Practice Blueprints: All-State Auditions (Blog #6: California)

Greetings and welcome to another Flute Friday. Happy first week of Fall!

I will be continuing the Practice Blueprints All-State Audition series this week with my home state of California. California is indeed a huge state with a couple of hotbeds for creative musical talent – San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. The musical culture in this state is creative and forward-thinking. That does not mean that competition for spots in All-State ensembles will be any less fierce! There are numerous talented young musicians in California with unique backgrounds, world-class teachers, and superior skills and talents. I had the opportunity recently to serve as a judge for the San Francisco Flute Society’s Young Artist’s competition where I reviewed videos from high school students around the Bay Area. I was shocked by the mastery that some of these students already had over the flute! If this is any indication of the skill level required for placement in All-State ensembles, the adjudicators are going to have their work cut out for them. What I find most interesting about the audition process here in California is that everybody auditioning on flute will play the same piece, Chaminade’s Concertino, which is a very standard piece in flute repertoire. The piccolo audition seems a bit more complicated, with Lowell Liebermann’s Eight Pieces on the audition list, a piece not as well-known and full of rather complicated piccolo writing. Piccolo players – put your game faces on! Flutists – Add something new to a piece loved and performed by flutists young and old. Creative and courageous playing will earn you a ticket to All-State in the great state of California this year.

General Information (What you need to know):

  • The 2022 CASMEC All-State Convention will take place February 17-20, 2022 in Fresno, California. Concerts will be held at the William Saroyan Theater (730 M Street) and will be free and open to the public.
  • All All-State auditions must be submitted online by December 1st. Please plan to submit your recordings to your band director for upload by mid-November.
  • Make sure you read the 7 tips on how not to get DISQUALIFIED: https://cbda.org/all-state-ensembles/auditions/
    • Talking or coaching is heard during the recording
    • Digitally altering a recording (ex: the use of auto-tuning, etc.)
    • Wrong solo or excerpt is played
    • Wrong scales are played
    • Solo is missing sections requested
    • A metronome is heard during the scales or solo
    • Track/Recording Blank
  • All All-State Band auditions are uploaded online through the CBDA Digital Audition System. Please see your band director for more information.
  • For the 2022 California All-State Ensembles, all students are required to be fully vaccinated. If parents wish to apply for an exemption to this requirement, please complete this form: https://forms.gle/E9zNAu1p2BV6D1iB7 
  • To be eligible to submit All-State auditions, your band director must be a member of CBDA, www.cbda.org
  • Directors will submit their electronic signature, certifying the integrity of the audition as they submit each audition to CBDA for adjudication through the Digital Audition System.  Parents and students will be sent emails through DocuSign, so they can sign the audition agreement.  Director: Please verify that you have accurate email addresses for students and their parents.  Once the audition is created by the director, the DocuSign emails to students and parents will be initiated when the “Upload Audio” page is visited.  The form emails are not sent until you visit the “upload audio” page for the audition.  If they do not see the email, please have them check their spam folder.  Here is a walkthrough of the signature process:  Student Signature Form DocuSign Walkthrough
  • Student Fee – $55 per student audition – Can be paid by credit card by the parent from the student account or it can still be added to your cart from each student’s audition record on your Auditions Home page. 
  • The CASMEC All-State Leadership is requesting parent / student preferences for housing to help the team plan for the 2022 event.  Your students will need to provide you with their choice.  You will need to enter this information before you can submit your student’s audition.  We understand that information regarding COVID-19 protocols change regularly, but we need this information for contracting facilities for the event. The choice is editable until the audition is submitted. Unfortunately, you will not be able to change the selection after the audition is submitted. Self-Housed: If accepted to All-State, I will provide my own housing, meals outside of the rehearsal times, transportation to and from rehearsals/hotels/concerts, and chaperone during the entire event, understanding that these expenses are my responsibility, in addition to the All-State participation fee. CASMEC Housed: If accepted to All-State, I will be under the care of CASMEC, which includes housing, meals, chaperone, and transportation during the event. I will stay in the room block provided by CASMEC, understanding that everyone is required to be vaccinated and I will be placed in a room with 3 other students. I also understand that paying the cost of this option, which includes the All-State participation fee, is my responsibility. Housing is limited. Fees will be posted soon on this page ​​https://cbda.org/all-state-ensembles/faq/, and on https://casmec.org
  • CBDA All-State Student Information Form can be found here: https://cbda.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/2022_CBDA_All-State_Student_Info_Form_fs.pdf Please submit these completed forms to your Band Director
  • All music files will be uploaded to the CBDA audition website. No CDs will be accepted.
  • Your director will need to create an audition account (new applicants) and / or audition record (applicants from previous years) for your 2022 audition at cbda.org.
  • The only approved recording format for upload is MP3.
  • Record all listed scales as separate tracks.  Missing scales will result in disqualification.
  • Solo excerpts, while they can be recorded in any order, need to be assembled in the correct order as noted on the solo list, and uploaded as one track with 3-5 seconds in between passages. Excerpts missing passages may be disqualified with no refund offered
  • DO NOT RECORD ANY SPOKEN WORDS ON YOUR TRACKS. Listening will be done “blind”.
  • Once you’ve uploaded all of your files and checked them, click “Check My Progress” and then “Submit for Director Approval”.  Your Director will need to review your files and submit them for judging.  Please check in with your director
  • All Piccolo, English Horn, Eb Clarinet players must record the additional audition material.  Be sure your second recording has correct scales.  There is no additional fee for Piccolo, English Horn, or Eb Clarinet auditions.
  • DO NOT use piano accompaniment.
  • Play passages as near the specified tempos as possible, using the preferred performance practice for that piece. 
  • Omit long rests.
  • Do not digitally alter tempo, pitch, rhythm or dynamics.  Do not digitally splice within phrases.  Excerpts not following these guidelines may be disqualified with no refund offered.
  • Your audition is not submitted for judging unless the status states “Submitted for CBDA Review” or “Submitted for CAJ Review”.  If you are uploading your own audition files, you must still submit them to your director for review.  Your director is the only one who can finish the submission process.  This process must be completed by 11:59 PM on December 1st.  There are no exceptions

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Practice Tips:

Scales (Ab Major, F Melodic Minor, E Major, C# Melodic Minor)

  • My best piece of advice for all of these scales is to memorize them. This will increase your confidence, particularly in the high register. Memorizing will also be a valuable exercise that will last well beyond All-State auditions.
  • Place air in your cheek as you ascend into the high register. This will give your high notes a bit more resonance.
  • To keep your tempo even, place small breath kicks on the sixteenth notes falling on the downbeat (a breath kick may take the form of additional vibrato, a very small accent, or holding the note a split second longer than the surrounding notes).
  • Remember to use standard fingerings. Although it may be tempting to use a trill fingering here or there, the committee will be listening closely to tone on each note.
  • Keep your metronome on silent while you record each scale. There are many apps that will give you visual cues to show you the beat. This will help you retain the marked tempo throughout.

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 dotted quarter note = 60 (or below) and work your way up slowly to dotted quarter note = 96. 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 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 8th 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 dotted quarter note = 96 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.

Chaminade Concertino – Beginning through Rehearsal C

  • The opening of this solo is all about two primary things: 1. Big sound! 2. Solid technique. Let’s start by discussing sound. Veer toward the louder edge of each dynamic and play out with your very best sound. Use your widest, most dramatic vibrato for any passages marked with a forte (f) or beyond. In my (very) old score to this piece, I have the words “BIG SOUND” and “JAMES GALWAY” marked in all caps. That says it all!
  • Now for technique.. Two measures before letter B is where the swirling sixteenths begin and where you must be very calm, cool, and collected when it comes to the beat. It is easy to rush these lines, but you must resist. Why? Because the grouping are deliberately outlined in 6s and 7s therefore if you are not even with your notes and clearly outline where the downbeat falls, all your audience will hear is a cacophony of notes meandering toward rehearsal B rather than a swirling line deliberately climbing back to the melody. There are a couple of ways to do this. The first is to bracket how your smaller grouping within each beat are organized. For example, are you thinking of the groups of 7s as 4+3 or 3+4? Write these brackets in your music. The next thing is to practice with a metronome, fitting all of your notes as bracketed within each beat. Start slowly and gradually increase the beat until you can easily fit all notes within each beat (and in one breath). Finally, add some breath kicks to the notes falling on the downbeats. This will help keep your technique grounded when the metronome is not on and will make it clear to your listener where your beats fall.
  • There are a number of moving scales in this excerpt that extend from the mid/high registers to the very depths of the low register and back again (8 measures before Rehearsal C is a great example). This will take an incredible amount of embrochure flexibility to maintain the quality of sound throughout each register. A great way to practice embrochure flexibility is to add Flexibility Exercise #1 from Trevor Wye’s Practice Book on Tone to your daily warm-ups. Work on maintaining the dynamic level and tonal resonance as you move into the low register and back.
  • Another good way to maintain volume of sound in the fast-moving lines is to move your right shoulder slightly closer to your flute as you descend into the lower register and back again when ascending into the middle register. This will open your sound up in the depths of the range.
  • Those triplet sixteenths can be maddening after Rehearsal B. Try to use the standard fingerings here, but if needed you may sneak in a trill fingering here and there.
  • A word on the grace notes – These are not your super elegant, Bach-style grace notes but also not your Stravinsky-style super quick grace notes. You must find the grey area between these two extremes. They must still be graceful, ornamental, and forward moving. Do not let the grace notes take attention away from the primary melody. They are like fireflies that briefly make the streetlight flicker but do not disturb the beam falling to the street.
  • There are a number of dynamic changes in this opening excerpt. Make sure to circle each dynamic change with a different colored pencil to draw your attention to where the sound and tonal character will change. There is a different character in the beginning to that at Rehearsal A. Make sure your audience can hear changes in your performance.
  • Most of this excerpt is slurred, however 5 measures after Rehearsal B includes repeated staccato notes, outside the character of the opening. Keep these staccatos light and leading forward to the next slurred line. It is very easy to drag this measure with the addition of articulated notes. A great way to practice this section is with a “tut” or a “tut-kut” articulation. Make sure not to hold that quarter note B too long – you will still need to keep these notes even.
  • Dare to be a diva in 7 measures before letter C. The piano is holding a chord in this measure, waiting for you, the virtuoso, to lead the line majestically back to the melody. You may use a slight bit of rubato here to hold the first B in the middle register and the lowest C# a bit longer than the surrounding notes. How would Beyonce sing this line? Do that!
  • The last reiteration of the melody, 6 measures before Rehearsal C, is in the higher register and will naturally be sharp (particularly with a fortissimo dynamic). Keep a tuner on your music stand while you play this excerpt and drop your jaw slightly to lower the pitch. Remember to keep air in your cheek during this passage, which will both increase resonance and bring the pitch out of the stratosphere.

Chaminade Concertino – 1 bar after G to 1 bar after J

  • This excerpt is all about technical fireworks. Keep your finger movements “snappy,” moving your fingers swiftly between each note. I sometimes refer to this technique as “robot” fingers with my students (but don’t actually play like a robot!). You want your technique to be as solid as a rock in the passage.
  • Use trill fingerings on the triplet sixteenth notes. These notes move so quickly that using standard fingerings will be an impediment.
  • There are several different articulations on various sixteenth notes in this passage. For example, there are accents at the beginning of slurred triplet passages, staccatos on standard sixteenth notes in addition to staccatos with tenuto marks over them. Each one of these types of articulations will need to be performed differently. Circle these with a red colored pencil to draw your attention to these passages. Make sure you clearly show the difference between staccato sixteenths (ex. one measure before H) and staccato/tenuto sixteenths (6 measures after H).
  • Simplify chromatic passages. The slurred passages 4 measures before Rehearsal H are primarily chromatic with a few interrupting arpeggios. To simplify these passages, bracket any arpeggios and write “chromatic” above the notes that fall in the chromatic scale. If your chromatic scale is solid, these passages will be very easy to play, shifting your attention to making a huge crescendo and descrescendo to the piano (p) trill.
  • You may be asking yourself, “Why is the C on the first beat of the measure before rehearsal letter H written as disconnected from the subsequent 3 sixteenths?” Because this is a great place to take a breath! Often in French music, breath marks are placed after the first note in the next phrase. Make sure to cut this note a bit short to take a quick breath before the articulated passage.
  • Speaking of articulation, the remainder of this passage will require gymnastics in double-tonguing. A great way to practice evening out your double-tonguing in these passages is to practice using a “coo” articulation on each note. This will help strengthen the back of your tongue. When you return to double-tonguing these passages, your articulation will be more even and lighter.
  • Always keep your articulation light (no matter how it changes). It is easy to get bogged down in these passages with heavy articulation or too sharp staccatos. Try experimenting with a “tut-kut” articulation here to keep things light. These syllables give each note a clear front and end the note with the tongue set in place for the next note.
  • Remember that there are dynamic changes hiding under the technical somersaults in the staff. A great way to plan out these sound and character changes to keep a sound spectrum above each line. Assign a color to each dynamic and/or character change and write a spectrum above the notes in colored pencils. This will give you a tone plan.
  • The last two measures of this excerpt must be dramatic! Remember to keep using those breath kicks to keep your beat clear and prevent your notes from rushing. Also, make your crescendo gradual yet super dramatic. Use a very intense vibrato on the final 4 notes. This is one of the most dramatic moments in the piece. Show your tonal range, your dynamic range, and your interpretive range in this final phrase.

Piccolo Audition; Eight Pieces, Op. 59 by Lowell Liebermann (8. March)

  • This short movement will require tonal courage, finger agility, and a clear, powerful lower register. Let’s begin with the tonal courage part first. There are melodic passages in the third register written in a mezzo-forte dynamic (measure 4 is a great example). You will need to be confident enough to play out on these notes but not overblow them into a louder dynamic. Control will be key and to have control you will need to make sure you have plenty of air support. Remember also to vibrate on these passages – remind your committee how beautiful the piccolo can sound in the high register!
  • Practice your key clicks. These will naturally be softer on the piccolo than on the flute or the alto flute. Make sure you can hear the changing notes on these key clicks. You may also want to circle all notes marked as key clicks with a green colored pencil in your score as a visual reminder (it is easy to forget!).
  • There are a few instances of the quarter, dotted eighth-sixteenth repeated motive in this short movement. Make sure these notes are all connected but slightly increase vibrato on each note to create forward momentum to the next figure.
  • Try not to panic on the 32nd note arpeggios beginning in line 7. To simplify these lines, write the chord names above each grouping. For example, line 4 begins with a Db minor arpeggio, followed by an Eb ascending arpeggio, then a D major descending, and C major ascending arpeggio. If you know your arpeggios, this will make these figures super easy to play. If you do not know your arpeggios very well, this would be a good excuse to add arpeggio studies (such as Taffanel and Gaubert’s Exercise #12 from the 17 Daily Studies) to your daily routine.
  • There is a Bolero-esque dotted eighth note-triplet 32nd note figure beginning in line 5 in the low register. This is quite a “tubby” register on the piccolo. Make sure to play out as much as possible on these notes and keep the articulations a bit on the short side so your audience can hear the separation of each note.
  • Accents do not make an appearance until the last three lines. Bring these out! Circle all accents with a red colored pencil to bring them to your attention. These indicate the climax of this short piece. Like with the Bolero figure, keep accepts shorter and separated in the low register to avoid the natural tubbiness. Play out!
  • The last line is a gradual diminuendo to the final 2 key clicks. Make sure not to slow the tempo as you get softer and the character changes. Keep vibrato slower and a bit dolce as you close out the excerpt.

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.

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Are you auditioning for the California All-State Band program? 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 California flute friends (and band/orchestra directors)!

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