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!


Snowed in!

As I type this, there is a foot of snow on the ground outside, and it’s still falling.  While this was normal up in Rochester, it is practically Armageddon down here in Virginia.  Ben even got the day off, and it must be bad if the Navy Exchange is closed.  Anyway, I thought I would use the time to write a little update…

I was supposed to have a concert at Old Dominion University with my work WWQ a week ago, but it ended up getting cancelled because of snow (!), which was a bummer.  We worked really hard to prepare for it…one of the pieces on our program was the Ibert, which a super-standard WWQ work, and one of my faves!  There were some other tricky pieces on the program, and I had to practice a lot.

One of my resolutions was to to commit to practice more, and so far, so good.  I got this new scale book  which has been pretty fun, and a challenge.  Let’s see what else am I working on…oh yes, I am working on the Artie Shaw concerto.  My boss is hoping to put it on the summer concerts, he actually approached all of us clarinets about it, but I think I may be the only one seriously working on it.  It’s quite out of my comfort zone, lots of pitch bends and vibrato.  Oyyyy!  But its very fun, and the pressure is off to be perfect.  I have found that it can’t be approached like a classical concerto, where everything has to be perfect.  I’m finding that its better to not to be!  It’s still very hard in other ways.  Its going to be an interesting experience if I get to play it with the band.

So that’s it for now, hopefully I won’t be snowed in for too long.  If I am, might as well get some good practicing in, right?


I’m famous!

Hey check it out, a picture of me was in the Navy Times (the navy wide paper)!1462481_10101282341698943_271351198_o

It was for a story about our wear test of the male “crackerjack” uniforms and wearing the “dixie cup” hats instead of our usual blues uniform, which is a combination cover and neck tab and jacket:

We’ve since gone back to the regular uniform.  But it was cool to see that they did a story on it, considering we did the wear test for a year and a half.

Government shutdown and humidity

As of my last post, my schedule was pretty ridiculous…I was not looking forward to being so busy.  Well, since my last post, our awesome congress decided to let the government shut down.  Luckily, we are still being paid, but there’s no money for gas for our vehicles to get to gigs!  So we are not allowed to do any community relations gigs…so not wind ensemble concerts, etc.  Military gigs only.  So my calendar opened up quite a bit because probably half of our gigs got the ax.  It was interesting looking at our gig board and seeing red X’s all over the place.  I have still been very busy though…we’ve been having tons of WWQ rehearsal (we actually had a gig on Saturday night).  We just changed up personnel, and we have a new unit leader.  I am really enjoying it, everyone is really good – there are no weak links.  It makes rehearsals super fun!  I missed having a group to play in like that.

So for the last couple months I have been playing in my scale books at least an hour a day (or trying to anyway). I went through my Didier “Le Gammes du Clarinetiste” book, and now I’m going through my Baermann volume 3.  I do a key per day, and I do each exercise several times with different articulations (at least 5 times).  I have really noticed a difference!  It takes a little time, but I feel like my fingers are more relaxed and I can play fast things easier.  I’ve also incorporated the President’s Own audition excerpts into my daily routine, playing them extremely slow (half tempo).  I’ve even been playing the Mozart Concerto at half tempo!  It’s really tough, but I think its making me better.  I want to be able to play that stuff in my sleep!

This is as far as my upper and lower joints will fit together…there’s at least a 1mm gap!

Anyway, what else is going on…oh my A clarinet got stuck together again…but I found a solution.  If I leave the clarinet right in front of the A/C vent and turn it on, it will shrink the wood enough to get it apart.  Probably not the best thing for it, but neither is being stuck together.  Speaking of that, I’m super frustrated with my A clarinet, the tuning is all jacked up because I can’t fit the upper and lower joints together completely without risking them being stuck together.  I really don’t want to, but I might have to go and get the joint fitted a little better if the wood doesn’t shrink down in the next month or so.  It is making all my “lower joint” notes flatter than the notes that I only use my left hand for.  The difference is quite staggering actually, at least a 10-20 cent difference on the tuner.  I’m just afraid that if I do get it fitted, once the humidity goes down, will it become wobbly?  Ugh.  Not quite sure of what to do, especially with that Marine Band audition coming up.

Back to the grind!

As you can probably imagine because of my lack of blog posts, I have been insanely busy this summer.  So a vacation was exactly what I needed.  After spending  two weeks in Colorado, I have been thrown back into reality and I am back to work…plus I’m starting a new teaching gig at a high school this week.  Oyyyyy!  So.  Busy.

The last two weeks were absolutely wonderful, relaxing, and made me want to move back to Colorado SO BADLY!  I miss the people, the weather, and my family and friends.  This month marks six years since we moved away, its crazy!  All Ben and I could talk about the last couple days we were in Colorado was how/when we were going to move back!  Now that I’m back in Virginia, I’m a little bit more grounded in reality, but the desire to go back is still there.  Obviously I would have to get out of the Navy (still waiting for them to establish “Navy Band Denver”, LOL) in order to do this, but I’ve been having the urge to go back to school.  I really love teaching, but often I feel like I’m “winging it”, and not really knowing what I’m doing.  What a great way to become a pedagogue than to get my DMA!  I am thinking that I would like to eventually make pedagogy more the focus of my career.  I think I’m better at it than the performance aspect.  AND I really feel like I get much more out of teaching than performing.  I think I would try to go to CU-Boulder (its a respectable music school, and its close to home!) for this.  And Ben would get a job at one of the many budding distilleries or breweries in the area.  Not that I have thought about it or anything…ha.

Anyways, even if I was completely sure about doing that, I am still going to be employed by the Navy through May of 2016 whether I like it or not.  So I need to focus on that for now.  Right now we’re in the middle of our summer concert series with the wind ensemble, which has been fun.  We’re playing some pretty challenging stuff, and I’m playing first clarinet so I’ve been practicing a lot for that.  This past week was our first week back and we had concerts both Tuesday and Wednesday!  So before I went on leave, I decided that I should probably bring my clarinets with me to practice while I was in Colorado.  So I did…but I only picked it up a couple times.  Enough to keep some endurance, I guess.  But the two concerts were still pretty rough around the edges for me, especially towards the end.  Especially after a full day of rehearsals on Monday.  Oh well.  Next concert is not for a couple weeks, thank goodness.

This week also marked the official start of an instructor job I accepted a few months back.  Its for a high school marching band in Virginia Beach.  Before you judge, these kids are amazing!  They work so hard, and they care so much about getting it right, I love it!  Basically, I’m going to be in charge of running the sectionals for the woodwinds.  It also means I’m going to be super busy till November!  Anytime I’m not doing stuff for the Navy, I’ll be over at the high school doing stuff for them!

I also got a freakin’ amazing evaluation this year at the band.  Basically, it means I actually have a chance at getting promoted to E5 the next two promotion cycles.  So in addition to all the crap I’m doing, I’ve gotta study like crazy for the advancement test.  My goal is to score 5 or more points higher than I have before…much easier said than done!

Icing on the cake would be if the Navy Band (DC) posted an opening for clarinet.  My brain might explode then, haha.

Completely unrelated…I got the recording back from the chamber recital I performed in back in June.  Its up on the “audio” section, check it out!

My first Navy trip!

Last weekend was my first official overnight trip with the band.  I went with the woodwind quintet (which I’m in) and the brass quintet, plus our boss (the band officer in charge of Fleet Forces Band).  We traveled several hours south to South Carolina, to a little town called Pawley’s Island, which is just south of Myrtle Beach right on the coast.  This was a first for me, I’ve never been to South Carolina!  We were even able to take a walk on the beach!

It was cloudy, but still a nice walk along the Atlantic ocean!

The concert consisted of the WWQ playing a program, then a joint piece with the BQ, then the BQ played a program.  The venue was pretty nice, it was at a church.  It had a beautiful pipe organ that reminded me very much of the organ at CSU.  And like most churches, this one was very live!  You see, our rooms at the band hall are all very dead sounding or they sound like a bathtub, so it was a little jarring at first.  We tried to prepare by rehearsing in one of the practice rooms, which have the virtual room technology.  But that was nothing compared to this church!

For our (WWQ) program, we played a Stephen Foster Medley that was arranged by Michael Kibbe, A Bach prelude and fugue (can’t remember which one off the top of my head), Five Easy Dances by Denes Agay, and our one serious piece, Anton Reicha’s Quintet No. 2 (Op. 88).  The Reicha has been haunting me for the last month or so!  It seems to always get in my head, haha.  Plus I had to practice it like crazy, for some reason the clarinet part is really insane compared to the other parts.  The joint piece was the Concertino for Wind and Brass Quintets by Robert Washburn, and our boss conducted.  That was a great piece to play, I’m glad I got to be a part of it.

We ended up getting a new “oboe” player about two weeks before the trip because our regular one was so unreliable (see my ranting post).  I used quotations because our new “oboe” player was actually a clarinetist playing a C clarinet.  It is really amazing how much a difference there was by switching out one person.  We sounded really awesome, especially on the Reicha.  It also helped that we had a lot of time to rehearse.

The audience was something else.  They ate it up!  I don’t think I’ve ever played for a more enthusiastic crowd.  It ended up being a pretty long concert, but they loved every minute of it.  And they were so appreciative afterwards!  It’s nice to feel appreciated sometimes, especially as a military musician (we never get applause at ceremonies!).  I’m really glad to have been a part of the concert.

So next on the agenda for me is to record excerpts for the ICA Orchestral Audition competition.  I’m really struggling with the Mahler 7 excerpt, most notably the stupid chromatic run at the end.  I just can’t get my fingers to move that fast!  ARG.  Also, the Brahms 4 excerpt is throwing me…where the crap do I breathe?  On the recordings it doesn’t seem like the clarinetist breathes at all.  Also ARG.  Everything else seems to be falling into place though.

And Friday I’m hoping to make it up to VCU in Richmond for a masterclass by Julie DeRoche!  Very excited for that!