Thursday, June 19, 2008

Inner Cats

The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallway

Have you read this book? You should.

(For my money I would avoid Barry Green's Inner Game of Music. The original is better, in my opinion.)

Here's a nice paragraph...

"The image comes to my mind of the balanced movement of a cat stalking a bird. Effortlessly alert, he crouches, gathering his relaxed muscles for the spring. No thinking about when to jump or how he will push off with his hind legs to attain the proper distance, his mind is still and perfectly concentrated on his prey. No thought flashes into his consciousness of the possibility or consequences of missing his mark. He sees only the bird. Suddenly the bird takes off; at the same instant, the cat leaps. with perfect anticipation he intercepts his dinner two feet off the ground. Perfectly, thoughtlessly executed action, and afterward, no self-congratulations, just the reward inherent in his action: the bird in the mouth."

Gallway, Timothy. The Inner Game of Tennis, p. 32.

Should you wish to buy this book, here's an Amazon link.

Coast Guard Audition Comments

Over on, 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..

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.


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.


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,

Man, it's the same thing again and again and again.

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.