by Julia Burtscher


“You never get a second chance to make a first impression”

julia burtscher 190This quote is attributed to Will Rogers and Oscar Wilde, has been used in numerous ad campaigns and can be applied to just about any aspect of life, from handshakes to first dates to auditions and everything in between. In the late 1990’s I worked as an administrative assistant at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Part of my job was to organize the auditions we held, from receiving resumes to checking people in and shepherding them into warmup rooms and working with the personnel manager to make sure everything ran smoothly. My biggest takeaway from working these auditions was that you have six minutes or less to prove to the committee that you were worth hearing again in the next round. Six minutes.  But what about recorded auditions? Certainly, they save time and money in travel, but an investment needs to be made to ensure you have the best recording possible. 

After asking trusted resources and scouring the internet for actionable, tangible guidelines, I’ve compiled a list of elements to consider when preparing to record an audition for submission:

  1. Follow the rules! Each entity you are auditioning for may have different requirements. Make sure you read and understand the rules. If you don’t your audition can be rejected without anyone listening to it! Here are some examples of specific requirements:
    • “Recordings must be recent: made no more than three months prior to application” (Aspen Music Festival)
    • Each excerpt or work must be played through without stopping (Aspen Music Festival)
    • Repertoire should be played in the order listed… any recordings submitted out of the proper order or with any other material than the listed repertoire will be disqualified (New York Philharmonic)
    • You may create your collection in any way you like, but each piece or excerpt must be edit-free, e.g., no editing to fix bad notes. (Brevard Music Center)

 

As you can see, rules can be varied and in direct conflict, and therefore it is critical that the rules for each organization be strictly followed.

 

    • BONUS TIP: Heed the submission deadline! Plan ahead. Put reminders on your calendar. Don’t miss out on an opportunity because your recordings weren’t received on time. 
  1. Location. As in real estate, location is everything. 
    • It is in your best interest to make the recording in a suitably quiet acoustical environment (NY Philharmonic)
    • “Preferably you want a room with high ceilings and not too many reflexive and hard surfaces. These surfaces will create an echo effect call slapback. . ..  put a carpet on the ground or curtains on the wall to soak up some of the sound.” (Eastman School of Music)
    • If your requirements include accompanied and non-accompanied pieces, consider recording all pieces in the same room. If a judge is listening to an applicants’ recording, switching from an accompanied piece in one room to an unaccompanied piece in a different acoustical environment can be jarring and distracting and make it difficult for a judge to hear consistency across style, nuance, personality, and skill.

BONUS TIP: For video recordings, always dress the part and make sure your surroundings are neat and clean. Natural light is best. (Eastman School of Music)

  1. Equipment & Technical Specifications. Like most things, you can spend as little or as much as you’re comfortable with. There are many options at many price points, but again referring to #1 Follow the Rules, there may be specific parameters to follow:
    • The microphone should be placed approximately eight feet off of the floor, six feet in front of the player, and pointed directly at the instrument. (NY Philharmonic)
    • Use a high quality digital recorder. Zoom, Sony & Marantz all make high quality devices (NY Philharmonic)
    • Record in stereo, since this is how we naturally hear. Make sure you set your device to record in stereo if it is not a default setting (Eastman school of Music)
    • The value of loud passages on submissions should be normalized just below -0.5. (NY Philharmonic)
    • Make sure that the recording itself demonstrates the highest possible audio and/or video quality so that your performance can be evaluated successfully (Brevard Music Center)
    • Do not electronically alter a recording (Brevard Music Center)

BONUS TIP: Always keep an extra copy of your audition recordings in case there are problems along the way (Brevard Music Center).

  1. Preparation & Other Considerations:
    • Find a good pianist who prepares and learns the music. Working with an accompanist who may not be up to the task will detract from your playing. It is a factor when judges are listening to your recording, because it can be a major distraction. Further, an accompanist who challenges you will make you better.
    • Perform your music for your teacher and other trusted colleagues and associates, take their feedback. 
    • Record yourself frequently and be honest about what you hear and need to improve upon. Check for accuracy in rhythm, pitch, time, nice phrasing, dynamics, articulation, etc.
    • When recording with an accompanist, ask a trusted colleague to listen in, particularly to evaluate balance between the horn and piano.
    • “I heard a lecture about sending in a recording with excerpts, that is, without a pianist involved. This person had set up a room in his house as a sort of recording studio, where the equipment was in place, etc. Then, during his regular practice sessions, when he … felt that the chops were especially good for, say, low range, he recorded that particular low excerpt like 10 or 20 times. Later he listened to them all and picked the best one. Another day, he would focus on another excerpt and record that over and over again …. One excerpt at the time. So no editing, but just a lot of recordings to choose from” (Froydis ree Wekre)

BONUS TIP: Use recitals as a means to prepare. “A couple of months before taking the Philadelphia audition, I gave my first recital in about 15 years… that recital was a critical part to my preparation for Philadelphia. It helped me figure out how to own a stage and capture the attention of an audience (or committee).” (Denise Tryon, from The Horn Call October 2018 article ‘An Interview with Denise Tryon’ by Michelle Stebleton. Log in to www.hornsociety.org for the online version to read the full interview!)

Finally, I mined the Facebook page of the International Horn Competition of America for advice:

  • Commit to your own ideas – Geoffrey Pilkington
  • Be confident, be yourself – Quan Wen
  • Prepare the pieces a meticulously as you can & put yourself into them – Tod Bowermaster
  • Show your personality, enjoy yourself and show your love and enthusiasm for the horn – Dr. John McGuire
  • Be yourself . . .don’t duplicate. Be imaginative and consistent, engaging . . . be yourself so {we} see exactly what you think the music should be -Martin Hackleman
  • Ask for feedback

It is vital in any audition that you show your own musicality and ideas, that you be uniquely YOU. This, together with thoughtful and deliberate planning and staging a recorded audition will allow YOU to shine through under the best possible conditions!


Julia Burtscher has been playing the horn for over 30 years and lives in Toledo, Ohio. She earned a BA in Music from the University of Cincinnati and later earned her MBA from the same institution. Julia has spent most of her career in the railroad software industry, and is delighted to be the new Executive Director of the IHS!

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