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.