Monday, February 11, 2008

"willing to do almost anything"

In one of Miranda July's short stories, "Mon Plaisir," she writes about trying to become a movie extra:

On the third day of the rest of Carl's life, and the eleventh of mine, I began calling the number. explained that your willingness to hit redial for hours at a time is the screening process. This is the actual, professional way that one applies for this job, in the manner of a person trying to win tickets off the radio. The directors are looking for people who are willing to do almost anything, but will happily do almost nothing, for hours....

-- Miranda July, for the short story collection No one belongs here more than you, p. 161

If only auditioning for orchestras were just a matter of hitting redial. It might still be a nameless, faceless, de-humanizing experience, but it least you'd have a quick, impersonal decision:

Busy signal. Click.

I spent a lot of time discussing the problems and injustices of the audition process, back before I has hired at an audition, and now I seem to spend a lot of time talking about the same thing. No one is really satisfied with the process, on either side of the screen. But as much as we rail against auditions for being awkward, wasteful, tedious, unfair, evil rituals of despair, it's hard to argue the one point: they produce people who are willing to do almost anything.

Well, except maybe tap-dancing. A bassist colleague of mine had an illuminating dream recently, in which he discovered the limits of his personal tolerance for humiliation. My new favorite tag-line is now: "Motherfucking tapdancing!?"

Rejection and humiliation do seem to be part of our actual, professional career path though -- just like busy signals and cattle calls for movie extras. Some orchestras seem to go out of their way to make things as logistically difficult as possible: strange application questions; relentlessly long, unspecific lists; rounds scheduled weeks or months apart; or the dreaded tape round. I suppose we could tell ourselves they just do it to weed out the less committed, organized, or desperate candidates. And isn't there a certain pride in being that committed, organized, and/or desperate?

Until they hand you the tap-dancing shoes. Then all your dignity is lost.

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