Senior year of high school was by far the most stressful year of my life. Months of preparation, lessons with professors, hours and hours spent deciding where to apply, prescreening recordings, too many application fees, college essays, filling in little boxes on DecisionDesk, a winter break containing nothing but piano practice, and then alas: college music auditions. It's an overwhelming string of events that every prospective music major has to go through, but the further down the string I got, the more I was asking "when does this end?"
Everything became about where I was going to be in a year. There was no present anymore. It was all about college, college, college. "Things will be better in college." "College will be so much fun." "Which schools do I apply to?"
But I believe what kept me sane through the entire process and the countless college auditions was remembering to keep my feet in the present. I found joy in writing my college essays when I kept a strong element of myself and what I wanted to say rather than only focusing on "what colleges probably want to hear." I found joy in practicing my piano music when I reminded myself how far I'd come in polishing these and how proud I could be of the work I'd done, regardless of the results of my auditions.
And every audition -- every school I visited -- I remembered to treat as an experience, not just an audition, and to see it as a travelling adventure. The amount of time I spent talking to my mom in the car or listening to music is something I still remember. Living in the future can be overwhelming: thinking about the future, making decisions about the future, wishing to be in the future... So find a way to enjoy your college auditions and the entire process as an element of the present.
Some other advice to get you through your Oberlin audition and other college auditions:
1. What do you wear for a college audition?
b. whatever's on my floor
c. the formal gown I wore when I soloed with the blablabla orchestra
d. professional, clean, nice dress or dress pants or black or something!!
The answer is D! I don't really know the masculine equivalent but basically, having a good presentation is important, but no need to get fancy.
2. Warm up on audition day, but don't practice too long.
Make sure to give yourself proper time to warm up for your audition when you get there, but know that cramming 5 hours of practice in just before your audition may not be the best idea. Not only will it tire you out, but if you're trying to refine something just before your audition, it may leave you feeling much more nervous and doubtful in your performance. Trust that you've done the work and that cramming won't help you any more.
3. You're at the school! Soak it all in!
Don't just walk into your audition, walk out, and leave. Most schools have events and talks throughout the day -- attend these! Students love to talk to you. I would love to talk to you. If you have questions, get them answered. Get to know what Oberlin students are like. Take a tour of the campus if you haven't already. Stay overnight with a student. Attend a concert. Explore the practice rooms. This is your opportunity!
4. Sleep. Eat. Exercise. Enjoy your life.
Practice hard, but don't forget to take care of yourself -- really important!
5. Develop consistency in your playing, but also don't die of boredom.
Practice until you find you can play your pieces consistently under pressure. Once you find that you can, it will be a lot less stressful going into auditions. You won't be worrying as much about "nailing that passage" or "what if I mess up this part?" or "I don't think I have this memorized!!!" and it will take a lot of the nervousness out of your playing and a lot of stress off your shoulders.
However, don't just play your pieces over and over again until you get bored of them, because then your playing can become robotic and uninspired. You will play your college audition music over and over so many times -- but you have to keep it fresh and expressive. Try and bring new ideas to the piece if you need to.
6. Colleges are looking for potential, not perfection.
Do your pieces need to be refined? Of course. If you mess up that arpeggio on the second page, are you out the game? Of course not. College auditions are not necessarily competitions. They're more comprehensive in the fact that these professors are looking for people they want to teach for the next four years. Professors don't expect you to be a professional performer yet; that's why you're auditioning for their school. Nonetheless, keep your standards high.
7. Feel free to treat yourself to a senior recital.
A senior recital at the end of the year was something I kept looking forward to, reminding myself that my friends and family would get to hear all the hard work that I'd been putting in, that I hadn't just learned these pieces for colleges but also for my own pleasure and performance.
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Things may not end the way you want them to, but don't take it personally. Admission is largely based on how much room there is in each studio or how many more of your instrument they need to fill an orchestra. Some years there is much more room than others and some years there is less. If you don't get into a school, it doesn't mean you're not good or talented. It just means that that school isn't the right fit for you at this time, and that's okay.
Good luck at your auditions! You can do it. Someone once told me that the gap between someone's best performance and their worst performance of a piece is nowhere near as enormous as they perceive, so remember that even if the worst-case scenario happens, there will be good parts of your performance that will still shine through. When you arrive at your audition, just be confident and do your best. You know your music, and everything will be okay.