you will find yourself in a situation where you have to show what you can do on the horn, whether it’s a chair test in middle school or auditioning for a symphony orchestra. When I was a kid the thing to do each year was to go to the Salvation Army Summer Music School. They invited some very fine conductors, like the legendary Bernard Adams, longtime bandmaster of the International Staff Band, William Himes, bandmaster of the Chicago Staff Band, and Roland Cobb, the former principal cornet of the ISB and father of current ISB bandmaster Stephen Cobb. It was a great musical experience for a kid like me, coming from a small (not very good) corps band with maybe 10-12 players. In those days, they had two bands, the Starlake Band, named after the famous band camp in New York, and Dragudden Band, the top band. The first day of camp everybody had to play a little audition to get in the right band. I was petrified the whole summer leading up to camp. When it was my turn, I did my little thing, played the scales, some sight-reading and topped it off by playing the theme from “Soap”, the TV sit-com, which was really popular in Sweden at that time. When later that day they announced that I made 1st trombone in the top band, I thought I’d gone straight to heaven! I still get goose-bumps thinking about it, and it’s probably the reason I wanted to become a professional trombone player. That camp is still one of my most memorable musical experiences of my life. Even after doing this, I hated auditions! In Sweden at that time, all males 18 and older had to do their military service. My dream was to get in to the Swedish Army Band. There is only one band, they play for the changing of the guards at the Royal Castle in Stockholm, go on tours etc, things that are really exciting when you’re 18! To prepare for this I decided to audition for the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm. Not to get in, I still wanted to get a real job, just to practice for the Army Band. I did pretty good, advancing to the finals and so on. But it was such a nerve-wrecking experience; I vowed never to do it again! I went through with the Army Band audition, and made it in to the band, but I still couldn’t stand auditioning. I was done doing this! I guess the pull to play music became too strong, I was back for the college auditions the next year, and made it to the Gothenburg Conservatory, where I was fortunate to study with Ingemar Roos, a wonderful teacher, and a great guy. By now, like it or not, I had to get serious about the audition business. In the spring of my first year, the Royal Danish Opera had a utility trombone position open (that’s playing both tenor- and bass trombone). I prepared like crazy, practicing around the clock. I took the train and ferry down to Copenhagen and played the first round. No screen, David 1st mvt on the tenor, and straight to the Lebedev concerto for bass trombone. I didn’t think I sounded too hot, so I went and packed my horns, but to my absolute amazement I advanced to the second round! That definitely gave a boost to my confidence, and I actually ended up being runner-up! After this initial and unexpected success in the audition business I had a long string of bad auditions. I don’t think I advanced in any of them. This frustrated me quite a bit, but had the advantage of pushing me to get more serious about my jazz playing. After all, I wanted to feel good about something in my trombone playing! Then a job came up I thought would be perfect for me. It was the Bohus Big Band, located north of Gothenburg. The job was fifty/fifty big band-concert band, with some great jazz players in the band. I became really serious about the preparation, just like I had been for the Danish Opera. They asked for the David Concertino and a piece of your own choice. I had prepared both Arthur Pryor’s Thoughts of Love and a jazz ballad. I wanted to show the jury different aspects of my playing, and it worked, I got the job. Unfortunately, this approach is not possible on most auditions. There might not even be a solo-piece on the list, only orchestral excerpts. In my opinion, that is a mistake on part of the jury, but that is a whole other discussion. My next successful attempt at auditioning was in Västerås. That job was mostly brass ensemble, with orchestra roughly one production a month. I had subbed for three months before the audition, and really wanted this job. This time the jury had a different approach than the Bohus Big Band jury. All rounds behind the screen, no ensemble test, and no solo pieces, except the David concertino. They also had a trombonist from another orchestra on the committee to make sure everything was fair. I prepared thoroughly, played for everybody who cared to listen, and felt pretty confident on the day of the audition. It worked, and I got the job. That turned out to be a great job for me; because that same fall I met my future wife Tina! After we moved to the States in -97 I’ve been back to Sweden to audition three times. I made the finals for the Stockholm Philharmonic in 2002, and was runner up for the Linköping Wind Symphony in 2003 and the Swedish Radio Symphony in 2007. (More on that in the News section) In preparing for an audition I make sure to get two hours of real practice in each day. I should probably do more, but with three little boys in the family, plus gigs and teaching it’s not always possible, so I’ve decided to feel good about the two hours I can get in. I put all the excerpts in a folder, to have them organized. Each day, I spend maybe 15-20 minutes on my warm-up, but not too much. You never know what will happen on the day of the audition, you might be the first one to play, without much warm-up time. I practice the excerpts very slow at first, in small sections, to make sure I cover all rough spots. The goal is to be able to play the whole excerpt in a very relaxed, natural and musical manner, no matter what range or dynamic. I pay extra attention to the rhythm, in my experience that’s where most players make mistakes. It’s hard keeping a steady beat by yourself! When I feel good about playing the excerpts one by one, I start playing down the list, several times a day. I only give myself one chance on each excerpt. The whole point is to mimic the audition process. I might even picture myself going out on the stage the day of the audition, to prepare mentally. During this process I record myself constantly, listen and take notes, trying to be really picky. If you have children running around the house while practicing, invite the neighbor’s kids, and bring the dog and rabbit too! You have to learn to play well even when there are distractions around. I figure that if I can play Schumann’s Third with my 4- and 5-year old boys climbing on me, I should be able to do it by myself during the audition! (And it actually worked, when I auditioned for the Swedish Radio Symphony, they asked for it twice in the finals, and I felt I nailed it both times.) The whole idea with this process is to be able to play as good as possible every time under the worst conditions possible. When it’s getting close to the audition, I try to limit switching horns. That might mean I’ll play my jazz brunch or a big band gig on my big horn, I want to feel as comfortable as possible on the horn I’ll use for the audition. If you ever get the urge to switch mouthpiece the week before the audition, don’t! Stick to what you have and are used to. The committee won’t be able to tell if you’re playing a 5G or a 4G, but they can sure tell if you start missing notes because your chops aren’t used to that new miracle mouthpiece! When you’re playing for the jury, there can be no question marks in your performance. You want to show them that “this is how the piece goes!” The jury wants to hear a player with confidence and control. I still get nervous, but I try to prepare myself so I know exactly what will come out of the horn when I pick it up. Roger Lindberg, former Principal trombone of the Malmö Symphony in Sweden, taught me a valuable lesson once. We were playing a rehearsal, and he was mad at one of his students because this player missed a big audition by feeling out of shape on the big day. Roger mumbled “Damn it, when there’s an audition, you make sure to be in shape, no matter what!” Over the years, I’ve played some really good auditions and some really bad ones, but I learned that preparation is the key. You cannot depend on luck. Hopefully these thoughts can be of some value to the reader. There are lots of great resources on the web about taking auditions. One of the best ones is found on yeodoug.com, which gives a thorough walk-through of the whole process. It’s been very helpful to me in my attempts. Good Luck!
In April I started to get ready for the co-principal audition for the Swedish Radio Symphony in Stockholm. I took lessons with David Waters and John McCroskey of the Houston Symphony, and Mike Warney of the HGO and Houston Ballet. I tried to record myself most days, some I thought sounded pretty decent, other days were not that good!
The whole Hultén family left for Sweden on May 26, and we had three wonderful weeks with my and Tina’s families.
May 31 I went to the Berwald Hall in Stockholm and played the audition list for Göran Brink, 2nd trombone of the Swedish Radio Symphony and my first trombone teacher in high school, and Mikael Oskarsson, principal trombone. I haven’t met these guys for probably 15 years, great to see them again. It was also a little nerve-wrecking playing for my first teacher!
They gave me some good comments for the upcoming audition, a week later. There were maybe 30 players showing up for the audition, with a few continental Europeans and one American (not counting myself). It was great to see some of my old friends I haven’t met in years.
The first round was the David trombone concertino 1st mvt including cadenza. I think I played pretty good, but not my best, I made a couple of stupid little mistakes. After lunch they announced who advanced, and I was pleasantly surprised to hear that I was one of the five to the second round.
The second round was the David 2nd mvt, Tuba Mirum, Bolero and Mahler Third. This round felt really comfortable, and I took my time between the excerpts, trying not to rush things. More discussions by the jury, and they decided to advance Mikael Oskarsson of the Royal Stockholm Opera and myself to the finals. This was played with the section, with no screen (for natural reasons!).
We started by doing the tenor parts, Brahms’s 4th, Nielsen’s 2nd, Tjaikovskij’s 6th and Bruckner’s 4th symphonies. I switched between 1st and 2nd trombone. After a short break we played alto, Mozart Requiem and Schuman’s 3rd.
After what felt like an eternity they announced that they wanted Mikael to play the fall with them as a trial period. I thought that was an excellent decision from the jury! Mikael is a really fine player, and a great guy, and I’m not sure I’m ready to make such a big move yet, especially considering that my wife Tina loves her position at Baylor College of Medicine.
So overall this audition was a very good experience.