Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Calgary audition odyssey, part IV

...this is a continuation of Calgary audition odyssey, part III...

And so dawned my first day in Calgary - Friday, March 30th, the day before the audition itself. I didn't set the alarm, figuring that I would get as much sleep as possible, and get myself rested and ready for Saturday. I slept in until about 8:30, which is way late for me, especially with the 2 hour time difference. I felt at least semi-normal, though, and decided to find out how I sounded.

Unpacking the bass in a strange hotel room is always an interesting experience. Travel and changes in climate and time zone can mess up a person, but they can really mess up a bass. There's no telling what is going to be tight, awkward, and uncooperative. Or maybe the instrument will actually prefer the new weather, you never know... Sometimes buzzes and wolves disappear, or temporarily migrate to new areas, so it kind of feels like opening your mouth and hearing a foreign language come out!

I'm not a great fan of the unfamiliar, I guess. I usually have to force myself to start the discovery process, even though I would rather not spend two hours with a touchy bass right away! I made a little deal with myself, I would unpack and play a few scales, then go get some breakfast. That seemed to help me to feel satisfied that I'm not postponing business, but still not too trapped and scared - a relatively happy compromise with myself, as well as my instrument!

So the scales came off relatively well, and I even started my Bach and a couple excerpts, just to find a sound, until I started to hear my stomach growling its own harmonies. My friend Roslyn the horn player had told me that there was a Tim Horton's restaurant right near the hotel - even though I'd never heard of this chain, she made it sound like some great providence, so I thought I would look for it. Calgary was overcast, a little cool but still comfortable with a sweater and a couple of undershirts on. The 5 Suites Downtown is on 5th Avenue and 5th Street SW, making it very easy to find, as long as you don't pick the wrong quadrant. Calgary is laid out in 4 quadrants, radiating out from Memorial Drive and Centre St. - most of downtown is in the SW quadrant though, so I guess Centre St. isn't really that central.

It's a nice city to walk around in - cars seem to obey the stoplights, and amazingly, pedestrians do as well. I picked a direction at random, and within two blocks I had sighted a Tim Horton's. I later learned that I could have gone any other direction and found another Tim Horton's equally quickly, but at the time it seemed like amazing luck. There was a line of college students, construction workers, and young professional types coming out the door - every Tim Horton's I visited had a similar line, but they moved pretty quick, and everything I ordered was there surprisingly good and quite cheap.

So after breakfast I wandered up the main pedestrian avenue, Stephen Ave. It's lined with shops, some American chains but mostly places I had never heard of before. There are malls along both sides of the avenue with connecting passageways, so you can actually walk the length of it without leaving indoors. The weather was nice enough that morning though, and there were crowds of people around some temporary street hockey courts that had been set up. As I got closer I found it was a Corporate Street Hockey Tournament, so all these bankers and securities analysts were warming up in their skates and pads.

I was still marveling at the Canadian-ness of it all when I saw my friend, bassist Karl Fenner, emerge from a McDonald's restaurant. We were both headed in the same direction - towards the Calgary Phil's space, Jack Singer Concert Hall. Not to break in or anything, but it's nice to get a feel for the building, how to get there, and what is around. Along the way, we compared notes on our trips so far - he had flown Continental and paid a lot more in oversize fees, which concerned me because I was ticketed to fly Continental home. The big news around New World had been the announcement of 4th-year offers to some of us - I was one of the fortunate ones - among a large number who were not invited back. Karl told me he had just been invited to join New World as a fellow the next year as well, so we would get to play together, unless one of us had an audition victory in the meantime...

This is almost an inevitable part of the audition experience: you're going to run into some friend or acquaintance, who you may not have seen for months or years. He's going to have some great news to report - he's been subbing with the Chicago Symphony, or just won the audition for New World - and your mind will start racing back to how good he sounded the last time you heard him, and now he's only gotten better! Suddenly all those positive vibes, confidence-building mock auditions, and the encouraging comment from the customs official at the airport, they all begin to evaporate and the sad path to disappointment appears instead. I don't have an easy solution to all this; except to realize that we all think that way, and the only escape is to have faith in yourself and your musical mission!

Well, I got back to my hotel room after seeing Karl, and if I'd thought about resting or channel-surfing before, I was definitely going to start practicing now! I had gotten through my warm-up scales and arpeggios when the housekeeping lady knocked on the door and came in. I was going to stop and wait, but she said, "Please don't let me interrupt!" and so I kept playing scales for a couple of minutes. Then it occurred to me, this might be my last chance to perform for someone before the audition - so I checked my tuning, took a deep breath, and performed my Bach Bourrees for her! Then I did some Mozart 40, Beethoven 5, Heldenleben - all my nemesis excerpts. They didn't all go perfect, but she was very appreciative and complimentary, and I started feeling confident and secure again.

I didn't want to spend the whole afternoon practicing - and I wanted to make sure the practicing I did was focused, intentional practicing, not scared and obsessive-compulsive! I broke up half-hour chunks by resting and meditating, reading from some books I had brought (The Wisdom of Rilke, Fight Your Fear and Win by Don Greene, The Essential Rumi translated by Coleman Barks), and sorting through my parts and excerpts. I'd brought a big stack of photocopies, which I would give to people listening to me on mock auditions - these had gotten all mixed up though. After putting these all in order, I realized I'd forgotten something else important: the solo part of my concerto, the Vanhal. I had the piano score, and photocopies of the first two pages, but if I had to play any more than that, I would be doing it from memory.

By 6:30 or 7, I had practiced more than enough, and was actually a little concerned I had overdone it. So I left the hotel room - the sun had come out from behind the clouds, and the city was lit by a golden sunset color. I walked across a bridge over the Bow River (it's actually the shape of a bow, sort of) to a neighborhood called Kensington, which reminded me of cool neighborhoods I'd been to in Boston and Chicago. There are lots of funky shops and ethnic restaurants, young people walking around in groups and couples. After some wandering and indecision I chose an Ethiopian restaurant - I love Ethiopian food - which took a ridiculously long time but gave me an hour and a half to just sit by myself, relax, eat some good food, and brace myself for the next day!

I got back to the hotel room about 9:30, read a book for a minute, then put on my earphones and listened to Ian Bostridge's recording of Schubert Lieder. I didn't want to think too much - just drift off to sleep with some beautiful melodies.


Michael Blanco said...

Hi Matt,

I love reading your blog...keep up the great work! As for the audition story, I'm finding it very interesting, please make it as detailed and drawn out as possible. (!) I'm sure that plenty of other bassists also find a lot of value in reading about your experience, it's very interesting.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes, when I practice scales, I like to think about the way God is speaking through my fingertips. I am able to create a beautiful sound and find myself with a beatific look on my face. When I won my job, I imagined I was God and that the screen seperating me from my people was the effervescent membrane of life. I was rewarded. I guess you could say that I was the "chosen one" that day. Life is great. Praise God. Please, continue telling us about this life voyage Matthew.

A friend

Matt Heller said...

Whatever floats your boat, I guess.

Anonymous said...

anonymous, why do you have to bring god in to this. weird.

Anonymous said...

Do you hate God? God is everywhere. Go to hell, Satan.

Anonymous said...

Matt, sorry to detract from your story. I really am enjoying the multipart odyssey.

I just find it offensive when people have to bring god in to it (anonymous god poster). Not everyone appreciates it.


But it's for reasons like this that I do not appreciate God in everything I read.

Matt Heller said...

I think the dude was making fun of me - which is cool, I could probably use some self-parody and levity around here.

The thing is, I really believe that we're spiritual beings and that music is the closest we get to expressing our true natures - so maybe I deserve to get mocked as a head-in-the-clouds kook every so often! It keeps me grounded, or humbled anyway, so I'll wipe that beatific look off my face.

Anonymous said...

I shall say a prayer for you, wicked one.

Anonymous said...

Oh and for the record Matt, I think your blog is great and really interesting. Just some good natured ribbing. You got it, at least.

Liz said...

Have to say this is fascinating reading....thank you.

Liz said...

And wait I forgot....if you did win the audition and move to Calgary, Tim Hortons are *everywhere*. Except we Canadians call them "Timmys." And you'll have to learn what a "double, double" is. Actually it means double cream, double sugar. I guess it's so cold we have to have a shortcut.

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