Virtual Performance Interview Tips

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Hear thoughts from current students about how best to audition/interview online.

I can’t quite believe it, but we’re here in the midst of audition season once again. The first thing I think of when this time of year returns is the feeling I get when I walk into 50 Oak, early in the morning with a cappuccino in hand, just before the hustle and bustle of auditions begin. On these days, around 10 o’clock, a kind of warm and bright energy envelops the building from the 6th-floor terrace to the S-level TAC labs. I remember, on my audition day, nervously walking down the fifth-floor hallway to warm up when a current student waved to me and said “You’re going to do great!” I don’t know who that student was or why they said what they did, but let me tell you, I needed to hear that. While I was still nervous, I felt calmer than I had in weeks and I felt that everything was going to be okay.

Auditions look different this year (instead of auditioning in San Francisco in front of our faculty, you’ll be sitting in your home participating in an interview with artistic faculty). I walk into school and while it doesn’t feel as it normally would, it's during the Zoom panels with current and auditioning students that the warm and bright feeling of the season sets in. Now, because I won’t be able to see you all in the halls and wave and smile and wish you well, I do want to share audition advice from three of my fellow colleagues to help ease your nerves before your virtual performance interview.

Audition Advice From Current Students

My advice for applicants auditioning would be to be yourself! The panels will not only be looking for the quality of sound from your instrument but will also look for expression and authenticity.”
— Alaska Coombes, Voice ’22

“[My] advice for those auditioning: be nice :) ! The way you interact with the people that you're playing for will play a big role in your success.”
— Josh Setala, RJAM Drums ’24

All the teachers in the panel are incredibly supportive and want you to do well. They're looking for potential, not for finished products. In addition, though you're auditioning for the school, this is also your time to audition the school. Take advantage of offered classes, tours, and trial lessons (even if they are virtual)! I would advise SFCM applicants to take lessons in advance with potential teachers at the school. Having a great trial lesson with my current teacher helped me to make my decision to attend SFCM and allowed me to feel confident that I was in the right place. ”
— Katherine Ahmann, Voice ’19, ’21

As Alaska and Josh said, the way you interact with the panel of artistic faculty whilst being yourself plays a big role in any positive audition experience. Do your research beforehand. Look into our performance faculty and learn a bit about who they are on and off the stage. You might discover that you share interests, grew up in a similar area, have common hobbies, or enjoy listening to the same musicians as our artistic faculty. Saying hello and mentioning types of commonalities will show initiative, your personality, and it will also make you feel more comfortable. To participate in class observations and tours, as Katie mentioned, visit your application status page and register for those events. To schedule a trial lesson, simply contact the professor you’d like to work with directly via email. Their contact information can also be found on the performance faculty page.

With all of that being said, I’d like to give you two last pieces of advice. Before clicking the “join meeting” button, close your eyes and take a moment. Even if you won’t be performing during your virtual performance interview, it’s still important to take a second for yourself and remember why you love music. It sounds silly, but sometimes we musicians forget amidst the hours of practicing, homework, ensemble rehearsals, applications, recording sessions, auditions, and performances, that we love music. So, take a moment, and try to access that spark— that excitement for what we do— because that passion will show.

Slow down. Do you know those moments in a piece where a measure of ritardando leads into a section of a tempo? Where time stretches a bit and springs into something seemingly new and wonderful? Throughout the interview, remind yourself to slow down, to ritardando. When you’re asked a question, stop and think. When you feel ready, a tempo—give a thoughtful response that shows who you are to the panel— because, at the end of the day, that’s what matters.

Be yourself and soak it all in. Audition season will be over faster than you think, so make sure you celebrate how far you’ve come—the dedication and hard work it took to get this far—and take time to show who you are as an artist and individual. As someone said to me four years ago, you’re going to do great! Take a breath, a moment for yourself, and remember that we’re all cheering for you. Now, join that Zoom call, feel that warm and bright feeling of the season, and just have fun!

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