Practice Blueprints: All-State Auditions (Blog #3: Illinois)

Greetings and welcome a new Flute Friday!

Today we will be continuing the Practice Blueprints – All-State Audition series with Illinois. I have really enjoyed the Fluting with the Stars Masterclass series offered by the Chicago Flute Club this year and was therefore inspired to select Illinois as the next state on the Practice Blueprints list. The Chicago Flute Club continues to offer so many great resources to both members and non-members alike. I encourage everyone to check out some of their future offerings (including their next Fluting with the Star’s masterclass with Paula Robison): https://www.chicagofluteclub.org

Illinois may not be a large state like Texas, but the Chicago metro area attracts many talented high school musicians who have access to exceptional private teachers and music programs. Competition is fierce for positions in the All-State program and live auditions make the audition process even more strenuous than other states that require a pre-recorded preliminary audition. Live auditions are no joke! You have one shot to impress. One shot to play all the notes. One shot to show why you deserve a place in an All-State ensemble. This, of course, is how college auditions work as well as orchestral auditions in the professional world. Learn what you can about how you perform under pressure now. No matter what happens, approach these auditions from a learning perspective. It’s okay to not be perfect in a live audition – Your goal is to put your very best playing out there no matter how nervous you are, or how unpredictable the environment may be on the day of your audition. Just play and let the Universe work out the rest.

General Information (What You Need to Know)

  • Senior level auditions will be blind auditions; click here for a sample script of what to expect.
  • Students are asked to prepare everything listed for their instrument on this year’s Cycle Set for this audition. Students will not be asked to perform everything listed at the audition. A smaller section of the measures listed will be picked for performance on the day of the audition. The portion of the etude listened to at the auditions WILL NOT be published in advance.
  • Wind instrument auditions are designed to evaluate a student’s technical and musical abilities in all registers with both prepared material and sight reading.  
  • The purpose of Junior and Senior level auditions is to rank students in order to determine District Festival eligibility and seating. Additionally, for 10th, 11th and 12th grade students, the audition is used to determine All-State eligibility and seating.
  • WIND INSTRUMENT EVALUATION WILL BE BASED ON THE FOLLOWING:
    • Tone Quality:  10 Points
    • Intonation:  10 Points
    • Technical Facility:  10 Points
    • Rhythmic Accuracy:  10 Points
    • General Musicianship:  10 Points
    • Scale Studies:  10 Points
    • Sight Reading:  10 Points
    • Total Possible:  70 points
  • The student’s use of all electronic and/or mechanical devices to include, but not limited to, metronomes, tuners, cell phones, and audio/video recording devices is prohibited in all ILMEA audition rooms.
  • Students may perform the scales and the etudes from music that contains prepared markings without any deduction in point score.
  • Audition scores, including final rankings, are not to be posted, distributed to and/or discussed with individual students, directors, private teachers, or parents. Notification of acceptance to an ILMEA festival, as well as specific chair and part assignments, is the responsibility of the District President and the ILMEA State Office. Judges are strongly discouraged from attempting any written or verbal critique of a student’s performance beyond a thank you. In addition, judges will refrain from discussing private lesson teachers, past performance experiences, or future college/university plans with any student at any time during the audition process.
  • If call-backs are to be utilized in determining the final ranking of students, information concerning the specific time and place for call-backs must be clearly posted and/or distributed to all students at the start of auditions. Call-backs will not begin until all students have had the opportunity to complete the initial audition within the pre-announced audition time.
  • Normally, a total of 40 flutes and 72 Bb clarinets are selected for the All-State Bands. Consequently, the District Band Representative would be able to nominate the top 5 flutists and the top 9 clarinetists from District X for All-State. 
  • The ranking of students for All-State selection is determined solely by the District level audition score. Part/chair assignment for the District festival does not affect a student’s ranking for All-State nomination. All-State wind and percussion students are not pre-assigned to the Honors or All-State groups. Students re-audition for ensemble and chair placement upon arrival at the All-State Conference. District audition scores are not considered in the final All-State placement.
  • Audition times and dates will vary by region. Check with your band director for the dates for your specific region.

Required Repertoire:

1.  ILMEA Scale Sheet – 3-minute time limit *All notes tongued*

2.  Sight Reading

Melodious and Progressive Studies: Book II, rev. Robert Cavally; Hal Leonard ©2012 1. 

3.  Vivace by Kummer: play from m.1 to Fine (p. 52)

4.  Andante cantabile by Andersen: play mm. 1 – 50 (p. 59)

Where can I find the Required Repertoire?

ILMEA Scale Sheet – https://racheltaylorgeier.files.wordpress.com/2021/09/1dc56-seniorlevelscalesheet.pdf

Cavally Etudes – The entire etude book can be purchased here:  https://www.flute4u.com/methods-and-etudes/Various-Melodious-and-Progressive-Studies-Book-2.html  The Set 3 excerpts can also be found on the following link: https://0140be18-7d74-4556-a387-fa1a1e84c92e.filesusr.com/ugd/6d83f5_08ff0d053be94e068e0c0b1d163ae923.pdf

Practice Tips:

1.         ILMEA Scale Sheet

  • The guidelines indicate a 3-minute time limit on these scales, meaning that you will likely not have to perform all of them at the audition. Practice as if you will be performing all of them – even the super difficult ones with many sharps and flats. You never know which scales will be on the set list at the audition.
  • There is a note on the guidelines stating “all notes tongued” but does not specify whether they are to single or double-tongued. Choosing to double-tongue will help you achieve a decent speed. I suggest practicing all of these scales single-tongued (with a too, or doo syllable), double-tongued (with a too-coo or, for an extra challenge, duck-ky syllable combo), and, most importantly, with a coo syllable (which will strengthen the back of your tongue for any double-tongued passages). Since these will be live auditions, prepare to be flexible. Expect the best (double-tonguing) but be prepared to give the committee a range of articulations in case they ask for it.
  • Aim to achieve a balanced tone between all registers. It is easy to resonate in the high register but not so much in the lower register. A great exercise to work on concurrently is Flexibility Exercise #1 from Trevor Wye’s Practice Book on Tone. Focus on keeping the tone stable while training your lips to gracefully move between each register.
  • Keep the tempo even yet manageable (quarter note = 100-120).
  • If you can, memorize these scales. This will help you be more confident at the audition. You will also need to know all of these scales inside and out for college auditions and beyond.

2.         Sight Reading

  • I wrote a separate blog on sight-reading a few years ago: https://racheltaylorgeier.org/2016/08/22/love-at-first-sight/ Check this out! Here I address a number of very valuable sight-reading tips such as paying close attention to tempos and time signatures, remembering the rests, searching for repetitive phrases or common patterns, and keeping your eyes moving forward. 
  • It is not easy to prepare for sight reading! One of my best pieces of advice is to practice becoming comfortable with the unknown. Ask your band director or flute teacher to give you random excerpts to play once or twice a week. Sight reading is scary because you never know what to expect. Desensitize yourself and go with the flow.
  • Another good idea is to end each practice session by selecting another etude from the Cavally book and playing through 20 measures while you record yourself on your phone. The recording device serves as a cue to keep going (no matter what)! If you are brave, share your daily sight-reading adventures on your Instagram Live, Tic Tok, or YouTube pages.

3.         Vivace by Kummer: play from m.1 to Fine (p. 52)

  • Hello triple tonging! Remember to use a TKT TKT syllable combo. Like we saw in the scale studies, a great way to practice the articulated triplet sections is to use a “coo” syllable to strengthen the back of the tongue. This will help make your articulation very balanced.
  • Try to keep your articulation light and resonant (even in the softer dynamics). Too short and the line sounds mechanical. Keep the beauty of the line intact.
  • Sforzandi are everywhere! Circle these in your music with a red colored pencil to draw your attention to them so you can bring them out of the texture.
  • The tempo is marked “Vivace” which leaves a bit of room for interpretation. Try to select a reasonably quick tempo that is still under control. Vivace does not mean rush. If you lose the tone color and character of your playing due to speed, the tempo ends up controlling you (rather than the other way around).
  • Know.your.chromatic.scale! There are several chromatic passages in this excerpt. Carefully select fingerings that will work best on ascending lines (for example – which Bb works best in these passages? Mark it in your score).
  • There are three (3) types of character changes in this etude (lightly articulated passages (ex. first two lines), long slurred spinning lines (lines 3-6), and longer melodic lines (lines 7-8). Play around with tone colors in these passages to differentiate the voices of each character. How can you alter your sound and vibrato in each of these sections to fit a different type of character? 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.
  • Let’s chat about the trills in lines 7-8. Keep these quick yet controlled. Try placing slightly more pressure on the finger holding down the key of the upper note to free up the muscles in the finger trilling the lower note (for example, if you are trilling a mid-range G-A, place slightly more pressure on the middle finger holding down the A to free up the muscles in your ring finger to trill the G.
  • Make a clear difference between the shorter 16th note pick-ups to the triplet passages. These 16th notes are shorter than you think. An example of this is found can be found in the 2nd and 3rd measures of line 2. Remember to subdivide!
  • There are several crescendi in this excerpt. Practice gradually getting louder (not to early and not too late). Record yourself playing these passages – Are your dynamic changes clear?
  • Be cautious of hairpin crescendos < > in this excerpt. Start these a bit softer than you think to leave room to make clear changes in your volume.
  • The great thing about this excerpt is that the breath marks are already clearly laid out for you. Take them where they are indicated and avoid breathing between beath marks.
  • Try to find the thin grey line between sf’s (or fz’s) and accent marks. Try circling these with colored pencils in different colors to draw your attention to these notes, which require unique attacks. 

4.         Andante cantabile by Andersen: play mm. 1 – 50 (p. 59)

  • This excerpt requires an air of calm amidst a storm of ornamentation and chromatic fingerings! Take a long, meditative breath before you begin playing. Try breathing in for a count of 4, holding your breath for 4 counts, and breathing out for another 4 counts.
  • Practice this excerpt very slow at first, with the goal of a reasonable tempo at quarter note = 66.
  • This is a Romance. Try to play the entire passage as sweetly as possible (as indicated by the “dolce” in the opening measure).
  • This excerpt harkens a bit to the Menuet from L’Arlesienne Suite No. 2 by Georges Bizet. Add this simple piece to your daily warm-ups to capture a similar character.
  • Avoid getting lost in the ornamentation. Practice first without the added grace notes and turns to understand the underlying melody. Add these back in once you are confident playing without them. Remember that adding ornamentation is just like adding a beautiful piece of jewelry to an already stunning gown. It is icing on the cake – not the cake itself.
  • Don’t be afraid to mark in the accidentals. If seeing an F double-sharp is a bit freaky, try simply marking a “G” above the note. The accidentals in this excerpt make it appear more difficult than it actually is.
  • The dynamics change a lot in this excerpt! There are several crescendi/decrescendi/crescendi combinations within each phrase. Make sure you are starting quite softly in these passages to leave room to gradually increase and decrease the volume.
  • Remember – The character of the phrase does not change as the dynamic increases. Keep your vibrato sweet even through the crescendi.
  • C# minor is not a very friendly key. A good exercise to add to your daily studies is Taffanel and Gaubert’s 17 Daily Studies, Exercise #4 in E major and C# minor. Start to become comfortable with the unusual!
  • Subdivide, subdivide, then subdivide some more! You will be switching from 16th notes to triplets and back again (line 8 is a good example). Make sure you do not rush the 16th and/or drag the triplets.
  • Show off your vibrato on longer notes and play out slightly. Your panel will likely be looking at the quality and flexibility of your sound.
  • Practice using the lever Bb where appropriate in the 16th note passages. This fingering requires less movement from the fingers.
  • Keep your fingers fluid throughout the faster moving passages. Practice graceful transitions from one note to the next. Envision the notes as water being poured from a pitcher into a glass.
  • Place breath kicks (or very small accents or small bits of vibrato) on the notes that fall on the downbeats to keep your beat grounded during longer passages of 16th notes. This will help show your committee exactly where your beat falls.
  • Think graceful and fluid throughout the entire excerpt. It is easy to get caught up in the complexity of the notes at the expense of the calm, cool, and collected atmosphere.

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 audition, 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 Illinois 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 Illinois flute friends (and band/orchestra directors)!

Happy Fluting! (and auditioning)

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