Practice Blueprints: All-State Auditions (Blog #2: Texas)

Greetings and welcome to a belated Flute Friday/Saturday. Apologies for the late post – Eye strain is no joke (aggravated by smokey air due to California wildfires), so I gave my eyes the day off yesterday. A late post will have to suffice this week. The length of this post hopefully makes up for its tardiness.

Today we will be continuing our Practice Blueprints – All State Audition series with good, old Texas. All-State auditions in Texas are intense (Don’t mess with Texas!)! The repertoire is quite difficult and the state is very large, making competition for spots in All-State groups fierce. I had the opportunity to coach students at Kerr High School in Houston a few years ago on Texas All-State repertoire and the one piece of advice I gave to everyone at that time was to keep trying. If you do not make it into an All-State group on your first try, try again next year, and the year after that. Learn from your audition recording. Before practicing for this year’s auditions, listen carefully to your audition recording from last year. What can you do to make this year’s recording even better? Ask your band director or flute teacher for some honest feedback and helpful suggestions for ways to improve this year. Above all, approach All-State auditions from a growth mindset rather than a perfectionist mindset. The audition process should be a fun, challenging, yet exceptionally rewarding experience. 

General Information (What You Need to Know)

  • When are recordings due? This will be dependent on your region. Please see your band director for more information and to determine when recordings, forms, and dues will be due. They will likely be the ones uploading your materials to the TMEA site.

1. You must be a full-time student in grades 9-12 in a Texas school during the semester in which the TMEA All-State activities take place.

2.  A student must be certified by his TMEA Active Member director as a *participating member of the school’s parent musical organization during the semester in which the TMEA activity is held. A student may only participate with organizations affiliated with their full-time campus.

3.  A student shall compete in the Region in which he is currently receiving the majority of his educational instruction to meet graduation requirements.

4.  All TMEA activities are extracurricular. In order to participate in TMEA activities, a student must be passing the number of courses required by state law and by rules of the State Board of Education.

5.  In order to participate in TMEA activities, a student must have been in attendance and have passed the number of courses required by the University Interscholastic League for extracurricular participation.

6. A student may not participate after the end of the eighth semester following his first enrollment in the ninth grade.

7.  Changing schools within the state after acceptance at any level of the All-State selection process will not affect eligibility for further competition.

8.  A student representing a home school must enter the audition process in the same TMEA Region as the public school ISD in which the home school is located.

9. Each student’s TMEA Active member director or member sponsor must be in attendance at all TMEA auditions and any related activity, such as clinic/concert, in which their students are involved.

10.  A student may be removed only by:  (1) the audition process itself, (2) the TMEA Appeals Process, or (3) the student’s TMEA Active member director or member sponsor.

11. TMEA Policies and Procedures specify an appeals process that shall be used in connection with protests arising from any TMEA selection procedure or failure to fulfill any rehearsal/performance obligation.

12. During any event sanctioned by TMEA, violation of any of the rules in Section I above shall jeopardize the student’s ability to further participate in the tryout process. Said violation may result in forfeiture of a place in any TMEA organization.

13.  A student who does not complete the rehearsal/performance obligations (Region, All-State, etc.) will not be eligible for an official participation patch or other award and risk being removed through the Appeals Process from further participation in the All-State process.

14.  A student advancing beyond the Region-level must be certified by the Region Divisional Chair. In a Region that sponsors a full orchestra as part of the Region audition process, the Region Orchestra Chair shall certify the Area orchestra candidates representing that Region.

15.  Students may initially audition for multiple groups: band, jazz, choir, orchestra, and mariachi. If a student qualifies to Area in multiple groups that include jazz, orchestra, and mariachi, they must select only one of those groups for that Area audition (occurring in the fall). If a student is named to an All-State Jazz, Orchestra, or Mariachi Ensemble, they cannot audition for any other All-State groups. If they did not get named to any of those All-State groups. they can continue to either a Band or Choir Area audition (occurring in January). The director must ensure that a student submits a completed Area Declaration Form by December 15.

Practice Tips:

This blog has essentially already been written! The guidelines for the Texas All-State repertoire include a wonderful Performance Guide for each excerpt: https://www.tmea.org/band/audition-material/etudes/ Before trying out any of the practice tips below, I encourage you to find a pencil and add all of the errata notes and performance tips directly into your music. These are the items that adjudicators will be focusing on when reviewing audition recordings. Half of the battle is won if you already know what they are expecting to hear!

Excerpt #1 – Sigfrid Karg-Elert, Op. 107 / 10, Complete (Play from beginning to end).

  • Articulation will be key in this excerpt. To keep your staccatos nice and light, try practicing using a “tut” articulation on these notes. The “tut” syllable gives each note a sharp attack while cutting the note short and preparing the tongue for the next attack. 
  • This excerpt essentially has two personalities – long melodic lines verses light, articulated passages. Make a distinction between these two voices by altering your tone color and/or vibrato speed for each.
  • There are a number of octave leaps in this excerpt. A good way to train your embrochure for these leaps is to add the Flexibility Exercise #1 from Trevor Wye’s Practice Book on Tone to your daily warm-up routine. Focus on keeping the tone stable while training your lips to gracefully move between each register. Another great warm up to help you work on flexibility is to add harmonic exercises to the mix. There is a wonderful harmonic exercise on Page 6 of Trevor Wye’s Tone book that is simple enough to practice daily. Give it try!
  • Beginning in measure 17, the slurs start to shift the emphasis to the off-beats and become a bit less predictable. Try adding breath kicks (or very small accents or small bits of vibrato) to the notes that fall on the downbeats to keep your beat grounded. Another great exercise to add to your daily routine is from the Trevor Wye Practice Book on Articulation (Page 14). Add some slurs to this that follow the slurred patterns in the excerpt to become more comfortable with the changing articulation.
  • The Practice Guidelines encourage performers to breathe on the rests, which is easier said than done. To get a quick, but large, breath during these rests, try breathing through the sides of your mouth (I sometimes refer to this a “frog” breathing with my students). Julius Baker was the ultimate master of this technique, as you can see in the following video: https://youtu.be/ijLx7k-y6fs Watch carefully every time he takes a breath. What do you notice? (P.S. This is one of my favorite flute videos of all time!)
  • The other element that is key in this excerpt is dynamics. Really bring out all crescendi and descrescendi. For example, in measure 27 try to show the entire range of your sound from the marked pp up through the in the next measure. Avoid using more air when crescendoing into the louder dynamics. Instead, try to make your aperture a bit smaller to create more pressure using the air you already have at your disposal. Watch out – there is a pesky descrescendo at the end. Try to retain resonance even while getting softer (don’t let your sound become thin and unstable). Finally, keep an eye on intonation between changes in dynamics – spend some quality time with your tuner.

Excerpt #2 – Theobold Boehm, Ab Minor, Op. 26/16, Andante (Beginning to first note in mm. 36)

  • Intonation will be tricky in this excerpt! Like in the previous excerpt, be sure to practice with a tuner, but also learn a bit more about the general pitch tendencies of the flute (I wrote a blog post several years ago with some great resources to help you with intonation: https://racheltaylorgeier.org/2018/02/18/flute-pitch-tendencies/ ).
  • There will be a tendency to drag the tempo when the rhythmic emphasis changes (especially when moving from 16th notes (mm. 17) to triplets (mm. 23)). Try practicing marching in place to the beat while playing these lines to keep your tempo steady, or, if marching makes you a bit self-conscious or if you are like me and totally uncoordinated, try conducting the line with the end of your flute while playing.
  • This is a great excerpt to experiment with tone colors. I wrote an article last year for The Flute View entitled Rainbow Score that describes a system of assigning certain colors to certain sounds and coloring your music in to represent your tone plan (check out this article here: https://thefluteview.com/2020/09/9681/). The sound may change from color to color based on volume, resonance, and vibrato speed depending on how you, as an individual performer, interpret it. Try inventing your own color plan and adding a simple spectrum above each line.
  • The key signatures in these excerpts are very tricky (hello, 7 flats!!! What??!). A good exercise to add to your daily studies is Taffanel and Gaubert’s 17 Daily Studies, Exercise #4 in these same keys. Start to become comfortable with the unusual! Write in any seldom-used accidentals. Also remember that Ab minor is the same as G# minor (enharmonic tricks – you almost had us!). Consider re-writing the opening in G# minor, which will make transitioning into the next key change a lot easier. The 7 flats at the beginning could suggest that the composer wished for a darker sound and/or character in this section. Use color changes to differentiate between the key changes.
  • Sing out when the dynamic goes into the forte range and measure 9. It’s okay to be a diva here! 
  • Like in the last excerpt, bring out the dynamics in this etude, particularly during the many instances of crescendi/decrescendi (ex. mm 1-2, 9-10).
  • Do not slow down too quickly in measure 27. You have a long way to go! Slow down very gradually and focus on increasing your dynamic while changing your tone colors.

Excerpt #3 – Joachim Andersen, Op. 15/16, Andante (17-end)

  • Are you ready for a workout!?! This etude will definitely test your endurance! To avoid burning out, try to keep the dynamic on the mp-mf side. Playing louder will require more air and cause more fatigue (this is like a 5K for the flute).
  • Write in accidentals!! There is a double wammy of notation chaos with a key of 6 flats and crazy, changing mordents everywhere (like a carnival funhouse of accidentals!). Don’t be afraid to write a few note names above the staff here and there.
  • Practice this excerpt slowly at first without the mordants to understand the basic line without all of the fancy ornamentation.
  • Use trill fingerings on the mordants as much as possible. Remember, a mordant is an ornament (sort of like adding a piece of jewelry to an already stunning red carpet ball gown).
  • There is literally nowhere to breathe. This is will become an issue. The Practice Guide suggests breathing where indicated after accented beats. If you need additional breaths, try adding in a few “catch” breaths between notes (Rampal was famous for this, particularly in Mozart concerti).
  • Bring out the accented notes as much as possible. These are the notes that are framing the melody. Use a red colored pencil to circle these accented notes in the score. This will draw your eye to them so you don’t forget.
  • Practice keeping your articulation light by practicing this excerpt very very VERY slowly using a “coo” syllable. This will help strengthen the back of the tongue, improving your articulation later when you switch back to double tonguing.
  • Practice this excerpt in chunks. Play each 6-note figure, pause/collect yourself, then play the next 6-note figure. Continue this for a small section at a time. This helps train your brain and fingers to process the music one step at a time (like putting together a puzzle).
  • As the Practice Guide suggests, you will have an opportunity to use all three of the different Bb fingerings. While you are practicing this excerpt slowly (for all of the reasons outlined above), carefully decided which Bb fingering works best and where it changes. Write these decisions into the score so you do not forget.
  • Remember that there are a few dynamic changes in the score (it’s not just about performing technique Olympics!). For example, measure 39 has a number of, you guessed it, crescendi/decrescendi patterns. Try to bring these out of the texture as much as possible (this will definitely separate you from the other performers).
  • The passage in the lower register from measure 42 until the end can get a bit, what we flute nerds like to refer to as, “tubby.” Bring your right shoulder a bit closer to the flute during this passage to make your sound resonate while you are gradually reducing the dynamic.

Final Thoughts/Recommendations

(These are going to be very similar to my last blog and can apply to most audition scenarios.)

  • 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 Texas All-State Band/Orchestra program? Which one of the above tips works best for you? What are your own practice tips? What are you struggling with? What questions do you have about the audition or All-State performance experience? Please comment below and share these tips with your Texas flute friends (and band/orchestra directors)!

Happy Fluting! (and auditioning)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.