Music Academy

I have just finished my stint teaching at The Music Academy of the West, in Santa Barbara, California. The Music Academy has always had terrific trombone teachers. Keith Brown did it for years, as did David Finlayson. Mark Lawrence has been doing it for the last few years. This summer, for the final two weeks of the Academy, Mark had to be away to do a Four of a Kind tour to Korea. I was thrilled and honored to be asked to teach and play for the final two weeks.

I think the Academy is actually in Montecito, but adopts the name of Santa Barbara as its home. The actual location is a bit confusing but what happens at the Academy couldn’t be more clear. I was so wonderfully impressed with every aspect of the Academy. My first official duty was to attend a reception at the home of the president of the festival. I met many of my fellow faculty members, administrators and members of the board. Everyone couldn’t have been nicer or more welcoming. In my mind I was a substitute for one of my mentors, yet they welcomed me as though I had joined the faculty. It was a terrific feeling and one that continues.

I had four trombone students and a tuba student. One trombone each from Curtis, Juilliard, Northwestern and Yale and a tuba from Rice (by way of the Cleveland Institute). I cannot say enough good things about these gentlemen. They are everything that I would want young players to be. They have desire. They are committed to being orchestral musicians. They are aware of what is going on with the upper levels of trombone performance. They have great humor and camaraderie between them…and did I mention they play the absolute crap out of their instruments? Well, they do. Alex, Aubrey, Mike, Nick and Shachar, if you read this, please know that I had a great time coaching you. I look forward to seeing you, in any setting, again.

My fellow brass faculty members were also wonderful. Paul Merkelo, Principal Trumpet in Montreal was the trumpet teacher and Eli Epstein was the horn instructor. Both of these gentlemen are very accomplished in their respective fields and are so easy to work with. I had the wonderful experience of rehearsing and performing the Stravinsky Octet, with Paul and I being the only faculty. Paul took the lead in the rehearsals and did a wonderful job of balancing the ensemble while encouraging input from all. As I continue to develop as a teacher, I pick up so many hints from others. What a great gig I have!

One of the aspects of the Academy that is unique is the contact that the young artists have with their ‘compeers.” The compeers are sponsors who graciously give their time and financial support to the members of the Academy. At one of the dinners given by a compeer, Jim Self and Bill Booth attended. These guys are really among the cream of the crop in the LA studios and it was great to meet them and chat.

For one of my masterclasses, I invited my buddy, LA heavy, Alex Iles to play the first movement of the Bach Double Violin Concerto with me. We blew through it twice and it was good to go. I wish I had Alex around more often as I could hear my approach change to fit his ultra-smooth and even-handed articulation. It was great to see Alex and hear what is going on in LA. He was a terrific resource for the students and they asked great questions.

Speaking of LA, there is an upcoming audition for Principal Trombone in the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Ralph Sauer set such a wonderful standard. His solo albums were such an inspiration to me when I was in high school and college. I first learned Mahler 3 from the LA Phil recording with Zubin Mehta conducting. I think we all have a soft spot for the recording of major works that we “cut our teeth on.” It will be interesting to see what happens in the upcoming audition…it is a very big job. I will go on the record and say that they will choose someone…from ONE AUDITION! Different orchestras do it different ways. I have a hunch that LA isn’t quite as picky as some orchestras and that is no comment on the quality of the orchestra…I guess a better way to put it is that they are more likely to be reasonable about the audition process. If they prove me wrong by not taking anyone, I will admit it here.

Okay, more entries to follow…

Practice. Be gentle with yourself while pursuing the highest level you can!

Auditions: Expectations and Dissapointments

Greetings from Costa Rica where I am working with my amigos, the Trombones de Costa Rica. I am having a wonderful time working with these great guys. Alejandro, Martin, Leo and Ivan are gentlemen of the first order.

As I launch the new Blog section I want to let you know that my previous writings will be eventually transferred to this section as well. As always, thanks for reading.

My inaugural entry deals with a subject that involves nearly every aspiring performing musician: AUDITIONS. There was a very recent Second Trombone audition in northern Florida where no winner was selected. According to the rumor mill, around 90 candidates auditioned in the prelims. At first glance, and maybe second glance, it seems ridiculous that this orchestra could find no candidate, out of 90, that auditioned at a level high enough to be offered the position. I know several of the players who auditioned and any one of them would have been excellent choices. I know that-high level players can have an off day, but I have difficulty accepting every one of them did and that no one was qualified to be a member of this orchestra. They chose no winner.


My guess?


Fear of commitment.

Fear of hiring the wrong person. Fear of having to actually use the tenure process. More and more, orchestras want to be ABSOLUTELY certain before they offer the contract. 20 years ago, it was rare that no one was chosen at an audition. It occasionally happened, but not nearly as often as present day…and there are a higher number of better players now than ever! Maybe that is the problem…there are so many good players that one doesn’t stand out like the old days. I just don’t get it. What are the audition committees thinking? How quickly they forget that their audition wasn’t so perfect either, yet they were given the chance.

This is not the New York Philharmonic…or the Cleveland Orchestra, another totally confusing institution that after numerous auditions STILL cannot seem to find anyone good enough to play Principal Trombone. They have a great player…make that 2 great players there already that could easily fill the position at a high level. I just don’t get it!

“Maybe there is someone better…”

I remember a Music Director telling his orchestra once, “If we are always looking for someone better, then we are ALL out of a job.”

+++++ I have been on both sides of the audition screen many times. I am nearly done auditioning (there are about 3 or 4 orchestra jobs left that I might audition for). I have taken many, many auditions over the years. Of the 25-30 auditions I have taken, I was in the finals probably around 8 times and I won 4, the last being the job I held for 10 years in Seattle. I have lots of experience with auditioning and listening to auditions as well. I listened to many auditions in Seattle, for brass positions: Principal Horn, Second Horn, Third Horn, Principal Tuba, Principal Trumpet and was invited by my colleagues and Music Director to listen to auditions for Second Trombone, the job I was vacating. I also sat on a violin committee. I learned a great deal about the audition process from the committee’s point of view. I want to share my thoughts from each side of the screen.

From the View of the Player:
When a player deides to take an audition it is a committment of all sorts of resources. We have the financial expense of lessons, instruments, recordings, practice aids, travel, lodging, meals. We have the personal expenditure of hours upon hours of solitude, study and practice. We have the emotional expense of putting ourselves on the line, knowing that rejection looms. When we submit our materials to our prospective orchestra we hope for timely responses, information about transportation/lodging and a clear audition list. When we arrive, we want to encounter friendly people and a well run audition. We want ample space for warm up, preferrab;ly not one big room. We want access to food. We want the committee to stay on time. We want to audition in the same room that we will perform in. We do not want split committees. Often, we want comments about our actual audition. Perhaps that will help us learn what can we do to improve so that we will do better at the next audition…or so we hope

An aside:

As an auditionee, I have often wondered several things:
Why is there often sight reading on the audition list? After all, most orchestras never sight read. In fact most have a contractual clause defining how far ahead of the first rehearsal the music will be available.

Why is rhythmic pulse in Bolero so important? In rehearsal and performance, there is a conductor, snare drum and string pizzicato to keep the player on track. Doesn’t great sound, intonation and style account for anything? Any fool can tap their pencil behind the screen and get detect slight rhythmic inaccuracies. It actually takes thought and knowledge to evaluate sound, intonation and style.

Why isn’t the Rhenish on every Principal Trombone audition? Most every orchestra will play Schumann 3 at some point.

Why do smaller orchestras include the Berg 3 Pieces in their auditions? Often, I want to ask them the last time the orchestra performed the work (if ever)…and for a recording of the performance.

Why is Tuba Mirum often included on Principal Trombone auditions? I want to ask if it customary for the Principal to play Tuba Mirum in their orchestra? If it is merely to test musicality, then how about a selection from the solo repertoire.

BTW, I do understand why Bolero is on Second Trombone auditions. I had to play it several times in Seattle.

ok, now the flip side…..

From the View of the Committee:
What audition committee members want to hear is very, very simple, yet seldom occurs. We will advance someone who plays with a great sound, with accurate intonation, clear articulation and appropriate style who demonstrates control of their product while not missing too many notes. Seems easy right?
Think again.
We have all been in the same situation as the person auditioning and have been successful. We are looking to add another member to our club…but there are conditions of membership…as in most clubs. Being able to demonstrate the above is the condition of membership.
I was always amazed at what I heard at auditions. So many players could have saved so much money by buying a recording device, a metronome and a tuner…and of course batteries. As a committee member, I was ALWAYS pulling for the candidate. I wanted to be WOWED! I always began each audition hoping to hear the ONE! Seldom did it occur. Mostly we, by agreement chose to pass along those who were the best at demonstrating the above characteristics. I only heard one nearly flawless audition…and he won, but then chose not to accept. Great players can do that.

As a committee member, comments can be a hassle to provide. Often the auditions are rushed. I would rather listen intently to the person playing instead of writing a critique. Use a recorder. It hears the same stuff we hear. If you have done your homework..aka playing for other people…you will not be surprised at what my comments will be. I asked for comments exactly once in my audition career. When I read what they had to say, I was so disgusted that I never asked again. I actually wondered if they were listening to someone else…and I was a finalist. I probably needed to use the recorder more. In retrospect, it was a good thing that I did not get that particular job…I might still be there.

So, in closing, I want to offer encouragement to those on the “audition trail.” If you want it bad enough, you will do whatever it takes to get a job, if you don’t, you won’t. It is no reflection on ones character. Don’t judge yourself by your success at auditions, only use it as a yardstick to measure your aptitude. If you have taken 5-10 auditions and have not yet advanced out of the first round then it would seem that something needs to be examined. Do yourself a favor and examine it…otherwise you will continue to throw your time and money away going to audition after audition. I also want to throw a glass of cold water in the faces of audition committees…and music directors. Get over yourselves. There are many qualified played auditioning for your orchestras…listen for the good in people’s playing…not just how to dismiss them.