Saturday, December 15, 2012

Post-audition thoughts

Hey everyone! I can't believe that I haven't updated since August.  Time flies by so quickly.  It's been a very busy semester.

The people reading this probably already know that I took an audition a couple of weeks ago for the President's Own Marine Band.  I really wanted the job.  I mean, it's in my top list of dream jobs.  I'm a bit of an optimist and daydreamer, and I could see all of my dreams unfolding in my head at the mere thought of getting this job.  I would think, I'll get this job, I'll be performing full-time, I won't have to save every penny, and eventually I'll have enough money to get my own place, get another horn, get my doctorate, and I'll be in one area settled for some time so maybe I could become established as both a musician and dancer in one area, I even already have friends in DC, and I can finally be in one place long enough to actually have a personal life, and maybe even find my future husband, and we can settle in the DC, and I'll finally have health insurance, and I can pay back my loans, and...

Wait, I didn't even advance past the first round.  Derp.

I really did dream up that scenario.  I really did fantasize about my whole life falling into place pending I won this job.  I think a lot of people do this.  Now, you'd think I'd have been devastated not making it past the first round, especially since I advanced last year, and I advanced in a couple other auditions this year too... but for some reason, I wasn't.  I mean, I had my moment where I cried in the bathroom, but that's all I needed (I firmly believe in not holding emotions back - find a safe way to release them or else they will build up inside of you and come out at the worst possible moment).

I then started to question why I wasn't devastated.  I know this may seem silly to some to question a good thing, but I wanted to analyze why I was totally fine, even after dreaming up my ideal life connected to this audition.  I knew something about me was different.

Technically, I've been out of school and on my own for two and a half years.  But my first year out of school, I still worked for USF as a bus driver (having a Masters degree doesn't make your need to eat any less!), so I was still somewhat in the cocoon of campus and a regular paycheck (albeit a VERY small paycheck).  I had occasional orchestra and quintet gigs, but my main occupation was driving the bus.  I've only been a full-time freelance musician for about a year and a half, and this is the time I've truly considered myself to be "out on my own" because I'm actually in my chosen career field now.  Being self-employed has taken me to a whole new level of organization and responsibility.

Being on your own in this manner is different than being in school, even if you are completely financially independent while in school.  No one tells me what to practice anymore, yet I find there is not enough time to practice everything I want.  I don't always have 4-5 hours a day to practice, but I practice more efficiently now.  I don't have a regular teacher, yet I constantly find things to improve.  No one tells me to read anymore, yet I've read more books since I've been out of school than I did when I was in school.  I don't have a free campus gym anymore, but I'm in great shape.  I have hardly anyone to discuss politics with, yet I am more active in reading or listening to the news and having opinions than ever before.  I have less friends and spend the majority of my free time alone, but I feel more compassionate overall.  I speak up more in my quintet rehearsals.  I don't accept it if people talk down to me.  I am no longer embarrassed about my thoughts and opinions, even if they are non-conformist or even strange. I know many people in school that do these sorts of things, but these are all things that I personally did not do in school.  I have improved on my own, not just as a player, but as a person.  I know this and I feel good about this, and I think this is the biggest reason that I wasn't absolutely devastated by my unsuccessful audition.  I'm still me and I came out in one piece!  

Despite not advancing in the audition for my dream job, I feel more confident than ever.  In fact, I think disappointments like this are very important to my personal development.  I went into the audition confident, and I came out confident, but also humbled and more determined.

It also helps that I've seen other disappointments in my life blossom into enormous blessings.  When I was young, I was constantly told I was too big for ballet and that I would never dance professionally.  But when I got older, I started Middle Eastern dance mainly because of its culture of body acceptance, and now that is one of my life's great passions (and it keeps me in great shape so I can play tuba better).  I got rejected from all of the grad schools to which I applied in the north, but later on I accepted an assistantship at USF.  My lessons with Jay took me to the next level, and had I not still been in Florida during those years, I would have none of my current employment, and there would be so many amazing people that I wouldn't know.  

Who knows what the future will bring?  I could win a job or get hit by a truck.  I'm realizing that, in the past, all I thought about was my future - who I was going to be, where I was going to live, where I was going to work, and as much as I hate to admit it, who I would settle down with.  Of course it's important to have dreams and goals and to work towards them, but I always felt unsatisfied with the present because I never stopped thinking about the future long enough to enjoy the present.  I still have so much work do to on myself, both as a person and as a player, but I feel like I'm on the right track.  I'm far from being perfect, and I'll never be perfect, but I will never stop learning.

Some of you may be wondering why I'm being so candid, especially since I'm a fairly private person in the online realm (I'm always 100% real in person though, and those that know me personally will probably laugh reading this sentence).  I'm writing this not only to release my emotions and metaphorically pat myself on the back, but I'm writing in hopes that someone else struggling with job/future obsession will read it, and take a step back and realize that his/her life is actually totally awesome RIGHT NOW.

I'm living in a house that is old and falling apart because the rent is cheap, but I can practice here all I want and my neighbors don't care, and I can give lessons here when I need to.  I don't have a DMA, but I'm free to go back to school when I'm ready.  I'm not rich, but I'm financially independent.  I'm having more fun dancing, and I cherish long phone conversations with friends and family that are far away.  I'm single, but it's Saturday night, and I ordered a pizza online and ate half of it in my bed - and no one (except maybe you all now) is judging me, and I didn't have to share it with anyone.

Life is awesome - and I have a feeling it's only going to get better.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Encouraging or discouraging? Depends on your perspective.

Random thought before I start: It is never too early/late in the year to listen to Philadelphia Brass Ensemble's A Festival of Carols in Brass.

So, I know, great blog entry title, right?  It could be about so many things!  I find myself re-thinking my goals and making "resolutions" as if it's a new year around this time.  I never really feel like it's a new year in January - to me, the new year starts in August!  You probably do too if you're a student, teacher, and/or musician.  So naturally, my mind is full of things I want to try to accomplish this year, and trying to remember what I did in the past year that was helpful and good (and what wasn't).

At the beginning of graduate school, my teacher, Jay Hunsberger, mentioned to me that my breathing was rather noisy.  I replied, "Yes, yes, I know..." because I had gotten the comment before, and it was one of those things I knew I should "get around to."  So the next few lessons, we did some breathing exercises, and he told me to keep improving it in my practice and giving me exercises, etc.  But it still wasn't getting that much better.  So, finally, he told me, "Rachel, if you don't learn how to breathe correctly, you will not be a professional musician."  Whoa.  I didn't know it was like that.  I then spent the bulk of my non-practicing grad student time researching breathing (which led to the article I posted a while back).

If there's anything I learned from that moment on, it's this: If you won't do it, someone else will.  (I'm not talking about paying your bills, unfortunately.)

Whatever it is - playing in extreme registers, arranging popular songs for a chamber ensemble, or playing standard excerpts well and consistently - someone has already done it and people will continue to do it (and do more).  In fact, if I've learned anything on the national audition circuit, it's that there are a lot of tuba players that can play their excerpts well.  So what if Liszt's Mazeppa arranged for band is hard?  Someone is going to come in and absolutely nail it - actually, probably more than one person will.

Now, you can take this one of two ways : 1) Wow, there are so many good players out there, so there's no way I'm going to make it, or 2)  Wow, there are so many good players out there, so that level of playing must somehow be attainable, and I should figure out how they did it.

I know many of us have probably heard a really great player and just passed it off as, "Man, that guy's just a monster player," when really, that person probably just practiced a lot.  The "monster" probably decided somewhere down the road that, "I want to be able to  ______," (fill in the blank)  and then didn't stop until that goal was reached.  It's really that simple - so, decide on some goals and commit to them.

Of course it's important to prioritize your goals, deciding on what should immediately be worked on and what can wait.  Keep tabs on yourself, too.  For instance, with my band excerpts, I'm given the set goal tempo, and every day I date and mark the tempo at which I was consistently able to play the excerpt.  I do this until the goal tempo is reached, and I practice with a metronome up until just days before the audition.  In the past, I have gotten comments about my time, and I decided it should be a goal to make that better.  You can do the same with technique exercises (and pick exercises specific to the technique you wish to better).  As far as bigger artistic goals, set deadlines for yourself. Taking a national audition before the end of the school year or holding a solo recital before summer are examples.  And buy your plane tickets or book the recital date before you can really dig into the repertoire.  That way, you can't stall.

I also fully believe that you should take time to indulge in your silliest musical fantasies to keep your mind fresh.  Who knows, you may make some of your out-there fantasies into goals and then performances.  So let your mind wander to the weirdest of places - no one has to know that you fantasize about dressing up like Lady Gaga and shooting blood and fire from your tuba (oops, guess one of my secrets is out, though are you really surprised my mind goes there?).

I think this time of year is a good time for us to have a conversation with ourselves.  What are the things that we need to do to play like [favorite musician]?  Your favorite player was at one time a student or a less experienced adult.  If you're lost, find help.

If you won't do it, someone else will.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Intervention Program in College Instrumental Musicians & Kinematics in Cello and Flute Playing: Full Article

The article is about using yogic breathing and physical therapy to prevent injury and improve performance in collegiate instrumental musicians.  I'm honored to be part of this team.

Here is the full article - ENJOY!

Intervention Program in College Instrumental Musicians & Kinematics in Cello and Flute Playing

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I'm using my F tuba, and no, I'm not transposing.

Most professional American tubists own 2 tubas, a CC contrabass tuba and an F bass tuba.  But until college, American tuba players normally play a BBb contrabass tuba.  So naturally, I often get the question, "Do you transpose?"  I always say, "No, I just learn different fingerings for each instrument."  The retort is usually something like, "Isn't that the same as transposing?"  To this, I reply, "No, because no matter which tuba I'm playing, if I see an F on a piece of music, that's the note that is coming out of my bell."  Understandably, this may still seem confusing.  Let me explain.


Let's talk about the main families of transposing instruments: the clarinet family, the saxophone family, certain parts of the oboe family (oboe d'amore and English horn), trumpet, and horn. The flute family also has some members that transpose, like the alto flute, but when most people think about flutes, they think about the standard concert pitch C flute.  We'll just stick with the more standard instruments for now.  There are many instruments that only sound 1 or 2 octaves higher or lower than written, but let's focus on the instrument families already listed.

The different families contain instruments that vary in size and timbre (quality of the sound).  The title of the instrument indicates what note it will play when it sees a C on a piece of music.  For instance, if a Bb clarinet player sees the note C on his part, he will play that note, and a concert Bb will come out of the instrument.  If a trumpet player with an Eb trumpet sees the note C on her part, she will use the fingering for C, but an Eb will come out.  Here's another way to think about it.  Let's say you have a C trumpet, and you learn your C major scale.  Now you decide to switch to Bb trumpet, but you use the same fingerings as you did on C trumpet to play a C major scale.  Guess what comes out?  A Bb major scale.

Let's look at an example.  Here is the C major scale, written in concert pitch (what you hear):

Now, take a look at how this same scale is written for 3 different members of the saxophone family: 

Believe it or not, all 3 lines of the saxophone example sound just like the top example - same octave and everything!  Yes, to someone that plays a concert pitch instrument (like the C flute), the saxophone examples do not look anything like a C major scale, but when these are played on the correct instruments with the right fingerings, they sound a C major scale.

But why?

So that someone that plays one saxophone can play all of the saxophones.  Even though all the saxophone examples look different, the fingerings are exactly the same!  You just have to make sure your instrument matches with the name of the instrument on the part.  

You may be wondering, "Why does the bari sax part 'look' higher?  Isn't the bari sax lower than the alto sax?  And how come bari sax is in treble clef?"  Yes, it is a lower-sounding instrument, and yes, there's a reason it's written like that.  Clarinets and bass clarinets see this in their music too.  Let's use the C major scale again as an example.

The following example is written in concert pitch, no transposition.  Notice that I wrote the alto and bari sax sounding 1 octave apart, because normally the bari sax is playing quite a bit lower in pitch than the alto sax.  You can play this on piano to remind you of the difference in sound.

But write this same scale out, transposed for the instruments, and....

Holy smokes, the 2 parts look exactly the same, but they sound an octave apart!  The transposition here takes care of the octave displacement too.  Bb bass clarinet parts are also written in treble clef, but sound an octave lower than their Bb clarinet counterparts.  Their parts will look exactly the same and will use the same fingerings, but sound an octave apart.  This makes it easy for a player to switch between instruments without having to worry about the fingering or learning a new clef.  We should also mention that transposed parts will usually make for having to write way less ledger lines (below or above the staff), which makes music easier to read.  This is why the piccolo sounds 1 octave higher than written.  Who wants to read all those ledger lines (except tubists)?  


Phew.  OK, I get that.  But how come Bb trombone, CC contrabass tuba, F bass tuba, and Bb euphonium are all concert pitch instruments (read: they don't transpose)?

The difference is in the history of the instruments.  Before brass instruments had valves, they were limited to the notes in the overtone series based on the fundamental note of that instrument.  For instance, a C trumpet was limited to the notes in the C overtone series.  But certainly, brass instruments had to play in keys other than C.  So to change keys, a player would change out a piece of piping in the instrument called the "crook" to make it longer or shorter, and thus change the fundamental pitch and the key.  A horn player could change the crook in a horn in F to make it a horn in D.  On a side note, horn players could also manipulate their hands inside their bells to mimic the effect of what valves would do later (play pitches in between the notes in the give overtone series), but the natural, most resonant pitches on the instrument were in the overtone series.  Essentially, the changing of the crook would make it a different instrument.  When valves were invented, the tradition of "switching instruments" continued.  Instead of changing your C crook to a D crook, you'd just change your C trumpet to a D trumpet.  Great for instrument manufacturers, huh? 

Still with me? I hope so!

OK, so what happened with the low brass instruments?  Well, tuba and euphonium pretty much came into being because of the invention of the valve.  Read a little about the history of the tuba to understand why.  So the tuba and euphonium came around after the tradition of transposing instruments had been established.  The trombone has long been a concert pitch instrument (it reads what it sounds), but now the standard trombone is in Bb, as is the standard euphonium.  CC, BBb, F, and Eb tubas are all standard tubas as well.  Sometimes euphoniums play in treble clef and transposed, but this comes from the time when military bands were very popular, and trumpet players often doubled on euphonium, and this prevented them having to learn new fingerings.  It is still common to see treble clef euphonium parts for young students - band directors often change a student from trumpet to euphonium if playing high is an issue.


Unlike their high brass and woodwind counterparts, low brass instruments are named for their fundamental pitch.  So, a CC contrabass tuba works around the C harmonic series (with pedal C being the "fundamental"), so a CC contrabass tuba can play all the notes in the C harmonic series with no valves depressed.  Tuba players must learn different fingerings for each instrument.  Our parts are always written in concert pitch. 

OK, so why do you have so many tubas then?  Here are some of the reasons:

1) Timbre.  Contrabass tubas (BBb and CC) are larger and have a darker sound, while bass tubas (F or Eb) tend to sound brighter.  For instance, contrabasses are used in most orchestral playing because they have to support an entire orchestra, and the contrabass tends to be more homogeneous with the basses.  On the other hand, bass tubas are frequently used in brass quintets because they brighter tone is more homogeneous with the higher brass instruments.  However, both can be (and are regularly) used in both large and chamber ensembles.  It depends on the need of the music.

2) Range.  That's an easy one. Contrabass = bigger = easier to play low on.  The opposite is true for F tuba.  While pro tubists can play high or low on either horn, we still have to be practical.  The F tuba is naturally more agile in the high register, and would be the ideal choice for a 15-minute long concerto that sits in the high register for most of the piece.  But if I'm playing below the staff oom-pahs in a polka band for 3 hours at an Oktoberfest gig, I'm going to use my CC.

3) Composer's intent.  Some composers (like Vaughan Williams and John Stevens) specifically request bass or contrabass tuba.  If it's not written on the page, you have to use your judgment.  Some things end up becoming "common knowledge" - for instance, one should play Berlioz on a bass tuba because he originally wrote the parts for ophicleide, the predecessor to the tuba, which had a very bright, compact sound, which is more easily attained on F tuba (not to mention the parts tend to be in the higher register).

There are many cases in which you are going to have to use your musical intuition on the decision of tuba.  For instance, I know many people that will bring an F tuba on stage for Stravinsky's Petrushka just to play the infamous "Bear solo."  I personally like the grittiness and angst of the CC tuba in the register - I really feel like I can "roar," and that my F is too "pretty" up there for what I want in that solo.  That, and I'm way too lazy to carry 2 tubas onstage (except for Bydlo).

I've still had people try to tell me that I transpose because I play instruments in C and F.  But for tuba, that's simply not true. With the exception of brass band music (a whole 'nother thing!), nobody that knows what he/she is doing writes a "CC tuba part" or an "F tuba part" (but remember, composer can specify bass or contrabass, but that's for sound quality, not key).  The bottom line is that if I see the note F on a page, an F is what's going to come out of my tuba. We. Do. Not. Transpose.  We choose our "axe" based on the needs of the gig at hand.  But...


A trumpet player might show up to a gig with his Bb trumpet, but when he is handed a C trumpet part, he's going to have to transpose on the spot.  A horn player might show up to a church gig and be handed the SATB choir part, which is written in concert pitch.  I remember that once I had a church gig where there was one piece that didn't have a tuba part, so the choir director asked me to play the horn part down 1 octave - so I was transposing and reading treble clef.  Regardless of instrument, you should practice transposition.  It will make you a better, more well-rounded musician, plus it's a great brain exercise!

Thanks for reading - I hope this helps make more sense of transposition and transposing instruments!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Yogic breathing and physical therapy study

I'm fortunate enough to be a co-author on this study.  This is a study that I completed during my MM at USF.  I never expected, as a Performance major, to get involved with research at all, much less get something published.  Our work was presented last year at the Performing Artists Medicine Association.  I'm very excited to have worked with Dr. Sang-Hie Lee, who is widely known for her ground-breaking research on the biomechanics of pianists' hands.

I hope that this is a start to something that can help musicians prevent injury and play more easily.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Mistakes I've made (and what they taught me!)

Hello, Internet!  Finally getting around to updating this thing.  Can't believe the last time I did it was almost 2 months ago.

First of all, you need to check out Charles Villarubia's recent performance of the Grantham Concerto with the University of Texas Wind Symphony.  Really inspiring, a brilliant performance.  I personally think the 3rd movement is especially gnarly (in a good way, haha).  See if you don't want to listen to it twice. ;-)  Oh, and if you ever have the chance to take lessons with him - DO IT.

OK, back to the topic in the title.  Part of the reason I've kept this blog is to keep myself accountable.  Some of you may also find it helpful to write things down and get them out of your head.  Another good thing about this blog has been the feedback - I know I'm not alone in the twists and turns of trying to make a career out of playing the tuba (sounds silly if you say it out loud, ha!).

Before we dive in, I'd like to note that some of these things that have been mistakes for me may not be mistakes for other people.  Everyone is different, and part of having a successful career (and life!) is figuring out what works best for you.  I know you're all shocked to hear me say that I'm not an authoritative source on anything.  But I'd like the think that my opinion can be of value to someone somewhere.

1) Qualifying my practice by the quantity of hours I put on my horn that day.  As an undergrad, I always felt most satisfied when I reached my goal of 3.5-4 hours a day on the horn.  I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad goal; in fact, if you're in school, do that much now before you have to start working and you can't practice that much!  My real mistake was this: I don't distinctly remember ever making concrete goals for that 3.5-4 hours.  OK, that's not completely true. I usually had somewhat of a "layout" - daily routine/fundamentals, etudes, break, excerpts, break, solos - I was pretty good about mapping out all the things at hand.  However, my goals were never more specific than getting everything out of the way for the day.  I think my overall goal was to "get better," but there sure are a lot of things you can do to do that.  As my teachers got pickier and my ear got better, I learned to listen for very specific things that needed fixing, and then tend to those things.  You have to be your own teacher in the practice room.  You have to be able to tell yourself how to make something better.  If you can take lessons, yes, yes, yes, you should.  Two sets of ears are better than one, and often I find that someone else's interpretation opens my mind to so many things.  But you also have to learn to think on your own.  Don't just try to remember what your teacher said (though that's helpful) - be an active listener when practicing, and ask your own opinion.
I normally do not have the time or stamina or get more than 2-3 hours in a day (and that's on a good day where I have plenty of free time).  There are often days where I only have an hour or less to practice.  I often find on those days that I get a lot done, too.  It's those days that have taught me to make specific goals, i.e. making 16th note passage in X piece of music even, work on phrasing in Y piece of music.  So, if you have 3-4 hours a day to practice, make every 30 minutes count for something, as if that's all the time you have to get stuff done today.  Oh, and make listening to recordings as important as your fundamentals.  Getting the character of your music under your skin is equally important to learning the notes.

2) Cutting back on fun for the sake of work, especially as an audition or recital is approaching.  Until recently, I didn't realize how bad of a habit this is.  Not only will it make you go insane, it practically encourages you to cram extra loads of practicing in last minute, possibly resulting in burnout or physical fatigue.  I feel like I could write a book on this idea, but I strongly believe that everyone needs a hobby outside of his/her career.  Yes, playing tuba is fun, I love doing it as my job - but, it is my career, and it is work.  Don't let non-musicians try to tell you otherwise!
Many of you know that I have another passion outside of music - Middle Eastern dance (Egyptian and ATS if you care to know or know what that even means).  Dance is my oasis, my escape, my therapist - not to mention it's really helped my interpretive skills, and it keeps me in shape for these military auditions.  Last year, I was working a low wage "normal" job, and then slowly transitioned into being a freelancer.  Money was tight, and I was busy in the practice room preparing for auditions.  I stopped taking dance classes and performing for almost a year.  I don't remember another time in recent history when I've been so utterly depressed, and it showed in my practicing and in my daily conduct.  My sound lacked the buoyancy of Arnold Jacobs that I always try to imitate, and I was acting more and more cranky towards my loved ones.  I slowly realized that I wasn't even doing anything for fun - dancing, movies, going to nature parks, hanging out with friends, etc. - the things that actually make me a human being outside of music.  Music is about life, and when you have no life outside of the practice room, it shows.  How can you possibly play with passion if you never experience it in life?  How can you play with humor if you don't often laugh?  I hope that some of you may know what I'm talking about!
Besides, what good is practicing 5 hours a day every day a week before your recital if it results in your chops being fatigued and your brain being fried?  I know now that it's nearly impossibly for me to have fun in a performance if my chops or brain are tired.  And besides, if I need to cram that much so close to the date, I probably didn't do enough goal-oriented practicing (i.e. practicing in zombie mode) leading up to this time.
I realized I did this a bit to myself in the last audition (though we had a fairly tight time constraint in which to learn the music), and it totally fried my brain.  It's taking me longer to "recover" from this last audition.  So now I'm doubling up my fun time for myself.  Yes, I'm busier, and yes, my dance classes cost money, but I'd rather be busy and having fun anyways.  Dance inspires me, laying around and hoping to "feel better" doesn't.  I regularly need things like dance, books, and being outside to awaken my brain and keep me out of "zombie mode."
On a similar note, another mistake I've made is...

3) Pushing through no matter what.  Yes, I know that perseverance is one of the most important things in achieving your goals.  However, a mistake I've made in the past is not listening to my mind and body when they are screaming at me to take a break.  Does your face hurt when you're playing today?  That's your body telling you to take a break!  Are you feeling overwhelmed or fatigued mentally when you look through your list of excerpts for your next audition?  Step away for a moment.  You will accomplish little or nothing if you are physically or mentally exhausted while practicing.  Not to mention you can actually hurt yourself.
But how will I make up for that lost time?  I know that's the feeling I've often gotten when it's obvious that I'm one Berlioz excerpt away from feeling like death.  Choosing to step away from the horn doesn't mean you have to waste your time.  When was the last time you really sat down and listened to a good recording of some of the music you're preparing?  When was the last time you listened to the recording for something other than tempo and pitch?  How about listening for mood, character... how about deciding what images this music evokes in you?  Doing this often pumps me up enough to get back to my practicing with new vigor.
Sometimes, I'll be so mentally fatigued that anything having to do with work, even listening to "classical" music is overwhelming.  In that case, I must ask, am I feeling overwhelmed, complacent, exhausted?  Should I go running and get out some angst, or should I do some yoga in my backyard?  Should I go run some errands on foot, or should I take a nap?  Should I go to my favorite comedy website or should I read a book?  These are all just things I like to do.  Oh, and sometimes I think about updating this blog. ;-)  On crazy days when we are fatigued, we need to evaluate what our needs are.  On the many days when my time is limited, going for a run may be more beneficial than taking that free time I have to practice.

I guess you could sum all this up by saying... get a life!  Music is not one-dimensional, and your life shouldn't be either.  What are your hobbies?  What are some things that you care about?  What's something that gets you on your feet?  I'd love to hear about your hobbies!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fantastic Article by Craig Knox

Good advice: THE REST OF THE STORY (<--- click here)

Also, I'm preparing for the next DC audition and...

The first panel happens still sometimes, haha.  Not sure whether my lips or fingers are going to fall off first... I'm actually very grateful, this is totally forcing me to get better!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Arnold Jacobs was right.

Hello internet world!  I would apologize for not updating in a while, but that's just weird.  I'm a tuba player, not the president, haha.

I'm sure anyone that's friends with me or any other tuba player has heard about the last couple of military auditions over the past month.  It's been a really great experience, not only as a player, but also to meet other people, and see some old friends I haven't seen in a while.

I've done all right for myself in the past couple of auditions.  It's true I didn't win either job; however, I did way better than I normally did.  So naturally, I've questioned what was different this time around.

It seems odd that I would do better in these auditions than I have done in the past.  Sure, I'm a little older now, but I'm also 2 years out of school.  As in not practicing 3-4 hours a day.  As in taking lessons pretty much never.  This past fall, I was fortunate enough to catch Prof. Ebbers at my alma mater, FSU, on a day when someone had cancelled.  What a fantastic lesson that was... so many things clicked and made more sense.  I also drove 2 hours to Tampa to take a mock audition at my other alma mater, USF, and get comments from faculty there (including Jay Hunsberger of course, who was nice enough to give me the opportunity, even though I'm not longer a student there).

In the months before the audition, I was very excited.  Winning this job would be a total dream come true!  But I have to admit, the week before the audition in December, I was a wreck.  I had been talking to other tubists planning on attending, and it dawned on me: everyone else has been practicing more than I have, and everyone else has been taking lessons, mock auditions, and playing in masterclasses.  I wasn't even doing the things I could have done on my own, like recording myself.  How could I have been so lazy?  The job would have been a dream for me - how could I have taken things so lightly?  I suddenly felt like everyone was a much more serious musician that I was.  I even started questioning my selection of solo.

But then I decided, hey, it's the week before the audition.  No turning back now.  You're not going to get significantly better in a week.  Just do the best you can, and the rest is history!

I'm sure many of you heard about the "conditions" of the December audition: hours of waiting, a huge warm-up room where you could only "feel" yourself playing, and an extra 45 minutes of isolation in a tiny practice room right before your audition.  I got there at 8:15am, and I was #81.  My audition happened around 2:30pm.  I think these circumstances affected a lot of people negatively and caused them not to play their best.  However, I believe these conditions helped me.  For one, I got to catch up with friends and socialize a lot, which made me feel good.  Some people need isolation - I'm the opposite.  I can't be left alone with myself to think about everything that could go wrong!  Also, by the time I got to audition, I just wanted to get it over with already.  I also felt that if I didn't advance, it was probably due to fatigue of being at the barracks all day.  Plus, there were so many people there - what were the odds that I would advance, even in optimal conditions?  I was shocked when I was invited back to semi-finals.  I had never advanced in a national audition before.  (Unfortunately, I was not invited to the final round.)

I recently read The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green.  One of the methods Barry used in a masterclass was taking a student to the side of the stage and secretly telling her that she was allowed to make as many mistakes as she wanted.  She performed wonderfully.  I read this chapter (after my December audition, of course) and thought, "That's it!"  I had allowed myself to make mistakes.  I allowed myself to fail.  I gave myself excuses - it's been a long day, I only have my CC tuba with me, I'm really hungry, etc. - any sort of failure would not be my fault, but a consequence of the circumstances.  Now, that may or may not have been the truth, but it worked for me.

In the final round, I believe I put more pressure on myself - feeling like, "This is IT! You can't screw up this time!" I'll admit, I played decently, but not as well as I did in the first round. 

I had another audition this past month, not too long after the audition in December.  I was a finalist, but ultimately wasn't selected for the gig.  I tried to recreate my feeling of calm and lack of worry in that audition, and it really worked well for me.  I felt confident, and I had fun in my audition.  Yes, I said it, I had fun in my audition (the final round was the best, getting to play with the quintet and the Dixieland group, holy smokes).  

There is another important element I haven't mentioned.  I once thought being on my own would cause me to falter; on the contrary, it's caused me to dig deeper.  I'm no longer being assigned material from a teacher - I have to assign myself things to play.  I have to have a reason to be playing something.  I started wondering how I could find the drive to do this on my own.

I re-read Song and Wind, looking for inspiration not only for my playing, but for my pedagogy (as my main occupation is teaching).  The message of song is constant throughout the book.  I had read the book in school, but for some reason, I don't think I got the main message until just recently.  It's there in black and white: just think of the music, and only music.  It finally made sense.  If I heard the melody to Stars and Stripes in my head, I would stay in time. If I thought about the ponderous (or as I like to think of it, a mood of, "something's a-brewin') nature of the 1st movement of Hindemith's Symphony in Bb, I wouldn't rush.  If I heard the woodwinds in the 3rd movement of Grainger's Lincolnshire Posy, I would be in tune.

Is practicing with a metronome important?  Yes.  Is playing with a tuner important?  Yes.  Is taking a technical passage more slowly to work out clarity important? Of course.  But it's still music.  And you have to not only practice, but you have to practice performing.  As in, just PLAY!  Your audition is not the time to be analyzing what you're doing - that's what the practice room is for.  Like Jay told me, "Just make beautiful music in your audition!"

Just a couple weeks before the audition, I played through a few excerpts with a euphonium player, who had the parts.  I was then reminded that this stuff was actually music - beautiful music.

Who knew?