How do you know if being a musician is the only thing you were meant to do? Today we dig deeper into Michael’s story about why he stuck with music despite trying different careers and jobs. We talk about the “Turd Sandwich” of being a musician, our desire for autonomy vs. being a cog in the machine, and getting started as a freelance musician. Show notes: www.perservice.co/4
Music school simply cannot prepare you for all the things you need to know once you graduate. So we rounded up 25 things we all learned the hard way…from making these mistakes, or watching those around us make them. You can find the list of all these on the show notes at www.perservice.co/3
Being is a musician is hard work. So do I have to love every minute of it? What if I don’t like practicing, or I don’t want to play this gig tonight? Should I find something else to do with my life?
These are some of the issues we discuss in our second episode.
Find the links we talk about at www.perservice.co/2
Welcome to our first episode of the Per Service Podcast. We start at the very beginning. Why do we play music? Why did you start, and why do you stick with it? When we started discussing it, we found it was easier to start with all the reasons why we don’t quit – or to put it another way: What are the reasons why people quit?
Show notes at www.perservice.co/1
Playing violin in orchestra is one of the most enriching activities I get to do. But, it also seems like it is fraught with unspoken expectations. Things like “to be early is to be on-time,” “showing up without your pencil is a sin,” and that the inside player’s fingerings go beneath the line.
A metronome is arguably the most important tool in helping musicians prepare excerpts, and music in general. If you don’t have your own metronome, here is a simple one, although there are many also available for free on the internet, or on your phone. I like this one because it reminds me of the one that used to sit on my mother’s piano, before they all became digital (although those old ones didn’t fit in a violin case very well)
To use this metronome:
1) Select a tempo on the right hand side, or enter your own tempo on the top box.
2) Click on the knob to “wind it up.” (Click on it again to stop the tyranny)
As you probably know, auditions are the strangest things. They can turn the strongest players into a fumbling pile of nerves, the cleanest spiccato into a lovely martelé, and the steadiest scherzo into a Stockhausen pointillist etude.
Locking yourself in a practice room doesn’t solve this problem. Being able to nail a passage 20 times in a row with no pressure doesn’t fully prepare you for when you have to do it just one time for all the marbles.
I believe my students when they say, “It was better at home,” the problem is that this is called the “Performing Arts” not the “Practice Room Arts.” If you want to stay locked in a room for the rest of your life creating art, consider becoming a painter.
So the problem then is how do you prepare for an audition outside of the practice room? (I’m assuming you are still practicing for your audition–for which there is no substitute)
There are two seemingly conflicting schools of thought that I have heard regarding the solution to the audition blues, and I’d like to explore them a little more.
The first says:
“Take as many auditions as you can for ‘The Experience’”
And the second one says:
“Don’t take an audition unless you feel confident that you could win it.”
School of thought No. 1
My knee-jerk reaction to the first statement is, “Exactly what experience are you trying to get?” If you show up at the New York Philharmonic audition and you don’t really think you have a shot at winning it, it’s going to be a bad experience. Sure you may learn a few things about the procedures and hear some really good players, but you probably won’t advance, and that hurts. It may not hurt too much right away, (since you knew going in you probably wouldn’t advance, right?) but if you keep repeating this, it can create an unhealthy habit. I’ll explain:
The biggest problem with this mindset is that it promotes protecting yourself from the hurt of rejection by never being fully prepared.
Rejection may not be that big of a deal a couple times in a row, but what about after 10 auditions? 20 auditions? What if you would have won audition #31, but stopped after #30 because you were too burnt out from all the previous losses.
If you went into an audition and played the absolute best you could, and were still rejected it would be completely demoralizing: “My very best isn’t good enough.” So we give ourselves an excuse and say, “I didn’t play my best” or “I’m really so much better than I just played” in an effort to console our self-esteem after being turned down.
What’s really crazy is that sometimes we want to make this excuse believable, and so we purposely don’t prepare 100% so that it’s actually true when it comes time to say it.
The positive side about this advice to take auditions for the experience is that it does help if you know what to expect at an audition. There is a lot of unusual protocol at auditions, and not being thrown off your game because of these is important. Some of the things you may not experience in your practice room are:
· Being forced to warm up in the mass warm up room (a.k.a. the “Shark Tank”)
· Being herded around from the shark tank, to a private practice room, to the holding room, to backstage.
· Walking out on stage on the little strip of carpet and playing to a screen.
· Not talking to the panel, but whispering to the proctor.
Any one of these things would be strange on their own. If you’ve never experienced these things and were already a little nervous, they could really derail your audition.
School of thought No. 2
The advice on the other end of the spectrum says you should only take auditions if you know you could win it.
The dangerous thought progression with this adage is that we start to place way too much pressure on ourselves to actually win the audition. Because we know that we could win the audition, that means that we should win the audition. And when we don’t win, the rejection is especially painful since we feel like we were expected to win.
The key word in this sentence is could, and it should not be confused with will.
It’s very good advice to prepare yourself to the highest level you can, and be confident that you are playing everything flawlessly. But the reality is that even perfect playing doesn’t mean you will win an audition.
This advice is trying to save you from the inevitable and unnecessary rejection when you decide to go to an audition “just to see what happens.” However,
The problem with this mindset is that it can become easy to bail out of actually going to an audition because we are afraid that we couldn’t win it anyways.
They say “you’ll lose 100% of the auditions you never go to” so at some point your practicing has to be enough. You must be present to win.
Some closing thoughts
As you can see, neither advice is simply black or white. They are also not mutually exclusive, and I actually recommend elements from both ideas.
My advice if you’re starting out would be to simulate the audition environment as best and as many times as you can before actually taking one. Once you have done that, take a couple local auditions-anything within a few hours drive to get one under your belt. You don’t have to commit to joining the orchestra if you win it, but take it seriously.
Do consider reducing the total number of auditions you have to go to in your life, by taking each one seriously, and only taking ones you are completely prepared to win.
Go into it expecting to win it, but if it doesn’t go well, try to see rejection as part of the learning experience. Figure out exactly what went wrong, have a beer, and then work on fixing it for next time.
Be well, and practice well
Preparing for Auditions (In the Audition)
1) Make music:
So the moment has finally arrived that you have been preparing for countless hours. This is your five minutes to shine, so make the most of it. Of course you have to play in tune, in time, and with quality, but you also need to play musically. Contrary to what some people think-that the panel wants errorless robotic playing-the committee still wants to hear a beautiful, musical performance.
There are better times than others to do this-you probably don’t want to take any liberties in the Schumann Scherzo. So, your concerto is a great opportunity to make a great first impression. After playing your concerto, the committee has basically made up their mind about you anyways (if they didn’t already do that just from hearing you tune. A teacher of mine once even said he could tell a lot about a person’s playing just from watching them enter the room!)
So, go for it! Play beautifully and play musically.
2) Don’t stop until you are SURE the panel has asked you to stop.
While you are playing, you may hear the panel on the other side of the screen talking or making noise. They might be discussing your playing, or they might be ordering lunch. Whatever is going on back there, keep playing until you very distinctly hear someone shout “Thank you!” or something similar.
It is very awkward if you stop playing because you thought you heard something. You’ll have to start up again, and they might think you stopped because you messed up, or didn’t learn the rest etc.
When in doubt, just keep playing and let the panel shout a second or third time. If you really can’t hear them, the proctor will start waving at you or something. It’s much better to err on the side of over playing, than cutting it short (assuming you know all the music)
3) Move through the excerpts in a timely manner, but don’t rush yourself.
It’s important that before starting each excerpt you give yourself enough time to set the tempo, check the key signature, find the starting note, and remind yourself of any instructions pertaining to each excerpt (i.e. “Don’t rush,” or “start from the string”)
Switching between excerpts and getting set to play should happen in a timely manner, and hopefully be something you’ve practiced. If you just jump from one to another without thinking, you’ll likely be half way through the excerpt before realizing that you started in a terrible tempo and it will be too late to adjust.
If you take too long in between each excerpt, the panel will probably get frustrated and either cut your playing short, or conclude your audition before you have played every excerpt-that is not a good thing.
What is especially difficult about auditions is switching between styles across hundreds of years (i.e. from Bach to Shostakovich) in a manner of seconds. When you start an excerpt from the fourth movement, you have to sound like you already played the first three movements. What might be easy in context suddenly is not so easy out of context.
So, convincingly switching between excerpts and styles in a timely manner is a very big part of audition success.
4) If asked for sight-reading, prepare adequately in your head before playing.
Nothing strikes fear into the heart of musicians like Sight-Reading. Most musicians dread sight-reading in auditions, so you’re not alone. If someone tells you that they like sight-reading, ask them if they like pickled herring and fruitcakes-also consider buying a lottery ticket because you’ve got great odds.
So, here are a few suggestions to help your sight-reading experience go better:
• Figure out who the composer is. If it’s not visible at the top of the page, try asking the proctor.
• 1) Rhythm 2) Dynamics 3) Notes- This is a good rule of thumb for both orchestral playing, but also for sight-reading. Take a minute before you start playing and really establish your time signature and a tempo you can feasibly take. Look for passages with 16th notes or triplets to gauge how fast you should begin. Don’t ask the panel for a tempo-find one that works for you, and if you’re way off, they might ask you to do it again.
• Conduct and sing it in your head before you start playing. If you can’t sing it, forget about it going well when you try with your instrument-ain’t gonna happen. You probably don’t have time to sing through the entire piece, so make sure you have the first few measures figured out.
• Scan for tricky sections. Watch out for any key signature changes, or time signature changes. Also scan for difficult passages and try to figure out what you’re going to do before you play it.
• Don’t stop…Believing….Hold on to that feeling! Yes, Journey has some sage advice about sight-reading. Keep playing-even if you mess up, who cares if you missed that one note-get the next one. If you have no idea what the piece is, you may be more accurate than you think. The panel knows you are sight-reading, so go for broke, you’ve got nothing to lose.
5) After the audition, start practicing for the 2nd round.
Congratulations, you just finished your audition! Now get ready to do it again!
Well, you should definitely take some time to relax and recover, you’ll probably be pretty tired.
The most important thing I can tell you is, “it ain’t over, ‘til it’s over”
You may think that you bombed it and that you should start considering teaching snotty little children in some backwards remote country, but you need to stick around until the personnel manager posts the list of who is advancing. I’ve heard so many stories of people who thought they were done, packed up and started driving home, only to advance, and then the PM had to call them up, and they had to race back and play again.
Instead, after you finish the first round and have rested for a little while, start warming up again for the next round. You don’t have to do anything super intense, just be ready for the possibility that as soon as the PM posts the list, you may be the first to play. Sometimes they start the second round immediately after posting it, sometimes they set a time that it will start.
I hope these suggestions will help you have a successful audition experience, I would love to hear your feedback or stories in the comment section below.
Preparing for violin orchestral auditions (A few weeks-A few days before the Audition)
1) Make sure your instrument is in its best condition.
If you know you are going to need a sound adjustment, new strings, or your bow rehaired before the audition, plan ahead of time when you are going to make that happen. You are going to want to be practicing on your instrument in its best condition, not your “picnic fiddle,” or worse: “the loaner.”
2) Choose the travel arrangements with the least amount stress
Some people suggest going alone, and getting a hotel room the night before by yourself, even if you have friends you could stay with in town. This will allow you to focus on the audition, and get a good night’s sleep. However, everybody is different. If money is really tight, it might be less stressful to carpool with a friend also auditioning, or stay with some friends and maybe even play your excerpts for them one last time.
If you’re flying to the audition, travel the day before. But if you have to fly the day of, get a direct flight. If your flight gets delayed and you miss your connecting flight, you’ll have to warm up in the airport and that’s no fun (although you might make a few bucks if you put your case out).
Whichever way you decide to go, choose the travel arrangements that are the least stressful for you.
3) Come to the audition rested
Audition days are long and stressful, don’t stay up super late the night before, hanging out with friends or family you haven’t seen in years, or trying to cram Don Juan. You can do that if you really want to, but don’t let it interfere with getting the rest that you’re going to need.
4) Come to the audition prepared.
There are a couple of categories that I’m referring to when I say “be prepared”
Travel: Know how you’re going to get to the audition, where you’ll need to park, how to pay for parking, what time the taxi is going to pick you up, how much extra time you’ll need because of traffic, etc. Don’t let something as simple as getting to the hall stress you out because you weren’t prepared for this.
Food: Audition days can be long and often behind schedule. I would suggest making sure you have a water bottle and some snacks. It may also be a good idea to bring some more substantial food-there’s no guarantee there will be a lunch break or food close by if there is a break. Bananas are great way to get some extra potassium, which has the ability to lower blood pressure (decrease nervousness) and make you feel happy. They’re helpful, but don’t expect bananas to fix your flying spiccato problems.
Clothes: Know what you’re going to wear ahead of time. Knowing if the audition is blind or open is a big part of that. If it’s blind, it’s not that big of a deal, although if you get to the final round the screen will most likely come down, and you might not want to be wearing your pajamas for that. If you’re not sure, best to err on the side of caution, and assume it’s open (the panel will see you). Wear something nice, but comfortable. Don’t wear a tux or ball gown-this isn’t a concert. Also bring some layer options if it’s really cold, or really hot, or the temperature fluctuates.
In general, audition days can be stressful and unpredictable. The more you can prepare ahead of time, and figure out before the day of, the better. I like the saying, “hope for the best, but plan for the worst.” If the audition doesn’t go as well as you’d like, you don’t want to have any excuses like “I couldn’t focus because I was so hungry,” or “I was so nervous because there was nowhere to park, and didn’t have enough time to warm up.”
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