Close this search box.

Preparing for Interviews

Patricia George | December 2010

   Note to Teachers: Career development and entrepreneurship skills are more important than ever before. It is counterproductive for aspiring professionals to wait for the proverbial phone to ring. Sadly, few schools of higher learning include information about these tools in their curriculums, but teachers should take the time to provide students with all the skills they will use – even the non-musical ones

    Sometime during your flute studies and career you will be interviewed. It may be part of a college audition process, an interview for a teaching position, or if you become successful, perhap a magazine article. Make it easy for the interviewer to understand your achievements.
    There are several items that you should take to an interview. First, learn one piece by memory that you can play well at any time, and in any place. It should be a short piece that demonstrates your outstanding qualities and strengths. Prepare a few sentences to say about the piece before you begin to play. These comments could be about the composer or any unusual techniques you will use.
    I have been asked to play something by Bach numerous times. The Allegro from the C-Major Sonata is a good choice, as is the Sarabande from the Solo Partita in A Minor. Perhaps you would prefer a fiddling tune or some Irish music. Whatever it is, find a short piece of music that you are comfortable with and that is entertaining for an audience. Be prepared. You never know when you will be asked to play.

    Below you will find the top 10 questions you may be asked in an interview. Research and organize answers to these questions prior to an interview; it will help you look intelligent, interesting, funny, and professional. I don’t think you should write out answers and memorize them. It is better to outline the answers and then respond as naturally as possible. Your goal is to provide information and sell yourself to the audience, whether it is an audience of one or many.
    I have given some ideas to help you get started finding your own responses. The interview will run more smoothly if you learn to answer in a way that provides the interviewer with a follow up question.
    Respond to the interviewer in full sentences. Act excited and enthusiastic about what you are presenting. You are selling yourself as well as your musical abilities. After all, you want to be hired, or sell out the concert hall. You want the newspaper or magazine article to read well.

Question #1 – Are you a flutist or a flautist?
     In the United States, we are flutists because we play the flute. A flautist is a recorder player.

Question # 2
– Why did you choose to play the flute? How long have you played?
     I chose to play the flute because I love the sound of it. (Now you may elaborate on what is so appealing about flute tone and the emotions the flute can express.) 
     I began to study flute in the fifth grade in a public school music program. (This is a good answer because the interviewer can then ask where you are from and about any memories you may have about the public school music program. This answer also gives you a chance to put in a plug for the many advantages that public school music programs offer to students across the United States. President Theodore Roosevelt said, “If you teach a child to blow a horn, he will never blow a safe.” Find more quotations to make your answers unique and informative.)

Question # 3
– Where did you study?
     (Keep it short and concise.) After graduating from high school, I earned BM, MM, and DMA degrees at XYZ universities. I also spent a year in XYZ country studying on a Fulbright exchange program. While abroad, I worked principally with XYZ teacher, who performs with the XYZ orchestra and teaches at the XYZ conservatory. (Once you are rich and famous, your bio will focus less on your education and more on your concert schedule. Professional performers do not use academic titles in publicity materials.)

Question # 4 – What is the difference between flute and piccolo? Are there other instruments in the flute family?
     (Do not say that one is big and the other is little. Try for a little more pizzazz.) Actually, in modern usage the flute family includes the piccolo, C flute, Alto flute, Bass flute and Contra Bass Flute. The smallest and the highest in pitch is the piccolo. (You could have your case closed and, as you talk about each instrument, remove it from the case and assemble the instrument. Audiences always love to see how instruments fit together.)
    The C flute is twice as large as the piccolo and so plays one octave or eight notes lower. The alto flute is pitched in G and sounds a perfect fourth lower than written. The bass flute is in C and sounds one octave lower than the C flute. In my concert, I will be featuring the entire flute family. (You might go on to describe one of the problems of switching from one instrument to the next.) For example, the piccolo requires the smallest aperture (hole in the lips) and the alto and bass the largest apertures. The speed and angle of the air differ slightly when playing each instrument. Bring your flute stand and show how each fits safely on the stand and may be easily removed when you switch from one instrument to the next.

Question # 5
– What are flutes made of? What are the advantages of one metal over another? Who made your flute? Where was it made? How old is it? Does age matter?
     Anytime you can craft a response that teaches something, it is a rich answer. This question offers you a chance to mention that the flute is a member of the woodwind family. While flutes are generally not made of wood today, we still remain a member of the woodwind family.
     The other families of the orchestra are brass, string, and percussion. Do some research on which materials are used in flute making and some of the attributes of each type of material. If time permits, you can expand your answer to include something about the Boston flute makers and how the first professional flutes made in the United States were crafted there.
Question #6 – Can you give us a short history of the flute?
     I seriously doubt that most interviewers, listeners, or readers are interested in who was responsible for the addition of each key on the flute; however, mentioning that the oldest instrument found in the world is a 9,000-year-old Chinese flute will immediately peak some interest in even the most casual listener. Choose some highlights in the history of the evolution of the flute that you can share in three or four sentences.
    Once again, try to craft an answer that leads to another question. Start your research by reading the entry about the flute in the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Ardal Powell’s masterful The Flute also provides tidbits of information that you will not find elsewhere.

Question # 7 – Has a lot of music been written for the flute? Are composers writing for the flute today? How do the pieces of an earlier time compare to today’s compositions? What piece are you performing on the recital? What is the theme of your C.D? What interests you about this music?
    After the piano and the violin, the flute has one of the largest repertoires of all instruments. Composers started writing specifically for flute in the Baroque period (1685-1750) and continued writing for us into the present time. There are wonderful Baroque works by Bach, Handel, Telemann, and Vivaldi. The Classical Era is well represented by several concertos by Mozart.
    Contemporary composers have found new ways to use the flute in their compositions. Many contemporary techniques include key slapping, multiphonics, singing while playing and unusual ways of attacking notes. (This is a unique opportunity to demonstrate each of these techniques and to discuss the music you will be playing in your concert or on your CD.)

Question #8 – Do you play in an orchestra, a wind ensemble, or small chamber ensemble?
     A good response might be: “When I was at conservatory, all woodwind players rotated by concert between the orchestra and the wind ensemble. I found this to be very helpful in learning to be a team player. For me playing in orchestra was more about learning to play with colors, while playing in wind ensemble focused on rhythmic accuracy. I currently play principal flute in the XYZ orchestra and also have a chamber ensemble that gives a dozen or more concerts per year.” The main thing is to talk. Let the interviewer and the audience know something interesting about your life. 

Question # 9
– Do you teach? If so, privately or at a university?
    Be enthusiastic, even if you are not totally committed to teaching. Teaching is an admirable profession and should not be looked at as only a way to earn a living until you become famous. Consider if you want to be on the record for saying you do not enjoy teaching. Postings on social networks are looked at when you apply for a college teaching position. With the speed of communication today, anything you say or write will come back to haunt you. Control your press.

Question No. 10 – What is the best thing about being a musician? Where and when is your concert, and what and with whom are you performing?
     I think the best thing about being a musician is being able to participate in an artistic endeavor such as playing a Beethoven Symphony. Until you have been in the middle of an orchestra and performed with other outstanding individuals, you haven’t lived musically. The drama, structure, orchestration, and pacing of the music are incredible to experience.  
     Tonight I will be performing two gems from the flute repertoire with the XYZ Orchestra. The first concerto is by the Baroque master Vivaldi, and the other is a concerto by W. A. Mozart. The concert will be held at the Performing Arts Center and begins at 8:00 PM. Tickets are available at the door. (If time permits, speak more about the music you are performing.)  

     Outline answers to these 10 questions. Set up practice interviews with a friend acting as the interviewer. Ask him to arrange the questions in various orders. Practice being interviewed several times. Video yourself and observe your diction, vocal tone, and facial expressions. Make note of the overall impression that you create. Check your body language. Do you look coordinated and poised? Have you chosen appropriate attire to look professional and interesting? There are many books available to help with these decisions.
With a little advance preparation and planning, you can make the interview successful and even pleasurable.

Press Packets
    As you advance in your career, you should develop a press packet and have the material available for interviews in digital format and on paper. A press packet should include your contact information, C.D.s of performances, photos, two biographies (short and long), a repertoire list, copies of newspaper or blogger reviews, and a list of interview questions. (A list of questions can be helpful to interviewers who know little about the flute or even classical music. In several cases, I have given an interviewer a list of questions to ask me and immediately seen relief on his face when he knew what to ask.) Do not expect the C.D.s to be returned.
    Contact Information: Provide contact information where you may be easily reached, and return phone calls and emails promptly.
    Photos: Provide digital photos, both color and black and white, at a high resolution (300dpi). If the photos were taken by a professional photographer, include a publication release form or the contact information for the photographer.
    Biographies: Provide bios in two formats: one short (300-500 words) and the other long (600-1000 words). This saves the interviewer time, as they don’t have to condense a long biography down to a few sentences.
    Repertoire list: This list should include all concertos that you are prepared to play, as well as solo and chamber recital programs that you have performed or are prepared to play.    Representative copies of programs that you have played in the past could also accompany this list.