Posts Tagged ‘Andy Anderson’

Audition Daily Blog, the sequel – part 02

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

Battling Inertia

So, as I suggested, I’m not blogging daily right now. No, in fact I’m battling inertia. For a few weeks around the end of the year, I got totally out of the practice habit and routine and I’m finding it hard to get underway again.

I’m finding something numbing about practicing these same excerpts, again. The Grant Park Festival Orchestra plays what I’ll informally call ‘traditional’ orchestral repertoire[1], and their audition list is similar to audition lists from all the orchestras I have ever auditioned for. There might be one excerpt on the list that I haven’t worked on before. The excerpt list for the Lyric Opera Orchestra was almost all-new to me, which made it more interesting for me.

So I pick up the bass and the bow, and look at Mozart, and wonder about the wisdom of the fingering I worked out years ago, and wonder if there isn’t something else I could do, either with my fingers . . . or my time. Tough.

I did take the opportunity of the long weekend to have a coaching/lesson with David Murray in Indianapolis, Indiana. That was a good thing to do. I can’t say that I filled in every technical gap that I have. But I did get some new perspective; the most important of which is to focus on the bow, not the fingerings.

When Pinchas Zuckerman played with the Civic Orchestra during one of my seasons in that group, I remember that he said the bow was the most important part of producing sound. It makes sense, of course. But I had never taken that to heart as a section player. David pointed it out to me. We worked on the bass solo variation of Hadyn’s Symphony #31, starting with “how will you bow this,” and only after settling the bowing (by singing the part and air bowing) did we move on to what the fingering would be.

Very interesting. And yet, when I pick up those old excerpts, I find it hard to break down the old habits. Or maybe frightening to think of scrapping everything that I think I know and starting from zero. Which leads to . . .

A Crisis in … Confidence? or of Heart

(In Spite of Advice for the Better)

Well, this is the thing that worked its way into my head early this morning. Do I really feel confident in what I have committed to, taking the audition for the Grant Park Festival Orchestra?

When one is in Conservatory, one is encouraged to take as many auditions as you can. “You need experience taking auditions.” A few years ago (or maybe more than a few) I decided that the experience of playing badly in front of people who knew better was not an experience that I found valuable. And so I stopped taking auditions.

BAM! Enlightenment moment: Do you see my mistake? Instead of stopping auditioning, I should have stopped playing badly, right?

Okay, easily said, right? “Just stop playing badly.[2]”

Honestly, as I’m writing this, I think I just gobsmacked myself. But no, I wasn’t a dilettante about my practicing in those days, I was making sincere efforts to improve, and to play those excerpts the right way. It’s unfair (see footnote 2) to suggest that I could have simply “stopped playing badly.”

What I really wanted to get to in this part of this blog post was the idea of confidence in what one is playing. See “play those excerpts the right way” in the previous paragraph. I am always, it seems, looking for someone else’s authority to tell me what is the “right” way to play a passage. That attitude might be a boon when one is a member of a section–cohesion and unity being important to creating a good ensemble–but it can certainly be a hindrance when one is preparing an audition.

Both David Murray and Andy Anderson have placed hints in my brain that–at least when preparing an audition–one should treat each excerpt soloistically. That is, not to take wild liberties with tempo and phrasing, but to interpret the passages with the mindset that you know what you are doing, that you have an opinion about how this piece goes and that you are confident in expressing the excerpt in your way. It should be internally consistent, it should be well-executed, but it doesn’t have to be done just the way someone else would do it.

I guess when you think about it from the outside, that makes sense. Although you may know who the conductor is, s/he may not be present in initial rounds so trying to pander to their taste doesn’t necessarily buy you anything. The audition committee is behind a screen. You don’t know who they are so you can’t guess what their tastes or opinions are. The best thing you can do is play what you believe to be your best interpretation of the excerpt.

I’m trying to wrap up this blog post, but it’s a huge issue, confidence. Knowing what to do. Knowing that you can do it. I guess I’m a person who really values, even relies upon feedback. That’s probably why, in my ‘day job life'[3] I really like ‘agile’ development methods: the frequent and regular feedback from trusted teammates reassures me that I’m doing the right things and have made the right choices. Auditions are NOT the place to get frequent and regular feedback. (n.b.: lessons, studio classes and coaching are those places.)

Fine. For a blog post, I’ve rambled a bit, but still reasonably close to the two-point outline suggested by my headers. No conclusion. We will see what is brought by the next few days, the next after that and so on. Wish me luck. No, not luck, confidence. No, don’t wish it, give me your examples of how you find confidence.



[1] Under their current musical direction, the Grant Park Festival has definitely included modern/new works on their programs, so it would be unfair to let the word ‘traditional’ suggest that they are uninteresting, staid or boring. I merely need a way to quickly contrast concert hall repertoire with opera repertoire. Any expediency I granted myself by using the word ‘traditional’ has now been erased by writing, and asking you to read, this footnote.

[2] To be fair to myself, I really should not describe myself as “playing badly.” I play better than an awful lot of people: I have practiced in order to develop what natural talent I have. And I did graduate from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music — not a slouch school for music. But so far, I haven’t always played well in auditions. And I don’t play better than everyone who is taking those auditions. There’s room for improvement, but I don’t actually play badly.

[3] I’m an interaction designer or a user experience architect or whatever you want to call it. Here’s my LinkedIn profile, and my rarely updated agile coaching blog.

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.

Performance Wrap Up – Bass Festivals

Saturday, March 14th, 2015

In January and February, we performed at two local bass festivals: at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater on January 10, and the Chicago Bass Festival (held in Highland Park at the Ravinia Festival grounds) on February 1.

UW-W Bass Fest

The drive to get to Whitewater, Wisconsin from Chicago is long. I got a ride there from Julian, and his tax filing for 2015 will show this gig as responsible for 200+ miles that day. And it was really, really cold! But don’t get me wrong, I love playing this festival (as I love any playing). It’s small, but Bradley Townsend is dedicated to getting young bassists in Whitewater and the surrounding areas the exposure to players and techniques.

I had originally planned to have the group play Frank Proto’s 1964 Quartet at both festivals. But a last-minute personnel change scuttled that plan. And I think that Bradley was a bit disappointed that we didn’t bring that challenging piece to his audience. Nonetheless, we were well-received. And we’ll revive that challenge for next year!

My friend Matt Erion made a recording of the performance for us, but I’ll be honest I haven’t listened to it, and probably won’t for some time until I stumble across it one day attempting to declutter my computer.

Chicago Bass Festival

I brought some better recording equipment to the Chicago Bass Festival, and I have listened to that recording a few times now.

The MYA van getting snowed in at #BassFestBlizzard

The MYA van getting snowed in at #BassFestBlizzard

First, that was quite a day! It had snowed Saturday night, and was still snowing Sunday morning as I got packed up to drive to Highland Park, IL. The weather service was forecasting blizzard conditions for 2 pm, meaning the drive home (about 5 pm) would be quite an adventure! And getting there was an adventure, too. When I got to the exit for Highland Park, there were two cars stuck on the exit ramp. I slowed down, but made the decision to pass the exit: I don’t think my Mazda2 had the ground clearance to make it through the drifts collecting on the roadway. I had enough time before the festival start, and Apple Maps on my phone, so I took the chance that I would be able to find my way back from the next exit.

Arriving at the festival after making it through the backwoods of Highland Park. Snow fell throughout the day.

Arriving at the festival after making it through the backwoods of Highland Park. Snow fell throughout the day.

The festival was definitely still on, and I arrived in time. Ben Rusch, the coordinator, was manning the front desk, since his student volunteer(s) had not arrived. We knew we would have some stories to tell from #BassFestBlizzard. In the end, I believe about half of the registered attendees actually made it that day. I was relieved that by noon all six bassists and our marimba player were present!

I was happy to be there in time for David Murray’s class on dancing to the Bach ‘cello suites. If you hear he is offering this again, I encourage you to attend … it will open your eyes on the performance of these staples of the adopted bass repertoire.

As always, I was really happy to be a part of the festival.

A wise person I know reminds me to treat the recording of a live performance as something unique, and to not judge it too harshly. There are stresses and conditions when performing live that are specific to live performance, and until you as a group have a lot of experience together, you won’t sound as good as you do when rehearsing. As I said, wise words. But here is some reflection and analysis of our performance. (.pdf: Program Chicago Bass Festival.)

Dream Time – the sound is rich and full! Listening back to it, I really remember why I wanted to have Julian Romane as part of the group – he has an attack sound that is really sort of marvelously aggressive. The performance has a lot of excitement and energy and I love the piece. But our execution is bedeviled by rhythmic sloppiness, missed entrances and the occasional intonation woes. I know it could have been better. I wish I had had both the time and the discipline to record our rehearsals and really make everyone listen to them so we could have identified problem spots and ironed them out.

Quartet 1987 – as in the other pieces, there is a really good sound across the group and it’s such a emotionally rich piece to play. But there are the occasional rhythmic / ensemble problems. And my own occasional pitch inaccuracy (oh damn, that was supposed to be a dominant rather than a major seventh chord!) But still, there is a real emotional resonance across much of the performance, and I’m happy about that! I can see also that some of my colleagues suffer from the same occasional lack of concentration that I do (missed entrances). But there is also some great ensemble playing, rhythmically tight and exciting.

At this point in the program, we added two more bass players to the mix, bringing us to a total of six on stage!

Livre – the texture of four basses playing the vibraphone part works very nicely, and Josh Harrison and Doug Johnson carry their parts beautifully. And happily there is only one moment—but very very obvious—when one of the pizzicato voices (one note per measure for each of the other four bassists) miss an entrance.

Rural Sketches – a much better recording than the premiere. Doug Johnson and Andy Anderson doing great work on those highest voices. And the more I listen to this piece, the more I like it. Matthew Coley’s marimba playing seems flawless. The articulation of the basses is sometimes lost, which is probably more a function of the microphones and their placement than of our performance or the piece. Ensemble is good (Well, except for that one impossible bit) (but where would we have been if not for our conductor, Leslie B. Dunner!).  Neal Rodack, playing with us for the first time, acquitted himself quite well. I am enjoying listening to our performance; I wish we could do it again with more rehearsal time. (audio only) and (video).

bass sextet with marimba

The Chicago Bass Ensemble, with Matthew Coley, marimba, and Leslie B. Dunner, conductor, at the 2015 Chicago Bass Festival.

Running this group is something I really love doing. And also something that I find really challenging. Why? Because it’s not working the way I’d like it to. I really want a collaborative atmosphere, with a committed group of the same people, constant across gigs. I want the group to sound really polished and exciting. And I haven’t been able to achieve that.

But it might be for lack of trying.

I have always preferred a model of rehearsals dedicated to a specific performance. Rehearsing every week with no specific goal in sight has always seemed to me to be the mark of an amateur ensemble. But I have to admit that in the earlier years of this group, that was the model we followed, and we did sound better for it. My mistake there was probably that at some point I should have been more aggressive about finding “ends,” that is to say some kind of performances. Doing so would have kept up the interest of two critical players who ended up declining to participate further (at the time).

So, as a leader I think I must renew the effort to stabilize the group’s membership, and return to a regular practice schedule with the goal of sounding good. Further ends will materialize as needed.

This is quite a long post. Have you read all the way through it? Were you at either of these performances? What did you think? Do you play in a band or an ‘ensemble’ of some sort? What is your organizational style and what are your goals? Let me know in the comments.

February 1, 2015, Chicago Bass Festival

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

Once again, we’ll appear at the Chicago Bass Festival!

February 1, 2015, on the grounds of the Ravinia Festival – see the link above for details. Festival registration for full participation is $50 ($45 for MYA members), but if you inquire, you can purchase an “observer” ticket for $15. This allows you to watch all the lectures, workshops and performances, but not actively participate. Perfect if you’d just like to see us perform.

The festival begins at 9:00 am, and we are currently scheduled to perform at 1:00 pm in Bennett-Gordon hall.


  • Josh Harrison
  • Doug Johnson
  • Julian Romane
  • Jacque Harper
  • Andy Anderson
  • Neal Rodack
  • Matthew Coley, marimba
  • Leslie B. Dunner, conductor

At this performance, we’ll reprise the piece we premiered in March, 2014, Rural Sketches for marimba and six double basses!


  • Anderson: Quartet 1987
  • Osborne: Dreamtime
  • Jeanrenaud, arr Harper: Livre
  • Iachimciuc: Rural Sketches
  • Byrd, arr Cameron: Ave Verum Corpus

This is the program as a .pdf file.

updated 8 Jan with final players, and formatting changes

updated 16 Jan with information about the Observer ticket. See the second-to-last question in the Bass Festival FAQ. And added schedule information.