Six Ways to Make Your Audition Shine

By Shauna Farnell

Gone are the days when a much-coveted spot in the National Repertory Orchestra involved travel, a timeslot, a warm-up room and an in-person audition. Now that the NRO’s auditions are 100 percent video-recorded, you can audition at your convenience. This is part of the organization’s initiative for a more inclusive process.

The NRO’s application period for the 2024 season kicks off Monday, October 16, and while all auditions are now submitted remotely, they still must be recorded in a single take with no edits. Also, with hundreds of the world’s most talented young musicians vying for one of just 80 spots in the orchestra, the competition is fierce.

According to NRO Music Director Michael Stern, here are a few obvious and not-so-obvious ways to make an audition stand out.

Winds by Elaine Collins

NRO 2023 Winds by Elaine Collins

1.) Play the music; don’t play the excerpt

The Auditions page of the NRO Website tells applicants what to play in their video audition. The list is comprised of required excerpts from standard repertoire. However, those selected for the orchestra won’t simply showcase their ability to perform the excerpt, they’ll play the music like a boss.

“It makes such a difference when an auditioning candidate starts their audition performing with positivity and knowledge,” Stern says. “It certainly helps to have played the music ahead of time, but even if you haven’t, always play with confidence and unapologetically. Ask yourself, how do I fit into this section? How does this excerpt fit into the entire piece?”

Musicians in Silverthorne by Elaine Collins

2023 NRO Musicians at Rainbow Park in Silverthorne by Elaine Collins

2.) Show personality

Let’s admit, it’s awkward and unnatural to videotape oneself. Still, playing music is like breathing to many musicians. Letting one’s soul glow in the process is a major ingredient in the recipe for success.

“Even though auditions can be intimidating, do your best to be loose, open and full of joy,” Stern says. “Close your eyes and say, you know what? I’m playing for me. I’m just playing. That way, your musical personality can come out. I want to see the person behind the player. At the NRO, we want young people to come and excel as agents of change, as people who are going to use music to connect with the world.”

3.) Make sure the sound on your recording represents YOU

A lot of talented musicians audition for the NRO.  Do your best to make sure the video and recorded sound is as good as it can be.  You want to show your best you.

“In the end, the only thing we have is the tape we are sent. It’s key to make the best technical tape possible, not because we’re looking for perfection, but because we want to hear how people actually sound,” Stern says. “Some people have done very successful auditions on an iPhone on a stand in their house. Some people have a much more professional setup. Whichever equipment you choose, we need to hear you accurately and well.”

4.) Warm up and relax

“Playing three lines of a difficult Tchaikovsky piece can be like a sporting event,” Stern says. “I’m not going to say anyone needs to do 30 minutes of yoga before they record their audition. Still, connect with your breath and be in the moment. Try to hear ALL the music around you, the entire orchestra playing. Allow that sound to envelop you inside and out. Then, just smile and play.”

Michael Stern 4 by Elaine Collins

Michael Stern and the 2023 NRO at the Riverwalk Center by Elaine Collins

5.) Be professional

Consider this audition like a job interview. It’s a spot that a lot of people might want and it’s competitive.

“Take the audition seriously and project yourself with confidence in the best possible way. It sends the message that you’re prepared and professional,” Stern says. “You do not need to put on appearances, but present yourself well in your audition video. It shows professionalism and respect.”

6.) Be true to your musical self, but don’t overthink it

“When you pick up an instrument, it’s your voice,” Stern says. “You want people to hear you ‘speak’ in the most compelling way. Little mistakes should never matter. Absolute perfection is a myth. If someone submits an audition that is slightly imperfect, but artistically beautiful and convincing, that’s going to go a lot further than someone who is stiff or inauthentic, even if their playing is highly accurate.”

The NRO’s 2024 Summer Music Festival in Breckenridge is from Sunday, June 16, to Sunday, August 11. Auditions open on Monday, October 16. Application fees are the lowest for early applicants at just $40 until 11:59 PM MDT on Friday, November 22 and then increase until the final deadline on Sunday, January 26. Check the NRO Website Auditions page for all you need to know about the deadlines, fee schedules, excerpts, life in Breckenridge and logistics.

Save the date for the National Repertory Orchestra’s Opening Night on Saturday, June 22, 2024, at the Riverwalk Center.

Photos by Elaine Collins @breckhappens