Thursday, June 19, 2008

Coast Guard Audition Comments

Over on TromboneForum.org, Ben Griffin posted some excellent comments concerning their recent audition.

I cut and pasted his comments here. If you want to link to the original, here's a link to that forum..

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First off all, thank you to the applicants for taking the time to come out an audition for the band. We had 60 applicants show (out of 77 possibles); we appreciated everyone's interest in the Coast Guard band.

Having been on the panel for both the Principal and Bass trombone auditions recently, I have noticed some disturbing trends through both auditions. I would like to note them, not to chastise those that auditioned, but rather to encourage people to work on aspects of their playing that will benefit them on any future audition, be it for a military band or an orchestra, as well as serve them well in their musical lives.

The most disturbing trend was that there was a distinct lack of fundamentals on display.

Out of tune playing, poor/inconsistent articulation (of legato, staccato, and everything in between), lack of consistency in sound qualities, and poor rhythmic integrity were endemic of the whole of applicants.

I am not sure how to expand upon this more as these are what we consider basic aspects of trombone playing; of music making on any instrument, really. Some serious woodshedding on these fundamental principles needs to be done. CORRECT practicing.

Period.

Beyond that, there was a severe lack of understanding of the chosen excerpts as well. Basic markings were ignored, inappropriate dynamics, tempos, and articulations, and again, out of tune playing. There seemed to be a lack of understanding as to what the panel expected to hear (i.e. what skills needed to be displayed) during these excerpts and a lack of understanding of how the excerpt fit into the composition it was taken from.

Some very basic faults that were displayed by all:

Tuba Mirum:

Nobody played the Bb major triad in the beginning acceptably in tune, or with even notes throughout (the second line D was often unsupported and the low Bb was usually of a completely different timbrel quality). In the phrase immediately following, the tonicization of Eb, no one lowered the dominant 7th (Fifth line Ab), or the 3rd of the Eb triad (fourth space G). The list of pitch errors were not limited to these phrases, nor were these the most minute of pitch errors.

Beyond that, there was poor rhythmic integrity, i.e. poor counting of rests and inconsistent tempo within sections. This counts.

Then there was a lack of understanding of how the trombone fits with the overall ensemble. It is not a total solo part, it is often a duet, and there have to be changes in the character to match the ensemble as well. Most applicants played this excerpt as if it were a Rochut; it is not.

Die Walkerie:

Very few applicant had any clarity to the fronts of the notes. It seemed that volume, i.e. a loud dynamic was more highly prized than clarity of articulation. That is not the case, and most peoples' sound quality at that dynamic was compromised by the uncentered, unfocused, imprecise attack at the beginning of the note. The result was a loud, splatty sound that has no place in any ensemble.

The accents and rhythm were inconsistent and all over the road. The accents of the dotted eighth, sixteenth, eighth triplet are on the downbeat, not the sixteenth (as most played it). Also, the rest of the unaccented notes should not be more prominent than the accents. The rhythmic integrity of the dotted eighth, sixteenth, eighth triplets were inconsistent and often innaccurate. Charlie Vernon discusses this aspect of this excerpt very well in his book.

The dynamic of fortissimo was often taken at an uncontrolled volume. The later forte was often ignored. Overall dynamic means nothing if it is not in control.

The pitch was often horrible. No excuse.

The tempo taken by some applicants was breakneck. While there are different interpretations of this piece, there were many taken at speeds that we had not ever heard and would not be appropriate for the piece.

Symphonie Fantastique:

First and foremost, everyone was worried about the Eb, and that came through in the playing. Yes, we wanted to hear the applicant nail it, but not at the expense of everything around it. Too often the tempo and dynamic was rushed leading up to the Eb and both would severely slacken off afterward.

Also, the excerpt begins at mf and crescendos through the three quarter notes. Nobody did this.

Then there were the ubiquitous pitch issues.

Storm and Sunshine:

This excerpt was very telling from a style point of view, being the only non-orchestral excerpt on the prelims. As such, many people betrayed their lack of understanding of march style concepts (perhaps a thread on this subject would be good, I will attempt to start one soon).

To start, rhythmic integrity was lacking (this is a 6/8 march by J.C. Heed). The eighth notes were rushed and the quarter eighth combinations were often dragged. Most did not play the excerpt at the marked dotted quarter note equalling 160bpm. Second, the quality of attack wasn't there for most auditionees: Clarity and point are paramount; many applicant's articulation was too broad and barely heard. In addition, the note lengths were too broad for a march. Accents were often over emphasised in the wrong place as well as crescendos (often times, the cresc. and accents are paired with the snare and bass drum as subtle movements of the musical phrase, and yet other time accented notes and crescendos are meant to be brought to the fore. Familiarity with the piece will help you to discover which is which).

In short, it was mostly approached from an orchestral standpoint.

Now I realize that most folks are not practicing marches in their studies of excerpts, we understand this. But, we are a band, and marches are an integral part of what we do. There is at least one march on every concert we play (and there will be several in the upcoming July concert), and we play many at several different ceremonies throughout the year. We expected that the applicants would do a little more exploration of this style prior to auditioning.

As an aside, there were still pitch issues within this mostly triadic and scalular excerpt as well.

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So that's a pretty hefty list of things to work on, most referring back to fundamentals of playing, and something that we, or any, audition panel will be expecting to hear. Most audition panels will take it for granted that the applicants will be able to display the basics and that they can listen to/concentrate on more musical and subtle aspects of one's playing.

I realize also that we, as an ensemble, are not usually considered first tier; we are no New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, etc., etc. We are often not included in the second tier.

However, we are a professional musical outfit, and we are a premier service band. The quality of the Coast Guard band is quite high, continues to improve year after year, and is a highly versatile ensemble. There is a certain level of musician that we are looking for, and we take for granted that they will be able to display a certain level of playing.

This is not meant as a rant, nor to beat up on all of the applicants that we had. It is meant as an honest look at what was presented to us and what those applicants need to display to any audition panel before they can expect to win a position in any ensemble at our level. This also isn't to say that there were not any positive aspects diosplayed. There were some fine sounds and some fine moments throughout the course of the audition.

The two finalists displayed some fine qualities but we had soem concerns. I spoke to both of them regarding those concerns and they are automatically advanced to the semifinals of the next audition. We wish them the best of luck and hope to see them in the fall.

I sincerely wish all the best of luck to everyone, and hope to hear some great playing in the fall when the next audition occurs.

I am open to any questions anyone might have, please PM or we can discuss openly in the forum. I hope that only good can come of this post.

All the Best,
-Ben
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Man, it's the same thing again and again and again.


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