The month of February brought two more auditions, one for a training program and one for a real orchestra. These were the first auditions that I ever tried using beta blockers to assist with management of nerves.
To reflect on both of these experiences:
Preparation: for the couple of new excerpts on these lists, there wasn’t so much of a steady build of practice but more of a crunch at the end. Despite that being the case I did not feel panicked, as the rest of the excerpts were all familiar and in that never-ending stage of constant improvement, and I felt that I had done a decent job of introducing the newer excerpts into the rotation.
As of today it is two weeks before the next audition and I am trying to record and listen more to assess what needs working on most urgently and what overall aspects of my playing are coming across. I feel that so far I am in better shape because there are no excerpts that feel totally new at this point but as always there is endless polishing that can be done.
What happened on the days: the first audition for the training program was un-screened and the instruments were mixed, as it was not a viola-specific job audition. This helped it feel a little more casual (in some ways – I did have to make sure I looked presentable without the screen!) and I really wanted to be able to use that to feel comfortable and play my best. Also the beta blockers DID help take off the edge of my nerves, and I did not experience the feeling of shakiness, however I did still feel inhibited in my playing compared to how I feel in a practice room under no pressure. It was more of a tightness or stiffness that was still there, rather than feeling shaky or skittery. Also I did not experience any negative effects from taking the beta blockers and so I will continue to take them for my next few auditions, but not in other performance situations where I don’t feel it is necessary.
(That’s an interesting point to explore later perhaps, how it can feel necessary to “impress” or “do one’s best” in an audition but how in other performances we feel more of the cushion of the reality that music is a human art, and the reasons we play are not to impress people or to do our best. Maybe we would be more liberated in our audition playing if we could let go of those feelings a bit more.)
Anyway, the panel invited me in and I played Bach, Bartok, and a selection of excerpts. Overall I felt like I played just okay, nothing bad happened but it didn’t feel like anything close to my best performances because of little inaccuracies, (which were more frequent than usual) or bumps due to the feeling of stiffness.
The second audition no doubt many of you who are violists will know about – there were 192 people auditioning on the day for three different panels in three different rooms, so it’s possible that you were there or had students or colleagues who were! That in itself was a bit of an intimidating factor, but also the fact that I knew so many of the other violists taking the audition from many different walks of life made the experience very interesting and, in a way, fun. It really highlighted the fact that there are so many musicians out there working towards this goal, and we are all deserving of respect for our efforts, no matter where we are in our careers or audition progress. Twenty-five out of those one hundred and ninety-two applicants advanced, and I was not among them.
Here’s a little mini-reflection from right after the audition:
For the first round they selected part of the prescribed Bach movement (Prelude of Suite 1) and three excerpts. Again I had taken a beta blocker for this audition and felt more capable of playing “normally” but still not quite fully there. The Bach I felt was okay, but the excerpts were mixed. Basically in the heavier, more sustained bowstrokes I felt that I was just too stiff and bow changes were tight and the sound was not free. However, Mendelssohn Scherzo was one of the selections (other excerpts were from Brahms 2 and Don Juan), and this one actually felt close to what I can do in a practice room – which feels like a little victory. If I can get one excerpt working, then perhaps next time I can get two, or more, and eventually I’ll be able to present a whole round that I feel happy with.
My goal right now is to reach a point where I can play a round and not have the thought that I would be surprised if I advanced with what I presented.
Words of wisdom/strategies for next time: Do more mock auditions! Put yourself in more situations where it is challenging to play in a way you are happy with. Figure out what you have to do to help yourself relax. Try more body-awareness practices in everyday life. I have felt better after regular stretching sessions in the past, so I should make more of an effort to incorporate things like that now.
Until next time,