Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Auditions and Learning

Yesterday I had the good fortune to win a local audition. Each time I take an audition (which isn't so often these days), I learn things. I thought I'd share some new ideas I tried this time around...

  • Taping: I taped myself a lot. I set up my practice room at home so the Zoom recorder was always sitting right there and was connected to some halfway decent speakers. Thus, while practicing, I could just reach over and tape a run. I've never taped myself so often while practicing. You really do hear a lot.

  • Sitting: For years I've practiced and auditioned while standing. In that Atlanta audition they required that the excerpts be performed seated. Then I heard that Colin Williams was playing his Boston excerpts seated. I think the reasoning went something like, "It takes the feet out of the equation" (or something like that). Also, when I'm sitting, I find it much easier to tap my foot while I play. Yes, I know professionals aren't supposed to tap their feet. Well, my rhythm is more accurate when I do it. End of story. (in other words, do what you have to do to get the result).
    One other thing, I do use one of those posture pillows behind my back. It seems to help.

  • Inderal: For years, I've scorned that idea of taking the stuff. I always looked down on the idea. Still, after that Atlanta audition I had to admit that many of my playing problems were directly linked to that "fight or flight" response. I finally got a prescription and, after trying it out in a recent concert to make sure my body didn't react too strangely, I used it in this audition.

    It was actually quite interesting. I arrived at the site about 45 minutes to an hour before the audition. I took it when I arrived and then began to warm-up. At the beginning of the warm-up I was experiencing those stress-related playing problems I've come to know so well: missing notes on the high side, mind racing and unable to focus, some trouble with a steady tone on louder long notes (especially William Tell), unclean attacks. As I warmed up, I actually felt my physical responses gradually changing until, at "go time," I felt more or less normal; like a regular day of playing.

    For what it's worth, the solo portion of my round was OK (a couple flubs near the end on the David first movement) and the excerpt portion was as solid as I've ever played.

    If you're young, I wouldn't recommend "jumping to the pill" just yet. I've had a lot of good high-stress performances where I just tried to relax. Still, I have to admit that, in my case, it did seem to help me stay looser and more focused. Some people have terrible trouble with dry mouth; I was drinking a fair amount of water and had no trouble.

  • Arban's: For years, I avoided the Arban's Method. Finally I broke down and bought the expensive Alessi/Bowman audition and have incorporated it into my practicing. Well, maybe I was too quick to judge. Using the major scales, little tonguing tunes, and the chromatic scales, I have definitely improved my focus and accuracy. I also really like Mr. Alessi's comments (no surprise there, I guess).
    Why did I decide to pick up Arban's? Given that this was a smaller audition and that the majority of the committee wouldn't know the excerpts as well as I did, a certain amount of "note counting" was inevitable. In other words, missed notes would probably be a bigger deal.. Therefore, one of my goals was to play a really clean round. For years, I would look down at "note counters" who obsessed over how many notes they missed. Once again, maybe I've been too quick to judge.

  • Perspective: As I practiced, I tried to hear myself through the ears of someone listening to me. In other words, instead of putting my mental focus on the act of creating the sounds, I attempted to focus on the final product that someone, especially a non-trombonist, would hear. Once again, given that most of the people on the committee wouldn't be trombone players, I wanted to hear myself through the ears of a string or a woodwind or (heaven forbid) a conductor. I wouldn't say I changed to play things in a "false" way. But I did keep in mind Alessi's "Popeye syndrome" comments from last summer and decided that maybe I didn't need to play so darn loud. I can't tell you how many auditions I've royally screwed up simple because I tried to play too loud.

    If I could travel back in time to my college self, I would grab him by the shoulders, shake him and say, "Stop trying to play so loud, you idiot."
    Didn't Friedman once say, "I've tried to make a career on just sounding pretty."? Worked pretty well for him.

    For this audition, I was thinking something like, "Keep it clean. Play with a pretty, musical sound."

Re-reading this post, I'm struck by how many times I used the phrase "for years." Even at my age, I'm still re-learning things I should have known all along...
  • tape yourself a lot
  • maybe sitting isn't so bad
  • tapping your foot isn't a curse
  • Inderal isn't automatically a bad thing
  • Arban's can have a lot of value
  • Hear yourself as your audience will hear you
  • Don't play so loud!
I heard a good quote recently about teaching and learning:

"One who learns from one who is learning drinks from a moving stream."

Better this than stagnant water.

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