Reader Questions: Avoiding Burnout
I'd love to hear your thoughts about maintaining an emotional connection with the music during the preparation process and wanting to play music at all by the end—keeping any musical freshness, really.
We’ve all experienced post-audition burnout. Auditions are such an intense (and frankly, unnatural) situation, for which we prepare so exhaustively, that by the end, it’s hard not to burn ourselves out. And to a certain extent, I think it can be healthy to take a break afterward. I love the beginning of the summer, when the bassoon goes into the closet for a couple of weeks.
The problem comes when the burnout lingers for an unhealthy amount of time, as mine did after my way-overdone college audition preparation. I think that the key to maintaining enthusiasm is carefully pacing your preparation so that you peak at the audition. If you arrive at your pinnacle too early, you actually stop improving, which isn’t just boring—it kills confidence. When you reach this point, the only way to play better is to be better at your instrument, which is the kind of long-term improvement that takes more time (and variety of repertoire and experience) than any audition or performance can provide.
When I was preparing for symphonic auditions, I liked to have three weeks of intense preparation. For the Met, it was closer to six weeks, because so much of the music was unfamiliar. I’m fully aware that this is a lot less time than many (perhaps even most) people like to have before an audition, but it worked for me. It’s not necessarily any better or worse than others’ systems that have yielded results. We all arrive at our own timeline.
And this, I think, is the broader answer to the question of avoiding burnout. If you find a system of work that yields tangible, consistent improvement, trust it. Others won’t have the same approach, and that’s OK. Everyone who is successful in music has worked very, very hard at it in their own way. By trusting in our preparation process, we stand a better chance of maintaining enthusiasm and remembering why we’re in this (often trying) business.
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