Moving On?

While Columbus decides if it wants to have a real orchestra, I've decided not to wait for that outcome, as some others in the orchestra have already done. Sometimes bad things happen for a good reason. Perhaps it's my time to move on.

I auditioned for St. Louis Principal Clarinet opening a year ago, the first audition I had taken in at least a decade. I could feel the old, deep instincts sluggishly resurging in my veins. While practicing hours of excerpts, like soliloquies from a play, the familiar convoluted logic of making music minus 80 began to resurface.

I not only had to be in top mental and physical condition, but my equipment also had to be world class. Compared to playing one or two difficult excerpts during an average concert, to play all the big excerpts one after the other was like taking a 5 year old Audi with 60,000 miles for a race at the Indianapolis 500. Though a great car, it probably won't win, and certainly not if in need of a tune up. No, I don't blame the outcome on the instrument or barrel or reed or mouthpiece. It's just one factor which inhibits the fastest race. Anyway, equipment issues began to settle before the audition, but not in time for me to be completely comfortable before the audition date.

My own physical conditioning had also sagged during years of driving on auto pilot. Living as a musician is like being a professional skater. You need to stay in shape. But doing it week after week you learn to prepare enough for tonight's performance, not winning the Olympics. Few can do that over and over. Musicians maintain a great deal of flexibility to play one or two different styles on a few days notice. But the "Olympics" of music is auditioning, when one must do it all, top to bottom, side to side, now!

Even a soloist has time on her side, playing the same music over a series of performances, opportunities to fine tune and improve. The audition taker is not privy to such luxury. He has to perform a multitude of varied and even conflicting styles and techniques at the drop of a hat, in succession. A tall order for anyone.

Hundreds of applicants seem to feel up to the task, though, since auditions are always peopled by a herd of regular faces who are convinced they will win the jackpot if they put in another quarter. I don't feel that way. The few auditions I took in the 80's were successful, meaning I was at least a semi-finalist if not a finalist. I prepare for auditions with every cell in my body, mind and spirit. It takes years to prepare the foundation, then as the date nears, it becomes my life for months.

St. Louis was not meant to be for me, or perhaps I wasn't meant for St. Louis. I wouldn't have hired me! I was frightfully insecure and doubtful, not a good way to win. I'm sure my playing demonstrated my abilities, but certainly not at an Olympic level.

Someone recently told me she avoided broadcasting their intention to audition, especially to non-musicians. Even a good player loses more than they win. She recounted how frustrating it was to be asked innocently by non-musicians of the outcome of her "job application", then have to explain that repeatedly failing, even chronically failing to win an audition is a relatively normal event in a musician's life, unlike applying for a clerk or server position. One oboist I know took some 49 auditions before nailing a top 10 job. Something akin to building the Pyramids in Egypt, day by patient, persistent day.

So now I begin, again, to take auditions. This time I have secured (most of) my equipment to a high and stable level of quality. For the past year I have also gained, or perhaps refreshed, my self-confidence using all available techniques, including good old fashioned positive thinking and supportive friendships. I've also practiced and performed more solo works to put myself under more pressure.

I got "the list" a week ago. The list of music required is your map to the treasure, the puzzle to be unlocked. A lot can be learned from the list. Most big orchestras keep their lists fairly short, perhaps eight or ten excerpts. And most will specify the sections they wish to hear. Some will even make copies of all the parts they require, to clear up the often confusing issue of various conflicting editions of any one composition. This list cites 18 entire pieces, without any indication of movements or sections to be emphasized.

Clearly, they seek a Federer or Rodick for the job. Somehow I am not daunted. Since I have played principal clarinet for 25 years, I have played all the music they request in its entirety. I am as experienced for this position as anyone.

It's one thing to be experienced, however, and another to be ready. To be ready to play any of those pieces any time, day or night, I must increase my endurance, flexibility and consistency. I have two months to do it.

The first thing I did was pull out a scale book, the most advanced I have, and began a daily regimen of several hours of basic technique. So that's where I am as of this report, in audition "boot camp".

I will report regularly on what and how I'm practicing. See you soon. I'm off to do scales.

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3 comments for “Moving On?

  1. Christine
    April 30, 2008 at

    I appreciate your honesty and vulnerability. It’s a frustrating time, but I wish you the best of luck! I hope you are able to grow as a musician and person during this process.

  2. April 28, 2008 at

    Charles, yes, the goal is more fruitful and complex than just winning.

  3. April 28, 2008 at

    Best of luck – at the very least, you’ll be in some of the best playing shape of your life by the time the audition rolls around!

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