Pt 2: A Successful All-State Audition

Participation in an All-State Band or Orchestra is one of the best things to put on an application for college, if you hope to major in music in the future. It will distinguish you from other musicians, as someone who is not only qualified, but willing and eager to put in dedicated effort to succeed.
In my last blog entry, I wrote about the necessity of having a good quality tone. This time, I'll be discussing musicality, and how to make sure that your musical ideas are coming across to your audience (or the judges listening to a recording, in this case).
I have to admit, that playing musically was not always second nature to me. I would see a crescendo and (in my head) I though that I was getting louder, when the change between my pianos and fortes was hardly audible. I had to learn the difficult skill of actually projecting all those wonderful musical phrases from inside my head, and make them travel all the way through the flute, and to the back of the auditorium.
After working on your tone for a few weeks, like I was discussing in the previous entry, you will notice that you are likely playing louder than you were in the past. That is mainly because you have been working on supporting your tone with a solid airstream. This support is essential to making the dynamic changes in your phrasing really audible to your audience.
Let's take a look at the "Bourree Anglaise" from J. S. Bach's Partita in A Minor (page 5 of the Selected Studies for Flute by H. Voxman). The opening section of this movement is one of the required pieces for the Oregon auditions. It is also one of the most important spots to make sure that you are playing with obvious dynamic variation.
Not only is it important in this piece to perform the low-range melodic line with plenty of strength and clarity, but it is also important to pay attention to how the main line rises or falls. The dynamic marking at the beginning is the only notation written, aside from articulations and accents, until the ninth measure. Do you think that playing every note in the first eight bars at the same forte is the best way to play this section? Of course not!! Even if you bring out the accents, no emotion will be coming through in your playing if you perform the line that way.
To get ideas of how to be musical within the context of what the composer has written, look for hints in the musical line itself. Starting on beat 2 in the fourth measure, we find a repeating three-note pattern, consisting of a descending 3rd, followed by a jump of a 5th or 6th. This three-note pattern rises by one step on each consecutive beat. At the end of this pattern is a G with a tenuto-accent. Will this note be at the same volume as the E tenuto-accent in measure two? No way!
The ascending pattern gives us a hint that the G in measure six is MUCH more musically important than the note in the second measure. Even though we are still in the dynamic range of forte, the pattern leading up to the G in measure 6 needs to increase in intensity.
Increasing your intensity can be as important as changes in dynamics. Changes in your intensity can be created by adjusting the speed or width of your vibrato. Intensity can also be changed by altering your tone color to be brighter or darker. An explanatory section on changing flute vibrato or tone color will likely take up several blog entries in the future. It is a skill that all flutists need to learn, and keep improving upon throughout their careers. For now, experiment on your own, working on tone colors and vibrato changes that will bring out the musicality in this style of piece. (For instance, a wide and slow vibrato would not be helpful in this piece, nor would a dark and somber tone color. Instead work on faster vibrato speeds – maybe with variable width – as well as brighter tone colors).
Looking ahead after the sixth measure, we see a two-measure pattern, which is repeated at piano the second time. The first statement, which we have just led up to by increasing our intensity of sound, needs to be bright and full, so that the softer repeated section comes across clearly to the listener as an echo (a technique that is very common in pieces written in the Baroque era).
The remainder of this opening section contains a great deal more actual written dynamics, which is helpful, but you will want to look closely at any measures that appear static and without change. Break the melody line down into small sections, like we did with the beginning, and figure out on your own how to use the direction of the melodic line to determine how to bring out the real musicality in the piece.
I wish you all well in putting together your audition recording! Playing in all-state band or orchestra can be one of the most valuable experiences for a young musician. There is the opportunity to learn from some excellent conductors and teachers in a very energetic and exhausting whirlwind weekend.
Be sure to let me know if you find this information helpful! Best wishes!