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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Repost: A Quick Guide to Juries

Andrew Hitz

As I touched on in my last post, many college students really dread playing their jury at the end of the semester.  I remember experiencing a wide range of emotions both before and during my juries as an undergrad at Northwestern. There is no doubt that performing juries and playing screened seating auditions at NU helped to prepare me for many of the pressures I would later encounter as a professional player.  There is absolutely no substitute for experience and juries provide just that.

Many students feel quite nervous and occasionally it is their own doing.  The number one way to combat nerves is to be prepared.  There is a real feeling of contentment that comes from knowing that you are prepared to the best of your ability.  This not only applies to your playing but also everything else that goes into the process.  Here is a quick list of things to make sure you have taken care of to put yourself in the best possible position to succeed:

Choose your music and find your accompanist as early in the process as you can.  This one is pretty self-explanatory.  Piano players do not enjoy getting phone calls from frantic freshmen (or even worse upper classmen) three days before a jury asking if they can schedule a rehearsal and jury time instantly.  Any good piano player will be prepared if you give them the chance to prepare.  The more lead time the better.

Have all paperwork filled out correctly and turned in on time.  Again, not any real insight here.  But I am continually amazed at how many students don't take care of this.  If you are filling out a jury sheet by hand take a few minutes to print things very neatly.  It is not a great first impression for the faculty if it appears that your jury sheet was written out in two minutes at two in the morning.  Also, do not be the reason that your teacher gets an email from the music office saying that not every one of their students has turned in their jury sheets.  Finally, be sure to have the correct number of photocopies of the music you are performing.  All of this goes into the impression that you make on the faculty.

Be prepared for the rehearsal with your accompanist and make a recording of it.  You will put your piano player in the best position to succeed if you have a crystal clear idea in your own head of what every tempo will be in your solo.  Keeping things consistent from the first run through all the way through the performance will make their job very easy.  Also, be sure to listen to a recording of your rehearsal.  Listen for what both what went well and what needs fixing.  If they ask for a copy, by all means share it with the pianist (although they certainly shouldn't be expected in any way to listen to it).  You can learn infinitely more from hearing yourself that from anyone else.

Dress appropriately.  This obviously means don't wear shorts and flip-flops.  But it also means don't over dress.  You don't want to be wearing a sequined evening gown or full tails either.  Basically, you don't want your attire to be a headline at all.  Look professional and let your playing do the talking.

Take a few deep breaths before you walk in the room.  Even if you don't think you are nervous, take a few deep breaths before you walk in.  I find that breathing slowly through my nose a few times before a performance is what centers me the best.

Smile and walk in confidently.  The faculty should not know from how you walk in the room whether you had the best warm-up of your life or the worst.  Walk in with an engaging demeanor and they will be rooting for you from the start.

Tune quickly and with your best sound possible.  Do not play timidly when you tune to the piano.  It is a terrible first impression and doesn't accurately assess whether your instrument is too short or too long.  Also, don't play any pedal notes or in the extreme high register.  Just play your tuning note and then wait patiently.

Don't start until the panel asks you to.  This is another one that is awfully straightforward but that many students seem to miss.  The faculty may be finishing up the sheet of the person before you and you don't want to catch them off guard.

Completely ignore the faculty while you are playing.  This is really important! Don't try to read their body language or read into how much or how little they are writing.  There is absolutely no way to know what they are thinking.  It is also not the best impression when you are timidly peering over your music stand and trying to assess the situation.  Just play your best and leave the rest up to them.

Never react when you miss a note.  This one only comes from practice, and a lot of it.  A faculty member might not have even noticed that you missed a note.  But they will all know when your shoulders slump, you scowl or better yet when you look at your horn like it messed up.

Smile at the end of your performance.  Whether you have played the best performance of your life or you are ready to change majors, leave the room with a smile.  Be sure to thank them for their time as well.

No matter what, learn from your experience.  Believe it or not, you are not made to play a jury every semester so your school can torture you.  The students who will make it as professionals someday learn from every single performance.  Take advantage of the feedback and ask the faculty for follow-up advice whenever possible.

Good luck!