audition challenge

Perfect Storm

Wow, talk about making a plan, and then just watching it go down the toilet…that was my week in a nutshell.

I mean, I knew it was going to be crazy.  I have so many responsibilities at work right now that I knew it was going to be a stretch to even sit down for a few minutes each day for practice. Just to be clear, we’re talking 10 gigs in a 10 day period (yesterday was gig number 4 of the 10).  And that doesn’t include all the rehearsals for those gigs!  While that may not sound like a lot on paper, when you’re in charge of logistics for 8 of those gigs it can start to feel like I’m going a little bit insane.  And plus all my non-musical duites!  It basically turned into a perfect storm of responsibilities, which came to a head this past week.

So what is it that is making it so busy?  This year is the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  There are so many memorials, ceremonies, and concerts devoted to remembering what happened right here 75 years ago.  As busy as I am, I am honored that I get to be a part of something so historic.  This is why I do what I do!  But I’m still going to be doing the happy dance on December 10th, when all the craziness is over.

As if I wasn’t busy enough, my son is turning one year old in the middle of everything!  Luckily there is a small gap in the schedule on Wednesday afternoon, so we are able to celebrate his birthday!  I am planning on making a smash cake for my little guy to go crazy on.  I have my ONE day off today, so I’m going to be doing that, ha.  I seriously can’t believe that he’s a year old already!

So with all that said, I didn’t even have time to think about my “challenge 2.0”.  It seemed like whatever I did, by the time I did everything I needed to do, it was the end of the day and I hadn’t practiced a lick.  Ugh, its so frustrating when that happens.  But although I have a busy upcoming week of performances, all the legwork and rehearsals for those performances are pretty much done, so I should be able to devote a little time to practice.  Therefore, I adjusted my challenge plan so that I start this coming week (December 5th).  That still gives me 10 weeks to prepare for the audition in February.

Speaking of the audition, I still don’t know if I’m actually going to be able to make the trip.  The navy is unable to pay for my travel this time, so its basically on me to come up with the funds.  I’m keeping an eye on airfare prices, so if I can get a good deal on a plane ticket, I’m going to go.  If I can’t, then I won’t.  Pretty simple.  So we’ll see.  I’m still going to prepare and practice like I am going.  I really don’t have anything to lose!

I hope I survive the week.  Its a countdown to December 10th!  I can make it, I can make it…

Family picture from my work holiday party on Thursday.

 

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Clarinet Challenge 2.0

Well, unfortunately, the end of the challenge kind of fizzled out for me.  I just ran out of time and had no motivation to finish it out.  But it’s OK though, I learned a lot about audition preparation over the last 14 weeks despite being unable to finish it out.  If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know that I have been struggling with audition day nerves and being able to come through when it counted.  I think I’ve finally figured out some of the missing pieces.

Technical preparation, while a large part, is only just part of it.

In my mind I have always known this, but had always been a little bit in denial.  Yes, while being able to execute each excerpt effectively is very, very important, I found that recording a weekly video in one take with no re-dos for all the world to see brought one aspect to the preparation that I had been missing.  Before, I didn’t do any sort of mock auditions until only a couple weeks prior to the audition, but now I understand the benefit of doing mock performances throughout the preparation process, even when the technique isn’t quite there yet.

I learned how to visualize.  And it wasn’t how I thought it would be!

This challenge forced me to visualize, and to make visualization work for me.  I learned pretty quickly that visualizing in a sequential way (like watching a movie in my head) really didn’t work for me.  And that’s why I had always given up on visualizations before now.  It was REALLY hard, and it didn’t seem to work very well.  Or I would visualize, and my brain would literally skip over the hard parts.  What ended up working for me was visualizing only certain aspects.  For example, if I often flubbed a certain note in a certain passage, I would take a moment to visualize myself playing that note perfectly prior to actually playing the passage.  Worked every time!  It helped to make a small list of things to visualize for each excerpt, so I wouldn’t waste time trying to remember what the weak areas were.

Fundamentals are key.

OK, I didn’t actually learn this, because I’ve known this for a while now.  But this challenge proved just how important fundamentals are.  You can get away with a lot if you just go through your fundamental skills every day.  I can’t tell you how many practice sessions in this challenge were spent only playing my fundamentals.  And yet I was somehow able to get away with recording the excerpts without ever falling on my face!  Honestly, I didn’t put all that much time into practicing excerpts.

What’s next now?  Well, honestly I have the next two weeks to get through for work.  It is the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, and there are so many ceremonies and memorials!  Its weeks like this that make me feel needed in the Navy!  I’m in charge of the woodwind quintet so I have a lot of work to do.  Despite that, I’m going to attempt to start the challenge again after Thanksgiving.  I have decided (for now) to audition for Navy Band in February.  I might change my mind, there’s a lot of factors that could keep me from going.  But its easier to quit preparation already in progress than to get an audition ready at the last minute.  I’m already a little behind, if I start after Thanksgiving weekend, it only gives me 11 weeks to prepare.  But the excerpt list is short (click here to see) and not too crazy.

I’ve already created the whole plan of action.  I freaking love spreadsheets, so I created one to organize it all:

untitled

There it is, week 11-0.  And I’ve already separated the excerpts into practice groups, and I have a video assignment planned for each week.  I’ve also separated the whole thing into phases: phase 1 is wood-shedding/technical practice (orange), phase 2 is polishing (green), and final preparation/taper (blue).  You might notice the two and a half weeks in the middle of phase 1 that is grayed out.  We’re coming home to Colorado for Christmas, and I’m not planning on taking my instrument home with me.  I need the break.  Plus, with all the crap we will be traveling with (see: traveling with a baby), I don’t want to be lugging a clarinet case along.  And whenever I bring my horn on visits home, I never really play.  So I decided to really work on visualizing and listening during that time.  I’ve never devoted that much time to mental practice, so it should be interesting.  And coming back to playing in January should be a fun time.  Heyoooo endurance.  But, I have about six weeks from when I get back home to Hawaii to the audition, so I should be alright.

I would have started the challenge this week (give myself 12 weeks instead of 11), but I know better.  With the holiday and everything, I’m not going to be able to commit the time I want, so I’m just skipping it.  I’m only committing to practice on my work days, and only have a two day work week.  Not a lot that can get done in those two days.

I’m also not going to be as strict with posting videos this time around.  Again, I know better.  I will still be recording videos (because they help!), and they will eventually be posted, but I’m not going to stress about blogging about it.  I’ll get to it when I get to it!

My son will also be turning one in a couple weeks…it is hard to believe how fast this year has gone.  It seems like it was just the other day that he was born.  Now he’s walking, talking (sort of), and developing into his own little person.  Its amazing.

So happy Thanksgiving!  The next few weeks are going to be pretty insane, so I will probably see you on the other side!

Week 2 Epiphany!

I was fairly successful in getting back on the practice train this week, after completely falling off the last couple weeks.  My week was busy, but it really came down to making it a priority and making the time.  It can be done!

I really focused on practicing visualizations prior to playing each excerpt this week.  And I realized something…I was having a hard time with visualizing because I was focused on “singing” the melody in my head, undisturbed.  I discovered that its more effective for me if I visualize myself executing certain parts, even just certain individual notes.  I was trying too hard to keep the music intact in my head; but my weakness isn’t performing the music, its the technical execution.  So instead of imagining myself playing the melody of say, Mozart Concerto, I imagined myself playing the rhythm perfectly in a certain measure, or having perfect fingers in a certain spot where I tend to flub.  Once I stopped trying to be so cumulative in my visualizations, that’s when it started working for me.

What I need to do now is write down my weakness in each excerpt so that I remember what to visualize prior to playing an excerpt.  I found I spent most of my 20 seconds this week trying to identify what to visualize.  If I know what I need to visualize before I start, I can be more focused and efficient!

And now my video…I had a total derp moment where I forgot to change from A to Bb clarinet after the Mozart.  Whoops.  Forgive me.

Considering I haven’t even played the concerto in a couple weeks, I think it went pretty good.  I also recorded my video right after listening to my friend Deanna do a mock audition using the same excerpt list!  But she is way more prepared than me because she’s actually taking the audition.  And she’s gonna kill it!

Week 1

So close to the end!  This week’s assignment is going to be exactly like last weeks, except I’m reducing the visualization time from 20 seconds to 10 seconds.  Time to get efficient!  In case you need it, here’s a reminder of what the assignment is:

  • Mozart Concerto, exposition
  • 5 excerpts, chosen at random right before recording the video

Alrighty.  We’re almost done.  Next week is the last week of the challenge!

There’s another DC Navy Band audition coming up in February.  I haven’t decided whether or not to take it.  It all kind of depends on my son and how much he’s still nursing.  I have a feeling he’s gonna be a “night nurser” for awhile, but if I can get him to wean a little during the day I think I’ll be able to make the trip OK.  The constant breast pumping was the hardest part of my trip the last time!  I’ll start working on the list, and then make a final decision closer to the audition, probably in January.

But till then, gotta finish the challenge! (If only to start right back up again!)

Week 5…

This past week was not as productive as I would have hoped.  While the rest of my co workers were in San Francisco playing gigs for Fleet Week SF, I was hanging back here in Hawaii, so you would think that I would have gotten a lot done!  Nope.

I had plenty of desk work, and when you throw in the temptation to go home early everyday and hang out with my little bambino, things did not go well in the practice department.  Ha.  It ended up being a nice break though.

Oh…I forgot to post my week 7 assignment video!  Well, here it is!  As I promised, I recorded it on Monday.  Its actually been on YouTube all week, I just never got around to posting a blog about it.

I did the same thing as last time and I doubled up my recording with a Zoom audio recorder.  The sound is just so much better!  Its a little more work to put the video together, but overall I think its worth it.  Its a good reminder that my sound isn’t as wacky as I was thinking it was.  I am also starting to hear more little subtle things in my sound that I want to improve.  Unfortunately, I have really come down with a case of the lazies and haven’t put in effort to work on it at all.  Perhaps it would be different if I were taking a real audition at the end of this challenge.  Its so easy to let things go when there’s really nothing at stake…

I am still frustrated that I keep making little mental errors that result in technical flubs.  Ugh.  I think it might be prudent to start doing these little mock-audition recordings every day or every other day.

Week 5:

I definitely took an unscheduled break in the challenge this past week.  And that’s ok!  Sometimes its good to take a minute and balance yourself.  So for that reason, I am going to repeat the previous assignment.  Here it is again, if you need a reminder:

  • Revisit group 3 excerpts, and keep polishing all excerpts (mental practice counts!).
  • Choose a favorite recording of the Mozart Concerto.  Focus on the first thirty seconds of the solo entrance, and write down a few words that you think of when you listen to it.  Listen a few times, and finalize these key words.
  • Practice visualizing those first thirty seconds.  For more details on how to do this, read Nathan Cole’s Audition challenge week 5 blog entry.  This should be hard, it will probably take multiple tries over several days.  Come up with some key words for your visualization once you get the hang of it.
  • The final assignment is to compare your key words from the favorite recording to key words that you come up with.

I hope I can have a more productive week in the practice room.  I will also share my word assignments from week 7 in my next blog post (I forgot my stuff at work, hahaha).  Happy practicing (and visualizing)!

Sometimes we forget…

I’ll be honest.  I completely forgot to do my video yesterday!  Well that’s not entirely true.  I remembered on my way home from work, but then it was definitely too late.  I definitely wasn’t going to turn around and go back.  And seeing since I don’t ever practice on the weekends (weekends=family time) that means I won’t be getting my video recorded until Monday.  So yeah.  Whoops.

Although I totally suck and I don’t have a video ready, I did want to write a post about next week’s assignment.  This week will be kind of a break from recording videos.  I was going to wait until next week for the visualization assignment, but because my friend and colleague Deanna who is doing the challenge with me, will be with the rest of my coworkers in San Francisco for Fleet week, and there just isn’t time for much practice or video recording!  Of course, I am staying behind, so I will have all the time in the world!  But I figured it would be a good opportunity for this type of assignment.

Week 6:

By now you should be able to execute all the excerpts at or close to the final tempo.  The next phase of preparation is going to work to polish up all that technique work that we’ve been doing the last two months and really focus in on playing the excerpts vs. executing them.

Assignment:

  • Revisit group 3 excerpts, and keep polishing all excerpts (mental practice counts!).
  • Choose a favorite recording of the Mozart Concerto.  Focus on the first thirty seconds of the solo entrance, and write down a few words that you think of when you listen to it.  Listen a few times, and finalize these key words.
  • Practice visualizing those first thirty seconds.  For more details on how to do this, read Nathan Cole’s Audition challenge week 5 blog entry.  This should be hard, it will probably take multiple tries over several days.  Come up with some key words for your visualization once you get the hang of it.
  • The final assignment is to compare your key words from the favorite recording to key words that you come up with.

In reality, you don’t even need to pick up your instrument this week to finish the assignment.  We’ve spent the last 8 weeks concentrating on technique and execution, now its time to transition to a more artistic and musical approach up to the end of the challenge.  I guarantee everyone who shows up for these auditions can execute the excerpts.  But the person who stands out and wins auditions have that extra something, and that extra something is what we need to work towards for the next 6 weeks.

And I promise I will post my week 7 assignment results/video on Monday!  To make up for it, here’s a cute pic of my son:

See, doesn’t his face make everything better?  Well I think so.

I’ll report back on Monday!

Make sure you empty your SD cards, folks.

Before I say anything, this week turned out much better than last week.  I felt much more organized, and I really felt like I got something accomplished!  I went into my recording session feeling much more prepared.  Unfortunately, I neglected to empty my SD card and I ran out of space about 3 ½ minutes in to my recording.  Whoops.  Luckily, I had decided to also record an audio track with a decent recorder (aka not a phone or a GoPro), so I had a Zoom recorder going at the same time!  So it wasn’t a total loss.  If I were preparing this video for an actual audition submission, I would be screwed and I would probably have had to re-do it.  But for my purposes here, I just did some editing to add the audio track to what I did get on video.  The audio keeps going in my video even when the picture cuts out (I just dubbed the audio track over the video, Voila!)

Obviously, I’m still struggling with focus and keeping the mistakes at bay.  I’ve actually been doing a really good job in my practice sessions to be extremely deliberate in my execution, and I never “practice” the mistakes I make in my videos.  It is so frustrating when I make stupid mental errors when it comes to the actual performance.  Ugh.  I guess this is why I’m doing this challenge!  Practice, practice, practice.

I am much happier with my sound though.  Not sure if its actually better, or the recorded audio is better.  As I said before, the audio is from a Zoom recorder, so its actually decent, even though the room kinda sucks.

Week 7:

The assignment for next week (week 7) is pretty much the same as last week.  We are still focusing and working on technique, but all group 1 and 2 excerpts should be played as close to the final tempo for the video this week.

  • Mozart concerto, entire exposition. Play with metronome set on half note = 58 (or whatever your final tempo is)
  • Three group 1 excerpts chosen at random
  • Two group 2 excerpts chosen at random

After this week, we start “Phase 2” of our preparation, in which we polish our technique and start to focus on more musical ideas rather than technical.  To prepare for this transition, I am also assigning some listening.  Find at least one example recording for each excerpt, preferably more than one, though that can be difficult with some of the band excerpts.  I want you to come up with a word or phrase that comes to mind for each excerpt when you listen to it.  Write it on a sticky note and put it on the music, so that you see it when you play it.  This is meant to help you get “in the mood” musically.  Do this for all excerpts, including our group 3 excerpts and the Mozart Concerto.

Have a great week!  I would say see you Friday, but lets be honest…its gonna be Saturday or Sunday.  Ha!

Video and Challenge Week 8

Ok, so this week was kind of a wash.  But even though I didn’t upload my video until today, I did manage to get my recording done on Friday.  To be honest, it took a lot of motivation to get it done.  I didn’t have a lot of time for practice last week and I was not feeling as prepared as I wished I could be.  I also had a very long gig on Friday morning, and I really wasn’t in the mood to practice afterwards!  All I wanted to do was go home!  Especially because I was about to have a really long workday that started super early on Saturday (I went to the Big Island for a parade).  I also forgot my GoPro camera at home, so I had to use my phone to record my video.

There were so many reasons that I could have used to make excuses to not record a video.  But I decided to look at it as an opportunity to see how I play with no proper warm up and in not so ideal conditions.  Although I wasn’t going into it completely cold (like I said, I played a gig that morning – but on a plastic reed haha), I knew it would be interesting.  I basically selected a reed, and pressed record.  Here’s what happened:

In general I think I did OK. A few mistakes here and there…mostly due to lack of focus!  I took everything under tempo, but that was the plan originally.  I had to do the Mozart concerto without a metronome, because I use my phone as my metronome and it won’t record video and run the met app at the same time. But it ended up being a really good test in my inner pulse. The tendency is to start at the correct slow tempo, but then creep faster and faster. I tried my best to hold down the tempo without the aid of the met.

Also, I have not been that pleased with my sound lately. It sounds too unstable and squawky to me. Ugh. I’ve been trying to put more time into reed working, and also really  working on the beginning of the sound to try to see if it helps. But it could quite possibly be the room and recording equipment though. I’m going to dig out my husband’s old Zoom recorder this week and see if there is a difference.

I also focused this week on being 100% ready to go and focused on the task before I start anything.  Its a challenge!  It is so easy to just start playing on auto pilot.  I felt like I started all my excerpts much better than the last few weeks.  I am going to keep that focus this week, since it seems to be a weak area for me.

Now to this week’s assignment:

  • Mozart Concerto, entire exposition with metronome set on half note = 50 (focus on inner pulse!)
  • Three excerpts from group 1
  • Two excerpts from group 2

As you can see, it’s pretty much the same as last week.  I want to improve my pulse for the Mozart Concerto, that is why I’m putting the metronome on such a big beat.

I am going to do something different with my practice schedule starting this week.  So far in the challenge, I’ve been only practicing the excerpts that I assign myself for the video recording.  I had a thought though…that’s not really how auditions work!  So I am going to practice all my group 1 and 2 excerpts, and then pick some at random to play for the video on Friday.  I think that will better represent an audition situation.

So for the next two weeks, I’m going to split all the excerpts (groups 1 & 2 only) into three equal groups and rotate through a three day schedule:

  • Day A: Dahl, Holst, Mozart Serenade
  • Day B: Holst, Borodin, Gounoud, Williams
  • Day C: Borodin, Bach, Beethoven, Grainger

As you can see, I worked it out so that I practice the group 1 excerpts more often.  I’ll work in the Mozart concerto when I have time.  My schedule this week is a little more forgiving, so I hope I can get more practicing done, and record a better video.

Well, I’m going to go enjoy my Monday off of work.  Back to the grind tomorrow though!  Good luck and happy practicing!