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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Tag: Auditions

Selling the Concept of Time During Long Notes

Andrew Hitz

"One of the things that's hard for tuba players, actually it's hard for everyone, is that you need to sell the concept of time when you are playing long notes. It's hard."

—David Zerkel

Whether you are taking an audition, playing in a chamber ensemble or performing in a symphony orchestra, selling the concept of time when you are playing long notes is a golden opportunity to stand out in a good way.

Why is that?

Because most musicians suck at it.

I have played next to some people in quintets over the years who have perfectly fine time and yet could not sell the concept of time on a long note to save their lives because they are too passive.

The best chamber ensembles in the world can shut off the lights and play a slow and beautiful piece of music perfectly together with absolutely zero visual communication. It's hard as hell but the greats have a hard time not spoon-feeding to you when their current note is ending and when the next note begins.

Looking for a way to stand out in the final round of a symphony audition or in a chamber audition? Make it painfully clear where your long notes are coming from and where they are going to and sell the hell out of the time while simultaneously taking cues from and reacting to the players around you.

Do that successfully and you will put yourself on a very short list of people being considered for that job.

How to Prepare for an Audition

Andrew Hitz

"One might say that the ability to evaluate one's own ability is the most important skill of all. Without it, improvement is impossible. And certainly ego makes it difficult every step of the way."

—Ryan Holiday in Ego is the Enemy

Many years ago I was supposed to be giving a joint master class with Joe Alessi in Banff but instead I was making him do most of the talking and taking notes!

One student asked him what the key to winning an audition is. Joe told him that he really didn't like answering that question but then proceeded to precisely put it into words:

"You have to be brutally honest with yourself and know exactly what you can and can not do on your instrument."
—Joe Alessi on the key to winning an audition

That's it. You need to do the equivalent of staring at yourself in the mirror while completely naked. No clothes to hide behind. No flattering camera angles. No beautiful scenery in the background to distract us. Just you and your glorious naked self.

He then went on to say anyone preparing for an audition should spend an equal amount of their practice time listening to themselves as actually playing. To hammer home that point, he said someone spending four hours in a day preparing for an audition should spend a full two of those hours listening to recordings of themselves.

This is how you get brutally honest about what you can and can not do.

And you need to do this every single day. Federal holidays. Your boyfriend's birthday. Your anniversary. The day you graduate.

The women and men who are on the short list of people who really have a good chance of winning any given audition are all doing this level of prep. So you'd better be.

The Brass Junkies: Colin Williams of the New York Philharmonic

Andrew Hitz

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I had the pleasure of interviewing an old friend recently in Colin Williams. Colin is the Associate Principal Trombone of the New York Philharmonic and was my section mate many, many years ago in the Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Colin's career has brought him from the San Antonio Symphony to the Atlanta Symphony and most recently to his current employer, the New York Philharmonic. His approach to trombone playing and to music in general is fantastic and he has an incredible way with words.

But the truly stunning part of his story is the playing related injury he suffered and his recovery from that. He is incredibly generous and forthcoming about this aspect of his career and it is one of the most inspirational tales you will ever hear in the music business.

It took him five years to be fully recovered and he had to completely relearn how to play the trombone. Oh and for what it's worth he won the New York Philharmonic audition during that five year recovery process!

Seriously, you have to hear this story. It will convince you that no matter you are facing, you can overcome it. Thank you Colin for being so open about your journey!

And he tells a pretty hilarious story of me being a jackass in youth orchestra that you'll have no trouble believing.

Links:

Colin's Page at NY Phil 

You can help offset the costs of producing the show by making a small donation at https://www.patreon.com/thebrassjunkies. Your support is greatly appreciated!

Produced by Austin Boyer of FredBrass.


The "Do You Give A ****?" Test (Otherwise Known As Scales)

Andrew Hitz

It is that time of year again when college students are set to perform their juries and high school seniors will soon be taking their college auditions. Almost all college auditions and juries require scales. So do all district and All-State auditions.

(Note: One of my most popular blog posts over the years is this Quick Guide to Juries which addresses everything you need to know to be successful.)

Everyone knows they need to know their scales. But scales don't actually test what you think they do.

It of course can not be pointed out too many times that scales are the building blocks of all tonal music and positively must be mastered by all musicians. This is not news to anyone.

But what scales, in the context of a jury or audition, are really testing is whether the student gives a ****.

No, I'm being serious.

Learning scales or modes only involves one thing: commitment. It just takes a concerted effort over a sustained period of time to become familiar with them. Once you do that, they are ingrained.

I rarely practice scales any more, and I mean rarely. That's because I have put the work in to the point where they are rote. I have them ingrained in my ear and into my muscle memory.

There is nothing tricky about them whatsoever. Even melodic minor scales (different on the way up than on the way down which struck me as insane as a kid!) are not complicated. It is the exact same pattern in each of the 12 keys, as they all are!

If you accept the premise that there is absolutely nothing tricky about any scale then all you are left with is whether you have bothered to take the time to learn them.

That's it. Do you give a **** enough to have spent the time? Pretty simple.

I'm not saying that a C-major scale is of equal difficulty as a D-flat major scale on a C instrument. The latter is obviously more difficult.

But neither one is very hard at all if you've bothered to take the time to do the work.

So believe me, you have told your potential school or the faculty at your current school an awful lot about how serious you are about this whole music thing by how prepared you are to play your scales.

#endrant

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For a little practicing inspiration, don't miss "Practicing Summed Up In Six Sentences" courtesy of Doug Yeo.

 

Norman Bolter on Orchestral Auditions

Andrew Hitz

"Interesting that the uniform of the orchestra is black and white just like a keyboard. And basically a person is auditioning to be a key on the orchestral keyboard."

-Norman Bolter (former 2nd Trombone of the Boston Symphony)

 

This is why it so imperative to know the excerpts you are playing backwards and forwards.  The people who win auditions can play a recording of the entire orchestra in their heads.  That includes a number of bars before their excerpt begins and several bars afterwards.

Few people on your committee (if any) will play your instrument.  They will be hearing their "key on the orchestral keyboard" while you are playing.  If what you are playing does not fit with the part they are hearing in their heads you will be sent home.  It is that simple.

Warren Deck on the Little Things

Andrew Hitz

Yes one thousand times over! The difference between someone who advances at an audition and someone who doesn't is almost never missed notes or missed rhythms.  It is 100 little things that make the music simply sound "right."

Excruciating attention to detail is the key to success in the music business.