August 2009. I'm getting ready to send my children off to college, thinking about my own school year starting up, and practicing, practicing, practicing. The first few auditions that I was able to schedule were in September.
Then, on August 15, I was invited to audition for the conductor of a community orchestra in the near western suburbs. The conductor is a member of the Chicago Symphony brass section. It wasn't really clear what I am auditioning for because neither the personal manager or the conductor have said there's an opening. After an email exchange about schedules, he invited me to come to his house to play anything of my choosing for him. It is August 19 and I will be going to this audition on August 21. Yikes! At least I have been practicing plenty of excerpts and the Mozart.
I chose my excerpts: Shostakovitch 5th, Brahms 3rd, Til, Beethoven 9th (4th horn), Beethoven 3rd (2nd horn on the trio), plus the first movement of the Mozart. The trill is still not falling into place.
On the afternoon of August 19, I dress up nicely, pack up my horn and music, and drive off to the conductor's home. It's a long drive and by the time I get to his town, I need a rest stop. After stopping at a handy Walgreen's, I promptly get lost. This is an older suburb, much more city-like than the farther-out suburbs, and very congested at this time of day. Fortunately I have a little time and a map and get myself turned around and find his house. He answers the door, along with his dog, and leaves me to warm up in the living room, which I find has amazing acoustics.
When he comes back and asks me what I'm playing, I start with the Mozart. I have been keyed up all afternoon, but now I'm really nervous. Shaky. I remind myself I'm playing to make music and that helps somewhat. He does not stop me before the trill, which of course sounds really lame. Then I go into the excerpts.
This man is a brass player and he had definite, clear instructions on what he would like to hear. In the Beethoven 3rd, he asked for the upbeat to be in time, rather than delayed or "mannered." As I played more, he asked if I could make my attacks sound more definite, and less like I was sneaking in. At this point I felt like a high intensity lamp was suddenly shining on my performance and everything I was doing wrong was suddenly clear to me. Most alarmingly, I realized my tongue was way too far back to clean tonguing -- no wonder it sounded like I was sneaking in. As I tried to correct the tonguing problem and make other adjustments he asked for, a familiar feeling of frustration descended on me. I hadn't felt this way in years, but now I remembered what it felt like to get to the point where getting better is so hard. I had not been challenged like this in the community band or the chamber music I had been playing. It was not a good feeling.
He finished up the audition talking for a bit about his orchestra and the music they were going to be playing. There were a couple big pieces calling for extra horns scheduled for the season and he said he would give my name to the personal manager and the principal horn. I couldn't decide if he really meant it or was being nice to me.
So I came away from this audition feeling like it had not gone very well, but that spotlight on my problems was a gift. I went home and immediately began working on tonguing. I got recordings of all the pieces that I was playing excerpts from, and kept working on the excerpts and trills.