College Audition Tips from New York Philharmonic Trumpeter and Manhattan School of Music Faculty Ethan Bensdorf

How Brass Students Can Prepare for Audition Season and How Their Music Directors Can Support Them

Sponsored by Manhattan School of Music

It will soon be college audition season—an exciting time for both students and their music teachers alike! While auditioning can sometimes be a bit intimidating, it’s important to remember that the faculty on the audition panel want to hear students at their best. Never forget that faculty teach because they love music, and they’re excited to share their experience and wisdom with younger generations.

2018 ANHE jazz trumpet Bob OLary

Photo Bob O’Lary

Manhattan School of Music (MSM) faculty member Ethan Bensdorf, trumpet player in the New York Philharmonic, shares tips on how brass students can prepare for audition season and how their music directors can support them so they make the strongest impression possible!

Ethan Bensdorf joined the New York Philharmonic’s trumpet section in June 2008, after spending the 2007–08 season as acting Assistant Principal trumpet with the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra in Naples, Florida. Mr. Bensdorf has given master classes around the country at some of the most renowned educational institutions, including Manhattan School of Music, Northwestern University, and the Juilliard School, and was the featured guest artist at the 2011 Trumpet Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi.

What are your tips for college auditions and auditions in general?

There are two types of people who show up to an audition—some try NOT to do something, and some try TO do something. Always try to strive for the latter. When the nerves kick in, if one tries to play defensively, meaning trying NOT to miss a note, or trying NOT to make a mistake, that player will not come across nearly as successfully as the one who comes in with a more offensive mind set.

close up photo of a brass

Photo: Matt Janson Photography | mattjanson.com

In an audition, try to show the listeners what you can do. Try TO play with your most attractive sound, try TO make the most authentic music, try TO tell a story, try TO engage the audience. It will make all the difference, and when mistakes happen (because we are human, and mistakes do happen!), they don’t matter as much, since points are being scored left and right for all the things that you ARE showing!

What would you like prospective students to know?

No one expects perfection right off the bat. It is a marathon, not a sprint, and everyone is on their own journey. You ultimately enroll in school to maximize your learning potential, and it is all about the surrounding environment. New York City, and MSM specifically, has such a wonderful environment from which to learn. Both are filled with inspiration and with artists who are trying to learn as much as they can from each other, and from their environment. The community at MSM, especially within the brass department, is extremely supportive. The students and faculty push each other to be the best people and musicians possible. There are ample playing opportunities, both at school and around NYC, perfect for getting real world experience.

“No one expects perfection right off the bat. It is a marathon, not a sprint, and everyone is on their own journey.”

What are the advantages of studying brass at MSM?

Hands down, the biggest advantage is the faculty. As a brass student at MSM, one gets access to some of the best brass musicians in the world. Not only do many faculty play in the MET Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, but, because New York City is such a diverse cultural melting pot, the faculty also come from a variety of playing backgrounds and are able to offer expertise in a huge variety of areas.

What are your favorite trumpet warmups?

I am a big fan of the Vincent Cichowicz Flow Studies. They really help me get my air going and allow me to focus on connecting each note to the next—a true staple of successful brass playing.

What are your top trumpet tips for college-bound students? Band directors?

Work on getting to a point where you can trust yourself. Put in the necessary work in the practice room, so that you can allow yourself to let go during the performance and focus on the most important part: making music. We all love music for a reason, and it is extremely important never to stray too far from that. Lots of people can “play the notes,” but it’s really about what you choose to do with those notes that will set you apart from the rest.

“Put in the necessary work in the practice room, so that you can allow yourself to let go during the performance and focus on the most important part: making music.”

Playing an instrument is like speaking. I always tell students to imagine speaking to young children. Imagine how much inflection you must use with your words in order to keep them engaged. Now, apply that to the notes that come out of your instrument. Each note is like a word that you have to string together in order to make sense of the story. Don’t be afraid of taking musical risks. They WILL pay off!

About Ethan Bensdorf:

Ethan BensdorfEthan Bensdorf joined the New York Philharmonic’s trumpet section in June 2008, after spending the 2007–08 season as acting Assistant Principal trumpet with the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra in Naples, Florida. Mr. Bensdorf has given master classes around the country at some of the most renowned educational institutions, including Manhattan School of Music, Northwestern University, and the Juilliard School, and was the featured guest artist at the 2011 Trumpet Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi.

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