So close.

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This is the reality of being a junior enlisted member of the Navy.  Your entire career boils down to a single number twice a year, and then the highest ones get promoted to the next pay grade.  The above was my reality this morning…I think its pretty self explanatory what it means.  I was .27 point away from getting promoted.  And all my points were there.  What. A. Letdown.

For those who don’t know how the process goes, we get the chance to promote twice a year.  The number illustrated above is a aggregate of many factors: the written exam, annual evaluation, awards, education, and flag letters of commendation.  The written exam counts for a majority of the number.  So, if I had answered one, maybe two more questions correctly I probably would have gotten promoted this time.  That’s the worst.

So its time to buck up and study really hard for the next test in March, I don’t think I can handle being this close again.  Time to get it done!!!

 

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!

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Audition prep

Finally, there’s an opening in the Navy band in DC! I’m trying not to be too overzealous about it…I have to win it first. Since the last few auditions haven’t really worked out that great I’m determined to approach this audition in a new way. One of my colleagues (who is actually going up to audition for the horn spot in the DC band next week!) gave me this article that outlines a way to prepare for a major audition. The author makes the case that an audition should be approached like one would approach a race, like a half marathon. I am a runner, so it makes sense for me to compare it to a running race, but it really can be any athletic event. So, for the half marathon example, one would start training, say, 8-12 weeks prior to the race day. You would build up your mileage and your speed gradually over time (no normal person can really just jump in to a 13 mile run without building up to it, right?) and incorporate rest into the training. Ideally, you want your last long run to be two weeks before the race day, and then taper your training from there so that your body is nice and rested and you are at your peak for the race. Why wouldn’t we treat an audition the same way? What we do is a very physical thing, and we need our minds and bodies rested in order to perform at our best.

Basically, the author of the article outlines audition preparation in an 8 week evolution and it directly resembles what we runners do to prepare for a race. Week 1 is to familiarize (or re-familiarize) yourself with the excerpts. Lots and lots of listening! And putting excerpts into categories (i.e. loud, soft, technical, musical, etc.), and separating ones that are new to you, and ones that are old friends. This is also the period where you get back into the mindset of practicing excerpts, and learning which ones will need the most work so that you can prioritize for the coming weeks.

Weeks 2-6 are the meat and potatoes of the plan. He separates the excerpts into groups and rotates practice each day. Daily goal setting and recording is the name of the game! Then the last two weeks before the audition is the “taper” portion which consists of practicing the performance aspect of the excerpts, and practice with the mental game of playing an audition. He also suggests taking 90 seconds before performing each excerpt to think about what needs to happen, and then reducing that time until it lasts only 10 seconds or so. The goal is to go from being able to get the best take the second or third time, to nailing it the first time, every time.

Now, the author here is a trombone player, so the plan is really geared towards the physical part of playing a wind instrument…since playing a brass instrument can be very taxing. Woodwind players have different challenges when it comes to excerpts…most notably our excerpts are more challenging in speed and fingers. So in order to make it work for me, I tweaked it a little. Now, I have 10 weeks (not 8) before the audition, so I customized a 10 week plan for myself. Unfortunately, nearly all of the excerpts fall into the “technical” category, and a few of them I’ve never even played (including the solo! Ugh…)

 

The excerpts separated into groups.  The ones in red I have never worked on before.
The excerpts separated into groups. The ones in red I have never worked on before.


So, I divided the 10 weeks into 3 separate periods. I changed the first week from the article into a purely wood shedding period, and made it four weeks, not just one. There are 6 excerpts on the list that fall into this “technical” category, so I’ve divided them up so that I work on two a day, with a three day rotation (practicing six days a week). For each of the six excerpts, I’ve created a worksheet that defines a goal for the next time I practice that excerpt so that my practice is super focused. For example, after meeting the day’s goal for that particular excerpt, I’ll make a plan for the next time I practice the excerpt, and I’ll give myself a time limit so that I don’t get distracted by other things. I think this will be better than just blindly practicing the excerpts. I just finished week one, day five yesterday…this is going to be a rough four weeks for sure! But incredibly necessary…this is the part of clarinet playing that sucks.

The second period also lasts four weeks. It is exactly like what the article says. There is lot of recording and self evaluation (is there anything else nowadays? LOL) and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning! I am hoping to make use of a worksheet that my colleague gave me that is very similar to the one I described in the first period. This one is more based on listening back to recordings and pinpointing things that need to be improved. It also has you identify the recording as a “success” or “lesson”, which is part of the mental aspect (which I need to improve on desperately!) The end goal of this period is to be completely comfortable with every excerpt.

The third period is also a “taper” period that lasts two weeks before the audition. This is where I’m going to really try to tackle the mental game that I seem to play with myself. My process is going to be pretty much exactly what the author outlines in his article. I like the idea of starting at 90 seconds of thinking about an excerpt before playing and reducing it to a realistic amount of time for the audition. It’s practicing for your brain! This is probably exactly what I need.

I’ve also made my schedule so that I have one day a week where I don’t even pick up my horn. Usually that is a day that I have off from work, like Sundays, so I literally don’t have to touch a clarinet. Some weeks are going to be hard to get in a day of no clarinet, but I feel like I really need to do it. I think that the physical rest and mental rest is just as important and all those days of practicing, just like in the running world!

Now, the most difficult part of this plan is sticking to it during our busiest season. Not only do I have to work a million ceremonies, but we have a lot wind ensemble concerts, AND I’m playing the Artie Shaw Concerto on three of those concerts. So excerpts are not the only thing on my practice list for the next 10 weeks. So I have to prioritize…I’ve made the excerpts #1, Artie Shaw #2, and everything else #3.

So that’s my plan. My hope is not to win the audition, but feel like I did my best at the audition. I want to feel that I the reason that they didn’t pick me for the job was beyond what I could have done in the practice room. I have not felt like that at the last few auditions, and I know that’s it’s all in my head! I can do this.


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’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.

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!