Don’t you hate when you think you’ve planned for every conceivable scenario, and Murphy is right there throwing you a curveball?
You think you’ve accounted for everything.
You have the address and directions, the room number, audition time, and the name of the contact person at the audition site.
You’re all set, right?
Here’s a true story of a young girl who was really prepared for her audition, except she didn’t account for one minor detail…
Sarah was all set for her college audition. She desperately wanted to get into the Manhattan School of Music because of its reputation and great trumpet teachers.
Her solo was as prepared as it could possibly be, and she was an excellent Sight-reader. She was confident in her abilities as a trumpeter.
Sarah was a super-conscientious student, so she had her checklists of all the things that needed to get done (booking the flight and hotel, getting the phone number of the taxi service, audition time and room number, etc.).
But there was 1 thing she was not prepared for….
As Sarah started to warm-up, she noticed she couldn’t get a sound out of the instrument. She noticed her first valve on her trumpet would not lock into place. She has been oiling her valves for years, and knew how to lock them so they would not slip out of alignment, so this didn’t make sense.
She started to panic…She took the valve out, and there it was. The plastic valve guide (the small plastic or metal piece that helps lock the valve into place so the air can move through the instrument) was worn thin, so it was not grabbing to lock the valve in place.
She would not be able to play her audition on her trumpet because she didn’t have the parts to fix the problem!
All Sarah could think about was losing her chance to get into her dream college because of 1 stupid little valve guide.
She couldn’t even focus on her piece and calming herself before the audition. She had to desperately search for a solution.
Who would think to look for such an unusual thing like this?
How would I know to look for something that unusual?
Doing this one thing before an audition can prevent stage fright.
Get your instrument inspected by a qualified repairperson at least 2 weeks before the audition date.
That’s right, you wouldn’t know to look for a worn out valve guide, but a repairperson would.
If you tell them to thoroughly clean (Brass instruments) and inspect the instrument for any possible problems, they would have found that worn out valve guide. Especially if Sarah had mentioned to them that she was noticing that her first valve was starting to unlock more frequently over the past month. That would have given the repairperson a clue to check the valve guides, especially if they are plastic.
(The older brass instruments, and some of the new professional models, used metal valve guides that did not wear out. They were a little noisy, so manufacturers opted for the quieter plastic guides.)
Why 2 weeks and not a few days before?
Sometimes, when an instrument is repaired, it feels and responds a little differently than what the performer is used to. Two weeks before the important date leaves enough time to re-adjust to the instrument and maintain the level of performance.
Inspecting the instrument 2 weeks beforehand also leaves enough time for major repairs, where the instrument may be in the shop for a few days.
Another advantage is that performers need to plan their practice times and endurance so that they will perform at their peak during the actual audition date. Leaving a repair to the last minute can create a problem with pacing for the performance.
How does having an instrument inspected prevent stage fright?
Let’s relate this to driving your car…
If you get your oil changed and your tires rotated every 5,000 miles, chances are you are confident your car will drive smoothly and the tires will last.
But what happens if you don’t have your car inspected regularly and never have the tires rotated? Chances are you may suffer a blowout, which can cause a serious accident. That would certainly cause a panic.
Musical instruments also need to be inspected regularly to ensure that they will perform well, especially in high-stakes situations like an audition.
A private teacher can certainly provide guidance and inspect your child’s instrument throughout the year, but visiting a high-quality repairperson at least 1-2 times per year is imperative. (Unless your child knows how to thoroughly clean a Brass instrument, you should get the instrument cleaned more than 2 times per year. You can watch my video on Cleaning Your Trumpet here.)
Knowing that your instrument is in great condition, will provide a level of confidence in producing your sound.
Constantly worrying if something is wrong distracts the performer from thinking about conveying the message in the music, and can lead to unnecessary stress, tension and panic.
So, what happened to Sarah?
Sarah frantically searched for her contact person and pleaded to borrow someone’s trumpet so she could perform. Luckily, a college student happened to be practicing in the practice rooms. He was more than happy to let her borrow his instrument for the audition.
She was really nervous and flustered; she made mistakes that she normally would not have made. She got through the audition and swore she would check her trumpet every week for problems. The lesson she learned was to account for every last detail before an important performance.
Sarah did get accepted into the Manhattan School of Music, where she is performing very well.
Author Donna Schwartz has been teaching Band, Jazz Band and General Music in public schools for over 14 years, and private Brass and Saxophone lessons for over 27 years. She has performed on saxophones in NY and Los Angeles with artists such as Vicci Martinez from NBC's The Voice, Richie Cannata from Billy Joel's band, and Bobby Rondinelli from Blue Oyster Cult, at such notable venues as House of Blues in Anaheim, The Orpheum Theatre (LA), City National Grove of Anaheim, The Paramount, World Cafe Live, Wolf Den (Mohegan Sun).