Am I Crazy?

You knew this was going to happen.

Just a few days ago, I was looking through the latest International Musician (the publication of the musician’s union) and saw that the Detroit Symphony has an opening for Section Bass. Auditions October 16-18.

So here’s the question. Given that I have sort of taken on a project to rebuild my technique, starting over with Gary Karr’s elementary bass books (I’m up to “shifting!”) and mixing in a self-taught take on Rabbath’s method (I bought all of his books two years ago), can I get from page 63 of the book for beginners to the Detroit Symphony in 95 days?

Am I an optimist or a lunatic?

Am I being fatalistic and self-defeating if I said “honestly there’s no way I could win such an audition–there are so many great players out there, one of them would easily surpass me in a final round?” Is it setting too low a bar to say “I’d just like to play well in the first round.” (Although that of course is true.)

I got a big boost out of preparing for the last set of auditions I took. Although ultimately I was disappointed by my performance in the actual auditions. Am I thinking about doing this for the right reasons? Would it be possible to wipe from my mouth the bad taste of my last auditions by doing this? If I don’t actually commit myself to appearing in Detroit ninety-five days from now … look at it this way: with a concrete and tangible goal (“get through the audition”) and deadline (October 16, 2017) I will really work hard. Without those things, it will be easy easy easy to let practicing slide a couple times each week, and I won’t make the same progress.

But what is progress? If we accept as a given–and I think in will insist that it is a given, many of you will agree–that there are better players out there, who will ultimately defeat me in a final round, is winning an audition of this level a quixotic goal? Is it quixotic even to make the attempt? In business, we talk about S.M.A.R.T. goals, where the A stands for achievable. Again with the given I have just stated, this is NOT a SMART goal. Is making “progress” towards the impossible really progress, or is it effort that would be better directed at some other goal?

I might be talking myself out of this.

At the same time, for a few years now I have been carting around with me a yellow sticky-note with the phrase “look beyond what is reasonable” written on it. At the moment I can’t remember where I first encountered the phrase. It inspires me. It doesn’t say “be insane crazy and live outside the norms of society and abuse those around you” it just says don’t accept that things have to be just the way everyone else sees them. The audition doesn’t have to be won by the young conservatory grad with the gold medal at an international competition–the reasonable assumption. It could go to the guy twenty+ years out of school who just has a lot of heart and is going to make himself put in the work.

Do I really want to do this?

What if we took a poll? Put your vote in the comments. And please leave a comment with some of the reasoning behind your vote. If you’re reading my blog for the first time, it’d be lovely if you took in the backstory for this question by skimming the “audition” tag and the “Practice and Skills” and “Personal Preparation” categories.

Meanwhile, a few observations on the first steps in Gary Karr’s method.

  • Initially, getting a good sound on the “Koussevitzky” harmonic at the marked tempo and bow length on the E string was crazy hard. But it got better over several days of practice.
  • Really, what a brilliant approach to focus so much on bow speed as the primary concept to master when first picking up the instrument. (For me, I think poor control/consciousness of bow speed is a major underlying factor in many of the other awkwardnesses of my playing.)
  • My science brain wants to geek out on exactly what the speed ratios need to be when going from this note to that or one string to another. Practical musician brain has to intervene and remind us to get a good sound and go with it.
  • The shifting exercises, like focussing on bow speed as a fundamental skill, are quite smart. The bass is a huge instrument. Instead of initially working on shifts of a minor third or so, the initial shifting exercises very quickly cover shifting from very low to very high positions: Take on the biggest challenge with “beginner’s mind” rather than waiting until the third book of your method (meaning like second year of student study) to introduce the ‘scary’ concept of playing in the ‘hard’ positions. Master that sh*t early on, the rest will be easy!

More and more I’m thinking that I want to take these books to students of my own. I have resisted teaching for a long time. But I feel like the students I know of would really benefit from approaching the instrument this way. And that I would benefit from teaching them.

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6 Responses to “Am I Crazy?”

  1. John Newfry says:

    I say go for it. If you don’t you’ll never know if you could have. And it’s Detroit, aren’t all the bass players trying to leave anyway?

    • Jacque Harper says:

      Haha! Maybe they are all trying to leave Detroit, what do I know? There was a series of openings in the NY Phil for a while a year or so ago, I always wondered what happened. (Might be related to the recent resignation of their music director, too.)

      And housing in Detroit! You can buy enough acreage to run a small farm for a song, or well, in this case, for the first movement of one of the standard bass concertos.

      Thanks for the encouragement. This afternoon I was falling off the fence in favor of “not doing.” We will see what the next few days and the next few comments bring.

  2. Tom Payne says:

    Even if you think it’s not Achievable this time, would the improvement you realize in the process make an opportunity like this “A” next time?

    • Jacque Harper says:

      That is the $82,355 question.

      Talking with a friend yesterday, I realized that a huge part of the ‘problem’ here is my attitude. Why do I have to “look beyond what is reasonable” to think anything could come of this? Why can’t I just assume that my winning the job is reasonable. He mentioned sales trainer David Sandler, saying he focused on improving the inner person. And that reminded me of The Inner Game of Music, which I should read. (Pretty sure I read the Inner Game of Tennis quickly one summer, just to know what it was about. Not a tennis player.)

  3. David Gates says:

    Go for it, even if you dont get the part what you will learn will be invaluable. Yes you should teach because you teach best what you need to learn. Yes you are crazy, enjoy it!

    • Jacque Harper says:

      Yes, yes … but here’s what I worry about: what if I could better spend the time putting my energies into bass ensemble music? Or composing? What’s the opportunity cost of pursuing this vision in place of some other vision?

      Thank you for the enthusiastic response!

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