Still More Audition Strategies

Here’s more thoughts on excerpts asked at tenor trombone auditions. First, lets take the solo from the Russian Easter Overture. This is an excerpt that can score big points on the way to a successful outcome. It gives us a chance to demonstrate a beautiful sound in a middle register tessitura, which doesn’t happen often in auditions. Excerpts are usually chosen because they are technically hard, and rarely do we get to play something that allows us to relax and not worry so much about missing notes, so take advantage of that fact. One of the most important things to consider when performing this excerpt is deciding on the dynamic. The most common mistake I hear in playing this excerpt is not matching the sound to the space it is played in. This is critical to perform this excerpt well. My rule would be; fill the room without sounding loud. Every room size is different, and the dynamic must be tailored to the dimensions of that space. We want a big full, rich, resonant sound, without any hint of pushing the dynamic. A player must take the room acoustics into account before starting this excerpt and “feel” the room’s sound before playing, and not just play the same dynamic in every space because of what they prepared at home.

I like a quasi legato articulation on this excerpt, something close to the half-tongue half-slur described elsewhere. It definitely should not be clearly articulated with spaces. Since it represents an Eastern orthodox religious figure singing, I can’t imagine playing this in a straight-toned, tenuto orchestral style. I don’t know any modern singers who don’t sing with vibrato, and yes, I am a big fan of pure-toned Gregorian chant and use it as an example of the legato I prefer. The vibrato should enhance and project the sound, not be too fast or too slow, too wide or too narrow, and be so integrated into the sound that it is not noticeable by itself. Most people judge the vibrato by how it feels and not by how it sounds. This takes practice, and listening back to yourself as if you were an audience member, something easily done in today’s gadget filled world. Listening and copying great singers is an excellent way to develop this skill.

La Gazza Ladra is a common excerpt required at auditions today. While there are other editions other than the original for 1 trombone, the most common is the 1 trombone version which has the most notes in it. While being somewhat a technical excerpt, it is really a style excerpt, with emphasis on the right articulation. This excerpt, although being by Rossini, should not be played in the same style as William Tell. It should be played in a light, leggiero style and not sound like the player is mowing down everyone with a machine gun when the 8th notes start! The most critical part of this excerpt are the first 3 or 4th 8th notes after the quarter note beginning of each phrase. If these are not clean, crisp, and light, it is impossible to play the rest of the phrase with a good clean articulation and sound. Therefore it is important to practice the 8th notes slowly, making them speak instantly and as short as possible, because we tend lose clarity when the tempo is increased in these types of passages. I like to hear the phrase started forte with a crescendo up to the top note, which should be in a bell-tone style; accent, diminuendo. When the 8th notes start, a clean, crisp and light in a poco forte dynamic works best. As the excerpt proceeds to the ascending lines later in the excerpt, the style then becomes somewhat like the William Tell excerpt, in a more marcato-tenuto style. The 3 quarter notes going up to the high note in these phrases should be played as if there were slurs and dots over them. This will ensure the passage starts with a phrased quality and not simply short like the scales going down. This gives a nice contrast in articulations which is always a good thing.

The prelude to act 3 of Lohengrin is a common excerpt on auditions and is an excerpt that can show a good grasp of style if played with the right character. The thing to avoid is playing it in a dull tenuto style, were every note is sustained with the same volume throughout with quasi legato articulations. This excerpt needs a lot of “front” on each long note, meaning an attack that speaks instantly and with energy. The rest of the note should naturally decay in a bell-tone style which will project through the orchestra, saving energy with the result of not having to play so loud, also a good thing.There should be a slight space between the dotted 8th and 16th note figure, with the dotted 8th having a small, fast diminuendo. It is crucial not to late off the ties on the upper G’s. My first trombone teacher, John Swallow showed me a neat way to play this passage. When playing the 2 16th notes after the last high G, play the G in 4th and rip the slide back to 1st, D. If the slide moves at the right speed, the F# and E will be clearly audible with no double tongue or articulation necessary. Thanks, John!