Auditions, and possible pitfalls

This post will cover many aspects of a career as clarinetist, which is most probably, out of the question for most, if your name is not Morales. (Actually, there are plenty of good clarinetists, as some of you may know. But of course, there is a long road from learning to put the clarinet together to winning a symphonic audition. Here,Morales excels. The pressure of the audition has been exponentially increased by the numbers of fine players at the audition, if in fact, they are allowed, or invited to the very audition. I listen to literally hundreds of players a week on the variously available watchable and listenable venues, really a great pleasure. But one must ask themselves, how many of these truly fantastic technicians, masters of tongue, circular everything, literally, faster than a speeding bullet would get hired.get the job? Probably not one.

I had an excellent student who was going to audition for the second clarinet job with the Toronto Symphony, a good player. At a lesson, he brought in the audition material, which is now always available, and played for me. He told me that nothing would be said at the first round. If one played less than perfect, a small bell would be sounded. That’s it. you would be finished with this particular audition. He played for me, the Scherzo from the Midsummers Night Dream, by Mendelssohn. At about a dozen measures in, at the place where one has to go to the middle b and then down again, I told him, they would ring the bell. His rhythim wasn’t that good, and he missed a fraction of a fraction of a second, getting back. In Toronto, at the audition, that is the exact place he heard the bell. It doesn’t take rocket science to know that the most important thing in an orchestra is to be able to play in perfect time. That is the body of most important disciplines to be either demonstrated at the audition for your teacher and/or your conductor or that “paid by the hour” audition committee.

Mostly, they are rank and file people who get paid an hourly fee for auditions, the very keys to your dreams of the future. The thousand and one reeds you picked through and finally chose to play and those very expensive horns you have purchased, or let us say, over purchased for this purpose. Chances are, you will not get the job. There is of course, great pressure on anyone who is auditioning for a job in a symphony.
Have you considered that pressure and how it may manifest itself on you under the severe stress of an audition? If you are driven to play professionally, you already know if you can play. You have played in dozens of school orchestras at many performances of difficult or just plain standard repertoire, and you have always landed on your feet. To get the job, you simply cannot make one mistake, not one miss, not one note out of tune or out of time. You probably know if you can do that or not. And, if not , you are hoping that you will not be asked that one excerpt that scares you, that may make you tremble enough to miss it.

You should not even be at the audition, if you do not mind this honest advice, unless you are absolutely fearless and are simply never ever bothered by anything in the repertoire. The final ability, which nobody really talks about ,is the ability to be able to convince the listener quality and power of your sound, your ability to execute each phrase perfectly, and that special something, part of the sound, your control of breath, your intonation and the ability to convince the listener that you can execute at the very highest of levels.

You see, there are literally thousands of recordings of literally every work of every composer, of the entire basic symphonic repertoiire, so, in fact you, the performer are competing with all of these recordings and performances. In fact this competition is circuitous and we compete with ourselves.

And then, there are the preparations which may aid us in our performances, which as mentioned, can be stressful. This brings up the subject of Beta Blockers, used for heart patients, but enjoyed with great relief by performaers of every type and certainly every instrumentalist.Officially, beta blockers are not approved for anxiolytic use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However, many controlled trials in the past 25 years indicate beta blockers are effective in anxiety disorders, though the mechanism of action is not known. The physiological symptoms of the fight-or-flight response (pounding heart, cold/clammy hands, increased respiration, sweating, etc.) are significantly reduced, thus enabling anxious individuals to concentrate on the task at hand.
Musicians, public speakers, actors, and professional dancers have been known to use beta blockers to avoid performance anxiety, stage fright and tremor during both auditions and public performances. The application to stage fright was first recognized in The Lancet in 1976, and by 1987, a survey conducted by the International Conference of Symphony Orchestra Musicians, representing the 51 largest orchestras in the United States, revealed 27% of its musicians had used beta blockers and 70% obtained them from friends, not physicians. Beta blockers are inexpensive, said to be relatively safe and, on one hand, seem to improve musicians’ performances on a technical level, while some say the performances may be perceived as “soulless and inauthentic”Don’t believe it. the pills make it easier to play.
Since they promote lower heart rates and reduce tremors, beta blockers have been used in professional sports where high accuracy is required, including archery, shooting, and snooker. Beta blockers are banned by the International Olympic Committee. A recent, high-profile transgression took place in the 2008 Summer Olympics, where 50 metre pistol silver medallist and 10 metre air pistol bronze medallist Kim Jong-su tested positive forpropranolol and was stripped of his medal.
For similar reasons, beta blockers have also been used by stutterers and surgeons. Remember
“The Kings Speech”? Beta blockers were not around in the 30s, but, wow, had they been, well no movie.

These have been discussed more or less in many articles on the subject of stress in performance. I myself was prescribed them for elevated blood pressure. They were very effective, until I had a performance. I found them absolutely invaluable for calming those twitchy fingers which can get you in trouble during a performance, expecially at the beginning, when we tend to be more on edge. I have never had to worry that I was taking performing enhancing drugs, but you see, I was, and still do, insublime innocence and joy.

stay well, and if you need them, take your beta-blockers.

best, always, sherman


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