Sunday, April 17, 2005

tastes great, or less filling?

Last weekend I took a trip to Milwaukee, a city famous for beer. I didn't try any beer, but I found it to be a very pleasant city with lots of sandwich shops - Potbelly, Jimmy John's, Subway, Cousin's, Erbert & Gerbert, Quizno's - the choices were endless, as long as you felt like having a sub. My hotel was on Wisconsin Avenue, an epicenter of sandwich commerce. Sorry if the photo is a bit dim:

the lobby of my hotel, featuring free continental breakfast and the most depressing fountain I've ever seen Posted by Hello

My audition was at the Marcus Center, home of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. I went to a concert of the MSO my first evening there, sneaking in after intermission to hear a vocal group called New York Voices sing arrangements of '60s pop songs with orchestral accompaniment. The music was a little cheesy, but the orchestra sounded good, and it seemed like a nice hall to play in.

Marcus Center, home of the Milwaukee Symphony Posted by Hello

Unfortunately, I only got to play there for one round, because I was cut in the prelims. I felt good about my preparation for the audition, and wasn't unhappy with the way I played, though it's always hard to remember objectively. The committee asked me to play two of the excerpts again, which is often a sign that they are at least interested. Whatever they were hoping for, though, I don't seem to have given it that day.

Dealing with the post-audition disappointment is always difficult, and it can be a very useful (or destructive) process. My first reaction was that I had been overconfident, and my sense of self worth swung like a pendulum to the opposite extreme. Confidence is meaningless, though, unless it is based on something real - in the case of an audition, knowledge of the music and an approach to preparation that develops and conveys that knowledge effectively. Losing an audition, as difficult as it is, doesn't do anything to that knowldge base, and it certainly doesn't devalue all the work that was done. In the best case, it can help to refine the preparation process, showing what is effective and useful to one's presentation, and what is needless effort.

One of the ideas I found recently in The Wisdom of Crowds, an excellent book by James Surowiecki, is that people tend to be better disciplined and wiser in choices about the future than in the present. He talks about this in the context of saving money - if people make a choice to save a set amount each month rather than just tell themselves "I'll try and save more," they will be much more likely to follow through. After the audition, I decided to try and put this idea to use in my practicing: rather than just say "I'll practice as much as possible," I started writing out a schedule for the next day before going to sleep each night, planning how I would structure my practice sessions, what I would work on, etc. This may sound silly to someone who works in a more structured job, but doing this kind of planning seems to be incredibly helpful in keeping me focused and motivated. I don't always stick to the plan exactly, but I am always able to be more productive than I would be without a goal. Also, it helps relieve some of that gnawing guilt during the times when I am not practicing.

Milwaukee's riverwalk Posted by Hello

One more picture of Milwaukee, from one of the bridges along the Riverwalk. Certain places in the city almost seem European, and other areas reminded me of Chicago, with similar neighborhoods and Midwestern sorts of people. They even have a lakefront path on Lake Michigan, where I went running my last evening there. The cars tend to be a bit crappier than in Chicago, but the sandwiches can't be beat.

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