Trumpet Audition Strategies

The last 2 months I’ve focused on trombone audition strategies, so this month I thought I would talk about the same topic for the trumpet, as I understand we have a good many trumpet players who frequent this website. The most common excerpts on trumpet auditions are probably things like Mahler 5, Leonore Overture 2 & 3, Pines of Rome, Fetes, Don Juan, Heldenleben, Zarathustra, Pictures, Mahler 3rd Posthorn solo, etc.

The Haydn trumpet concerto is the most frequently asked solo in auditions, and lately I’ve noticed some orchestras asking it to be played on a Bb trumpet, which makes it more difficult to get the proper style required for this piece. The Haydn is a real test piece for style and musicianship and playing it on a Bb adds another difficulty factor to achieve the lightness and sparkle needed. The first three notes of this concerto are probably the most difficult 3 notes in the literature as far as style goes. If they are played with a nice sound and in an even, sustained, tenuto style, you might as well pack up and go home, or as someone famously said in a audition; “put the trumpet down, and slowly back away.” Those 3 notes require 3 beautiful bell tone-like shapes with a hint of vibrato and a sound that literally jumps out of the horn and tapers naturally into the next note. This is a difficult thing to describe in print so use your imagination.

The same style can apply to an excerpt such as the opening of Pictures, which is almost on every audition. Vibrancy is an important feature on this excerpt, with the sound jumping out of the horn. An important concept to be aware of is knowing when to go for clarity and focus and when to “spread” the sound, and I mean the term spread in a positive way. The trumpet is susceptible to producing a too brilliant-type sound because of it’s tessitura compared to other brass instruments. In many excerpts, warmth is more important than focus, but the two are not mutually exclusive.

Lets go through a few of the standard excerpts and, as I did last month and the month before with the trombone, discuss which excerpts you can win an audition with, and those you can only lose with. I would put Pictures in the category of making a good start in an audition, but not an excerpt to win with, as it’s usually one of the first things asked. But as they say,” you only have one chance to make a first impression,” it is a very important excerpt to play well so that the judges are looking forward to hearing more. A dull, slow tenuto style will have the judges itching to get to the next candidate.

Leonore # 3 is an excerpt than can usually only lose an audition for someone, because it is so standard, and is expected to be performed well. It is one that sounds easy but is more difficult than realized because of the problem of playing the intervals perfectly in tune, especially the interval of the 4th, from C to G. The 1st note, concert Bb, needs to be an exceptionally beautiful sound, and even though forte, the note must be sung and not blasted. Vibrato helps, if the tradition of that organization allows it.

Mahler 5 opening is an excerpt that help can win an audition for someone. The most important attribute in this excerpt is to be able to sound completely comfortable in the lower middle register, of which much of this solo lies. This means spending a good amount of time developing the low register, something that is routinely overlooked by players because of the abundance of higher register tessitura required in many excerpts. Low register development is a crucial component of attaining a better-than-average sound, especially in an excerpt such as the opening of Mahler 5. Those opening D#’s need to sound as if they are in the middle register, and not out of a players comfort zone. Also, rarely is there enough sforzando at the end of each figure. This requires complete command and comfort in that register. When this excerpt reaches the upper register, it is important that the sound doesn’t become shrill, and retains the same resonance and body of the lower passages. The famous accelerando in the triplet passage should not be overdone, but sound logical and in the natural Mahler-type style. How do you build a good lower middle?? Spend time down there!

Fetes is an example of an excerpt that can’t win an audition, but you can sure lose one! Choice of mute is important, but this excerpt is only asked to see if someone can get through it, not score points toward a win. Don Juan is almost in this category, because that long lyric line that ends up on a fortissimo concert high B is a challenge for control of sound, and has knocked out alot of people. Pacing is the secret to this excerpt, and possibly practicing it backwards to forwards might be the way to go.

Zarathustra is on many auditions, and besides the obvious C octave passage, the difficult part of this piece are the slurred, piano C major arpeggio’s. The only way to get these utterly dependable in auditions and performances is to rubberize your air stream. Instead of wincing or body englishing lip slurs, learn to blow through and bend partial changes, so on the note and in-between the note are exactly the same. Making the actual partial change last as long as possible is the secret to really controlling and having totally reliable lip slurs.

The posthorn solo from the Mahler 3rd symphony is the excerpt most suited to actually allow someone to win an audition. In my opinion, it, along with the violin solo from the Missa Solemnis, are the greatest orchestral instrumental solos. It provides the opportunity to show the greatest amount of musicianship, sensitivity and expressiveness. If played on a C or Bb trumpet it must emulate the sound of a posthorn. That means a vibrato that fits the sound of a flugelhorn, not a trumpet. I can’t imagine this excerpt played without vibrato, even in orchestras where trumpets do not normally use vibrato. The appropriate amount of rubato, in addition to portamento is necessary to do a winning performance of this excerpt. Please refer to my previous articles on Mahler’s portamento and “Trompete.”