As the fall marching band seasons starts to wind down, that can only mean one thing…
Honor Band Auditions are just around the corner!
Now, I know that the phrase “Honor Band Audition” can add a lot of pressure and feel like this audition is going to be completely different than any other audition you’ve tried to put together. WRONG! This audition isn’t any different from a chair placement or playing test just because it is for an honor ensemble. If you start to freak out when you hear the words “Honor Band”, you are already putting yourself behind the pack.
As someone who has prepared many ensemble auditions as well as listened to auditions and selected players for ensembles, I can tell you that there are 5 main things that the judges are looking for. If you can do these things, in this order, you will have your best chance at making it into an honor ensemble or even just getting a higher chair placement in school.
1. Correct Notes and Rhythms
This may seem like a “no-brainer,” but it needs to be mentioned! In your audition, you should play the correct notes at the correct time! If you don’t do this, you automatically move towards the bottom of the list or your tape is thrown out entirely. Take the time to ensure that your audition consists of the correct material!
2. Appropriate Articulations and Dynamics
Once you have the correct notes/rhythms, the next thing a judge will listen for is articulations and dynamics. Your audition might have these things notated, or it might not! Work with your band director or private instructor to determine what is appropriate. If it sounds incorrect or feels weird, it probably is!
By this point, you have the right notes, rhythms, articulations, and dynamics. The next step is to make sure your intonation is correct! Playing in tune is something that we should always strive for. It may not always be perfect (I’d be lying if I said I never played out of tune!), but it should always be close!
4. Consistency of Musical Style
This step is a combination of all the previous steps with a little bit extra. Musical style is something that is subjective, but we can always agree that music sounds better when the style is consistently appropriate. If you can play half of your audition with gorgeous style but it lacks in the second half, that is something a judge will notice. Consistency of style is what separates a good audition from a great audition.
I know that it may shock some of you that I put tempo this as the final determining factor in an audition, but I would argue that tempo is what makes or breaks a superb audition. You should NEVER play an audition at a tempo faster than you can accurately execute. If your audition is supposed to be at 120 bpm but you can present it effortlessly at 104 bpm, go the slower tempo! A judge will always prefer a clean representation at a slower tempo as opposed to a muddled or messy audition at the given tempo.
The same goes for slower excerpts as well! Just because you can play the slower excerpt at a faster tempo doesn’t mean that you should! Slow excerpts are chances for the musicality to shine, not the technical facility.
There you have it! My five steps to preparing your honor band audition. If you focus about these 5 things, in this order, I guarantee that you will have more success in preparing your audition. Even if you don’t make it into the honor band or get that first chair spot, if you follow these steps in preparation and refinement, it will help you become a better musician!
— M. Fox
P.S. I recognize that, in reality, you should focus on all 5 of these things at once when practicing and preparing an audition. I listed them in order of importance and what criteria I would use as a judge.