by Kristy Morrell and Annie Bosler

Your palms are sweating, your heart is pounding, and you can't stop the incessant chatter going on between your ears. Behind the door in front of you is a group of people who don't know you, but who over the next ten minutes will have a hand in shaping the next four years of your life. A performance program like this is one in a million and it is exactly where you want to be. The question is, are you prepared?

Ten horn players have already auditioned, and there are another twenty-two after you. The studio can hold fifteen and they are only accepting two freshman. Maybe you can make the cut, but you need a scholarship to convince your parents to let you attend the school of your dreams. Placing first in All State Band and having your hometown teacher say you are "good enough" suddenly does not seem enough. The question remains, are you prepared?
Here is a program to help you prepare.

High School Timeline

Before your junior year, with the help of your private instructor, decide which colleges or conservatories you think best meet your career goals. Go visit the school, have a lesson with the instructor, and talk to the students in the horn studio.

At the beginning of your junior year, select your solo repertoire. Find pieces that showcase what you do best, and learn them thoroughly. Plan a recital toward the end of the year and perform this repertoire, ideally for memory.
Be sure scales and arpeggios are part of your daily practice. Many colleges expect to hear them in all keys, and in all minor forms.

If you have not done so already, begin integrating orchestral excerpts along with etudes and solos into lesson material. Go to concerts and join youth orchestras to experience the great masterpieces firsthand.

Attend a summer program before your senior year (or, if possible, attend one every summer). You will get instruction and performing experience that will help you hone your skills and boost your confidence as a performer.

In the fall of your senior year, gather application materials, write college essays, and create your resume and repertoire list (samples linked below). Do not wait until the last minute to do this! Ask your teachers or parents if you need help.

Have all audition repertoire mastered by November of your senior year. Try to perform solo works in public with piano or orchestra. Play mock auditions as much as you can. Do not be afraid to ask someone to listen to your material. Auditioning is a skill that you have to practice in order to master, just like everything else.

Managing Performance Anxiety

Oftentimes, merely mentioning the words "performance" and "anxiety" in the same sentence will evoke the kind of reaction saved for yelling "fire" in a movie theatre. The reality is that every person experiences performance anxiety in some aspect of their life, whether it is asking a person out on a date, taking the SAT, or playing a solo in concert band. This excitement of nerves touches us all, but some people can cope with it better than others.

Performance anxiety can be defined as a fear of expressing oneself in public. In order to deal with this, some monitor their eating and sleeping habits, while others over-prepare for an audition or solo. Meditation is another excellent coping tool that can be used in the audition process. While simple to do, it is difficult to master and will require consistent practice to allow your mind to reach a calm place for a sustained period of time. Try the following tips to begin your meditative journey.

Daily Meditation

  1. Set a timer for 5 minutes. Begin timer.
  2. Gaze at a line (at or below eye level), hold that gaze then gently close your eyes.
  3. Clear mind of all thoughts. Focus on a specific feeling, visualize a positive performance, or monitor your breathing.
  4. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to original focus. Maintain deep breathing. Finish meditation in this manner until timer buzzes.
  5. When you feel that your mind is able to hold focus for the entire allotted time, add 5 minutes to the following session. Throughout the weeks, continue with this progression until your goal is reached.

Audition Day

The actual audition day can be very hectic. Most schools schedule exams, interviews, tours, and information sessions on the same day as your audition. It is rare that all of these events are running on time, so be prepared to spend time waiting. Here are some "DOs and DON'Ts" to help you through the audition day.

  • Do have a positive attitude, make your best effort, and be proud of the result.
  • Don't try to impress anyone at the audition. Just relax and let your playing speak for itself.
  • Do arrive early and dress for success. Remember that this is an interview and you want to make the best impression possible.
  • Do remember your manners. Don't appear to be arrogant, flippant, or petulant (no teacher wants a bad attitude in his or her studio).
  • Do play from memory if you can.
  • Do stand to play solo repertoire.
  • Do prepare a question or two in advance about each school to ask the instructor. Practice asking the question, and always be polite.
  • If you send an email to the horn instructor, do remember to use proper titles, greeting, and salutation like a letter.
  • Do bring a snack, water, a book, and music for listening.
  • Don't hope to get lucky with repertoire that is under-prepared or too difficult. Remember the saying, "luck favors the prepared mind."

College Applications

College applications require many supplementary components such as personal statements, financial aid forms, and letters of recommendation. Other than looking at you and hearing you play, the only information that the horn professor or audition panel may have about you is your resume and repertoire list.

Your resume should be a music resume, not a business or work resume. It should include the following sections: Education, Performance Experience, Work Experience, Volunteer, Honors/Awards, and References. The resume should be kept to one page with your name, instrument, address, phone number, and email at the top of the page. The format is as important as the content. Make sure your resume is visually appealing, using appropriate fonts, font sizes, and spacing.

The repertoire list should include Etude Books Completed, Solos Performed, Solos Learned, Chamber Music Performed, Orchestral Music Learned, Orchestral Music Performed, and Orchestral Works Performed. Citation for repertoire should be as follows: Author: Title of Book or Solo. The repertoire list should be kept to one page and should have a similar heading and format as the resume.

See the sample resume and repertoire list for formatting ideas.


The college audition process can be overwhelming. The key to a successful journey is adequate preparation. In the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, "A goal without a plan is just a wish." Good luck and have fun!

Kristy Morrell is a faculty member at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music, and horn instructor at Los Angeles' The Colburn School of Performing Arts. She has served as panelist for college auditions and coached high school students. She has been a member of Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra since 1997 and performs with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Opera, Pasadena Symphony, Pacific Symphony, and New West Symphony. Dr. Morrell is also a recording artist, performing on motion pictures, television soundtracks, and CDs.

Annie Bosler earned a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in 2008 at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music, taking many auditions along the way. Annie teaches horn at the Colburn School of the Performing Arts and is also the professor of horn at El Camino College. Annie give a master class entitled "Dealing with Performance Stress" at the International Horn Symposium at Western Illinois University in June 2009.

Download this file (267_SampleRepList.gif)267_SampleRepList.gif[Sample repertoire list]43 kB
Download this file (267_SampleResume.gif)267_SampleResume.gif[Sample résumé]32 kB
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