Advice for Students Preparing for College Auditions

a Conversation with Mitchell Estrin

Mitchell Estrin is Professor of Clarinet at the University of Florida and President Elect of the International Clarinet Association. He performed for 25 years with the New York Philharmonic in over 2,000 concerts as principal, second, and E-flat clarinetist.  Chamber music performances include The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Amadeus Ensemble, New Arts Trio, and Newport Music Festival.  Estrin has an extensive discography of solo and chamber music and recorded over 100 Hollywood motion-picture soundtracks. Mitchell Estrin studied with Stanley Drucker at The Juilliard School and is a Buffet Crampon Clarinet Artist and Vandoren Performing Artist.

What do you listen for when you audition students for your studio?

 First, I assess the student’s overall performance level. Tone quality is very important. Demonstrating proficiency in scales is essential - if the scales are weak, this is a strong indicator of gaps in the technical foundation.  I also listen to a prospective student’s style and musicianship, and if they are conveying something personal in their interpretations.  Overall, I would say I listen more to how they play, as opposed to what they are playing.  

What advice can you offer to students preparing for college auditions?

 Thorough practice and organized preparation over a long period of time is the best way to prepare for any audition, and I can’t overemphasize the importance of taking regular private lessons with a qualified teacher. The ability to demonstrate proficiency in sight-reading is very important, so remember to practice sight-reading.  Expect to be nervous, but do not let your nerves detract from the many months of preparation time you bring to the audition. Take your time in the audition. Mentally prepare yourself for a few seconds before beginning each scale, solo, or sight-reading. Lastly, have confidence! Believe in yourself and remember you are not there to play perfectly, but to demonstrate what you have to offer as a musician.

How do you prepare your students for the life after school?

 This is a great question and something I do think about! Number one is to help them to become the best clarinetist and musician they can be.  Regardless of their eventual profession, learning to perform at a very high level on a musical instrument will help their future success in any field. Music students utilize their cognitive abilities in a very focused and logical manner. They also know how to work and achieve results independently. I educate my students in all facets of the music field – not only in the career opportunities in teaching and performance, but also music industry, technology, and entrepreneurialism as well. I regularly invite guest artists and lecturers to visit my class to offer a broad range of perspectives to my students. UF is a very demanding academic institution, so my students receive a well-rounded education across a wide spectrum of subjects. We offer a very popular major, called Music Performance in Combination with an Outside Field, which allows students to seriously study music while pursuing a strong concentration in another (unrelated) subject. This major offers flexibility and options to them when they complete their undergraduate study.  I am very honest with them about the limited and shrinking opportunities in the music field, especially in performance. For UF music education graduates, we have a 100% job placement record in my 18 years at the school.

How does equipment play into your teaching and what is your setup?

 Having the finest quality equipment is essential to success as a musician.  When students begin their studies with me, I assess their setup – instrument, mouthpiece, reed, and ligature.  Then, I carefully consider whether to recommend any changes. My overall philosophy is that if it sounds good, leave it alone. If I they are not getting the best results, I will suggest that they try other possibilities, under my watchful supervision.  I always listen blindly – without knowing whether they are playing their own setup, or something new – I am never influenced by the name on something, only by the musical results.  I teach my students to find a quality setup and stick with it, because there is no such thing as a perfect setup. It is a huge waste of time to constantly seek out and play test equipment. This time could be much better spent in the practice room! My own setup is as follows:

Instrument: Buffet Crampon R13 (silver plated keys)

Mouthpiece: Vandoren M15 (traditional)

Reed: Vandoren V.12 - strength 3.5 or 3.5+

Ligature: Vandoren M|O Pewter

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