Practice Blueprints: All-State Auditions (Blog #1: Idaho)

Greetings! After taking a bit of hiatus, I am happy to report that Flute Friday posts are back and better than ever! As always, if you have any suggestions for topics you would like to see covered on this blog, please comment below or shoot me a direct message. Happy to discuss all the latest and greatest flute content.

The next few weeks will feature a new series on my blog: Practice Blueprints: All-State Auditions. Summer is quickly coming to a close and schools are almost back in session. Fall is traditionally when high school band and orchestra directors start urging students to audition for spots in their respective state’s All-State Band and Orchestra programs (which usually take place sometime in the Spring). These auditions are always very competitive, moreso if your state is large (Texas), populous (New York), or both (California), and attract the best of the best high school musicians from across the state. All-State groups are a type of dream team band or orchestra that rehearse together for only a few days before performing a culminating concert. The repertoire is not for the faint of heart. The experience, however, will last a lifetime. Even so, some students tend to shy away from auditioning because the audition repertoire may be a bit intimidating and difficult to master. I am here to help! Each blog in this series will offer practice suggestions for the required excerpts as well as a few helpful hints for audition prep in general. I want to make it easy for students who may need a few extra resources (or even just words of encouragement) to audition for All-State groups across the country this season.

We will start with the state most near and dear to my heart: Idaho. As a high school student, I served as Principal Flute of the Idaho All-State Orchestra in my Sophomore year and Piccolo for the Idaho All-State Orchestra as a Senior, performing, among other works, Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony. I did not own the fanciest instrument. I did not come from a large town with a wealth of performing opportunities. Prior to my Sophomore year, I hadn’t even set foot in an orchestra! I did, however, come from an outstanding high school band program and took regular weekly flute lessons from an equally outstanding flute teacher. I practiced and auditioned not knowing exactly what the next steps were. I simply put my best playing out there and let the Universe decide my fate. That, of course, is the single best piece of advice that I can give any student auditioning for these groups. Practice carefully, play your very best, and let the Universe decide what is next.

General Information – 2022 Idaho All-State Auditions:

These are most important items you need to know if you, or your students, are planning on auditioning for the 2022 Idaho All-State Program:

  • Complete auditions and audition forms must be uploaded by your band/orchestra director no later than October 8, 2021. Your directors will likely have even earlier deadlines so be sure to check in with them about all final deadlines.
  • There is a $10 fee to audition – Make sure to give this to your director before audition materials are due.
  • You must fill out the Student Audition Information Sheet and submit to your director.
  • The All-State Convention will take place February 2-5, 2022.
  • Your band/orchestra director MUST be a member of IMEA/NAfME and your school must be a member of the Idaho High Schools Activity Association (IHSAA).
  • If you participated in All-Northwest last year, you are not automatically in the All-State program and must submit an audition application.
  • Points are deducted for going faster or slower than any of the indicated tempos.
  • The example solo (#4) is optional but if you would like to be considered for a principal spot or play any solos during the concert, you must submit a solo recording not to exceed 1 minute in length. The chosen solo should be relatively difficult from standard repertoire and should demonstrate your musical strengths.

Repertoire

A PDF of All-State Flute Audition Repertoire can be found here: https://idahomusiced.org/forms/allstate/AllStateAudMusic/Flute.pdf

  1. Chromatic Scale – Low C to C4 using slurred sixteenth notes ascending and descending. (Quarter note = 72) 
  2. Selected Studies for Flute –  Page 20: measures 1-18. (Dotted quarter note = 48) 
  3. Selected Studies for Flute – Page 33: measures 1-25 and 43-52. (Quarter note = 120) 
  4. Example solo: Johann Sebastian Bach: Sonata in Eb Major Mvt. 1 Beginning to measure 53 (quarter note = approximately 88)

Practice Tips

1. Chromatic Scale

  • Start practicing your scale slowly to make sure your fingerings are correct and your 16th notes are even. Start with a tempo of quarter note = 60 (or below) and work your way up slowly to quarter note = 72. Try not to exceed this tempo in the practice room. You will likely be a bit nervous on recording day, making it very easy to rush the tempo. Your brain may decide that day that it prefers the faster tempo! Sorry brain, you are wrong today.
  • The high register turnaround point to the high C requires fingering gymnastics. Keep your finger transitions from note to note “snappy.” I sometimes refer to this as “robot fingers” with my students. Of course, do not actually play like a robot! Just keep your finger movements quick and deliberate from one note to the next.
  • Don’t forget about that gizmo key on the high C! The gizmo is your friend.
  • The thing that will separate the flutists selected for orchestra vs. band on this excerpt is breath control. The goal, if you can swing it, is to play the excerpt in one breath. I know – scary, but it can be done. Memorize your scale and practice! Use it as part of your warm-up routine in band rehearsals or at the beginning of each practice session. Alter your dynamics so that you are using less air but still retaining a center to your sound. A mp-mf should work nicely, staying on the mp-side if at all possible. If playing this in one breath is just not an option, take a quick breath after the third C (C3) on your way back down the scale.
  • If I haven’t driven this home yet, keeping the tempo steady is very important. Another great way to accomplish this is by placing small breath kicks on the first 16th note of each beat. A breath kick may take the form of a very small accent or a small bit of vibrato on the downbeat.
  • To keep your tempo consistent on recording day, program your metronome to quarter note = 72 and keep it on silent while you play. This works best if you have memorized your chromatic scale. And finally..
  • Memorize your scale! Memorizing your chromatic scale will help you well beyond All-State auditions.

2.  Selected Studies for Flute –  Page 20: measures 1-18. (Dotted quarter note = 48)

  • Start by practicing this excerpt in 6 at eighth note = 144 or slower to make your subdivisions clear and precise. Those grace notes in the second measure may lead you to drag the tempo a bit. I would even suggest keeping your metronome set to eighth note = 144 and on silent during your audition but to still emphasize the larger dotted-quarter note tempo by placing slightly more vibrato on the notes that fall on the downbeats (or beats 1 and 4 if you are counting in eighths).
  • Dolce e con express means “sweetly with expression.” Try not to overload this excerpt with vibrato. Save your best expressive vibrato for the crescendos and, as indicated, use a slower, sweeter vibrato at the beginning and during sections marked in “p” (piano).
  • Dynamics are key in the excerpt! Make sure your crescendos are clear and, although not marked subito, there are two subito moments of piano after a crescendo. Bring these out of the texture.
  • Speaking of bringing elements out of the texture, there are two accents on the second line that must come out. This is a bit tricky because a simultaneous diminuendo requires you to play softer while also accenting (whaaat??). My best advice here is to play slightly louder than piano at the beginning of the measure so you have room to get softer while making a differentiation between the accented notes.
  • Okay, let’s talk about the shrieking elephant in the room – Those octave + jumps at the end of the second line. This will take some serious flexibility work for your embrochure! To help you prepare for these and train your embrochure to flex, I suggest adding harmonic exercises to your daily routine (Trevor Wye has some good ones in his book on Tone – Or, more simply, overblow a low C gradually to achieve all harmonics in the C series) as well as some flexibility exercises. The Taffanel and Gaubert 17 Daily Studies, Exercise #10, is a perfect complement to this exercise. Add this to your daily scale studies. Remember to keep the higher notes softer and anchor the lower notes to create better balance between the registers. Avoid shocking your committee with startling high notes.
  • Know when to lay on the drama. Slow down the tempo and be a bit extra on the rall. at the end of the 2nd line and the final allarg. This is where you can play out a bit more and shine a bit brighter than dolce.
  • Count. The. Rests. (particularly in the last few measures)
  • That final Bb is tricky. There are other excerpts that haunt flutists of all ages and levels featuring a similar Bb as a final note (Hindemith, I’m looking at you). Lift your chin and air stream a bit to keep the pitch up on this note. You may also want to direct your air to the top corner of the room if it helps.

3.  Selected Studies for Flute – Page 33: measures 1-25 and 43-52. (Quarter note = 120) 

  • Welcome to the wonderful world of grace notes! Carefully check the accidentals on all of these grace notes (write them in the score if needed). Place these slightly before the beat (or subdivision). These are super quick grace notes and not Bach-style graceful grace notes. Practice the same “snappy fingers” technique you used for your chromatic scale. Keep them quick, energetic, and light.
  • Con Allegrezza means “with joy.” Joy. Not stress. Think of something that makes you happy before beginning to play. A carnival or walking through Disneyland. A day at the beach. Rocking out at a concert. Start this one with a smile!
  • Dynamics again are key. Make the most of those long crescendos. Don’t get too loud too fast or save your crescendo until the last minute. Mark the subito pianos, particularly the ones that come after a crescendo (2nd full measure, end of the 2nd line, and beginning of 5th line). Make a clear difference between forte and piano.
  • Work up to quarter note = 120. I recommend starting with a more conservative tempo at quarter note = 100 and slowly working your way up. Those grace notes will likely lead you to drag the tempo a bit while you are still learning the music. Work on these measures separately.
  • Find the accents and bring these out of the texture. The accents in this piece are located on anchor notes whenever there is a corresponding octave + jump (in baroque music we call these “pedal” tones). Circle all accents with a colored pencil so you do not forget about them! These passages also require the same embrochure flexibility we saw in the previous example. Remember to keep practicing your harmonics and flexibility exercises to properly train your lips. Keep the higher notes a bit softer than the lower notes. To really bring out those accented lower notes, try bringing your flute closer to your right shoulder for the low notes and out again for the notes in the higher register.
  • Try to play the fourth line in one breath. I know this is a bit tricky with that crescendo there. Start the phrase softly as indicated and save most of your crescendo for the last half of the phrase.
  • Hit. That. Last. Note. That is your “the end” opportunity and the most important accent of the excerpt.
  • If you find yourself rushing this excerpt (and many will), record this one with your metronome on silent to keep your beat consistent.

4.  Example solo: Johann Sebastian Bach: Sonata in Eb Major Mvt. 1 Beginning to measure 53 (quarter note = approximately 88)

  • This does not need to be the Bach excerpt indicated above.
  • Select a 1-minute selection from a work that you know very well. This could be a piece that you prepared for last year’s state solo competition or smaller solo and ensemble competition. Make sure it is a work that you are super comfortable and familiar with.
  • Ask yourself honestly: What is your greatest flute playing strength? The piece you choose should really show off this strength. If your articulation is as light as air, select something such as the Ibert Concerto or one of the Mozart Concerti. If your technique is smooth and your scales always very even, try the Hanson Serenade. If you are an expressive player with a larger-than-life sound, try the opening of Griffes Poem or the Faure Fantasie. Strut your stuff with this solo!
  • If you are looking to show the committee a bit of everything, you may want to consider playing an unaccompanied work such as Honneger’s Danse de la Chevre or Debussy’s Syrinx. 
  • Time it! Record yourself playing your solo to make sure your cut off measure does not exceed 1 minute.

Final Thoughts/Recommendations

  • Record yourself playing all of the excerpts. Review your recordings and mark down anything that could be improved. Avoid being a perfectionist! Mark it down, work on it, and trust in your ability.
  • Hydrate! This is one of the first things we forget when we are nervous. On the day of the final recording, make sure to bring a bottle of water.
  • Avoid comparing your playing to other flutists. I know – easier said than done, especially when you are stressed. Do not become intimidated by a senior with more experience. Instead, ask them for advice. Collaborate more than compete and you will create allies.
  • Have fun! Auditioning should be a fun, challenging experiment. You never know what exactly the judges are looking for or if they will find it in your playing. Play your best, put it out there, and wait patiently for the next steps.

***

Are you auditioning for the Idaho All-State Band/Orchestra? What are your best preparation strategies? What do you find the most challenging about the audition repertoire? What questions do you have about the audition or the All-State performance experience? Please comment below and share these tips with your Idaho flute friends (and band/orchestra directors)!

Happy Fluting! (and auditioning)

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