Thursday, May 10, 2007

audition aside: the waiting game

When I was preparing for the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra audition a while ago, they asked some excerpts from the Wagner operas Die Meistersinger and Die Walkure. Luckily, they asked very specific places and sent out music; less luckily, that music was not clear about where in the opera those excerpts occurred. So I ended up listening to the whole operas, following along in the libretto as I waited for the bass section to plunge into those dreaded passages. As my friend Spot can attest, those are some long operas.

I remember thinking at the time how well Die Meistersinger relates to the audition process. There's the hero, a young tenor in love, with his noble old teacher Hans Sachs - he enters the singing competition, even though he has barely heard all the rules, and prevails over the petty, rule-obsessed villain, purely through his inspiration and love.

The more I thought about it though, the more I decided the better parallel was with Die Walkure. The hero is beaten, insulted, and abused, chased by dogs through a fierce storm - he doesn't even have his own name, but gets called "Woeful". He collapses in some random, unfamiliar house, begging for rest and water - only to find his arch-nemesis lives there, ready to insult him some more and challenge him to a duel the following day. (In the meantime, he falls in love with his sister, which is kind of weird and irrelevant to this analogy...) Anyway, Woeful doesn't even have a sword to defend himself with, but finally and just in time, he finds one - an amazing, powerful sword meant just for him. A fierce argument ensues, about whether he'll even be given a chance in the upcoming battle. He won't - after about 4 hours of opera, the battle lasts roughly 35 seconds (during the bass excerpt, actually!), and the hero (now named Siegmund) gets cut down by his own father. No Valhalla for you.

Anyway, the point is that huge time differential - hours and hours of talk, negotiations, threats and prayers and sword-tugging desperation, and then 35 seconds of action and it's done. I think one of the great challenges of auditioning is filling all that dead time, on the plane, in the hotel room, at the audition itself, without killing yourself with over-practicing, over-thinking, or just overly distracting behavior. One of my good friends recently made the finals in the Pittsburgh Symphony's viola auditions, and he told me that what messed him up was the day of waiting between the semi's and finals. All these incidental thoughts started parading through his head - what if I win this, where will I move, how will I spend all that money? - and he spent a day of frantic viola-clutching madness. He wished he had just gotten out for a walk, gone to a movie or the zoo to relax - anything but the panic-stricken practicing.

I've struggled with the same things at auditions: too much practicing, or too much unfocused, mindless practicing. Or too little - it's amazing how you can waste hours of time reading newspapers, watching sports, searching the internet, or wandering around looking for good restaurants. One audition I took was the day after the Super Bowl, and I should have seen that coming and avoided following football at all. But when the day came, my hometown team was playing (the Seahawks) and I couldn't resist watching them get clobbered by the Pittsburgh Steelers - just as I got clobbered by Mozart 35 the next morning!

I think that we need to strategize how we're going to fill that empty time, just like we plan how we'll pace and shape our solos and excerpts. What can I bring to read that will get me inspired and energized, not sleepy and dull? - what can I bring to listen to that will keep me enthusiastic and musically engaged? And what should I bring to eat that's going to sustain my energy without producing nausea?

I know I'm inviting parody, with all this obsession over mundane details. And I sometimes can become a caricature with all the ecstatic, divine-inspiration musical gobbledygook - I do realize that to win an audition, you have to be more than just in love and inspired! Still, I want to lay out my own strategy for filling time, the thoughts and sounds that helped me to function my best. For me, one of the most demanding and rewarding challenges has been to fill time positively and with intention - both while waiting and while on stage.


Spot said...

Yeah, I got home from Walk├╝re tonight at 1:30 in the morning. It's long. Thankfully the third act blows by pretty quickly. It's that second act that's the killer.

I also remember going through the same garbage for the Met's horn audition in January. You're right - it's great that they're specific about what they want. But slogging through Wozzeck and Lulu trying to unearth a couple of eight or ten measure snippets was not the most pleasurable evening I've ever had.

E.C.D. said...

Great idea; figuring out how to fill empty time and keep a positive mindset is an integral part of the audition process. I find it most helpful to bring along books of humor, or short anecdotes...things that I can pick up and read from any page for any amount of time ranging from a minute to the half hour it might take to learn the news of who advanced in your audition group. Thanks for your comment-I responded on my blog.

Jacque said...

Man, all of that is so true: the Walkure analogy, the unfilled time in an unfamiliar city.

How I hate(d) all that stuff about auditions. I probably would have had more success at auditions if there hadn't been all that time to think about them.