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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3 weeks is too long…

7 weeks down. 3 weeks to go til the audition. Can it be over now? I’m starting to get exhausted.

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And honestly, I don’t feel that optimistic about my abilities on most days. But maybe it has to do with the fact that I’m recording and critiquing myself every day. I have been trying to think more positively about it – I’ve been trying to write something positive about the recording as well as the normal ego-crushing negative comments. It’s interesting…I usually can point out a million things that are wrong with the performance of an excerpt, but when it comes to something good I can hardly come up with one thing on most days. I guess it’s true what they say – we are our own worst critics. *sigh*

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Anyway, I have one more week before I start my “taper” before the audition. For the last 7 weeks (will be 8 by the time phase 2 is over) I have been practicing 6 days a week, without fail.  As part of my “taper” I’m cutting it down to 5 days a week. I’m starting to realize how tired I’m getting, and I don’t want to feel like this when the time comes! I want to feel mentally fresh and ready to rock.

In non-audition news, it’s finally official! I got my written orders to the Pacific Fleet Band in Hawaii. If I don’t win the audition next month, I’ll be moving there in October. The audition came at a perfect time, actually. No matter what happens, my timetable for moving away from Norfolk will basically be the same. I’ll either be getting promoted to E6 and moving to DC, or I’ll be moving to paradise! Bye-bye Norfolk!

Lately I’ve been increasingly frustrated with my ol’ RH “R” mouthpiece. It just didn’t feel the same as it did – I’ve been using it for over five years now! I suspect that the table is a little warped – but I’m not an expert on mouthpieces so I’m not 100% sure. So, with the audition coming up I decided to do what I’ve been thinking about for awhile…ordering a couple new RH mouthpieces to try.

So I ordered another R, and one of the new G models. It’s only been a few days, and I’ve already decided to keep the G and send back the R. The G offers a lot more control (especially in the higher register), and that’s what I really need for the audition. It feels a little more “closed” than the R, and I need a little softer of a reed, but the sound is nearly identical (I verified by recording myself using the same reed). The main reason I got the R to try was that I wanted to compare a new R to my old one to see how different it was. There was a difference in feel, so I’m hoping that RH can reface my old one and return it to its former glory (or close to it).

So that’s the status of me right now. I’m very much looking forward to post-audition life, without any thoughts of excerpts, reeds, or mouthpieces. Or clarinet. For awhile, anyway…

Phase 1…complete!

So here’s an update on my audition preparation. Yesterday was the last day of “phase 1”, aka the woodshedding phase. I am happy to report that I have everything pretty much under my fingers. “Pretty much” being the key words here…some excerpts are certainly not clean (*cough* Dance of the Hours *cough*), and the Rossini is making me want to stab someone or something.

The first couple weeks of this phase were fine. But then the last couple weeks, when I started to get these excerpts up to tempo, that’s when I started to get aggravated. Most of the time I would leave my practice session totally pissed off and frustrated. I would spend 20 minutes just on one measure sometimes.  It was a welcome feeling when that wasn’t the case.

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All frustrations aside, the goal setting technique really helped me be more efficient. For each excerpt, I had a worksheet in which I would outline specific goals for the next time I practiced the particular excerpt. It really helped keep me focused.

For the next four weeks or so, I plan on making recordings on a daily basis and cleaning the technique. Now I start work on ALL the excerpts. For the last four weeks I have only worked on six of them. I have all the excerpts separated out into three groups (four excerpts each day – I’ve included the Rossini twice in the rotation since it’s the solo and its freaking hard), and I still will be practicing six days a week.  It’s exhausting, but if I have any hope to win this audition, this is how it has to be.  

Here we go!

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.


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.

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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:

http://zenhabits.net/no-goal/

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!