At the end of my rant about band yesterday I said I would explain why I didn’t sign up for orchestra this semester. I had two reasons – one was scheduling. I had less down time waiting for band to start in the late afternoon (tues + thurs) than waiting for orchestra to start (mon – wed). I’m done with class on Wednesday at 11 and orchestra starts at 4 and it didn’t make sense to go home so that was a lot of time to kill. However I would have dealt with the scheduling issue except for reason #2.
Reason #2: I was the only wind player that took orchestra for credit so I sat at every rehearsal playing my part along with the tympanist and the strings. This was very disconcerting. Horns are loud and every note I missed was heard clearly by everyone. Of course this kept me on my A game but I still felt very uncomfortable. It was also hard to keep counting correctly for thirty or forty measures rest without any help from the woodwind and brass cues in my part. And with all the instrumentation it’s easier to listen and just know where to come in.
About three weeks before our concert (Beethoven 2nd) our conductor started getting some winds to show up so one day we’d have a flute and another day a clarinet and once we even had two trumpets and an oboe. We finally had a full orchestra for the dress rehearsal. So I got to hear all the parts and how they fit together once before the concert. I spent hours and hours listening to the CD and trying to play along with the CD. It’s just not like the real thing. I took orchestra to get the full experience of playing with an orchestra including all the rehearsals.
So this semester I opted for symphonic band and wind ensemble. Oops. In addition to the seating issues I mentioned yesterday, I’ve played all the music already, except for one easy piece, in the two community bands I’m in. For one of the pieces I played 1st and 4th so I know the piece inside out and upside down. For the others I played 4th and I’m still playing 4th. No learning experience this semester.
This morning I asked the orchestra conductor what they were playing this semester because both the 2nd horn and I were talking about switching to orchestra. The conductor said they were just using strings this semester because no winds signed up. I have no idea what’s going to happen next semester but I suspect that if I sign up for orchestra it will be the same as last semester. So I’m still on a quest to find an orchestra to play in.
Okay, I’m pissed. Today’s band rehearsal really had me seeing red. We had auditions for seating in the college Symphonic Band and for Wind Ensemble a few weeks ago and, after today’s rehearsal, who got what is really ticking me off. I didn’t audition for 1st chair because I expected that Manny, the fellow who played first last semester, would stay on at 1st this semester since it’s his last semester and he did fine with it last semester. It just seemed like the right thing to do. (Not that I had any expectations of getting 1st anyway though I did play 1st last semester in Orchestra and I did fine with Beethoven 2nd.) But I would have thrown my hat in the ring and auditioned for 1st chair if I thought for a minute that someone other than Manny would get the position.
Now all that being said, the guy who got 1st plays okay but I don’t see much difference between him and the other three of us. Supposedly he has a great sound but that was not evident today. And we all have our good points and our bad points. However, he is a freshman and he is very immature. He has no business leading a section regardless of how well he plays. Today he spent the entire rehearsal texting and he didn’t listen to anything the conductor said. That’s what really pushed me over the edge. To be given the privilege and responsibility of leading a section and then behave like he could care less about it is inexcusable. He also was forced into holding a sectional (he clearly didn’t want to do it) and he picked a time where I had to hang around for 3 hours before we started. Okay, sometimes it’s very hard to find a time that works for everyone. What got me angry was that our sectional lasted less than 15 minutes and was a complete waste of time.
On to me getting 4th chair. So far we have first filled and the guy who should have gotten first is playing second. Who’s on third? Some kid who didn’t even audition and isn’t a music major and who hasn’t played his horn for eight months and who has the most god awful embouchure I have ever seen. I know I told the band director before the auditions that I was okay playing 4th (he asked what I wanted to play) but I also said to him that he should put me where I fit playing wise. To me that sentence meant that if there are three horn players who are better than me then I should get 4th. It didn’t mean put the guy you have never heard play and who doesn’t care at all what chair he plays on 3rd and put me on 4th. It’s going to be a really long semester in band. Why I didn’t take orchestra this semester (big mistake) will be the subject of the my next blog.
I returned to school as a full time music student back in September. My plan had been to just take an ear training class and maybe a theory class but it turned out that our local community college required enrollment in all of their music classes. It was not possible to just take one class so I dove in and signed up as a full time music student.
In order to get into the music program I first had to take a music fundamentals class over the summer. I had the option to pass a test but since I didn’t have any formal music training I opted to take the class. It’s a good thing I did because I would not have passed the test. After the first week everything was new to me. Before I took this class I didn’t know how much I didn’t know.
I passed that class easily and started the full music program in the fall. This is a two year school so I need four semesters each of theory, aural skills, and applied music and two semesters each of piano and music history. The first six weeks of theory was basically a recap of the fundamentals class and then we got into new material and school got a lot harder.
I’ve discovered that it takes me much longer to do anything compared to the rest of the students in the class. Our professor will put a problem on the board or ask us to complete a set of questions in the workbook and expect that we will finish in a few minutes. Everyone does except me. He will give us homework that ‘should take half an hour’ and I spend several hours doing it. Tests are extremely challenging. I totally understand the material but I have to rush through the tests and I end up making really stupid mistakes.
I have different issues with aural skills. I used to have a really good ear. Since I started playing the horn again I’ve had problems with intonation and that was one of the reasons that I started thinking about taking an ear training class. Well I’ve learned that my good ear is not so good anymore. One of my problems is that I am having lots of trouble hearing harmonic intervals. In the first semester we got up to 5ths and sometimes I can recognize the interval instantly and other times I miss them by a mile. The farther I get from my vocal range, the harder it becomes for me to recognize the interval. Fortunately I do better with melodic intervals and therefore do reasonably well with dictation and sight singing.
Piano class was easy last semester but is much harder this semester. I have a different professor and her requirements are actually more stringent than those for our major instrument. I’m supposed to spend more time practicing the piano than I am practicing the horn. I don’t because the horn will not come in second to piano but I have to put in enough time to keep up an A grade.
Getting along with the other kids in the classes has been remarkably easy. I didn’t really know what to expect and considered ‘ugh, who’s that old lady in our class’ as a possibility. I’m very outgoing so I started to talk to them right away and fortunately after about three weeks they started to open up and talk to me and I think now that I’m thought of as just another ‘kid’ in the class except when they start cursing and then, amazingly, they apologize. My response is to thank them and point out that I have four kids and have ‘heard it all’ before.
So far I’m very happy with my decision to go back to school. I love the challenge and I’m doing well. I also have more playing opportunities than I would ever have without school. My horn lessons are going well and I’m improving slowly but steadily.
I haven’t posted in about 5 months because I have been insanely busy with school and then the holidays and then school again. I’ll cover what’s been happening in the next few posts starting with performance anxiety.
I have a bad case of nerves and I can’t seem to play for people anywhere close to what I can do in the practice room. I’ve been working on this issue starting by attending ‘FAT’ camp run by Jeff Nelson at Indiana University back in August. ‘FAT’ stands for Fearless Auditioning Training. The week consists of some lectures and tools to help with nerves and lots and lots of playing for judges and for the other people in the class. The first time I had to play I was a basket case but as the week went on I did get more used to playing and had less anxiety. The last day was the ‘final’ mock audition which seemed to be more important than the previous ones. For me, this change brought back all the anxiety in spades.
I also think I shot myself in the foot by choosing music and excerpts that were a bit of a stretch for me. I think the biggest reason that I get nervous playing in front of people is that I don’t trust myself, I don’t trust that the correct note will come out of the horn, and I don’t have the confidence that I know the music well enough to play it decently. I don’t think having an audience is the problem. I can get up and speak in front of a thousand people, and I have done that during my former career, and have absolutely no nerves at all. I should have selected music that I knew inside and out. I think that would have shown me that I can play something I know without too many nerves.
I am getting better playing in front of my teachers. With my first teacher, Lynn Steeves, it took me many lessons to get calm. With Scott Bacon it took me months to get calmer and I only recently have gotten completely comfortable. When I met Debbie Schmidt when she was checking my horn she had me play for her and I was terrified. When I worked with Debbie for the FAT camp it took me a few lessons to put some form of decent playing together. With my latest teacher it took about three lessons for me to get calm and play the way I do when I’m alone.
When I got back from FAT camp I went to see a therapist to work on my nerves. These sessions helped quite a bit. She had me bring my horn and one of the things we worked on was picking up the horn and getting good imagery into my head. I had an audition for the college orchestra and for most of it I did okay. I think I played Strauss’ Nocturno reasonably well, the fast section at the end of Strauss 1 sort of okay, but then an A major scale was a disaster. I have discovered that I get more nervous instead of less nervous as I keep going.
I’ve had three more opportunities to play for people at school. Every time I play I get ever so slightly less nervous. By the time I got to my jury exam I played my three pieces decently and wasn’t too shaky. However, I completely blew an A flat major scale at the end. I need to keep finding opportunities to play which is hard to do.
My biggest accomplishment was playing Laudatio by Krol at my mother’s memorial concert a few weeks ago at the Manhattan School of Music. I managed to get up on stage in front of a room full of professional musicians and play decently. I was nervous but I managed to control it well enough. Last week I had an audition for band and I wasn’t very nervous. I didn’t play very well but that was because of stiff chops and not nerves. All in all I’m making progress.