Saturday, February 17, 2007

facing the music

My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does. That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.

Joan Didion, Preface to Slouching Towards Bethlehem

I read this a few weeks ago, and it seemed an omen of mortifying things to come. You see, back in November I spent a long time talking with New York Times reporter Daniel J. Wakin, both in person and on the phone, as I prepared and took an audition in Buffalo. Wakin wasn't small or inarticulate - he's a very friendly, unaffected, and pleasant guy - but he was unobtrusive in a way that made me forget that I was, in effect, laying my soul bare to everyone destined to read the Sunday, February 18th edition of the Times.

Maybe you're one of those people, too - click here to read Wakin's article, "The Face-the Music Academy". You can also read a post I wrote about the interview back in November.

Wakin told me that I would be prominently featured in his article, which kind of made me nervous. I sort of consciously avoided him the last time he visited Miami, which I feel bad about now. It was the evening he talks about at the end of the article, a new music concert with HK Gruber's conducting his zany piece "Frankenstein!!". As Wakin writes, "After the concert many of the players gathered at Zeke's, the cheapest watering hole along Lincoln Road, where beers are $3." I didn't, actually - I walked back home alone, after talking briefly with Wakin and giving him the quote that ends the article, and then wrote another rambling blog entry.

I guess I was concerned that I'd say something even more revealing and embarrassing about that audition in Buffalo. But I shouldn't have worried so much. Not only did Dan Wakin not make me out to be the sad reject character I expected, he actually made me seem almost - likable?

Well, definitely obsessive, but possibly likable. People have been teasing me, saying I'm a 'celebrity' or a 'hero'. They want me to autograph the newspaper, which has a big picture of me (above). I can't quite understand how a failed audition made me so popular. Still though, I think Dan Wakin did me a great favor, listening to all my audition stories and neuroses, and using them in his article. He opened me up, got me facing some of the scary, funny, embarrassing things about auditioning - and reading the article now, I realize they're the same things everyone faces. Just as he says, I'm "in some ways a typical New World fellow." He wrote a great story, and best of all, he didn't sell anybody out.

I'll probably have more to say about the article as I digest it. Maybe I'll fill in some details about that audition that I didn't tell Dan Wakin, or that didn't survive the editing process. For now, check out this photo, which I thought was eerily similar to the one in the Times:

That's Peter Seymour back behind me, and also Ranaan Meyer, who I just saw this evening (see below). Also pictured is Jeff Beecher (now principal bass of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra) and John Harrison. The photo was taken at the National Orchestral Institute in 2000.


Patty said...

I thought it was an excellent article, and I thought you "looked" great! Congratulations! :-)

Patty said...

Hmmm. That came out wrong, because I put the "looked" in quotes ... but I meant that the read was great. I'm sure you literally looked great too ... I hadn't even bothered to look at the picture! (I'm just an old lady ... what can I say?!)

Now I wish you a wonderful, strong, successful audition. I certainly don't envy you. I'd never win a thing now. Sigh.

(And that's not to say I'm not a good player. I just can't do auditions!)

Matt Heller said...

Thanks Patty!

I've been warned I'll be getting a lot of blog hits after this article, since it actually mentions my blog specifically. I hope all those visitors are as sympathetic and as you were (about the words, and the pictures!)

Spot said...

Hi Matt,

I woke up early this morning and was pleased to see that the NYT website had put the article up already. Bruce Cohen sent out an email on Friday to all of us on the outside as a reminder to keep an eye out for it. And as a side note, it's still weird to get an email with the greeting "Dear New World Symphony Alumnus."

I thought Dan Wakin's article was very fair and managed to portray an extremely difficult process in a very respectful way. While I wasn't around for it, I recall hearing from others a sense of disappointment in how NPR handled its series of reports a few years ago. I don't think that will be the case with this story.

I promise not to ask for an autograph. However, I would be curious to know what having your blog mentioned in the NYT does for traffic. Perhaps you should hurry up and get those Google AdSense banners installed before the stampede hits!

Best wishes,

P.S. As a small housekeeping note, Jeff Beecher is principal in Toronto, not NAC. It's not that I keep up regularly on bass happenings - Jeff's brother is a horn player and a good friend of mine.

Kate Nettleman said...

Matt- Thanks for your involvement in the NYT article-- loved reading it this morning. I, too, got the "NWS Alumni" mass email alerting me as to the article's approach, and I'm glad I did. Having been at Buffalo, too, in the semi round with you, no less!, it was touching to recall that particular experience for me and the rest of us good folk on the circuit. I think the reporter did you and the rest of us young-ish musicians-- and NWS-- a service by his story. Auditions are a fascinating, if frustrating, subject.

Hang in there, keep practicing, keep going, and keep writing! Thanks, Matt-- Kate Nettleman

Matt Heller said...

Thanks for the messages, Ryan and Kate! I'll fix that mistake about Jeff Beecher. And maybe I'll try to put up a Google hit register thing, since I'm also curious.

No matter who might be reading this stuff, it's great to hear from some successful NWS alumni - thanks for commenting!

asenath waite said...

matt -

the article definitely made you seem likable; i mean, all these people (including myself) came to read your blog didn't they?

Matt Heller said...

Thanks Asenathe!

I keep thinking of that Sarah Silverman line, "I don't care if you think I'm racist. I just want you to think I'm thin." As favorable as it is, this article is bringing all my neuroses to the surface. No wonder so many celebrities go insane and do bizarre things to themselves.

I think I'll be okay though. Thanks for commenting!

Randy said...

Hey Matt,

Haven't seen you in a while, but heard you've been doing well! Jory forwarded me the article; congrats on it!!

I think the writing came across very well! I like that the writer mentioned some of the issues that we face throughout the audition process as classical musicians.

Anyways, have fun in your last year at NWS. I might be down in Miami again before you finish, maybe I can stop by and say hello. Hey, who's sitting 3rd in that NOI pic?

-Randy Wong

P.S: I was wondering, what passage in Don Juan did you have to play on the last page?

Anonymous said...

As a former, conservatory-trained, musician - I loved the article and was riveted by your story. I was pulling for you up through the final result of the Buffalo audition. I know its tough to take so many auditions and to come so close (runner-up, semi-finalist), but keep going, its probably right around the corner for you!
Great picture too!