We are lucky to be in an area with many wonderful public and private performing arts programs geared towards our talented, young community. Many of these programs hold auditions for participation several times throughout the year. This audition process is arguably a great learning opportunity for your child, focusing around competition, composure and discipline in their preparation. But it can also cause a lot of added stress. We sat down with Young Artists of America at Strathmore's Producing Artistic Director and Music Director, Rolando and Kristofer Sanz, to discuss the best ways to help your child beat the nerves and nail their performing arts audition!

Washington Parent : Welcome, Rolando and Kris! You both have the same last name. Coincidence?

Rolando : Ha! We're brothers.

Kris : He's older!

Rolando : Yes, but I'm younger at heart!

Washington Parent : Well, working with kids will do that to you. Tell us about Young Artists of America at Strathmore and why you founded it.

Rolando : We grew up in Montgomery County and we've both been lucky enough to find success as professional musicians and educators. I'm an operatic tenor who tours internationally and Kris serves as Music Director and Philharmonic Conductor of Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras and Winston Churchill High School. We credit our success to the high-caliber training and mentorships we were lucky to receive at the collegiate level outside of the area.

Kris : When we both settled back in the area to raise our families, we wanted to give back to our community and fill what we saw as an educational void for talented vocalists, actors, dancers and instrumental youth in the area. We dreamed of starting a program that would offer the same types of high caliber learning opportunities that we had later in life. Thus, YAA, as everyone refers to it, was born.

Washington Parent : Well, congrats! We understand that the program is now one of the region's premier training organizations for collaborative performing arts and was just named one of Catalogue for Philanthropy's "Best Nonprofits."

Rolando: Thank you! Yes, we're so proud of our extended YAA family. We welcome students from grades 5 to 12 to receive mentorship and individualized instruction from renowned artists, like Broadway greats Steven Schwartz, Kristen Chenoweth, Andrew Lippa and more, while training to perform fully-orchestrated works of music-theater in major venues like Strathmore, The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at UMD and Maryland Public Television. We teach students from all over the region and abroad through our summer performing arts intensives, studio classes and performing ensembles.

Washington Parent : Wonderful. We know you hold auditions for your performing ensembles in both orchestra and voice/acting. What can you tell our readers about the best way to prepare their young performers for an audition?

Kris: The best way to prepare is to know the music so well that it comes to you like breathing. I recommend kids perform in front of their peers, teachers or parents. For younger students, they can even set up their stuffed animals for a concert, just so they can get a feel of performing and being under that pressure. And then my secret, which I pass on to all my orchestra kids, is bananas. Bananas have natural beta blockers in them, so they will calm you down and keep your stomach from growling.

Rolando: Agreed! Preparation in advance is key. Try to have them start preparing at least two weeks in advance so they feel secure.

Washington Parent : What about right before the audition?

Kris : While waiting for the audition, stress levels can peak. Before auditions for high school age groups, they usually put all the musicians into one room. This can be very intimidating because kids could be playing more difficult solos or even playing loudly intentionally to throw their competition off. So I always recommend finding a corner and coming up with a routine before the audition. Something like playing through scales or just some of the softer passages.

Rolando : When I'm auditioning, I actually find a stairwell or a quiet corner and think of the character for which I'm auditioning. I remind myself that I'm going into an audition just to show them who I am. For all auditions, it's really about showing the best you that you are.

Washington Parent : How do you suggest your students select their repertoire?

Rolando : This is very important! The repertoire needs to be appropriate for the student as well as the show. So if you're a 15 year-old ingenue soprano (think young Julie Andrews), and you come into an audition for "Rent" singing Anita's music from "West Side Story" … there are so many things wrong with that. Remember, just because you like a song doesn't mean it's the right fit for you or the audition.

Kris : Same goes for instrumentalists. You want to pick something that shows off your strengths. Don't worry about playing something particularly challenging - fast or complex. Even if they can play the piece, it may not come out well. To me, it comes off more like showing off instead of showing us what they're best at. We don't need to be impressed. We need to know that you are a musician and are musical on the inside. We want to find someone who is teachable.

Washington Parent : Well that makes sense since, after all, you are teachers.

Kris : Exactly! And that's what we love to do!

Washington Parent : When's the next YAA audition?

Rolando: We'll be holding winter auditions for our middle and high school performing ensembles, YAACompany and YAAjunior right before Thanksgiving, November 16-19. Our summer performing arts intensives are not audition-based, but are already open for enrollment, and space is already running low! Come on out! We're always looking for new talent!

You can register for an audition with Young Artists of America at Strathmore and learn more tips about helping your littler performer at yaa.org.


Kendra Rubinfeld is a Communications Consultant and works with various nonprofits, foundations, businesses and arts organizations in the D.C. area and beyond. She interviewed the Sanz brothers on behalf of Washington Parent