I’ve known Jeff Lewandowski since we attended the National Repertory Orchestra together in 2011 (that’s where the above picture was taken). In 2018, Jeff won a position with the United States Army Field band. After that, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview him for my “Winning the Job” series on my podcast. All of the episodes on that series are wonderful resources for advice on how to be successful in an orchestral audition, but Jeff’s interview really struck me. I decided I wanted to write an article detailing how Jeff’s preparation can teach us all something important about how to be successful at an audition. Let’s find out what we can learn from Jeff!
Right away in the interview, we dug into how Jeff prepared for his Field Band audition. He described his system of preparation as such:
- Recorded himself playing between 2-4 rounds
- Listened back at full and half speed multiple times, trying to pick apart every detail that could be improved
- In his practice, he isolated the sections that needed improvement and worked on them at a very slow tempo, often 50%
The next day he would repeat this process. He knew he didn’t have to play full excerpts at tempo during his practice because he was running so many lists each day. He said the reason he practiced this way was for two reasons:
- He was actively freelancing in the Detroit area. He needed to make sure the preparation he was doing on his instrument wasn’t going to physically tax him to the point where he couldn’t sound his best on the gigs that he was hired for
- Driving around the state of Michigan to rehearsals and concerts didn’t leave him with much time to prepare for the audition. He needed to maximize his efficiency in the practice room.
By the end of the process, Jeff guessed he had played over 100 mock rounds and fixed all of the issues that he found during those runs. By the time the audition came around, he had made every mistake he was going to make. He knew where the difficult parts were and he had a plan of how he was going to approach them to ensure success. The act of playing over 100 mock rounds also allowed him to feel confident that playing all of the excerpts in any order was not going to be a problem for him. As he said in the interview, “In previous auditions I had doubts. This time I wanted to make sure there were no excuses”.
The way Jeff approach preparing for this audition is an excellent example of what The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle describes as deep practice. He had no wasted time during his practice sessions. He performed the material he was working on, made some notes, and got right to work shoring up his weaknesses in the excerpts. It’s important to note when working on his weaknesses, he was using very slow practice in order to be able to ingrain good habits that would stick, instead of playing things over and over, accomplishing nothing. He only worked on what needed to be worked on. It’s an incredible model of efficiency in practice.
If this article ended here, you would have just read a very valuable resource on how to practice deeply, and had a tangible example of how to incorporate it into your own practice. But what struck me as inspiring about Jeff’s interview is what came next.
It’s A Lifestyle
Not only did Jeff find efficiency in his playing, he was able to streamline his life around the goal of winning that audition. He mentioned in the interview he had gone to many auditions before this one and played well, only to not advance or not win. He would leave with the feeling that although he did well, he hadn’t done everything he possibly could have to win that audition. Well, he finally became fed up with feeling this way, so he decided to make changes. Here are some of the changes he described making (this is in addition to the deep practice mentioned earlier):
- Visualizing playing and winning the audition
- Visualizing playing in the band
- Listening to podcasts and motivational speakers
- Began a regular exercise regimen
- Experimented with hypnosis to improve positive thinking
- Followed a strict practice schedule
Jeff was 100% committed to winning this audition. He said that he wanted to make sure nothing got in his way and that in the end, there wasn’t a day that went by where he felt like he didn’t do everything he could to be prepared.
The book Atomic Habits by James Clear discusses habits in detail, discussing how we form good habits and how to break bad ones. One of the first things it talks about how desire for change must come from identity in order to receive the drive to make actual change. In Jeff’s case, he talks about how a big part of his identity (freelancing) was a key motivator to make these changes in his habits. When he began to think of himself as someone who could win an audition, he began to develop the habits that allowed him to be successful. As a result of developing those habits, he became an audition winner.
Jeff story resonates with me because the circumstances he has been through in his life helped shape him and bring him to the point where he was ready to make those changes. He had great teaching, he had important life experiences, and he eventually developed the motivation to put those two things together and make it work. It’s wonderful that he was able to win a job at the end of that process. But according to him, whether he won or not, it didn’t matter. As he says, “Whether I did well or not, it doesn’t matter. As long as I stuck to my game plan, I knew I could play my best”.
We can’t control the outcome of an audition. All we can do is prepare our best and give it everything we have. Using Jeff as an example, we can see that being fully prepared is a lifestyle. We can’t just play the excerpts and hope for the best. Hopefully by reading this you have some inspiration for future audition preparation. In addition to that, I hope we can see that taking auditions is not a means to an end, but a process. Allowing ourselves to struggle, learn, and most importantly, improve through preparing for an audition is a worthy goal for all of us.
If you want to hear Jeff’s episode, just search him name on my website. You’ll find links there to get to the podcast. Or go to the homepage, click on whatever platform you listen to podcasts on, and find his episode. Whatever you do, I highly recommend listening to it. It’s one thing to read it, it’s another to hear him say it.
Until next time,