The Percussion Audition

By Eliseo Rael

    Taking an audition on any instrument can be challenging, but the percussion audition is a truly unique experience.  Every audition for a musician is an event that requires the utmost preparation, complete focus of mind, and the ability to adjust.  If a musician allows nerves to get in his or her way, and walks into an audition with any self-doubt, it can be disastrous.  Add to this having to bring about 70 pounds of equipment, and then consider the innumerable hours spent in the practice room.  The number of sacrifices to win a job are countless; anyone who has ever taken an audition knows this to be true.  
Now imagine a cellist being handed somebody else's instrument on the stage of the audition, or a pianist being asked to play on a piano that has a five inch difference in the interval of an octave than what they had practiced.  It would be interesting to hear the first entrance of the Grieg piano concerto played in sevenths.  Such scenarios are completely outrageous and unheard of to these respective instrumentalists, but for a percussionist, these are realities of our situation.  In percussion auditions we are often thrown onto instruments we are not used to.  It is rare that we get to practice on the exact make and model of the instruments we are to use in an audition.  Glockenspiel sizes vary greatly, and if you have to play a marimba solo, good luck.  Since there is no standardization for percussion instruments, you might very well have a seventh where an octave was expected in your Bach solo.  Psychologically it can be very crippling for some.  Many a percussionist has been thrown off by something as trivial as bar color.   It is not a hopeless situation, though.  To overcome these obstacles, one must be aware of the possible pitfalls and to have a strategy to dealing with them. 
The marimba is a good place to start when considering the problems of instrument sizes.  Not only is there no standard in interval size between the different marimba brands, but there isn’t even a standard range.   This is the first factor to consider when choosing a marimba solo; it is important to know the range of the instrument that will be played on.  The mid to lower range of the marimba tend to sound fuller and more attractive.  It is easier to make longer phrases in this range since the bars tend to ring longer.  Choosing a solo that utilizes this range of the instrument can be a big advantage in an audition.  However, there are two major drawbacks to this strategy.  The biggest of these problems is that solos that have notes from a low G sharp to the C below can only be played on an instrument that goes low enough to reach those respective notes.  It is always very embarrassing to show up to an audition unable to play due to the fact the instrument in the audition room does not go low enough.  A lot of orchestras still only have low-A marimbas.  The second drawback of picking a solo with a large range is that the lower the range of the instrument, the less standard the intervals become between the different marimba brands.  The intervals in the upper range of marimbas, regardless of brand, tend to be pretty closely universal.  To be specific, an octave in the upper register of a Malletech is going to have the same mallet spread as the same octave in the upper register of an Adams or a Yamaha.  In contrast, the spread necessary to get an octave in the lower register of the Malletech is going to need to be much larger than the spread needed for the same octave on an Adams or Yamaha. 


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