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Alumnus Travis Harrison shares his most memorable experiences at the SMI – (Part 3)

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SMI: Congratulations on your appointment with the WSO! Can you give some advice to young musicians about the orchestra audition process?

Travis: I think that the most important thing that people need going into an audition is confidence. I’m sure that there are lots of ways to find confidence, but for me it comes from preparation, both musical and mental. If I am prepared, then I know I won’t be nervous. My mentor, Joel Quarrington, once described being prepared as “being bulletproof.” I like that idea a lot, because in order to be bulletproof musically, you have to be so confident and focused on what you are going to express to your audience that they have no choice but to be convinced by your playing. 

This stems from intense hard work and study. There’s no chance that I would have won that audition if I hadn’t worked hard and made sacrifices and there’s no way I could have improved my own playing enough to win a job if I hadn’t been honest with myself  --  honesty is key. Our teachers and colleagues try their best to be honest with us about our playing, but eventually it comes down to what we think. If you honestly know that your playing is good enough to win a job, then you’re probably already ahead of half the other people at the audition.

Being honest with yourself also lets you see your limits. My friends who have had the most success in life (not just in music) are the ones who have insatiable ambition, but also know when enough is enough. Did I practice for endless hours a day? Certainly not. In the week leading up to the audition, I ended up taking a gig (mainly so that I could pay for the cost of my flight and hotel to get to the audition!) that took up five hours a day for rehearsal and two hours in commuting. This left me with two or three hours each night to practice my excerpts. Some days I had no energy left, so that shrunk down to an hour of practice, however  I would take one hour of focused practice over eight hours of mindless “practicing” (like exercising) any day. Each night after my energy and focus ran out, I’d try to meet with a friend for a drink or some fun unrelated activity. That was the best balance I could manage.

Honestly, preparing for an audition is very revealing about your playing, and it can be very discouraging. I recorded myself every night for the two weeks leading up to the audition. I’d listen to the previous night’s recording in the morning, take notes, and make my playing better each day. To me, this is one of music’s most massive draws – that there is always room to get better, and I hope to never stop playing.

Working hard, playing (as in relaxing) hard, and being honest are three things I would recommend to anyone doing an audition. Stay positive, accept that your playing isn’t as good as you want it to be, “put it under your pillow” as Pinchas Zukerman says, then get better.

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