NY Phil Audition Challenge Weeks 4 & 5

When I advance in auditions, I know it.

I’m led in. My mind is calm. The next few minutes are all that exist. I have a task to complete.

I close my eyes before starting. I imagine the music I’m about to play, the sound I will get. I breathe. There are always a couple important things to remember; I remind myself that they’re coming, and how I will do them. I take my time to get comfortable with the instrument in my hands.

I play. The things I’ve imagined remain in my mind. They’re already there for me; when I do them, it’s like reaching out and grabbing something hanging in front of me. Nothing is left to chance; it’s simply in my hands. 

I walk out feeling clear. And when they call my number in the waiting room, it’s only a confirmation of what I already knew—I played exactly how I meant to.

So as it turns out, I’ve been practicing visualization for a long time. Not in so many words, and not in any formalized way. But that process that I described in my audition recap post? That’s ultimately what visualization becomes when you add the instrument back in. But I’ve never had a well thought-out approach, and it’s never been a consistent part of my routine. I would either achieve that mindset or not, but it’s been highly dependent on external factors.

Nathan Cole’s description of how to visualize reminded me very strongly of the method outlined in Audition Success by Don Greene. If you haven’t read it, you must. Seriously, download it right now and read it through—it’s only about a hundred pages. I’ll wait. Because honestly, I had kind of forgotten about that part of the book until I read this week’s challenge. The first time you encounter an idea, it doesn't always make a big impression—but if it shows up again, in a different context, you know you have to pay attention. So obviously, I had to go back and re-read the whole book. And highlight things this time. But it was completely worth it, because now is the perfect time in my preparation to implement these methods.

The Challenge focuses more on mental practice without the instrument, whereas Audition Success dives straight into playing. But the biggest overlap between the two methods is this idea of key words or “process cues” (Don Greene’s term). These are words or short phrases that put you in the right mindset for each excerpt.

Since I’m two weeks away from my real life Indianapolis Symphony audition, I just went ahead and assigned process cues for the entire list.

Excerpt Process cues / keywords
Hindemith Der Schwanendreher
vast, expansive, descending
Bach Suite No. 3 Sarabande
simple, loving, second beats
Beethoven 5 - II
spinning phrases, elegant
Beethoven 5- III
tumultuous, bouyant
Brahms 4 - II
warm, glowing
Brahms 4 - III
joyous, weighty; big fat dancing Brahms
Brahms 4 - IV
like breathing, rhapsodic, contrasts
Mendelssohn Scherzo
light, precise
Mozart 35 - I
gallant, clever
Mozart 35 - IV
dignified, winking
Daphnis 158-166
dawning, transparent
Daphnis 212-216
quiet energy, waves, springing
Don Juan
sweep, swagger
Tchaikovsky 6 - I
intimate, tense, on the brink

I tried the visualization exercise (week 5's assignment) on Hindemith, honestly because I’ve been neglecting actually practicing it. But the concerto does set the tone for any audition—if it doesn’t go well, it’s harder to set yourself up mentally for the rest of the excerpts.

When I first tried it, I was fixated on how my right shoulder sometimes feels tight before starting, so I don’t feel I have the weight I need. It happens sometimes when I’m actually playing, too, so that feeling didn’t come out of thin air. My first word, “vast”—which I picked both because of the sound and because the title of the movement translates to “Between Mountain and Deep Valley”—seemed like the perfect word to solve this problem. And how could I make that opening sound more “vast”? Sinking into the bottom two notes, crescendo through the top two, and making sure my arm is free and never constricted through the rest of the phrase.

It only took a few repetitions to feel MUCH more comfortable with the opening. Now to do this with every single note I’m going to have to play at the audition…!

This week, though, I just had to record a few excerpts. I'll be honest, I was supposed to include the Mahler excerpt in this video and I didn't. I don't think I'll be touching that excerpt until after the Indy audition, actually—it's not on the list, and the last thing I need right now is extra distraction.

(I totally didn't just forget that I was supposed to record it while making the video. Definitely not.)

In the video:

  • Hindemith (0:00) - This will need some individual attention, but concentrating on those process cues really does help me stay in the right mindset. I'm pleased with the path this is going down.
  • Mendelssohn (1:13) - Maybe a little slow, but not unreasonable. I've had the process cues for this one for a long time, so the approach isn't so different than my usual one here.
  • Brahms 4 (2:30) - I'm least pleased about my sound in this excerpt. Also, I was a little too concerned with holding the tempo back; it gets uneven after the long note. Needs a little more "giocoso" and a little less "fat."

As requested, this was one take. In fact, it was the only one I did. Always strive for authenticity, right?

None of these excerpts is actually all of what's asked for Indianapolis—the Mendelssohn will be the entire movement, and there are actually four other little parts of Brahms 4 that I haven't even touched on here. So! In the next few days, I'd like to do some kind of performance of the Indianapolis excerpts that I haven't gotten to share with you yet. I could easily just put up an extra post here, but I've also been very interested in trying out Facebook Live. What better way to add in those real live audition nerves than to actually play for invisible people who may or may not give a damn?

Either way, I'll let you know in plenty of time. So stay tuned!