Apr 10, 2009

Little things mean a lot

I was thinking the other day about preparing for auditions, as most of the people I see are doing so in one way or another. I think there are two basic ways to prepare for an audition or solo performance, which an audition is anyway. The first is to prepare the material exactly the way you are going to do it in the performance. That means you practice everything just like you will perform it as far as dynamics, phrasing etc. If you do this over a period of time, the results should be pretty close to the way you have prepared it if you have gone about it in a methodical manner. That is if conditions are favorable and nothing unexpected happens.

I used to make a joke about the first time you have to play Bolero in a performance. If you want to try to create conditions of what that will feel like at home, have someone wake you up at 3 in the morning, turn a water cannon on you, and then try to play Bolero. I'm kidding of course, but not completely. I'd say you lose about 40% of your skill level when under conditions such as performing Bolero. They say, talent equals performance minus interference.

I think a better way to prepare for an audition or solo performance is to go beyond what you are asked to do in that audition/performance, so in case you lose that 40 percent, you still have a comfortable amount of preparatory cushion to fall back on. In the case of an excerpt at a loud dynamic, I might practice it 4 F's at home, so when I got to the audition, dialing it back to forte+ would be a breeze, and it would sound easy.

It I had something soft to prepare, I would practice it much softer than I would perform it, while making sure to get a good sound, of course. As I've said before, practicing loud things soft and soft things loud, is a good way to prepare something, because it lets you hear the sound you should be getting on the correct dynamic. Example; practice the Saint-Saens 3rd solo poco forte, and then try to get exactly the same sound, piano. Then take the Hungarian March and practice it piano, then try to create exactly the same sound FF, or even 4 F's.

What I'm saying is; Try for a whole lot more than is called for. Better sound than you need, (there is no such thing) better intonation than you need, (ditto) better legato than you need, (ditto) better phrasing than you need, (ditto) better vibrato than you need, (ditto) better articulation than you need, (ditto.) A nice big bonus surprisingly accrues from this and that is; trying for more actually makes you concentrate more on what you are doing, instead of what other people are thinking. This is the secret to winning! How many times have you heard people say, "I was doing good until I got distracted." Try for a whole lot more and you'll get a whole lot less distracted.

Most audition result's come out resembling a bell shaped curve. You have the small curve on top, the best of the crop, then the large middle section, and finally the people that weren't prepared for that audition and should have stayed home. If you're in the top part of the curve, try for more to win the position. If you're in the middle section, try for more to get to the top section of the curve, and if you're in the bottom curve, try for more to get to the middle section, then try for more again to get to the top section in the next audition.

My favorite music critic of all time was George Bernard Shaw, who wrote under the pen name of Corno di bassetto. He once went to the Bayreuth Festival, and after hearing a performance of a Wagner opera remarked,

"I couldn't tell if it was a 1st-rate orchestra, or a carefully worked up second-rate one." I must admit, I have a fondness for the carefully worked up second-rate one. The moral being; if you're not first rate, and I mean born with all the talent nature can give, and how many of us can be, be a carefully worked up second-rate one. Richard Strauss, in a moment of brilliant objectivity said, "I may be a second-rate composer, but I'm a first class second rate composer!" I'd settle for that wouldn't you?


This article has been translated into Polish by Lukasz Michalski.

This article has been translated into Spanish by TodoTrombon.com.

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