Archive for the ‘Performance Preparation’ Category

Audition Daily Blog – Final

Sunday, November 29th, 2015

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!

Audition Daily Blog 15

Sunday, November 29th, 2015

29 November 2015

Today’s the day. I won’t say what time I’m playing … it occurred to me after I sent my email about the CSO sub list audition that by mentioning the time I was playing, I might be seen as trying to tip off the panel to my presence. I have several CSO section members on my mailing list, including Alex Hannah, the principal of the CSO. Anyway, not doing that this time, whatever.

I’m going to warm up slowly on everything – I’ll spend as much time as I can just note-by-note. I think that’s the right approach. I’ve also got a structural therapy session scheduled to take out the kinks in my back that I’ve created over the last few days.

And right now I’m going to remind myself that the only emotion that will help me during the audition is joy: joy at playing, joy at the progress I’ve made over the past weeks and months, joy at the opportunity to be where I am. I need to be as joyful as a bicyclist whose teeth are covered in flies. (It’s a JOKE! think about it for a moment. Here’s the original, as told by my childhood friend Davy Gates: “How can you tell a bicyclist is happy? Count the flies on his teeth!”)

Bass Ensemble Blog Daily Vists

Usual daily traffic is like that sliver of Nov. 20 that you see at the left edge of this image.

Hey, thanks to all of you who have been following this blog for these two weeks. Yes, I spend a little too much time looking at the stats, but it encourages me to think that I’ve been sharing this ride with others. And if for whatever reason you’re just joining, the journey–or at least the documentation–starts with Audition Daily Blog 01.

Okay, that’s it. Off to the races, folks. Thanks again for following, and especially to those of you who have left comments or sent emails.


Audition Daily Blog 14

Saturday, November 28th, 2015

Microblogging throughout the day. Visit again later to read more.

28 November 2015

1:35 pm

Ugh. Ran through everything once earlier today, a lot of rough patches. Maybe wasn’t completely warmed up, maybe that’s just how it goes. In the past, I’ve made the day before the audition an “easy” day. Kind of a superstition, although probably there’s some basis for it in athletic practice. Not doing that today; there’s too much still to be worked out.

2:20 pm

Hoping I’ll get an answer to this tweet – it’s definitely what I’m feeling just now:

4:00 pm

Fear of Bach–which must of course be Bachphobia–has returned. Mild case, but still super threatening. Making progress through the excerpts. Having lapses of willpower trying to stay focused and avoid distraction. At least the ‘interleaved’ technique gives me something of a framework to structure the day.

5:08 pm

Bach in between every set of three other excerpts. Must overcome the fear! Other things are progressing well enough. I organized today from hardest to easiest, so as to impart some feeling of comfort as the day went on. Later I will have to take on the question of how to organize tomorrow. I think it’s slow read-through of each excerpt, rather than extended working out of things at speed.

6:45 pm

Reminding myself by writing it here: the only emotion that will help you in an audition is joy. Joy at playing, joy at learning all this music, joy at the opportunities you have. Everything else is just going to distract and punish you.

Heading into the home stretch. Uncertain whether I will take a pass at everything once more before wrapping up for the day.

9:35 pm

Earlier, decided I’m done for the day. To bed now, up early to get warmed up.


postscript: Doug Replied a little later –

Audition Daily Blog 13

Friday, November 27th, 2015

27 November 2015

It seems a shame to limit myself to five minutes tonight, because I feel GREAT! about my practicing today. I worked on — not just played through, but worked on — every excerpt. I took breaks to rest and eat. I got interrupted to make airline reservations. I took time to have dinner with my wife and go to a movie. And I still got through everything, and made progress on everything. It feels really satisfying.

And because I’m feeling so giddily positive, I’m going to do something no bass player–perhaps Gary Karr and Edgar Meyer excepted–should do. And it’s not because I think I’m anywhere near as good as Karr or Meyer, but just because I’m feeling reckless. Here’s a recording I just made of the Bourrées from the 3rd cello suite by Bach, just as I will play them on Sunday (without the mistakes of course):

I hope you enjoy listening to it … I enjoyed recording it. And that’s saying something. I may be successfully addressing the bête noire that pickled me at the CSO sub audition.

Also, I’ve been enjoying reading some of Doug Johnson’s tweets as he prepares for the audition:

I also feel like my sound is really improving. Playing this much really frees one up to play loose (re: muscle tension) and solid (re: good string contact etc.).

I’m hoping to have a similar day tomorrow. Looking forward to Sunday.

In case you missed them, I have blogged the last few days as well, I just didn’t aggressivley publicize all of them on Facebook, Google+ etc. (I don’t want to wear out my welcome with you good folks.)

I welcome your comments (below), and feel free to sign up for the mailing list of the bass ensemble (“General Announcements” at right –> ).

Audition Daily Blog 12

Friday, November 27th, 2015

A little blogging twist today – I’m going to add short notes to this post throughout the day, and publish near the end of the day.

26 November 2015

8:12 am, Central Daylight Time

The day is starting off a little differently than I hoped. The family is still sleeping (good for them!) so I can’t begin practicing full-bore (or even at all) yet. So instead, I’m going to do a little housekeeping (monitoring finances in Quicken) and then study the audition music. Specifically, I want to make a very few notes for each excerpt about what is happening in the opera at the point the excerpt takes place. It might help my playing be more expressive. More angles of familiarity with the music can’t hurt. I hope it will prove a good use of otherwise dead time. (Okay, to be honest, if I were the kind of person who was capable of sleeping in, that might be best for me. But I’m something of a lark; I might lie in bed for a couple hours and just get more anxious.)

10:20 am

Able to get started at 10. Have warmed up. Will now shuffle the excerpts and play through everything while recording.

1:30 pm

It’s working out. I’m up to the part where I “interleave” the excerpts and work on stuff. Have to break to have Thanksgiving meal with family and friends now.

27 November, 9:10 am

Family & friends time made up the rest of the day yesterday. My feeling about yesterday, regarding audition preparation: “not disappointed.”

In the spirit of Thanksgiving (explanation, if you didn’t grow up in this culture*), I will say that, in addition to the blessings of health and family, I am grateful that I have the opportunity to work this hard on music, with such a clear goal and challenge. It’s a good ride.

* I like the idea of, but haven’t researched at all, “wopila,” a celebration of the Native Americans of the Great Plains, precedent to “Thanksgiving” but similar, if what the wikipedia entry linked above suggests is accurate.


Audition Daily Blog 11

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

25 November 2015

It’s as I feared – last night’s late bedtime screwed me today. Forgive my strong-ish language, but I’m pretty frustrated with myself right now. Although it was a short day at my day gig, other events conspired to take up some of the time freed up by the short day.

I took a nap in the afternoon, because I could feel fatigue coming on. But again, other events, and by the time I could cleanly decide to focus on practicing, it was 8:30 pm. And fatigue was returning. I did my best to get through excerpts from Salome, Rosenkavalier, Figaro and the Bach (solo piece), but by the time I tried to work on Falstaff, I could tell that I did not have enough mental energy in me to do anything but frustrate myself.

I figured that if I were to keep going, I would just get angrier and angrier with myself, and so I’ve decided to stop. This basically breaks a streak of “at least” touching each excerpt once per day. I’m sad/angry about that. But better to stop than to make things worse.

The issue this presents is of having enough willpower and determination to put other things aside and focus on the top goal. I won’t go into detail about what all the other things are, but, yes, as my mother-in-law hinted in her comment to last night’s entry, it’s about family and getting my daughter ready for an important trip.

So, family is important. I would be wrong to completely push aside my responsibilities as a parent. But I must learn how to handle and balance all my commitments. I think Mixerman would have some lesson from the guru based on today’s experience.

Well, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. And there are tons of commitments around Thanksgiving, of course. But I am going to find the right way to balance and manage those. I know that, as a base stance, my wife understands my need to practice, that this audition is important to me, and that she will support a reasonable amount of excusing myself from socializing tomorrow. So it’s going to work out.

Tomorrow’s goals/plan:

  1. warm up (stretching, scales, some bowing)
  2. solo piece – play once. Make notes of what needs attention.
  3. each and every excerpt, random order – play once. Make notes of what needs attention.
  4. Triage the damage: review notes and decide what to work on
  5. break
  6. take all of the pieces in order of “needs most work” and three or four at a time, interleave working on them.
  7. make my way through all the pieces. Or at least work until the rest of the family attempts to force feed me turkey and stuffing.

Audition Daily Blog 10

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

24 November 2015

A reminder of the ground rules here: I’m allowing myself 5 minutes each day to post something here about my preparation for an audition for the Lyric Opera on November 29. That’s right, these are short, and you only have to suffer through four or maybe five more of them!!

A fun note: comments! I have received a few recently. Bloggers love comments, at least I do. Thank you, commenters!

Today was nearly a disaster. I got home from work and tried to quickly get to practicing. Dinner was called. My daughter’s iCloud account needed attention. I set aside practicing to tend to these things. As computer things are wont to do, they took more time than planned. (Partly that’s me, because I love to solve problems like setting up computer things, so I spend time with them.)

By the time I got back to practicing, it was like 9:30 pm … late … that 10 hours of sleep that the Bulletproof Musician recommends was not looking likely.

I have now wrapped up at 11:18. I did manage to play through– at least once — every excerpt. And some of them got needed attention on various technical bits.

But it’s late, and I’m going to pay for this tomorrow.

My friend Doug Johnson has been doing some tweeting about his preparation. You might enjoy seeing what he has to say as well. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in his practice studio. Not because I want to buzz around and annoy him, but because he’s a really talented player, and I’d like to see how he approaches his practicing. I’ll ask him about it after the auditions are over.

That’s past my five. So I’ll wrap up. Thanks for reading!

Audition Daily Blog 09

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

23 November 2015

A day of very little practicing. An ordinary Monday, true, but for attending MusicNow tonight. That meant that practicing was limited to a few minutes (I think three excerpts, it was a long time ago) in the morning before work, and once through each excerpt tonight, starting at about 9:30 pm.

That late start time meant working with a heavy mute on the entire time, and even with the mute, playing very quietly. There’s a family to be not-kept-up-late after all.

So not the best practice conditions. And I have learned from experience that I tend to take intonation very casually when playing really quietly like I was tonight. So it’s possible that I did myself more harm than good. Or maybe not. It is heartening that I could more or less play each excerpt without doing a dry run first. If I really thought I was doing myself harm, I guess I wouldn’t have done it.

But there’s no control group here, so we will never know with absolute surety.

About that third finger. Some years ago, after doing a week-long course with Dr. Mark Morton, I started using my third finger in place of the fourth finger from about the position of first finger on d on the G string and up. I do think that there are some advantages in terms of hand position. But I have never been diligent about making sure my intonation was up to snuff while doing that. Michael Hovnanian has called me on that a number of times. But this time I’m heeding his advice and I’m going back to a more Simandl-like use of the fourth finger. Habits die hard, but I think my intonation is better for it. When I’m paid to play, I’ll tackle the third finger again.

Time’s up! Off to bed … not that I’m going to get 10 hours, but better 8 than 7.

Audition Daily Blog 08

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

22 November 2015

A few minutes blog, pre-practice. 8:30 am

I’m stalling. I’m avoiding. I’m wishing I didn’t have to devote most of the day to these 25 little bits of music.

What I need to do is practice, again. Go through these 25 things again. Be able to play them as if I were reciting my address, but with more feeling.

What I want to do is sit down and watch the Brazilian Grand Prix race that I have TiVO’d.

What I end up doing is puttering around: filling the humidifiers, helping my wife take in the now-frozen window boxes, cleaning up in the kitchen. I’m being usefulhelpful, right? So it can’t be a bad thing that I’m not practicing, because I’m doing stuff that needs doing. Instead of just wasting time watching the TV.

But it’s a full day, and if I don’t get to practicing now–this Sunday morning not even 9 am yet–I will not get to each and every one of those 25 little bastards. And if that doesn’t happen, my guilt will mount. No matter how many frozen-shut car doors I help with, or freshly-made scones (yes, my wife made scones) I properly package and put in the freezer. Or minutes of blogging I do. See ya later today (below).

 A mostly pre-practice minute. 12:30 pm

Haven’t practiced much yet. WHAT?! Went to the church service my daughter is singing in. That’s familial duty, and it’s important. But in the car ride to get there, I looked over the excerpts and prioritized what I’m going to work on. And work starts now.

Post (or mid-) practice. 5 pm

I say “or mid” because, heck, it’s 5 pm. I’ve got at least 3 more hours in the day. Why not keep going? I have gotten through all of the 25, plus the solo piece. I prioritized, I varied, I (sort of) interleaved (see the earlier post); I’m doing the right things, I think. And generally, my playing is showing it. I am making progress.

One of the things I’m doing, more successfully now than I was even two weeks ago, is practicing slowly. I always think of my friend Marcus “Pops” Barron (guitar) when I do this. You have to practice slowly. Under tempo. And gradually get up to tempo. One metronome click at a time.

This is devastatingly concentration- and willpower-intensive. Especially if you have a metronome capable of incrementing in 1 bpm increments (unlike the varying 2 to 6 bpm increments on the old-fashioned metronomes). It takes tremendous will to NOT just barrel ahead to the performance tempo.

But as my daughter has reminded me, “practice makes permanent.” So better to make permanent the right fingering, the accurate shift, the correct subdivision of the beat, rather than the emotional and “but it’s more fun” method of just ripping ahead and saying that you’ll fix problems later. When is later?

Well, that’s my five minutes. Plus a minute, plus five minutes, all earlier in the day. What looked like a squandered opportunity, well, I didn’t completely recover it (what if I had starting practicing in earnest at 8:45 am), but I didn’t completely waste the day. (I admit that it helped that we as a family decided not to go to a friend’s party 90 minutes ago.)

So, if I do some more practice tonight, I may write a supplemental post at the very end of the day. Meanwhile, this is it.

Thanks for reading. Consider signing up to be notified of future blog posts, or leaving a comment. Or also signing up for the bass ensemble mailing list. Thanks!

Audition Daily Blog 07

Saturday, November 21st, 2015

21 November 2015 #2

For some reason, while I was practicing this late afternoon, I got the idea that it would be fun to share recordings of my playing with you, my loyal reader. So I give you two of the excerpts which are consuming so much of my time and energy lately. From Wagner’s Die Walkure and Verdi’s Falstaff. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I do!

Now, how it’s going today: fine. Making progress. Not a lot to report that’s new in the way of emotional upheaval or fantastic progress, nor is there lack of progress. Just pluggin’ along. Over the course of the day, I made it through every excerpt at least once. Usually played through each several times before moving on; and often worked on some trouble spots.

I did have a dream last night that I had been hired to play one opera with Lyric. And then in the same dream I was going to play with another orchestra–maybe it was the CSO, but after arriving at the hall, I went back to my car to find it had been towed for parking in a no parking during rush hour zone.

Mild stress nightmare stuff. Maybe there will be more to come in the next week. Tomorrow marks one week to the audition.