Audition reflection

Finally I have a bit of time and I thought I would post about my Navy Band audition nearly three (!) months ago.  If you don’t feel like reading a lot today, here’s is the long story short…I felt extremely prepared, and I probably played the best I’ve ever played in an audition for a long time.  Not the best I can play, but the best I’ve played in a high pressure situation.  But despite playing ALL the excerpts in the 2nd round PLUS the sight-reading selection, they didn’t advance me to the final round.  And according to the guy who was running the audition, they (the audition committee) talked about me a lot, which means that at least some of them wanted to keep me around.  That’s almost worse than playing crappy!

So here’s the long story: unfortunately, I didn’t start the day very well…I was told to be there by 9:00, although the check-in began at 7:30.  I decided since I’m a fleet MU and will be automatically advanced to the semis no matter what, that it would be better to go later in the day.  What I didn’t count on was how terrible the parking situation was on the Navy Yard.  I ended up having to park on the other side of the Yard and didn’t get to the building until 9:15…oops.  But it was all good, I just was the last person to show up, so I was dead last in the prelim round.

So I think I only waited about 3 hours to go, which is pretty good, considering at the President’s Own I waited about 5 hours to play my round.  I saw some familiar faces, my old boss from Fleet Forces, and another officer from the fleet who works in DC now.  This guy was also there to wish me luck in my “on deck” room:

What a funny painting.  Anyway, despite all of my preparation and the total lack of consequences in the first round, I was extremely nervous.  I tried to mentally “center” myself and calm down, but it seemed like no matter what I did, I couldn’t get my heart rate down.  So my first round was OK.  I had to play a couple of excerpts over, just because my nerves really got to me.  I can’t remember exactly what I played, but I do remember that I played the march and I absolutely nailed it!

Since I was last, I didn’t have to wait long to get the results of the first round, although I knew that I would be going through no matter what.  We had about 30 minutes to get ready for the semis, and I drew the number 4 out of 9 (I think)…right in the middle.  This is the round that is going to count for me.

So, once again, I found myself being extremely nervous and anxious, AGAIN.  I went in, and I fell on my face (figuratively, not literally, haha!) a couple of times, but I replayed those excerpts and completely nailed them the second time.  The committee remained silent, so I just kept on playing excerpts!  I fully expected a “THANK YOU” every time I finished playing something, but didn’t get it.  Finally, I got instructions to play the sight-reading selection on the stand.  I did ok on it, I’m not the best sight-reader, so I did well for me.

I had hopes that I would make it through to the finals, because when I did play well, I played really well.   And I played everything, which many others in the round didn’t get to do.  But I had too many mistakes, so that was it for me.  3 months of hard preparation and sacrifice done in about 10 minutes of playing.  It’s really depressing when you think about in that way.  Like I said before, the guy running the audition found me after everything was said and done and explained how the committee felt about me.  They want me to come back next time.  Its going to be hard, since I’m in Hawaii now, but I think I’ll be willing to try to make it happen when the time comes.

At the end of the day, I was really disappointed with how things went.  This is by far the most prepared I’ve been for an audition ever and I still let my nerves get the best of me.  Seriously, I had absolutely no reason to be so nervous.  The worst that would happen would be that I didn’t get the job and I would get to move to Hawaii.  It was a total win-win situation.  This was probably the least amount of pressure that I’ve had for an audition!  So I’ve really began to explore other options when it comes to managing my anxiety at auditions.

In the musician community, things like beta-blockers or other types of “medical” ways to manage performance anxiety can spark a lot of controversy.  Some might consider them “performance enhancers”.  I disagree.  If someone takes beta-blockers for an audition but doesn’t prepare well, it’s not like they magically become well prepared!  I have never taken them, and I don’t look down on people who do.  I do think that they should be an absolute last resort and one should only take them if necessary.  I’m getting to the point where I might consider it.  It feels as if I’ve tried everything!  I’ve read books, tried relaxation techniques, mental exercises, breathing exercises, vitamin supplements, etc.  Nothing seems to ease the anxiety at the moment of the audition.  It seems to be calming right up until the moment, but when the moment comes, nothing seems to matter and I’m still paralyzed by my anxiety.  So am I a good candidate for a more medical approach to my anxiety?  Maybe.  Will I do it?  Who knows.  My sister suffers from true anxiety, and she’s found some success with hypnosis.  I think I would try that over taking a pill!  I’m open to anything now!

So we will see what the future brings.  I think I have found a great preparation method for auditions, so something good did come out of the whole thing.  For now, I’m just trying to get situated in Hawaii.  We finally move in to our new place this coming Thursday.  We scored a three bedroom place, so I get my own practice room!  I’m very excited about that.  Finally I get a space solely dedicated to working on clarinet.  Teaching there is out, just because its government housing so they have certain rules about running a business in your residence.  But that’s ok, I think I want to take some time off from teaching anyway.  I was starting to get burned out in Virginia.  I just want to play my clarinet, and enjoy living in paradise for a while!

Execution vs. performance

Phase 2 is complete! Wow, the last four weeks certainly went by fast. In fact, it feels like I just started this whole process just the other day, but it was 8 weeks ago!

Anyway, back then I really wasn’t sure what I would focus on in “phase 3”, other than a two week “taper”. I think I have figured it out…the final phase needs to be shifting my focus from execution of the excerpts, to the performance of the excerpts. Did I just blow your mind? Because mine did a little when I thought of this. It makes so much sense! I have been skipping this part the whole time, going straight from executing to the audition where I was expected to perform. I’m hoping that this is the key to my mental blockage during the audition.

This phase also makes me rather nervous and uncomfortable. Why? Well I’ve spent my entire auditioning career practicing full blast right up until the audition. And now I’m doing something completely different – I’m stopping the “full blast” practice routine two weeks before the audition. While it makes perfect sense for brass players, I’m still not 100% convinced that it’s the best thing for me to do.

Coincidentally, it just so happens that I am running my 3rd (!!) half marathon of the year just 2 ½ weeks post-audition (on August 31). Because I’ve been doing both the running training plan and the audition prep training plan nearly the same time (my running plan is two weeks behind my clarinet plan), it’s been easy to see how they relate. And it reminds me that they need to be similar! Today I’m trying to put myself in the mindset of just finishing my last long training run, which is usually 12 miles (which I will be doing two weeks from now!). I love the last two weeks of a training plan – easy runs and time to eat all the calories I want. Although the food thing I can’t get away with for an audition, I should think of my practice sessions as easy from now on. I’m almost there; just downhill from here!


Years of Service: 3

Honestly, I can’t believe its been three years since I shipped myself off to navy boot camp.  It feels as if the three years I’ve actually spent in the Navy has gone faster than the eight months that I had to wait to go to boot camp.  Crazy how that is.

Receiving my good conduct medal yesterday. 3 years baby!

I’ve never truly regretted my decision to enter the fleet music program for a second.  I’ve always been thankful that I have a full-time playing job that pays well and has great benefits, which is a lot more than most musicians can claim that they have.  Some days are harder than others though…for example, yesterday I found out that I was less than four points away from getting promoted to E5.  ARRRGGH.  Talk about frustrating.

The past 3 years I have also really struggled with the overwhelming desire to be in a premiere band.  The past few months I’ve come to realize that although being in a premiere band seems “cooler” because you get paid more (E6 right off the bat), being able to stay in one place for an entire career, and getting to play for major dignitaries (ie the President), being in the fleet has its perks.  Since I’ve been at FFB, I’ve played for the Polish president, Secretary of the Navy, several members of Congress, and of course the Commander of Fleet Forces,   I’ve also played on national radio, played on more ships and carriers than I can count, and even witnessed the christening of the newest carrier.  I’ve also had the opportunity to play one of the Mendelssohn Concertpieces with the wind ensemble, and will have the opportunity to play another solo with the band this summer.  And there’s probably a lot more stuff that I am forgetting!  Also, I’m probably going to be moving to Hawaii soon, to play with the Pacific Fleet Band (no official written orders yet though, just verbal orders).  I also have met so many awesome people, and will meet even more, because of the rotation that happens in the program.  I now know at least one person in all 11 fleet bands!  I really think that’s neat.

Unfortunately, I often feel wrongly judged in the clarinet community because I’m in the military, but not in a premiere band.  It seems that people think that I’m not “as good” because I’m in the fleet.  How wrong they are!  There are incredibly good musicians in all the fleet bands.  I’m hoping that the more good musicians come into the program and the more of the “bad” musicians get out, the more that stigma will disappear.  In fact, it is just as hard now to get into the navy fleet bands as it is to get into a premiere band!

I think that I’ve finally gotten to the place where I am truly happy where I am.  Yes, if there is an opening in DC, I will more likely than not take the audition.  But, unlike before, where I felt so desperate to win and get that permanent assignment, I feel fine with where I am now.  Hey, I’m going to be getting paid to live and work in paradise soon!  Can’t get much better than that, can it?

I have no talent.

Seriously. I don’t. This has been a topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot the past few months. In the Navy, I have worked with all levels of musicians, from people barely able to play their instruments (thank goodness not at the band right now!) to people who have advanced degrees from major music schools. The point I want to make is that there is no difference in talent base between these people. Really. The difference comes from the amount of work we put in, and the knowledge and tools to make that work, well, work.

I recently attended a masterclass given by Frank Cohen, in which he said something that really stuck with me.  Speaking to one of the performers in the class, he said, “the only difference between you and me is that I know what to listen for.”  Wow, I thought, that is so true!!  The biggest difference between me now and me 10 years ago is that I now have the proper tools to get to where I want to be as a clarinetist.

A good teacher is one that prepares a student for life after school.  I was lucky to have teachers who embodied this philosophy.  It is important to not only teach a student to be a better musician, but also teach them to make themselves better musicians.  I haven’t had a proper clarinet lesson in over four years, but I have never stopped trying to make myself better.  And I am  a much better musician than I was when I graduated from Eastman five years ago.

As far as talent goes, I do think that music and playing an instrument comes easier for some than for others.  But I would hardly count that as true talent.   I think I stopped “riding on my talent” (aka being able to stay afloat with little practice and effort) sometime in the first semester of my freshman year of college. Yep. Since then, I’ve had to bust my butt. I’m telling you, its hard work and dedication, not talent, that gets you success in this business.

Many ask me how I got to be so good at the clarinet. Here it is: I commit to daily practice (well, 6ish days a week), I work on fundamentals 50% of the time. So, yes, that clarinetist playing long tones for 15 minutes or more per day? That’s me. That clarinetist that works on scales (still!) daily even though she hates them with a passion? That’s me. That clarinetist working on articulation until her tongue is calloused? That’s me. It sucks, its not fun. But it is necessary, and its a sacrifice I’m willing to make because in the end, being a good clarinetist is SUPER FUN!

Is it really 2014? Crap…

Accepting my Bluejacket of the Quarter commendation letter
Accepting my Bluejacket of the Quarter commendation letter in July

Well, another year in the books.  This year went by very fast!  I think its true, that the older you get, the faster time goes.  I kind of wish that it was the other way around.  Not that I hated my childhood, I just think that adulthood is way more fun.

Receiving my Bluejacket of the Year commendation letter a few weeks ago.
Receiving my Bluejacket of the Year commendation letter a few weeks ago.

Lets see, what happened in 2013?  Well, I started really excelling at work, getting Bluejacket of the Quarter for the 2nd quarter of 2013, and coming away with Bluejacket of the Year for 2013!  Now if only I can get promoted…

I did some pretty cool gigs this year too…going on the road and playing a concert with the woodwind quintet in South Carolina, the Tattoo in April, being on A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor on NPR, a couple of ship commissionings, and the christening of the newest aircraft carrier, to name a few.  Wow, my job is cool!

I just had to take a picture of the sign out side Mr. Keillor's dressing room, haha.
I just had to take a picture of the sign out side Mr. Keillor’s dressing room, haha.

Ben and I also celebrated 5 years of marriage this year, now talk about time going by fast!  Its crazy.  We celebrated by running a race…well race for me, and races for him.  It was this race in Williamsburg.  We both ran the 8k on Saturday and he ran the 1/2 marathon on Sunday.  It’s pretty cool to see how much each of us has changed in five years…neither of us would have dreamed that this is how we would celebrate our fifth anniversary!

Ben and I after the 8k, celebrating our anniversary.
Ben and I after the 8k, celebrating our anniversary.

Speaking of running, I completed my 2nd half marathon in September, bouncing back from an injury that kept me from running for the first half of the year.

Enjoying my well deserved beer after running 13.1 miles in just about 2 hours and 15 minutes.

2013 also saw one of my best friends finally tie the knot.  It was wonderful to be able to go home to Colorado to be there!  Not only did I see the guy

that was in my bridal party (yes, I had a brides-man) finally marry the girl of his dreams, but I also reconnected with many old friends.  You know when you have good friends when a large amount of time passes between seeing each other, but it feels like no time has passed.  I consider myself extremely lucky to have so many people like that in my life.

I also was able to dive back into chamber music, being a member of the WWQ at work, and playing the Reinecke Horn/clarinet trio for a  chamber music recital with a friend.  It’s that sort of stuff that reminds me of why I do what I do, and why I work so hard at it.  I have a recording of our performance of the Reinecke up on the audio section of my media page.

Me and my long time girlfriends (and my awesome sister in the front!)
Me and my long time girlfriends (and my awesome sister in the front!)

This summer I got the opportunity to go home to Colorado for a whole two weeks!  It was great.  I really miss that place.  Ben and I got to get away from family for a couple of days and spent some time in Breckenridge.  Our hotel was beautiful!  And cheap…off season prices.

Seriously, how awesome a view is that?
Hotel view in Breckenridge.  Seriously, how awesome a view is that?

And my sister and I finally did what we had been wanting to do/talking about for a long time…a sister trip to Las Vegas!  We were only there for a couple days, but we had a blast.  We even took a trapeze class!

I returned from vacation to take on what was probably the biggest challenge that I had this year…teaching the woodwind section at a local high school’s marching band.  Whew, I sure didn’t know what I was getting into!  But it was worth every minute, every stress headache, and every frustration.  It showed me how much satisfaction I get from teaching!  This is a video of their final performance at nationals in November (I’m so proud of how far they came this year!):

Last big thing I did this year was take the President’s Own audition. It has occurred to me that I never posted my “post-audition thoughts”, perhaps because I was so frustrated with how I did. Long story short, I did not do as well as I had hoped, or as well as I knew I could. I mentally sabotaged myself…AGAIN. So, part of my goals for 2014 is to really dive into matching my mental state during high pressure situations to my mental state during relaxed situations. I seem to over-think and become super aware of what I am doing in these high pressure situations, and that’s exactly what happened during the audition and I flubbed a note in the Mozart.  A stupid note.  The Mozart that I have played perfectly a billion times over.  You see the frustration?  I could see my dreams flying away in that audition room.

So…2014.  What am I going to do with you?  Well, on the musical front, I would like to do a recital this year sometime.  I know I say that every year, but I’m gonna do it this year!  Other than that I want to  focus more on actions instead of goals…I was motivated by this article I saw in my Facebook feed:

It makes sense!  So my “goal” for 2014 is to practice fundamentals, no matter how much, at least 6 days a week.  I’m going to not care about the end result.  I figured that’s my problem, I’m too concerned with the end result!

On a personal front, me and Ben are going to see a lot of changes in 2014…about a month ago I received word on probable orders to leave Norfolk.  I’m not going to say to where just yet, just because I don’t have the orders in writing.  Things are never certain in the military!  But nevertheless, I’m very excited.  Sad to leave all the opportunities I’ve created for myself here, but still excited.

I’m trying to get back in the groove, I’ve been pretty sick the past week (the week that I was going to start practicing again, hmmmf.) so its been a little difficult.  But I’m back to work on Monday whether I like it or not!  (or whether I’m ready or not!)  Go go gadget 2014!

Pre-audition thoughts

So lets see…its been almost three years since I’ve taken any kind of audition.  Wow that’s crazy!  Time has flown by since I’ve been in the Navy.  Tomorrow I’m headed to Washington, D.C. once again to be one of the probably hundred clarinetists to take the President’s Own audition.  This time is going to be quite interesting, because I am certainly a different player than I was three years ago.  The change has come mostly to adjust to my life as a Navy musician and a professional march player.  I learned quickly that its very difficult to play those crazy marches using the heavy reeds that I was using.  While I was in school (Eastman specifically) I was always so concerned with making my sound as dark as possible, so the heavier the reed, the better.  But it made it hard to play things sometimes, I think that’s why I had so much trouble in auditions most of the time.  My reed was so heavy that if it wasn’t absolutely perfect in the audition room, it was over for me.  I wish I had realized that sooner, I would have saved myself a lot of heartache.

Since I stopped taking auditions (and especially since I joined the Navy), I have realized that I really don’t want that dark sound, and I’ve been trying to brighten it up a little.  I’ve since dropped down to a Vandoren 3 1/2+ V12, and I couldn’t be happier.  Its so much easier to play things now!  And I am really starting to enjoy my sound.  I also feel that I’ve matured incredibly over the last two years musically.  For the first time in my life, I feel like I can truly express myself musically.  It’s a great feeling!

Its interesting…I really didn’t, or couldn’t, discover who I was until I had no teacher to tell me what to do.  Granted, I am extremely grateful to my teachers for pointing me in the right direction, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am without them.  But, I didn’t truly grow as a musician until I had to listen to myself 100% of the time and be my own teacher.  When you have a teacher, its easy to turn off your ears and just do what they tell you to do.  But when you don’t have that, you are forced to grow into something beyond what your teacher has taught you to be.  I think that’s pretty amazing.

For this audition, I’ve really paid a lot of attention to the details.  Like, REALLY paid attention, and committed to making things perfect.  Before, I kind of glossed over little things and hoped for the best at the actual audition.  A really good example of this is one of the excerpts on the list this time.   It is from De Meij’s Lord of the Rings Symphony, specifically the “Gollum” movement.  There are a lot of grace notes in the excerpt, and one of them really gave me trouble:


I kept getting a grunty sound when I would re-articulate the C grace note.  UGH so frustrating!  Before I would just forget about it, and assume and hope that all the other applicants had trouble with it too.  I’m not sure if it was a time thing (my practice time was always limited, especially when I was working full-time), or just a laziness thing, but I knew if I wanted to do well, I needed to abandon that attitude for this audition.  Maybe boot camp taught me something after all…attention to detail!  After a lot of trial and error, I figured out a way to get the C out, and I played just this measure literally hundreds of times, slowly and correctly.  I think I annoyed some people at work, because I would just play it over and over before rehearsals, haha.  It is a pretty annoying figure to be playing over and over, but whatever.  Anyway, it was worth it, because now I can play it right nearly every time.  Yes!

I’ve also spent a great deal of time trying to visualize the audition.  A lot of my audition failures in the past have been due to my own mental sabotage.  So instead of going to my “happy place” during all those boring change of command and retirement ceremonies that I have been at for work, I’ve simply been imagining myself at the audition, playing through the excerpts in my head, imagining my inevitable anxiety, etc.  Its pretty easy because I know what the room looks like, and how the room sounds because I’ve been there before…January 2010.  Wow that was almost four years ago!  Anyway, I have no idea if the visualization is going to help when the time comes, but when I step into that audition room I will take comfort in the fact that I have been there done that a number of times already, even if it was just in my head.

Yesterday I got some news at work that might make the audition easier for me to get through.  It’s not for sure or official yet, so I can’t say anything at the moment.  So we will see what happens Monday.  Wish me luck!

(Wait, I don’t need luck because I’m super prepared and I’m going to rock it!)

Good things coming?

Lately I’ve been struggling to be motivated to practice something that’s not ensemble music.  Because, let’s be honest, that stuff doesn’t always make you better (unless its Grainger’s Molly on the Shore!  Haha…I played the solo part a few weeks ago at a wind ensemble concert – talk about sweating bullets!).  But finally some great news came my way a couple of weeks ago…the President’s Own Marine Band posted a clarinet audition for December.  And since the marine corps is under the umbrella of the department of the Navy, I am eligible (I think).  I am so ready.  I’ve got just a little over 10 weeks to prepare for it, which is a perfect amount of time.  There is also nothing too crazy for me in the excerpt list.  A “crazy” excerpt for me is something that is incredibly technical and fast…Dvorak Carneval Overture, William Tell Overture, Russlan and Ludmilla, etc.  You get the idea.  There is nothing like that!  Makes me happy.  I’m gonna rock it!

So I’ve been trying to get my mini-disc working because I want to do some recording.  I haven’t really used it in awhile…aaaaaand the battery is totally done.  Its kinda old, I got the thing in 2005-ish.  Anyway, my husband has one too, but much newer, so I dug it out.  Yay, it works!  Oh but the stupid software that I need to use to get the recordings off the mini-disc is not compatible with Windows 7.  So I can listen to it straight off the player, but that’s all.  So OK, maybe its time for an upgrade then.  I did some research, and I found a great blog that lists the Top 5 recording devices for musicians.  I liked the iPhone option (and it seemed the cheapest), so I decided to get the Tascam IM2 microphone.  I got it super cheap off Amazon, so that was a bonus!  Unfortunately, the app that they say goes with the mic completely crashed my phone!  So I deleted it and I’m just using the voice recorder that comes with the phone software.  It works really nicely!  I was generally impressed with the recording of the iPhone by itself before, so with the condenser mic it makes the quality even better.  Its a great option for iPhone users who don’t want to spend a ton of money on a good quality recorder.

I’ve also decided to start keeping a reed log.  We’ll see how long that lasts!   HA.

Teaching at the high school has been going great.  The students had their first competition last week, and they did great!  First place all around, and second highest score of the night.  I’m so proud!  This marching band competition stuff is all new territory for me, I only did marching band seriously in college, and we don’t compete in college marching bands.  At their competition yesterday (which I couldn’t be at because of Navy stuff) they placed second all around…and that’s after they marched in a parade (which I marched in with the Navy also)!  I can’t believe the season will be over in a little over a month!  Its gone by so quick.  I guess time flies when you’re having fun!

With teaching at the high school, Navy stuff, and private lessons, my schedule is overflowing.  Here’s what my sched looked like this past week:


Considering practicing and working out is not included in this, I have NO time for anything else!  I didn’t even get to practice or work out on Wednesday and Thursday!  No time.  Oyyy…and my schedule is very similar in the coming weeks.  Once the HS marching band season is over and Navy Ball season is over, things should clear up a bit.  That’s the hope, anyway.