pianist and music director

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Audition Tips from an Audition Pianist

 The audition room for Australian Young Theatre for Young People's Spring Awakening

The audition room for Australian Young Theatre for Young People's Spring Awakening

Today I wanted to share with you some thoughts based on my experience as audition pianist, so you can make the best of your audition.

A pianist can enhance your performance to the point that it will make the audition panel flip on their seats. It is important to take action and be proactive so you are in total control of the situation and nothing is left to chance. These are some of my tips. I hope you find them useful:

1. Be Respectful

The audition pianist is your best friend. As you get into the audition room you should shake hands with everybody and introduce yourself. Treat everybody respectfully and don't let nerves get on the way of a first good impression, including the pianist.

2. Keep Going

Never, I say never, throw the scores at your pianist and take position. Even if you are doing Les Miserables. And never leave the piano without being sure that the pianist knows what you want them to do.

This is your audition. The audition pianist has been trained to follow you no-matter-what-you-do. They are there to support your performance and help you deliver your best. They have your lines written and they know exactly what you are going to do and how to fix it if you don't.

3. Don't Panic

Your audition pianist might know a lot of songs, but that doesn't mean he necessarily knows yours. Most of the times, pianists are sight-reading, which at times can be a really stressing and challenging process. Nevertheless, they are trained to never stop playing regardless of what happens. If you hear something weird, understand that they are human and that they are pulling off an awesome stunt: the ability to perform without practicing beforehand requires some amazing skills. Don't cringe at them or stop singing. They are following you at all times.

4. A long one about scores...

Please, avoid bringing Conductor/PC scores to an audition. These scores are a reduction for piano that are intended for the preparation of the show. They include all the different instrumental parts the band/orchestra will play later on, crammed into a piano arrangement and are often impossible to play entirely. When you bring these types of scores, your pianist will not only have to sightread from a really complicated score, but will have to choose what notes and parts should be played. This means that they might lose focus from following you. Websites like musicsnotes offer arrangements that are good-quality and include what is necessary to sound great.

Chord charts are sometimes fine, but you are leaving it to the pianist to create something out of them, which involves improvising. More often than not, chord charts don't include the structure of the song in an obvious way. Is this what you want, or do you prefer being absolutely certain about what it is going to sound like while you are standing there all nervous, sweaty palms and all? Find a score.

Some pianists can transpose at sight, but I hope that you have grasped the idea so far: sight-reading an arrangement, choosing what notes to play, follow you, flip pages, pay attention to repeats or mistakes you may make, AND TRANSPOSING EVERYTHING DOWN A THIRD? Well, can be done, but... why risk it? Musicnotes offers different versions of the same score in different keys. Find yours by checking your range and bring that one to the audition. Note that original keys are preferred, specially when singing something from the show you are auditioning for.

 Do not bring this to an audition, I mean: seriously?

Do not bring this to an audition, I mean: seriously?

Bring your scores in a folder with plastic sleeves so that the pages are easy to flip back and forth (this could be a personal preference, but from experience it is best). Avoid blanket-like scores, stitched together with sticky paper. What if it falls off the stand? Nah, don't risk it. Yes, you are still thinking about the plastic sleeves. Sometimes the reflection is quite annoying, but this is just a pianist getting too picky!

Wipe any marks that don't mean anything or don't add to the performance. "Oh, I was playing and then all of a sudden I found this bar that is crossed in furious pencil markings... should I play it?" "Oh crap, the pianist skipped a bar". Maybe your 'keep pushing' indication was useful whilst preparing the song, but do you know how a total stranger is going to interpret that?

Not necessary but it helps: mark any repeats clearly, important dynamics, segnos, da capos and so forth. It helps. A lot.

5. Communicate!

Probably the most important point: Communication is key. Normally, before you get to sing, you are allowed some discussion time with your pianist. Make sure they understand: where in the score are you starting, how many times they have to repeat that annoying vamp, what repeats you are and you are not going to do, the structure of the song, the tempo you feel comfortable with and most importantly; the feel of the song. Make the best out of this time by singing the first few bars of the song quietly with them. Are you going to do any unexpected, dramatic pause? Say it. Have you changed the structure of the song for audition purposes? Say it. Are you planning on finishing before the end of the song? Say it.

Communicate. This is your audition, you choose, but make sure everything is clear. Take as long as you need and be friendly. Never, I say never, throw the scores at your pianist and take position. Even if you are doing Les Miserables. And never leave the piano without being sure that the pianist knows what you want them to do. If you don't like the tempo they've picked, make sure they do the right thing. A bit faster. Yes, that's great. Be assertive. Yes that's fine sounds like it could be better. If it could be, say it. They can deliver what you want.

6. Know your song (sounds obvious, but it's not).

Clarity over complexity. Always. You have to prove that you are ‘able’ in 4 minutes. Leave the rest for callbacks.

If the pianist asks you: can you give me the tempo, could you do it? Can you tap some basic crotchets, or dotted crotchets? Be ready for this, it helps a lot and gives the pianist a feel for the song or a feel for the work you've done with it. It also helps if you are able to sing a bit of the accompaniment. Don't be afraid to ask whether you can start over again.

7. Choose the right song

Choose a song that fits the style of the musical/role you are auditioning for or the panel may ask you to sing something you are not ready to sing. This can leave you very exposed. Make sure your song shows your range and your expressive and dynamic capabilities. And make sure it is not too complicated. Clarity over complexity. Always. You have to prove that you are 'able' in 4 minutes. Leave the rest for callbacks.

8. A non-biased note about backing tracks

Playing with a pianist offers the panel the opportunity to see how you behave in a collaborative setting. Playing with backing tracks can backfire, as most of the times, the arrangements are poor and the instrument quality incredibly tacky. If you are bringing a backing track, make sure it is in a format that can be played, or on your phone/MP3 player ready to go. I recommend that if you are bringing a backing track to an audition, you also bring the scores in case the panel prefers to see you singing with a pianist. Better to be safe than sorry.

9. Children Will Listen - or about Colla Voce passages

When performing colla voce sections, do as you please. The pianist will listen and follow you. Don't wait for the next chord, that's contrary to the essence of colla voce. Keep going at your desired pace, the pianist will follow. Don't wait.

10. Say thank you

When you have finished, don't forget to say thank you and pick up your scores. Even if they screwed up. Say thank you, be thankful and show a positive attitude. People comment, the industry is not so big, you never know when you will find the same person playing for you again. There's a moment after every audition where people get to exchange looks and words.

If you have followed all these tips your experience will be enjoyable, allowing you to relax and give your best. Go and have some fun, be yourself. Don't strive to show them that you can imitate a recording. Show them what it is that you do and how you do it. Be great at being yourself.

And please, don't shoot the pianist!!

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Antonio Fernandez is a Sydney-based collaborative pianist and music director. You can contact him via Facebook, or via Twitter @Spanish_Pianist

Antonio Fernandez