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Audition Series #1: Dr. Joanna Ross Hersey

Updated: Aug 29, 2021

What does your preparation process for an audition look like? What supplemental materials do you use to prepare? Do you tailor this process for individual auditions?

I start as far ahead as possible, being sure my daily fundamental routine doesn’t experience any lapses, and agree to myself to get that in and solid every day. That’s as important to me as the list, probably more so. You do have a lot of different types of auditions, so I would say definitely approach each one differently, at least by category, which would each have different approaches. Especially if one is a video audition, such as filming excerpts for an orchestra to get to the final, in-person round. In that case you have to really address stamina because you’ll want to make several takes. I would do a lot of that before the night I wanted to film. Same if you are in-person and hope to make it until the end of the day, perhaps playing several times.

In a university position audition, you won’t normally play more than the one recital or

teaching segment, so stamina on the horn is less of an issue in that case. For the in-person campus audition, a bigger thing to prepare for is playing with little to no rehearsal or warm-up, and having a long stressful day before you have to jump into your playing portion. So preparing more for various tempos, and less security with accompaniment, and programming in case you have no warm up.

In-person auditions might also include chamber music, brass quintet, or tuba-euphonium

quartet in my case, in an orchestral, university, or military band setting, so being ready to switch gears back and forth between that repertoire and excerpts is key. That can be difficult because tuning takes chop stamina, so that can tire us more than playing excerpts by ourselves. That comes back to the strong discipline of fundamentals. I need to be able to seem relaxed and loose across the day of playing. Also, you’ll may play with the section, and so if that is something I could get together ahead of time, friends willing to read things with me, I would definitely do that. All different tempos, having them give me random style edits/corrections, putting me on the spot, recording all the while, then listening back with them for their input.

Lastly, it’s good to remember some of our biggest positions come out of not auditioning. Two

long-term orchestral jobs I have had came to me without auditioning, which is also pretty common. In one case, the Personnel Manager had tried her entire list and in desperation, called me when I was in graduate school. I did the gig and tried to do as well as possible. I ended up playing there for several years as the Principal player. A second example is where an orchestra ran chamber evenings, and I did one of those for just a small token payment, as a donation to the orchestra, and I ended up with a gig I still have today playing Principal in the orchestra. So it’s a reminder that the formal audition of being on stage and playing excerpts happens a lot, but often playing for someone at a gig ends up being your audition. So we need to prepare as well as possible for that situation, in addition to the formal ones.

What are some positive/ negative aspects in your playing or perspective you found in preparing for these auditions?

There is no doubt your playing skyrockets when you take auditions. One reason is you should be recording yourself. This is gold for our improvement. I definitely feel that every time I do a recording project or audition. As I mentioned above, it makes you practice routinely and with purpose. Any good list will have to register as a component so you feel strong. You have to think hard about musical decisions, projection in a larger hall, breathing, and tone. You have to think about meditation, stretching, water, and sleep. You should feel ready for battle and this is powerful.

On the negative side, we can forget about it being the long haul. We can put all our eggs in that basket, and allow the stress to get to us. We get caught up saying to ourselves: “this one has to be the one,” feeling like if we don’t win this one, we might as well hang it up. We can often get so down on ourselves, it undoes all of the good fundamental work. We can tension and stress ourselves right into an injury if we are not careful.

Another negative aspect is sometimes our friends and loved ones don’t come on this journey with us. There can be friction in our personal lives when we are pushing hard for an audition, and others around us feel that they are second to it. This doesn’t mean they are second to it, but in that moment you have to do what you can to prepare, and it is a short-term sacrifice most of us would say is worth it. If the people in your life don’t support you in this, maybe it’s time to look more closely at them, if having them there with you is what is really best for you. This is something we don’t discuss enough, and we ought to make space for this honest conversation.

What would you peg as the greatest misconception about preparing for/ taking auditions?

I think people feel musicality is the primary objective they have to accomplish in an audition, but I don’t believe that to be true. Many don’t pay enough attention to clarity and time. It has to be clean and in time, and after that then yes, sensitive to musical elements like volume and phrasing, etc but these are secondary. You can be musical all day long but if you are rushing the technical spots, or rushing the rests in the excerpts, you’re out of there. If hitting a register change makes you drag, you’ll pull the section out of time, so that’s not going to advance you. I often hear too much pulse variation in audition rep, because they are being interesting with musical interpretation, but often that’s not what’s called for, especially on the tuba. Maybe a brass quintet audition might allow a bit more attention to musicality than perhaps a military band audition would, but even in this scenario the trumpets don’t want me slowing and pushing them to hang higher longer. So while this is definitely an unpopular take, I would say having sat on so many audition panels, I don’t hear the oboist saying she wishes the tuba candidate was more musical. The comments are to do with not being in time, or playing without focus on clarity and intonation, over-volume for the piece, things of a more technical nature- the basics. Imagine the conductor on the other side of the screen, conducting the orchestra through when the candidate counts their rests. Imagine the oboist and cellist who have come in for the final rounds, and don’t want the tubist making all kinds of interesting decisions in the back row.

How did you cope with “failure” at auditions? How did you stay motivated while you were on the audition trail?

“Failure” is just part of the deal. That really means you didn’t earn a gig that day, but you didn’t fail since it is part of the process. So at the beginning, you have to accept that you’ll have that more often than not. Don’t think about it, just be ready and expect it. I think back to that list about Lincoln we used to see a lot, it lists all the things he tried and failed at along the way. I actually do keep a list of all the jobs I have tried for. Most of us only win a few, maybe even one or two, and have lovely fulfilling careers.

I’m big on visuals for motivation, so I’ll post goals and plans on a board above my desk, make check-off lists for practice routines and goal-setting. That works for me. I establish rewards to look forward to when it is over, regardless of outcome. I also read a lot of biographies of people I admire. I just finished one about Julia Child, the famous chef, and she had her first cookbook attempts denied for publication multiple times, and then even later had a lot of pushback against what she wanted to do. But she was so determined to do it and believed in her plans so fully that she just kept going. That book is called My Life in France. Side note, she narrated Tubby the Tuba with my teacher Chester Schmitz, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra Pops in 1971. You can view that here.

Her story really motivates because you read about roadblock after roadblock and she just

ignored them all. Younger folks may not know of her now, but from the 60s-90s she was a household name and famous personality who invented and popularized the cooking show.

How did you determine the “right moment” to begin taking auditions? What are your thoughts on taking auditions for experience?

There is no right moment, I think you just have to go regardless. It’s okay if you get cut

immediately because you have already learned so much, so you will be even just a smidge more comfortable the next time around. All of the process is so hard, it pays to be used to it. But who knows, you may win! So I do believe in auditions for experience. I have had several I didn’t think I had a prayer of doing well at and they turn out far better than expected. The first audition I won I was taking for the experience! That’s not terribly common, but winning aside, it would have been one out of the way that would help me understand how I needed to prepare for my second audition.

Do you have any future goals or dream projects?

Auditions and the getting of jobs, the job market, the cost, and frustration of the whole thing

means it is vital you have artistic endeavors which bring you joy. Whatever your joy looks like for you. For me, I have found musical joy in composing and playing solo and chamber music and honoring composers who represent a more diverse group than our society currently works with. Some of you might know I am a huge fan of Hildegard von Bingen, the 12th century German nun who ran convents and composed music, wrote books, and was a general trendsetter. I want to go to Hildegard von Bingen’s convent, which is at Disibodenberg, Germany. It is a museum now, and the convent itself is in ruins, but you can walk around and see where everything was. The chapel is open to the sky and it looks so beautiful. I recently composed a work called ElevenTwelve, which is a graphic score drawing of the convent, and you play melodies around the place. But I’ve never been there, just seen photos and videos. So ever since writing that I want to go, and walk around and record a video of me playing the piece on the actual ground that she walked. That’s a dream that I will make a plan to turn into reality…someday!


A native Vermonter, tuba and euphonium soloist Joanna Ross Hersey has produced two solo albums, ​O quam mirabilis ​(2010) and ​Zigzags ​(2015), ​featuring music by composers including Hildegard von Bingen andLibby Larson in combination with her own compositions​. Joanna is President of the International Women’s Brass Conference, Associate Professor of Tuba and Euphonium at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and a Yamaha and Parker Mouthpiece Performing Artist. In collaboration with Parker Mouthpieces, Joanna has debuted the Hersey Artist Model Tuba Mouthpiece, featuring a three component stainless steel design.

As a member of the Alchemy Tuba-Euphonium Quartet, Joanna performs throughout North America and Europe and can be heard on the group’s recordings ​Village Dances ​(1997),​ Prelude and Groove ​(2012), and their newest album being edited for summer 2019 release. For fifteen years Alchemy has been in residence each February at the Horn-Tuba Workshop in Jever, Germany where the group performs recitals, gives master-classes and conducts ensembles. As a composer, her work is published on her own website as well as with Cimarron Music Press, including the ​St. Cecelia Series,​ featuring her arrangements of music by women and minority composers.

Joanna studied with Dan Perantoni at Arizona State University, received a Master of Music in Tuba Performance From the New England Conservatory of Music studying with Chester Schmitz, and earned her Doctor of Musical Arts in Tuba Performance from the Hartt School. As Principal Tubist with the United States Coast Guard Band,Joanna performed throughout the country as a soloist and clinician after winning the position at the age of nineteen. Joanna has played for three U.S. Presidents, performed at numerous state functions for visiting dignitaries, and has appeared on ​The Today Show​ and ​Good Morning America​. In her freelance career she has performed with artists including Placido Domingo, Roberta Flack, Marilyn Horne, Arlo Guthrie, Michael Bolton,Lee Greenwood, Arturo Sandoval and Jack Nicholson.

Joanna’s research interests focus on brass history and women in 20th Century American music, and her work has been published in the ​International Tuba-Euphonium Association Journal​, the ​International Women’s Brass Conference Newsletter​, the ​Historic Brass Society Journal, ​the​ North Carolina Music Educator’s Journal​ and the ​Journal of Historical Research in Music Education​. Joanna has also contributed chapters to three books, ​Bands of Sisters: U.S. Military Bands During World War II​, ​Women’s Bands in America: Performing Music and Gender​, and for 2019 release, ​An Early History of Music Education in Universities: The Normal School Years​.

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