Do I care too much?
That question came to mind throughout the course of this day, and, unfortunately, it’s been popping into my head with more frequency lately.
I am a musician. A pianist. A good pianist. Competent. Definitely more than adequate. I have never thought of myself as a "virtuoso", but I know have some decent facility. I am also a good sight-reader. A very good sight reader. I like playing auditions. I actually like reading music "cold". -And there have been times when I’ve surprised myself at how accurate I was during an initial read of a piece of music, with subsequent read-thrus of the same music not so cleanly executed. Accordingly, if during the course of an audition, I happen to come across a passage that is not exactly playable on sight, I am able to distill – to "fake" – the idea of the passage, and play something that still remains true to the composer’s intent. (I hope – well, at least that is what I want to do!) So why did I start doubting my own abilities today? Why did I wonder if, indeed, I do care too much?
Auditions seems to bring out the best and the worst in people. However, that’s totally understandable. For the people coming into the room, the ones who are auditioning, there is certainly a lot at stake for them. Yes, they are coming in for a particular project, a particular show, but they are also coming in for themselves. Will I sing well today? Will I act well today? Will I get hired? Am I good enough? Will they like me? Am I likeable? Each audition is a chance to validate the years of lessons, school, coachings, classes and practice sessions. -And the money(!) that they’ve paid for all those lessons, coaching, classes… There is a lot at stake. A lot.
There is also a lot at stake for the people behind the table: the producers, the directors, the choreographers, the conductors, the casting directors, etc. They are holding the audition in order to cast a show, to finally give voice and movement – Life – to the work of the creative team. They want to hire people. They want people to be good. They want to come to the end of the day with a list of possible candidates. They are most certainly not there to be entertained first and foremost. They are there because they want to want you.
So, once you combine those two "forces" – the people behind the table, and the people in front of it – and you place them all in close proximity in a rehearsal studio, well, the good, the bad and the ugly is bound to come out. It’s inevitable: they are all human beings and very human.
And then there is me. -And since this blog is about me, well, it undoubtedly would have come back to me.
I actually consider myself a rarity among audition pianists. As I stated before, I like to play auditions. Playing auditions is not a "paying the bills job" to me. It is something that I want to do, it is something that I enjoy. The fact that it does pay my bills is a fringe benefit. I also like Actors. I like Singers. I like Performers. Yes, they are strange breed, but aren’t we all? I know I am.
When a Performer comes up to the piano and places a piece of music in front of me, my number one priority is to make the Performer as comfortable as possible. If they are comfortable, then I will be comfortable. I will be able to play my best for them. How do I make them comfortable? I greet them with a smile. I ask them about their song, their music. I ask how fast or how slow they would like it to go. I check where they are starting and where they are stopping. I ask if they want me to play the "usual" or if they would like some embellishments. In short, I want to play the music the way they rehearsed it. I want to play it their way. I want to support them, not simply play the notes on the page. We are a Duet, but they are the featured half of the duo..
Alas, there are times when it’s difficult for me to make them comfortable. The music is in the wrong key. The copy of the music is illegible. Their sheet music is put on the piano in individual sheets ready to be blown off the music stand by the next stray breeze. They have never rehearsed the song before. They have never heard the piano accompaniment before. They just learned the song. The tempo they start singing at bears no relation to the one they gave me a the piano just moments before. (Nerves?) And when they’re not comfortable, well that just interferes with my sixth-sense line of communication.
Am I perfect all the time? No. Sometimes I’m distracted. Sometimes I don’t feel warmed-up enough, physically and/or mentally. Sometimes I should have gotten a few more hours of sleep the night before. However, I still want them do their best. I know that the audition is about them, not about me. In the larger scheme of things, I am basically a "necessary", but a necessary necessary. I know my function and how I am supposed to function. Even though the Performer is trying to impress the people behind the table, the one person the Performer has one-on-one personal contact with in the room is the pianist. Me.
So why has it seemingly become difficult for me to be good? To be good for them?
Again, I acknowledge that an Audition is basically a Sociology experiment, a case-study on steroids. Everything is heightened. But most of what I find distracting, what I find to be an obstacle to both of us doing our jobs properly should have been taken care of even before we entered the room. It’s all about Preparation.
I am not going to go into a master class of Dos and Don’ts when it comes to a Good Audition, a Proper Audition. Instead, I will simply ask any Performer who may be reading this post to be a good Boy Scout. To be prepared. You know what you have to do. At the very least, you should be self-aware enough to know whether or not you are fully prepared. And if for some reason – real, imagined or otherwise – you are not able to fully prepare for an audition, please do not take out your lack of preparation, and your subsequent unease during the course of your audition, out on the pianist. Out on me.
I know when you are looking at me. I know when your "Thank you" is insincere. I know what that stony silence means as I hand you back your music. The lack of eye contact. I know I am not perfect, but I always acknowledge any of my imperfections openly. "I’m sorry about that chord." I have started songs over if I wasn’t feeling "right" on the initial start. I have even asked the people behind the table if someone could come back in again if I felt that I hindered their chances of being considered for a show, for the part. Again, I care. Bad auditions happen, but are they really unpleasant surprises? An unexpected happening, yes, but not something totally out of the proverbial blue. At least from where I sit.
Because playing auditions is such a personal experience for me, if something goes wrong during the course of the audition, I do take it personally. If I have a finger slip, make a mistake, I do feel bad about it. If I can’t read the sheet music that is put in front of me, I find myself wishing that I could read through the pencil scribbles, the too-brite high-lighter, the stray marks from the copier, the "texture" of the fax. I wish transposing on sight came easier to me. If I suddenly see a piece of music starting to fall off the piano, I will make every effort to keep it on the piano without taking my hands off the keyboard – that includes almost hyperventilating due to blowing on the pages in order to keep the book from closing. If I find that I’m playing too fast or two slow, I make the adjustment; I never prompt the singer to make the adjustment. Again, I care. And I all I ask is that you care too. At the very least, quietly acknowledge the work I’m doing behind the piano.
I could go into the particulars of why I’m holding this particular Pity Party, but I won’t. The day of auditions ended hours ago. They are over and done with. There were some good ones, there were some bad ones. There were some strange ones. But that’s just the law of averages. However, there was not one audition where I did not try to do my best – even as the afternoon dragged on, and my fatigue level started to inch upward, while my patience level headed down. It is my job to play well. If I do not do my job, I will not get re-hired. Those are my stakes. If you are Prepared, then I will be Prepared.