Flute/Chair Auditions

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Question
Next Friday on January 18th we have chair auditions for my school's symphonic band. I am supposed to be in wind ensemble but my schedule is unable to be changed so I am stuck in that lower class. There is a flute player in symphonic band that is very good and is at least at my level, maybe better and I really want to get first chair and she is my main competition. For our chair auditions we have to play B flat, A flat, E flat, F natural, and our chromatic scale starting from low F to high F. I need tips on how I can improve on playing these scales faster and cleaner because I think that will be the way to get a better score than her and beat her.

Answer
Hello, Vanessa.
Since you did not make this a private question, I can only hope that your "main competition" as you call her, is not reading this column.

Making huge improvements will take longer than the week that you have left to practice.  But I will tell you how to improve your fingering facility on the scales that you mentioned.  If you have a lesson book that contains etudes and scale studies, focus on that.  Play everything in the keys that you will be tested on.  Even if they are something you did long ago, play them anyway.  Practice starting and stopping your notes cleanly.  I like to think of removing all "fuzzy, airy, jagged" sounds, and just make each note a clean little gem.  Breathe deeply, and make sure you have enough air in your lungs to sustain the notes all the way to the end of each phrase.  Play slow, play fast.  Play in tune.  Practice various patterns of tongue and slur, even if they are not written on the exercise.  Just try them.  Over time, you will become very good.  But in just one week, you will improve a bit, and gain a lot more confidence.

Which brings me to my next point.  Confidence destroys nervousness, at least up to a point.  If you are very, very nervous, it will show.  And it will cost you points because you will not be able to think clearly.  And you will not be able to control your breathing as well.  A little tension is good, but too much is really bad.  Prepare for the audition the best that you can.  Play from the heart, and enjoy the music that you play.  Judges notice things like that.  Once you have practiced hard, and done your best on the audition, then you must have no regrets, regardless of the outcome.  Truly, the best outcome is to be the best that you can be, at any given time.

With questions like yours, I often discuss the emotional factors involved in the "audition" process.  A good flute section works as one unit, producing a beautiful, unified choir-like sound, representing the higher woodwind voices.  How hard is it to be "unified" and "working together" when you must compete against all the members of the section?  Then, when the audition is over, you are supposed to automatically start working together as one.  If there are changes in who gets what chair, there are going to be hard feelings.  Even the best of friends feel friction over the audition process.  

An odd question here, but bear with me.  How badly do YOU want that first chair?  Do you realize that being in the first chair makes you a "leader" of the section?  First chair is more than just where you sit to show that you are the best.  You are actually responsible to lead the entire section, helping them to become that unified, beautiful, flute choir sound!  You may have to smooth damaged friendships, encourage those who feel poorly because they rated the bottom chairs, help less skilled musicians to overcome trouble spots in their music, and many such things.  All this requires people skills, as well as musical and technical skills.  You learn to listen with your heart as well as your ears.  At times, I have actually seen very good musicians preferring to sit in the section below those with lower audition scores.  They just wanted to enjoy playing the music, and delegate the leadership to others.  I personally don't think this is the absolute best plan, either.  I believe that everybody in the section has a responsibility to everybody else to work together and help each other.  Yeah, I know, it never works out that smoothly in the real world.  But you do your best, and create the best flute section that you can!

If you have one main competitor in the section, it is very easy to view the audition process as a mini-war.  You just gotta "beat" the other person.  Meanwhile, they are worrying about how to "beat" you.  Whoever wins that spot (and it's not always 1st chair) feels like they beat the other person.  And that other person feels beaten.  Oh, grand.  Then you have to start working "together" again.  How hard will that be?  Beating each other is ok if you are professional wrestlers, but it really stinx if you are gracious, talented, refined flutists.  Unfortunately, until the music world comes up with a better plan, auditions will continue to divide that which must stick together.

After all of this grandmotherly advice, bottom line is this, sweetie.  I wish both you and your competition, excellent practice sessions, and audition performances that you can both be proud of.  May you continue to improve, even after you get that 1st chair.  And wherever you are sitting, may your flute section be so great, that it will amaze your director, and captivate your audiences!

Cheering for you here, Vanessa!

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Denise J. Sipe

Expertise

These are the topics I CAN answer... How to play, from beginner to professional. Tips and tricks, breathing, auxilliary fingering techniques Tone Quality Listening--Developing your ears Technique --Bringing the notes up and off of the page, and making them "your own music". Playing solo, small groups, bands, orchestras Digitally reproduced, vs live accompaniment Accompanying vocalists, dancers, other instrumentals.

Experience

Soloist, small groups, large marching bands, symphony orchestras, stage bands and orchestras, theater, church music, jazz, classical, folk music

Organizations
I'm independent. But professionals have often hired me to play in their groups. Giving back to the community where I played in the High School Band, I am a former member of Williamsport, MD Community Band, a current member of New Horizons Band in Hagerstown, MD, and Bass Flute Player for the TOOT UNCOMMON FLUTES flute choir of Williamsport, MD. I often perform solo as "Toot Uncommon" and had a web-based business where I sold flutes of all sizes, shapes, and colors. The show is uncommon. The locations are often uncommon. And the variety of musical instruments is definitely uncommon! I am a member of NFA, the National Flute Association.

Publications
I didn't write for any publications. I leave that up to the more elite musicians.

Education/Credentials
This should have been my career. I am an engineer,and a trained professional clown. But my music is my passion. Flute is my favorite, though I also play many woodwinds and some brass. I am currently playing percussion in a volunteer concert band, and have drum corps experience, where I often played marching bass drum. I am totally self-taught. But I have often played in groups made up mostly of professionals. All in all I am still the area's best-kept secret.

Awards and Honors
Biggest honor of my career was playing an emotional piece, and looking out over the audience. Two big, tough construction workers had tears rolling down their cheeks.

Past/Present Clients
I've been teaching beginning and intermediate flute/piccolo students of all ages in MD and PA since the early 1970s.

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