Posts Tagged ‘audition’

Audition Daily Blog, the sequel – part 06

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

Last night as I practiced, I was just railing at the ridiculous fingerings that I had in my parts from so long ago. What was I thinking?? And what were my teachers thinking for letting me attempt those fingerings? I honestly wish I had learned from a technique tyrant, at least for some period of time. As much as I like the idea of “finding a fingering that works for you,” the student who has not been challenged to try more difficult–but ultimately more efficient–fingerings is ultimately at a disadvantage.

Preparation is going “okay.” I haven’t got enough time to satisfactorily work on everything as deeply as I’d like. I could say that I haven’t made practice a high enough priority, and that would be true (insert statements about how we all have the same amount of time, it’s how we choose to use it, etc.) but some of the other things that take priority are pretty damned important, too. I envy the young. Do you hear me, high-schoolers and undergrads? Take advantage of the time you have! Being an “adult” does not necessarily grant you the autonomy to do whatever you’d like to the level/depth you’d like to.

The Bulletproof Musician materials are very interesting and I think useful. I’m (no surprise here) short of time to actually do some of the non-playing exercises that are recommended, but I’m learning a lot by listening to the lectures. I’ve tried out some of the practice techniques. They’re very challenging. They also take a lot of time–for instance the “21s” technique, involving 7 repetitions of a passage mentally for each 1 physical performance of it. I probably wouldn’t go through a passage that many times physically before deciding it’s time to move on to something else. And with so many excerpts to work on, it’s hard to know that I’m making better progress than I otherwise would.

Mentally rehearsing the audition–what it feels like to go into the room, focusing, envisioning the outcome, controlling the nervous system and more–are some other techniques. Those I can somewhat practice while commuting on the train, making better use of that time than playing “Angry Birds.” Haha.

Audition Daily Blog, the sequel – part 05

Monday, February 8th, 2016

Ugh, so tired. Good advice is to find what time(s) of day you have good, positive energy, and practice during those times. Well, I know that 8:00 to 9:15 pm in the evening is not that time. But this is what you have to do to balance your employed working life with practice time. At least mostly, for me.

It doesn’t help that I’ve again gotten sick and tired of some of these excerpts. Probably some of that “sick and tired” is frustration at not playing them as well as I would like, masquerading as not liking them. If I played them smoothly and accurately all the time, I’d probably be just pleased as punch to play them. So there’s a goal to work for, and a dose of “get over yourself!”

A good long lesson with David Murray in Indianapolis on Saturday. And long drives on each end, haha. But the drives give me time to reflect on the commitment I have made to work on this music, and take this audition, and the next and the next . . .

Right now, better to get a good night’s sleep that to keep wallowing in my frustrated fatigue.

Audition Daily Blog, the sequel – part 04

Monday, February 1st, 2016

Super quick note tonight, almost short enough to be a tweet.

Sound and feel are great tonight. I know not everything is audition-ready yet, but these more familiar excerpts are coming along quickly. More than ever, I believe that I will buy the “Beyond Practicing” training mentioned yesterday[1]. It’s nerves that are my real problem in an audition.



[1] gratuitous self-linking

Audition Daily Blog, the sequel – part 03

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

A brief update tonight. I worked on audition material for the better part of 3.5 hours this afternoon. If only I could play that long, and then walk directly into an audition. I’m sure I would do much better than when I have 15 minutes in a warm-up room, and then stand around for 10 minutes waiting to go onstage. Oh well.

An interesting thought occurred to me about an hour ago. Some of the excerpts I’m working on now, as familiar as they are from practicing them for multiple auditions in the past, I have never played in an audition. That is, either I didn’t play enough (excused after just a few) or they weren’t part of the audition when I played (the two times I was successful at an audition).

So here I am thinking, “aw geez, I don’t know if I’m playing this right,” when I also have no evidence that I’m playing them wrong. This connects well with what David Murray and Andy Anderson have said – that I should play the excerpts my way as if they were solo pieces. I just need confidence to do that.

So, about confidence. I’m in the midst of considering purchasing Noa Kageyama’s Beyond Practicing course. I certainly find a lot of value in reading his blog. I think perhaps the deeper dive into his teaching would be good. It’s not cheap, although it’s not horribly expensive. I earned just about enough to pay for it playing Mahler #1 and the Beethoven Violin Concerto last week.

The other concern is “will it help in time?” The last time I was thinking about the course, it was just about two weeks before the Lyric audition, and it did not seem like the best use of my time. Right now I’m more like four, maybe five weeks out from the audition. It seems like it might be useful. And I would pay for the ‘lifetime’ version (only $20 more), so I could continue to apply it for whatever comes after this audition.

Finally I realized last night that this upcoming audition is for Principal and Assistant Principal. So even though I would hesitate to take a principal spot right now, hey, I could be assistant principal, that’d be just fine!

Okay, time to rest the hands. It’s actually been a long day!

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, The Sequel – part 01

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

Okay, here’s the deal . . . After going through all the preparation, the good times and the bad times, for the last set of auditions (tl;dr version: worked hard, blogged daily–often more optimistically than I expected, took auditions and didn’t advance, was glad I tried), I’m preparing again. I described this a bit in my previous blog post.

Today’s entry is being written in the morning of January 13, 2016. Over the last few evenings, I have been looking at the repertoire for the Grant Park audition. It’s all pretty familiar, the kinds of things that appear on most of the orchestral audition lists that I have seen. Beethoven 5, third movement. Mahler 2. Brahms. The dreaded Strauss Heldenleben excerpts. Mozart 35 and 40. And more. So beginning the preparation is a bit of a trip down memory lane.

But that’s not necessarily a good thing.

There are a lot of old fingerings and bowings marked in my parts. And I fear that there are a lot of bad habits ‘marked’ in my brain for these excerpts. So I’m uncomfortable just jumping in and playing them: am I reinforcing old habits that might not serve me now? And I’m uncomfortable treating them all as new: after all, I know them, and there is a fair amount of work to do–if I go too slowly I might not be ready in time.


But it’s okay. I felt that way for the Lyric audition. I’m not sure how clearly that came across in my blog posts, but it’s true. And in the end, I didn’t feel terrible about the outcome–not just the audition, but the improvement I made in my own playing. And I’m starting more aggressively, earlier this time. And I’m doing at least one big thing that I should have done last time: get lessons and encouragement from a colleague. So in spite of my worries, I am optimistic for a positive outcome this time.

I’m not going to blog every day, not right now anyway. But maybe every few days. I also won’t be posting announcements on all the social media in the way that I had been. (Although I will continue to use the WordPress Jetpack “publicize” feature, I will not then re-post those notices on various sites.) I know that I picked up a few (*ahem,* two, I’m pretty sure) followers during my last series of posts. I did find that I got a lot out of the support that came from readers of those posts. If you enjoyed reading them, please consider letting some of your friends know about this blog. I’d love to hear from people! Get them to subscribe, or even to sign up on the CBE mailing list. Submit your comments!

Thanks everyone! I have to admit I like roller coasters, and this is likely to be a roller coaster ride again.

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 –> ).