Archive for the ‘Performance Preparation’ Category

Audition Daily Blog 06

Saturday, November 21st, 2015

21 November 2015 #1

Those of you who are very astute, extremely interested, or bored beyond belief and have ended up here will notice that there was no daily post yesterday.

I started in on the routine — tune up, warm up with some scales, play the required solo piece, go through the excerpts — and pretty promptly got frustrated and tired. So I gave myself the night off.

I continue to be amused that my post on searching for a car continues to be among the most popular on this blog. I guess that’s what people are actually interested in.

Audition Daily Blog 05

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Just a moment of pre-practice angst. What do I do to make practicing fun again? Hey, even as I ask the question, my mood is brightening . . .

19 November 2015

The answer to the above question turned out be “have some dinner.”

Probably about 90 minutes practice tonight, broken into two segments by some errands. I’m very tired–as you know from last night’s blog post, I was up too late wrestling with an android phone. No matter. I realized the problem and decided on a very low-key practice routine today.

I have half-sheets of paper for each excerpt on which I make notes: the tempo I can play it at, which shift I need to work on the next time I’m practicing, that sort of thing. Tonight I shuffled up these note papers, and then went through them. The represented excerpt I played just a few times (or once only for the longer ones) with maybe a little ‘refreshing’ of a section or a shift before playing or after, or both.

This practice routine simulates the actual audition (especially if one commits to playing the excerpt before working on anything). Of course, I’m not at tempo on many of these. On other nights, I would have tried to bump up the tempo on a second run-through of each excerpt, but tonight was not the night for that.

I’m feeling mellow. Not overly confident and aggressive, but also at peace and not un-confident. I don’t have a lot of time left to prepare, and I’ll reach whatever level I reach. I need to be steady and constant. I also need to be careful that the twinges in my thumb and forearm (esp. left side) don’t develop into something nasty. So tonight (it’s now 10 pm central) will NOT be a late night like last night.

There. That’s my five (actually six, plus the three sentences I wrote before practicing) minutes.

Audition Daily Blog 04

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

18 November 2015

Goals tonight

  • play each excerpt, plus the required solo, at least once
  • try out “interleaved” technique described on Bulletproof Musician
  • don’t stay up late
  • get some laundry started
  • help set up daughter’s new phone

Okay, I typed up those goals before I started practicing (I’m cheating, this will be like oh maybe seven or eight minutes’ worth of writing in total, *gasp*). Who wants to guess what happened?

That’s right, dammit, setting up the phone took WAY too much time. Android. Ick. Although I have decided that my theory about phone operating systems is the same as my theory about Austin Powers movies: whichever one you see first is the one you love, and the others all seem derivative and borderline terrible.

So, since we’re definitely here to keep score:

Play each excerpt: actually accomplished, but at a bare minimum for several

Use the “interleaved” practice schedule: did not do, except by virtue of not working on any one excerpt for more than five minutes or so.

Don’t stay up late: yet to be seen, but it is now 10:23, and once I wrap up this post, off to bed, and all in all that’s not terrible.

Get some laundry started: don’t make me laugh.

Phone: we talked about that already. A grudging victory: I helped, but it cost me.

Bottom line is, tonight actually didn’t suck as a practice session. It could have been much worse, and really given the whole phone thing, it came out okay.

I’m feeling borderline positive. I really do think I’ll do better on the 29th than I did at the CSO audition. There are going to be talented players at this audition, so I am not betting my mortgage on winning, but I know I’ll do better than … okay, enough on that already. Grudge match between me and J.S.B. is on!

I love playing music. Forcing myself to follow through on this audition is bringing back so many skills, I’m really happy about it. Winning the job would be just awesome. So is being able to play at my best, wherever I play.

Time’s up. Good night.

next morning edit: bad news. After publishing this post, I stayed up really late working on the phone. But I was successful. So . . .


Audition Daily Blog 03

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

…in which I quote a tweet by Jeff Gothelf

17 November 2015

It’s just about 9:45 and I’ve finished practicing for the night. I started at about 6 pm when I got home, had a 45-minute break for dinner with the family and now I’m done.

I got through every excerpt and the required solo piece with the following formula (more or less):

  1. play the excerpt note-by-note, watching the electronic tuner for intonation (as well as listening with my ears!), and retrying any shifts that were particularly out-of-tune.
  2. consult my notes from yesterday, and play the excerpt at least once at the same finishing tempo or slightly slower than yesterday.
  3. If all went well in (2), notch the tempo up a beat per minute or maybe two and play it again.
  4. as needed, re-study things that didn’t go well.
  5. repeat 1-4 for all 23 excerpts and the solo piece.

The solo was what really fouled me up at the CSO sub list audition. Look, I’ve been working in a very semi-pro capacity for a lot of years now. I don’t get paid for playing solo pieces, let alone playing solo Bach. They’re pieces written for the cello, an instrument with a much shorter string length and tuned differently. They can be damned hard to play on bass, no matter what Edgar Meyer might make you think. So when it comes time to work on the Bourrees from the third suite, I just plain get frustrated. This animosity I have is getting better, but it is hard to deal with.

Okay, five minutes is up. That went fast. I was gonna totally get into my emotional state, but I guess I won’t.

I promised I would quote a tweet. @jboogie wrote it about writing a book, but I think it’s just perfectly applicable:

Audition Daily Blog 02

Monday, November 16th, 2015

16 November 2015

Finished going through everything on the excerpt list approximately one time. This is after a full working day at my day gig. And taking a pause in the middle of it all to pick up my daughter from choir. So even though little progress was made, I am satisfied. Not super-pumped, but at least I have no reason to be down on myself tonight.

It’s not nearly the high that yesterday was. There are some obvious flaws in my playing these passages. I worry of course that they won’t be resolved in time for the audition. What can I do but just keep working? There’s no miracle formula.

Andy Anderson said something good to me in an email today: “treat these excerpts just like you would a solo piece.” So that’s a cool piece of advice–it takes away the pressure to be “right” about how to play them in an orchestra. Haha, but in a subtle way it makes the pressure worse: now I can’t just say “I did it like the paper said.” I have to really think it through and have an opinion, at least for myself.

I can’t really describe how many different kinds of pressure an audition puts on you. Maybe you’re starting to notice. Near flawless and perfectly repeatable technique. Confidence. Deep knowledge. Enthusiasm.

And finding the time to put that all together. As you gather, since I’m only allowing myself five minutes to blog … and how to practice Wagner (full tilt screaming valkyries!) after the rest of the family has gone to bed? I regret the hours I did NOT spend in the practice room when I was an undergraduate, and again as a graduate student. Oh sure, I am the person who I am and I am where I am–and those are both pretty good things–because of the choices I made then, but sometimes I really wish I had chose differently.


That became kind of stream of consciousness, didn’t it? And confessional, in a slight way.

13 days (less) to the audition.

Audition Daily Blog 01

Sunday, November 15th, 2015


My audition date for the Lyric Opera orchestra is coming up in 14 days. I’m going to share some thoughts – five minutes at a time. I have a lot of practicing to do, so five minutes a day is all I want to spare. Background: the upcoming audition is for a regular spot in the orchestra of the Lyric Opera of Chicago. It’s one of the best opera organizations in the world, and it would be a plum of a gig for any musician. I have only a few days left to prepare.

So each of those next days, I’m going to use this blog platform to share some of what I’m putting myself through. Today is two installments: this five minutes of context, and five minutes of “what I’m feeling today.” That will be my rule: five minutes. Minimal editing. Off it goes into the aether.

(I’ve got almost two minutes left…) I’d love to get this gig, but I’m realistic: after I absolutely wiped out in last weekend’s substitute list audition for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, I will be relieved to just get past the required solo piece in the Lyric audition. But wow, winning this spot … I could actually play music for a living. I long for such a life.

That’s my first five minutes for today. Back to practicing, with another five minutes blogging to follow below.

2015 November 15

Okay, it’s the end of the day (8:30 pm). I didn’t keep track of how many hours I spent today, but it really was the better part of the day. I believe that I played nearly every one of the 23 excerpts twice today. And when I say “played” I actually mean played, worked on and played again. Really, it feels like a good day of work.

I had a coaching a few weeks ago with Michael Hovnanian, and he said something to the effect of “don’t waste your time panicking now, there will be plenty of time for that right before you go on stage for your audition.” I LOVE that idea, and today is a day when it’s comfortable to feel that. I did get some stuff DONE today. It’s not always that way.

(I’m about halfway through my 5 minutes.)

Today I did manage to start something that I should have been doing all along: keeping track of my ‘current best’ tempo for each of the excerpts. Tracking that will allow me to be more deliberate about my preparation. Should’ve been doing it all along. And from now, also something I should have been doing all along, always a metronome as I go through excerpts. As you might expect where there are tricky passages, inconsistent tempo is troubling me throughout.

I thought that I would be writing something more philosophical right now, but I guess I’m on enough of a practice high that I just feel good. So that’s my five minute blog for tonight.


Friday, January 9th, 2015

It’s after midnight, but I have energy!

We’ve just completed our final rehearsal before the UW-Whitewater Bass Fest this weekend. It went well. I’m thankful to my colleagues for making it here to Rogers Park tonight. I’ve walked home in the snow (twitter hashtag #ChiBeria2015) and while I should have gone to bed, instead I:

No small amount of work, actually! I’ll pay for it in sleepiness tomorrow, but right now I feel GOOD! Not least because there might actually be FOUR rehearsals available before February 1, and I’ve booked them now instead of waiting until January 20th or something. Hooray, death to procrastination!


Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

A really elemental post. I am going to double-check the timing of the pieces we’ll be playing at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Bass Fest next weekend.

We have 45 minutes to play (2:00 pm to 2:45 pm), and we will also play something on the end-of-day concert. When you get down to it, we have four pieces set up for this performance:

  • Livre (by ‘cellist Joan Jeanrenaud, arrangement for four basses by Jacque Harper): 4’ 30″
  • Dream Time (by Tony Osborne): 5′ 15″
  • Double Bass Quartet 1987 (by David Anderson), five movements: 2′ 30″, 3′ 04″, 2′ 58″, 3′ 28″, 7′ 05″
  • Quartet (by Joseph Lauber), two of four movements: 3′ 39″, 1′ 44″

Some of these times are “calculated,” that is, by me playing them through with a metronome. Others are from “experience” of previous times we have played them.

That is a total time of 34′ 13″. If we allow about three minutes between each piece for some talking, tuning and page aligning–which is generous, we come out with about 46 minutes. Perhaps instead of doing the two movements of the Lauber during the 2:00 pm slot, we’ll save them for the end-of-day concert. That leaves us maybe a tad under what would be perfect for the afternoon, but not badly.

If the guys feel we can stretch, and include some of the other movements of the Lauber, this could be recalculated.


How Many Rehearsals?

Monday, March 31st, 2014

I’m writing this post just as I arrive home from our performance at the Chicago Cultural Center, premiering Rural Sketches by Igor Iachimciuc with Matthew Coley, marimba (click for more details).

If you were in attendance today, thank you so much for being a part of a lovely audience! I really hope that you enjoyed the piece. If your interest in double bass music is piqued, please join our mailing list to learn about future performances!

One of the most common questions I’m asked about any piece of music we perform or concert we give is “how many rehearsals did you have?” I have to admit, it’s fun to give the answer and watch people’s surprise at it. I won’t be able to see all of your expressions as you read this, but please feel free to leave a comment.

How many rehearsals did we have, with all the performers, for this piece? One. An hour before the performance.

Go ahead, take that selfie of your amazed expression and send it to me…

Now, that’s the “shock value” answer. For a variety of reasons, we had only the one rehearsal, this morning, with everyone in attendance. We had six rehearsals with some subset of the group together. The smallest group we had for a rehearsal is three. Several times we had four of us. Matt drove from Iowa to Chicago to rehearse with us one time, a week ago, and that was the first rehearsal that Leslie B. Dunner joined us to conduct. But only five of the bassists were present for that.

It’s a real testament to the professionalism and skill of all my colleagues that we are able to put a piece together in few rehearsals. But, if I may make a broader point, this is not uncommon for professional musicians. We all work hard at refining our skills so that we can make music with little or even no rehearsal. Just like doctors and lawyers and all kinds of other people, we work hard “behind the scenes” preparing for the moments we get on stage (or in the surgery or in front of the jury). I’m sure that Andy, Doug, Charlie, Josh and Julian spent at least as much time preparing on their own as they spent in rehearsal with the rest of us. Not to mention the years of study to master the instrument itself. Same for Matt. And Leslie — for conductors this situation is even more extreme: nobody gets unlimited time in front of an orchestra to “figure out” how to conduct. Conductors bring years of study and intense personal preparation into every movement of their baton.

Your question “how many rehearsals did you have?” was an innocent one, so I won’t harangue too long, but please, the next time you enjoy a piece of music, remember this. Yes, the musicians put this together in just a few rehearsals. Yes, that seems pretty amazing. But it’s not magic: it’s long hours of private preparation that make it possible. And if you hear about musicians striking for “better pay” remember that the hours of rehearsal that they get paid for are only the tip of an iceberg of practice room time that has brought them to a level of skill that makes those few rehearsals very productive. (End of soapbox.)

Again, my warm thanks for coming to today’s performance, for reading this blog, for being interested in what we do.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Jacque Harper

Quick Post-Rehearsal Note

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

Had a great time over the last 4 hours rehearsing Rural Sketches one more time with five of the six bassists for Monday. Leslie B. Dunner (won’t tell me what the “B” is for, leave a comment if you know) is doing a fantastic job helping us with the piece. I’m so indebted to him for agreeing to do this.

Also, I wrote a post describing the stages of preparing for a premiere. I challenged my friends Fifth House Ensemble and fellow bassist Matt Erion to tell me if they felt the same way.  Fifth House tweeted “hmmm….a lot of that sounds familiar. Love the insight! Thanks for sharing!” and Matt tweeted “You put a much more optimistic bent on these issues than I do. Something to consider for myself.” Those comments feel good: I now know that I’m not the only person who gets nervous about a premiere!

Anyway, our premiere of Igor Iachimciuc’s piece, of which we are co-commissioner, is on Monday. 12:15 at the Cultural Center in Chicago. After tonight’s rehearsal, I can’t wait!