When recording pitchy instruments, strings a great example, don’t wear the headphones tightly over both ears. On the ear closest to your instrument (left for most if not all cello players) only put the headphone halfway over your ear, or even all the way off. Leave the headphone on your other ear. It’s amazingly easier to judge intonation this way. Works for vocals too! I wish I had learned this years ago.
Landfill Harmonic teaser (by LandfillHarmonic)
You are not a number.
You are not the number of your chair.
You are not the number of years you’ve been playing.
You are not a score on an audition.
You are not a graduating statistic.
You are not your grade on your instrument.
You are not the size of your instrument.
You are not the number of hours you practice.
Was at an audition this morning. Fairly casual for them, though not for me as I haven’t auditioned for anything in years. I’m into what I’m doing with bands and composition, but I’d LOVE to be playing in more ensembles. I love making music.
Anyways, I thought I’d tell you about my shitty auditions so that you know that you’re not the only one who doesn’t adore being judged by a room full of expert strangers.
Shitty Audition #1
Today’s audition wasn’t that shitty. It was just sort of shitty.
I get into the waiting room and I can’t even practice. I just sort of froze inside knowing I wasn’t able to focus enough to run through notes, wondering the consequences of that state of mind when I got on stage. I just stood with my cello and stared at the floor, and thankfully another cellist was there and I channeled some nervous energy into conversation.
The moment came and I went in the room. There are seven or eight people. They are nice. But I have no idea what to do or say. I say something idiotic like “oh geez I’m nervous” or something really lame. Then I get hit with the “so what piece did you prepare to play for us?” and I was like… um… I know. I know. It wasn’t clear that we were to prepare something. So, I played one of my songs. Yeah. One of my rock songs. It sounds really really embarrassing but the theme of the ensemble is kind of rock-based so I think maybe it sort of made sense.
But I mean, I was totally floored by the very first thing.
And then they’re like “play these measures from this piece”, pretty standard. And all the sudden I have no idea where B flat is. I mean, my ears literally do not understand intonation for a minute. So I can’t find my note. Which is unfortunate because I start to play anyway. Totally flub it of course, because I’m like a half step flat and it’s so bad I stop. I mean, I’m nervous, that’s obvious. But right there the audition is basically over. It’s nice that they didn’t just say thank you and “next”, which would have been more efficient. Start over and play passably, flub a couple more times. Ugh.
And then, Mr. Perfect Technique “I’m in a ton of groups and have a super expensive cello” goes on stage after me. He is a very nice guy and I don’t hate him but I hate hearing him play as I pack up. It’s like… that guy is at every audition. Or girl. They will be there at your audition and they will either play directly before or after you. They are meant for this. They don’t flub. You should quit today and forget it and why did I even bother to show up oh shit oh fuck I hate the world.
That’s how you’ll feel for three minutes and then you’ll pack up and go home.
Shitty Audition #2
Several years ago without deserving to at all I was given a chance to audition for the Oregon Symphony in Portland. I lived there and that is probably why, they probably had some quota of locals they had to let try out. People were flying from Singapore and Vienna and South Africa and they all were RAD cellists and this was or a fourth chair spot and I was just out of my league in a way.
But I thought, hey you never know.
Here’s the part of the story where I tell you that I got the music an worked on it non-stop for weeks, not sleeping, just telling myself that I could do it and learning it inside and out.
Nope. I don’t know at all what was going on in my life that this would be considered reasonable behavior, but for some reason I didn’t have the audition music, I was probably too broke to buy the book of it. Also, the symphony said they’d provide the music the day before if people needed it, and somehow, in some… just… amazingly naive way I figured I’d brush over the pieces that night. And then, in the hour in the practice room before the audition.
Yeah. Good plan.
So I go and it’s very cool to be in the beautiful symphony hall in Portland, and everyone is really nice and they show me a practice room and there are like eight totally and completely amazing cellists playing through the music in ways I had never heard live before. Amazing. And I go to play the music and I really can’t even begin to tell you how much faith I was putting in the bullshit of happenstance. Like, I really thought I could wing it.
And then, no hour to practice, more like 12 minutes, they call on me. So I grab my stuff and my cheap (I love her but really) beginners cello and plastic bow and am led to the stage and almost sort of coerced out onto it.
Which is good because I would have turned the other way no doubt had I known: a huge empty stage with spotlight and a totally empty symphony hall room save for a BLACK WALL covering an unknown number of musical experts and critics. They are not allowed to speak to me at all except to say my number and not my name (we were given numbers) and they are not allowed to say anything but which passage to play.
I sit on the black stage feeling like I’m in the pull of a distant galaxy from theirs and the rest of the world and I actually make an attempt to play. But I’m so overmatched by my nerves but mostly my own incompetence that after two passages, very short ones indeed, I take the initiative and simply say “I’m sorry, I don’t want to waste your time. Thank you for the opportunity” because the noises that came out of my instrument were truly terrible and not Beethoven and I think a 5th grader could have done MUCH better, well I KNOW certain 5th graders would and probably did do better.
Thanks to the heavens that the very sweet guy who ushered me off the stage had the compassion to act as if what had happened was just nerves and he said something like “it’s ok, this happens to everyone” and I really needed that. I was pretty crushed it was just a singularly embarrassing experience. It made me feel like a complete and total novice/loser/slacker/bad cellist.
And I got over it, kind of. I learned from it in some way. I learned to be prepared for an audition and spend $46 on the audition book ahead of time.
Actually that experience was terrifying enough that a lot of public speaking/performing gigs really can’t phase me now. So. That’s good.
And I learned that auditions are hard.
And I learned that they ARE about judging you but that you really should not care. “Go ahead and judge me” is what you should publicly present and privately try to believe.
So. Your audition can’t and won’t be that bad. Surely. You’ll get in, rule over it and it’ll be over faster than you know it.
Break a leg. And tell me your audition stories if you have any…
I think we’re all lazy to a certain extent, and I don’t even want to admonish that laziness per se, as a little laziness can lead to ingenuity. What else but laziness would lead to innovations such as the remote control, gas fireplaces, Siri, and auto-tune? Some of these innovations are obviously super nice to us. Most indeed. And so perhaps laziness is evolution at work.
But as you know laziness has its consequences. If you don’t wash the dishes, taking that precious three minutes out of your day at the end of the meal, you inevitably end up working harder at some point to make up for that moment of “eff it”.
And let’s say you don’t do the dishes for a month. Or a year. That chore, fixing the lapses, will be huge.
So with the cello and any instrument that you are learning the word from the mountaintop is don’t be lazy. I know.
My vibrato is frustrating. It’s uncontrolled and unpredictable and not always if ever very rich and velvety, which is how I like it. It’s sort of emotional, that manic vibrato of mine, but again, it’s not something I have as much control over as I’d like. Why? Lazy.
I just never took the time in my first year or two or three or actually five to actually master the lovely art of vibrato. Instead of listening to my teachers I sort of hit a note and then started shaking my left wrist like I was squishing something deep inside the fingerboard. I did that again and again, with every note, for years. And so now that tourette’s esque exclamation comes to my left arm and body without bidding and unpredictably.
When I started studying cello more seriously again I worked to fix these years of mistakes. To this day I am still bitter at those exercises I was assigned to undertake for 20 minutes to an hour at a time: slowly, ever so painfully moving my wrist and forearm in the proper arc in a rhythm, with each finger on each string, making howling “weeeeee-ooooooo-weeeeeee-ooooo” noises out of each note and keeping it going uninterrupted. It sounds easy I know, but it’s the hardest music exercise I’ve ever done and I still avoid it at all costs. It’s hard like meditation is hard, like focusing on one thought for a long time is hard. It’s difficult I imagine like training certain dance movements would be, the subtle ones, the perfect positioning of the posture of a ballerina say. It’s just tedious.
And that’s my pile of unwashed dishes. I don’t know that I’ll ever get them done and my vibrato kitchen in order.
So do it right the first time says I. Or at least the fifth time. Don’t think that on the 100th time you’ll decide to do it right all the sudden and all will be well. You’ll have trained all kinds of semi-permanent behavior into yourself by that time.
Andy Warhol never had his own tv show, wouldn’t have had the most viral video on YouTube and wasn’t focused on the fast pump of fame. It turns out that get big fast (and then fade) doesn’t build a reputation that pays. Media volatility makes more people and more ideas famous for ever shorter periods of time. What the fine art market shows us, though, is that real value isn’t created by this volatile fame. Consistently showing up on the radar of the right audience is more highly prized than reaching the masses, once then done. This works for every career, even if you’ve never touched a brush.
- GIPSY BOY IN HUNGARY BY EVA BESNYO