In the baseball game of Audition vs Emily, the pitcher is kicking the dirt on the mound, leaning forward to consult the catcher’s sign, and has risen up: coiled and ready to pounce.
Less than a week till the audition, and it’s been quite a blustery few days in the ballpark. I went to play for a colleague on Monday evening. I had envisioned something of a conversational session where I ran certain trouble spots or perhaps double checked interpretative decisions by her. I had overlooked one of the excerpts on the list, and had begun practicing it a few days earlier; it wasn’t even at tempo yet. I had just received intelligence that the conductor likes fairly strict tempi and a less romantic feeling to the Beethoven, and was flirting with a bowing change on the problematic Brahms 3. Instead, she ran a simulated audition, cuffing me brusquely for playing a passage in front of her before “my allotted time”. She had me wait in the hallway, called my number, ran me through my paces, and sent me packing with the name of a luthier to look at my wolf tone and consolation that although “I sound good” the job will “probably go to a Curtis graduate.”
What’s funny is that I agree with her. I’m going to take my ax down to the shop and see if we can’t make my Eb not explode (my cello is not doing well with the climate here: it is truly a Californian) during what should be tender string crossings. But let’s say they can’t fix it. And let’s say my interpretations offend. And let’s say I am sonically incompatible with the tremendous ensemble I am sidling up to.
That is no reason at all to feel joyless about it, which is for just a moment (like an hour) how I felt, driving up 495, to the safety of my Patapsco retreat.
The danger with auditions is they allow someone else the potential to determine your measure of success. Got the job? You succeeded. Lost out to someone else? Not so much. While I subscribe to the brass tacks approach where at some point you have to demonstrate competence, I am also aware that there are levels of goodness to be had in this context. This time last year (and many years before) had my third and fourth fingers absolutely numb. I sobbed as I scheduled the surgery almost exactly 365 days ago. Today, I proudly show off my scar and turn the stomachs of my queasy friends with talk of bone saws and bionic nerves. Then I go back to offending my neighbors with hours of practice to the clacking of my ancient metronome.
So yes, I am up against Juilliard and Curtis grads (not to mention a stout group of local professionals) who have been on a steady diet of concerti and excerpts for years on end. I’m cool with that. There may be a single opening here or there, but there is room for all of us in the world, and a single job does not the world make. I’m just so happy to play, and only a little bit disappointed that I lost sight, even for an hour, of what I’ve been working for. Impressing an audition panel is the collateral benefit of the real end: knowing the simple, unobstructed beauty of this music.