Oberlin Blogs

An Audition Story About an Audition I Just Did

February 28, 2024

Ben Smith ’24

I'm writing this on the train back from my first graduate school audition. An audition which, being very honest, I've never prepared for more. Now, this is a pretty vulnerable state to be sharing any thoughts on the matter; I quite literally just did the audition and will have no idea about the result for a while. If you were one of the Prospies who auditioned at Oberlin this year, we are in the same boat right now: the interim. But the result of the audition isn't the point of why I'm writing and, well, audition stories are just interesting anyway.

This audition was one where I felt triumphant walking out of that room. I felt like I really went in there and did the thing… even though in reality, not much happened other than I played the flute for 15 minutes in front of 2 people. On top of that, the playing was flawed, those 15 minutes didn't exude perfection... yet, the sentiment remained.

There’s something to be said for that for the following reasons:

  1. None of my undergrad auditions felt like that.
  2. (More importantly) I learned a lot through this process.

If you've spoken to me in person or read my previous blogs, you'll know my feelings on my own playing have been a real mess since starting at Oberlin. Looking back, the confusion about my playing began during my undergraduate audition season. It was the first time where I really started to question my ability to do this thing that I really love (music).

A Helly Kitty mug.
This audition's mug of choice.

Despite all the ups and downs, the one thing I actually felt I learned how to do the last four years was prepare for an audition. The organization of my practice, the actual time spent practicing, the mental preparation, I became very picky about the whole process.

I've even got it down to the mug I'm going to drink my coffee out of on the day of the audition--that is planned and taken into consideration. The ritual of the audition process, it's the thing I enjoy most about auditioning.

That was until this time: the time I went overboard.

I didn't think it was possible to do that, to "over-prepare." Coming from someone who felt wildly unprepared for his undergrad auditions, I figured you could never be prepared enough. But lo and behold, after a while I was practicing so frantically that I experienced a steep period of regression. Combined with overthinking the mental preparation, it's fair to say that I overdid it all. 

Here's some context with this particular audition: the audition list was very hard, pushing me out of my comfort zone, and I knew I would need a lot of strategic mental preparation to gain confidence in doing it. My game plan equally prioritized the preparation of the repertoire and the preparation of my mental state. For the mental prep, I decided to go down the route of watching people who were awesome at what they do, a “people-who-inspire-me” rabbit hole. So quite literally, I plopped myself in front of the TV and watched a bunch of videos of people performing that made me completely overcome with awe, admiration, and motivation. I did this every day for about 15-30 minutes. I called this part of my routine “studying awesomeness.” 

I wasn't focusing on musicians (of course, I did watch some flutists for this particular study), but instead decided to outsource my inspiration and found solace in figure skating. It's a sport I've watched for years but never done myself; I've gone skating a grand total of 1 time. Because of that, it's actually impossible for me to recreate what those people do in any tangible way. I simply cannot fathom what it feels like to do a triple axel. But at the same time… I relate very deeply to what those skaters are doing. They're performers, too. There's artistic elements in their programs, technical elements, and despite all the training that goes into it, falling is a normal part of the sport. I don't have to be a skater to understand that. Watching people who have dedicated their lives to this craft and were competing at a very high level, it resonated so deeply with what I was trying to get myself to do. It also helps that I have an athletic background, so I had a way of mirroring my practice with how I would train as a swimmer growing up. 

So, overdoing it. Let’s talk about that part. From the way I've described my preparation, I think it's fair to say there's already a bit of a fine line between being dedicated and being obsessive. My cross onto the dark side (dun dun dun) happened about 6 weeks into my preparation, around the time I was traveling back to Oberlin for the spring semester. By that point, there were many parts of my audition I felt solid about, but I was much more focused on the parts that weren’t. I had done a lot of mock auditions, but the hyperfixation on the parts I was worried about in tandem with some unfortunate instrument troubles created a very unfun spiral. Moral of that story: get your instrument serviced very regularly... especially if you're a perfectionist.

I had a string of really bad run-throughs during this time. All of them were in front of people and, man, it just felt bad. By this point I had put so much effort in, but there was so little to show for it. 

Thankfully, I had a lot of conversations with my friends and flute professor here at Oberlin. In an unexpected turn of events, I was advised (and agreed) to stop my preparation method for 11 days leading up to the audition. It felt weird, but I had to accept I had done the best I could and that it wasn't getting any better. I went back to just fundamentals and worked on all the other music I needed to prepare, things for orchestra, chamber music, other solo repertoire. One friend called this phenomenon "learning how to let go of the preparation."

Now, I'm not sure if there is any ~magic pixie dust~ behind a successful audition, but forcing myself to let go of the preparation was the closest thing I've ever felt to that. So in lieu of magic pixie dust, I'm going to continue on with the rest of my auditions incorporating a whole lot of training followed by a period of tapering. And no matter what happens, the fact I was able to walk out of this audition knowing I did the best I could will never be taken away from me--a success in its own right.

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