Audition Daily Blog – Final

29 November 2015 #2

“Did not advance.”

So, yeah, that means I didn’t win the audition. But I don’t feel badly. Here’s why:

  1. I played better than I did a few weeks ago at the CSO sub list audition. There, you may remember, I was excused after playing the mandatory solo piece. Well, I got through that piece in MUCH better shape today than I did then.
  2. Um, number 1 sums it up pretty well. For most of us musicians, most of our lives, the best result we will ever experience is that we played up to our best ability at any given moment. There are only so many jobs available, and there are supremely talented people–who also work hard, and have the place in their life to spend enough time working at their craft–who will win the jobs. And that’s great, because the rest of us, all of us, can go to places like Symphony Center and the Lyric Opera and hear great music played greatly by the Chicago Symphony and the Lyric Opera Company. Great, isn’t it?

Did I play up to my best ability? Well, no. And yes.

Everything I played today I can play more accurately, more in tune, with better rhythm, more musically when I am at home, barefoot, unshaven, wearing my pajamas … even enjoying a beer. So No, I can play better than I did. But Yes.  Today wasn’t about playing at home and all that entails. This was about having to drive, find parking, signing in, waiting for a practice room, having 30 minutes to re-warm up (pity anyone who has to drive for more than an hour to get to an audition), waiting again to be taken into the room, speaking only in a whisper to the proctor (so the committee doesn’t know who is playing), and then playing short little bits of music with absolute accuracy, in front of an invisible panel of experts, without any applause or comment to provide feedback. And no beer. Given the limited opportunities I have to ‘test’ myself under those circumstances, Yes, I played pretty damn well. (I can do better, though … see above … and I sound even better if you are the one drinking the beer … )

(Some of you will want to know more about how this works. Here’s a quick summary, of what you didn’t glean from the longest sentence in the previous paragraph. After your resume passes muster–probably something like, oh, yeah, this person has played professionally &/or has a degree from a music school–you are provided a list of pieces to learn for the audition. In the case of this audition for Lyric Opera, there were 23, plus a required solo piece. Your work your butt off to get those ready, so you can play them as easily as you recite your address. When you get to the audition itself, a subset of that list is presented to you. Yep, you read that right, if only you knew, you wouldn’t have to practice ALL of those 23. But that’s not how it works. Anyway, you get a short time to warm up and then you go onstage or into a large room or whatever. There’s a big curtain across the room and you know that behind it are some people. You don’t know who or how many. Typically they don’t say anything, and you’re not to speak to them, only whisper to the proctor who ushered you into the room. This is to prevent bias, against whatever minority or gender that might be involved, and probably also to eliminate favoritism by a teacher for his student or whatever. It’s all very un-natural and thus your heart is pumping and your palms sweat and you have to keep schlepping your stuff all over the place . . . okay, you get the idea. You start to play whenever you are ready, but oh, you are not expected to make any sound before you begin the required solo piece. So your own sound is a complete surprise to you in this room. As you finish playing each piece, the panel says … nothing. You just go on until either you have played all of that day’s excerpts or some voice from behind the screen says “thank you,” whichever comes first. You go back to the room where you signed in and wait for a little while. Soon, or not so soon, someone comes in to let you know if any of the folks waiting–now there are several of you, staring blankly into space and trying to converse politely, but in reality overwhelmed that all the work is now over–need to play for the panel again today or have been advanced to the next round, whenever that is. Mostly people are thanked and told they can go home.)

The bottom line for me is

  • I was given the opportunity to audition (even though my resume is skimpy on professional experience over the last decade).
  • I worked hard in preparation, using as much time as I think I could reasonably take from the ‘rest’ of my life. I had the willpower and kept at it.
  • I remained steadfast, even when dealt a nasty wake-up call a couple of weeks back.
  • I made improvements to my playing, there is no question, bringing some technique back from dormancy. Possibly I even acquired a few new skills.
  • To be honest, I glimpsed the level of playing I have to get to in order to succeed at a professional orchestra audition. I will not go so far as to say that I am now driven to reach that level or die trying, but I learned something about the challenge. When someone retires from the CSO, don’t be surprised to see my name on the list of auditionees. I have an idea of what it will take.
  • I have had a good time writing about this process, and sharing it with a number of you who have put up with me blasting your Facebook groups with my posting. I owe you some props for all the things you are doing, and now I’ll have the time to recognize you for your efforts.

Thanks for listening! Keep listening, to the CSO, Lyric Opera, Chicago Bass Ensemble, King Crimson, Stick Men, Gunnelpumpers (hi Doug!), who- and what-ever music you love!


9 Responses to “Audition Daily Blog – Final”

  1. Douglas Johnson says:

    Thanks for sharing your process through this whole thing, Jacque. Sorry neither of us made it. Such is life!

  2. Tom Payne says:

    I’m sorry you didn’t advance but very much in admiration of what you did to get there. Thanks for blogging about this – great insights into what it takes to be a true musician.

    • Jacque Harper says:

      Tom, thanks for your encouragement. But let me correct one thing – this is definitely not the only path to be a “true” musician. That has little if anything to do with auditions or employment or playing excerpts. That’s about reaching inside oneself to reach out to others, using vibrating air molecules as a medium. I’m sure there are many true musicians who are much farther from the stage in Chicago than I am now… Probably a lot of true music was played at late night jams in the Roadhouse! Thanks for being with me on this little journey!

  3. Brigitte says:

    Thanks, Jacque, for these two weeks of shared insights into your world of musician-preparing-for-audition. I learned a lot about this world and am glad of it. And you are confirming the strong sense I had that the fruits of what you were doing were way beyond the results of these particular auditions. You multiplied your practice time and saw the level of playing that could yield to more possibilities… that’s great. So, for reaching for the stars, a big cheer!!!

  4. Beer. Yes, I used to write English compositions out at the Beer Garden while drinking – and I received A’s on them. There is probably something good to be said for performing while drinking beer; but it does seem a bit dangerous…. One needs to learn how to keep the alcohol level just right.
    And I have never competed against TWENTY THREE others for a position; If you had been selected it would be a statistical long-shot. I don’t know quite what to make of it.
    Thanks for sharing your feelings and process; and good to hear that you recovered so well from your earlier kerfuffle.

    • Jacque Harper says:

      Relaxing certain autonomic responses, dropping some inhibitions … in the right amount, an intoxicant can be helpful 😉
      But I would say it’s just like people who take beta-blockers for auditions (for the same reasons, btw), you need to practice taking the drug and playing. I’ve heard from people who really couldn’t manage the state.

      But, that’s not really for me.

      As far as 23 … I’m not sure if I dropped that number somewhere … my latest guess is that there are near 100 slots for candidates in the four days that the committee is hearing the first round of auditions. But I think for the majority of us, just competing against the music itself is the most fundamental challenge.

      As Doug Johnson said of his own audition, he “strangled Desdemona long before Otello made up his mind to do so” — meaning he (Doug) made mistakes on the excerpt (from the opera Otello) before the moment in that excerpt where the character Otello decides to kill his wife, Desdemona. I just love that as a summary of how hard it is to play all these excerpts well in the audition environment.

  5. Matt says:

    When a baby learns to walk- it falls. It falls all the time. And it laughs when it falls. I know you will keep stomping and moving forward! This blog series has helped so many. All the best- hope to see you soon!

  6. Laura says:

    Thank you. In so many ways, you are reaching folks you may never meet…but helping them in so many ways. It is hard to blog…in the same way no one on the panel says anything after each piece you play in the audition, no one says anything right when you are posting each blog. For this, I applaud your patience and tenacity…and ask you to continue the blogs. 🙂

    My son is a 14 year bass player. Absolutely driven to play the bass. He plays in orchestras, multiple jazz orchestras and combos at his school, a conservatory and the local performing arts centre…drags that bass to any and all open mics, jams, etc…well, wherever the club oweners will let him in. He often places himself out of his comfort zone to play with better folks so he can improve. Reading your blogs offers those of us on the outside of the music scene to help (in any small way) those looking to get in. Even just understanding this audition process from your perspective helps me learn. I don’t know where he will go to college, I don’t know what he will be when he grows up, but if he has anything to say about it, it will be with his bass in front of him.

    As we end this year and look to next, I thank you for your blogs, wish you the best in all that you set out to accomplish next year and say thank you for sharing your love of music. It is so appreciated.

    Happy New Year!!!

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