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Do I want to blog about my Mom’s health, surgery?   12:48 AM Oct 10th

Can’t sleep tonight. Too many things.  Mind is racing.   3:40 AM Oct 14th

Doctor just gave us the good news! First time I’ve seen my Dad cry in years.   12:28 PM Oct 14th

Just saw Mom in CICU    1:21 PM Oct 14th

Had lunch with Kirsten. So good seeing her again.  Asks if I Twitter?   2:19 PM Oct 16th

Mom finally moved to her recovery room.  Time for me to breathe again.   12:34 PM Oct 17th

Heading back to NYC, but will be back in another week.  12:28 AM Oct 20th

Auditions, auditions, auditions.  If I have to play “Part Of Your World” one more time…   1:20 PM Oct 21st

Has it really been a month since my last blog entry?   2:43 PM Oct 22nd

Just “re-lived” the Bernstein “Mass” at Carnegie Hall. So proud of my friends. So moved by the music. 10:22 PM Oct 24th

Well, I guess DST is next weekend after all.   11:52 AM Oct 26th

Carnegie Hall: Pollini playing Beethoven, Schumann and Chopin. How classic(al).   2:34 PM Oct 26th

Hint #2: Last row of CH = leg room and behind-the-seat storage.   3:01 PM Oct 26th

Four encores! Including the G-minor Ballade! Grazie!   5:39 PM Oct 26th

Walking through Central Park.. Guess it has been a few weeks, there’s color on the trees and on the ground.   6:06 PM Oct 26th

Little girl, age 9 – “It smells like popcorn and horses.”   6:34 PM Oct 26th

Thank You, Matthew Weiner! -Can’t wait for Season 3!   10:55 PM Oct 26th

Pack-a-little, Post-a-little… Getting to head back down to Richmond for the week.   11:24 AM Oct 27th

The wheels on the bus keep going round and round. 100 miles to go.   8:37 PM Oct 27th

Being a ‘rent to the ‘rents today.   1:36 PM Oct 28th

Over at Steve’s right now taking a break from the parents. Soup’s On!   6:28 PM Oct 29th

Heard about this ( http://tinyurl.com/68y572 ) on NPR yesterday, downloaded the free(?) album today ( http://tinyurl.com/6hgqpz ) Mash-Up!   1:17 PM Oct 30th

Pumpkin & Coconut Brownie Ice Cream from Bev’s Ice Cream http://snipurl.com/4uzsi 8:07 PM Oct 30th

Happiness is a non-sold-out Bolt Bus. Two seats for the price of one.   7:31 PM Oct 31st

Off to MoMA for the last Member Preview Day of the new Miró exhibit.   2:06 PM Nov 1st

This exhibit keeps going and going and going… “Man and Woman in Front of a Pile of Excrement”   4:50 PM Nov 1st

Tracking a couple of friends in today’s marathon, and wondering how delayed the online results are.   11:58 AM Nov 2nd

Standing amid a sea of Silver, Blue, White and splashes of Orange! Inspiring!!   4:05 PM Nov 2nd

About to head out for some post-Marathon sushi with my brother and Maria.   5:58 PM Nov 2nd

Off to meet some friends for a morning-after-the-marathon breakfast. Could be interesting.   10:01 AM Nov 3rd

Times Square at 2:28pm EST – CNN Central http://snipurl.com/53wod 2:29 PM Nov 4th

Overwhelmed, but in a good way. The sense of Purpose and Hope was palpable in the midtown air (regardless of who you voted for).   6:14 PM Nov 4th

Just listening to the Cheering and Car Horns outside my apartment in Harlem!!!!!!!!!!   11:11 PM Nov 4th

OOPS! HA!!! ABC (in NYC at least) just interrupted their coverage for a Flomax commercial?!?!?!?!?   12:26 AM Nov 5th

Magnolia, Levain and Shake Shack all within seven blocks of each other… Is that a good or bad thing to know?   1:56 PM Nov 5th

At Lincoln Center about to experience Doctor Atomic.. And watching a lot of people trying to sell their tickets on the plaza…   7:30 PM Nov 5th

Intermission at The Met: People eating,drinking, chatting… leaving…   9:43 PM Nov 5th

Back at MoMA to catch the Kirchner once again before it closes… And the Van Gogh and Miró, of course   3:33 PM Nov 6th

Back at The Met tonight for the Berlioz. Technology and Art striving for their potential. I hope.   7:15 PM Nov 7th

Ah… The (Bittersweet) Hot Chocolate – with Marshmallow – from ‘wichcraft in Bryant Park http://snipurl.com/59hf1 3:52 PM Nov 9th

At Zankel Hall tonight for Jeremy Denk playing Ives Concord & Beethoven Hammerklavier. Monster program!   7:13 PM Nov 11th

Bravo, Jeremy Denk! Bravo!   9:52 PM Nov 11th

I was looking for an excuse to be lazy today: Thank You, Rain.   1:26 PM Nov 13th

Coolness in progress at MoMA http://twitpic.com/lrk1 3:43 PM Nov 14th

I wonder if they’ll have the Basil Hot Chocolate in Bryant Park today…   1:34 PM Nov 16th

More cupcakes coming to midtown Bway & 53rd… (Magnolia recently opened in Rock Center) http://snipurl.com/5n42q 2:45 PM Nov 16th

Thank you, Mr. Carfizzi and Mr. & Mrs. (Grant) Murphy for a wonderful recital. http://snipurl.com/5nlok 6:27 PM Nov 16th

Well, I thought I got here early enough to get in line for the movie. Probably #100ish, and still 30 minutes till they open   7:54 PM Nov 16th

“Slumdog Millionaire” – SEE THIS MOVIE! Thank You, Danny Boyle   10:35 PM Nov 16th

Everyone seems to be seeing snow this morning except for me – and I like snow!?!?   9:31 AM Nov 18th

ReTweet: @BravoTopChef Get ready! Spike is back and so are his shenanigans. Make sure to follow our boy tomorrow during the show   2:12 AM Nov 19th

Best lunch deal in Chinatown – 5 dumplings for $1 http://twitpic.com/mqr2 4:39 PM Nov 19th

Warming up with a Café Mocha at Abraço http://twitpic.com/mr4z 5:35 PM Nov 19th

Hmmm… No line… very tempting… http://twitpic.com/mra7 5:55 PM Nov 19th

What I’m playing this afternoon.. http://twitpic.com/mxqr 5:14 PM Nov 20th

Dinner at El Toro Partido – Torta! http://twitpic.com/ne8e 4:54 PM Nov 22nd

O Christmas Tree Stand, O Christmas Tree Stand… (145th & Broadway) http://twitpic.com/nvns 9:15 PM Nov 24th

On the Acela down to DC for the holiday weekend http://twitpic.com/o4xg 7:13 AM Nov 26th

@BravoTopChef Thanks, Andrew!   11:02 PM Nov 26th

Eat Well. Stay Safe. Happy Thanksgiving!   11:31 AM Nov 27th

Horse-Drawn Carriage rides in Carytown this weekend http://twitpic.com/osvq 5:21 PM Nov 28th

Then down to Cafe Gutenberg for dessert http://twitpic.com/ouyl    9:05 PM Nov 28th

My dessert: Oatmeal Stout Chocolate Float http://twitpic.com/ouz6 Yes! Beer (stout) and Ice Cream (chocolate gelato)   9:08 PM Nov 28th

Back at Bev’s Ice Cream – http://twitpic.com/p3kx Chocolate Chai with…   7:30 PM Nov 29th

With a Cranberry chaser – http://twitpic.com/p3lk 7:31 PM Nov 29th

My parents’ church actually has TWO late seating breaks during the mass.   12:22 PM Nov 30th

Who knew that my parents liked Vietnamese food? http://twitpic.com/p928 12:49 PM Nov 30th

Anderson Cooper swimming against Michael Phelps on “60 Minutes” tonight.   7:44 PM Nov 30th

Back on the bus back to NYC. Thankfully no one got trampled once the driver opened the doors, but there was definitely a throng.   7:29 AM Dec 1st

Take a Moment to Remember – World AIDS Day 2008.   9:44 AM Dec 1st

Happiness is a D (or A) Train across the platform.   3:49 PM Dec 1st

Anyone else going to the World AIDS Day “Bacharach to the Future” Benefit at New World Stages tonight? http://tinyurl.com/5jrv2j 3:54 PM Dec 1st

Condee Rice playing Brahms? I knew she was a good pianist, but… The Quintet is a LOT of notes! http://tinyurl.com/5q96px about 16 hours ago

Just saw a cop tie an elderly man’s shoes – I love New York City!   about 11 hours ago

It’s beginning to look a lot… http://twitpic.com/ps3q about 8 hours ago

I really should be asleep by now, but just came up with an idea for a new – and long overdue – blog entry.   about two hours ago

Well, I guess I am going to finish this blog entry tonight, well, this morning. -Who needs sleep?  27 minutes ago

Done! Publish. less than 5 seconds ago

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-Flying out of Washington-National in the middle of a snow storm.  -The plane’s departure delayed due to de-icing.  Twice.  -Getting off the plane in Savannah, Georgia, and discovering that it felt like summer – it was only March.  -Buying pralines from various vendors along River Street, then discovering that they were giving them away for free at the convention hospitality booth.  -The mile walk between the hotels. That’s really all I remember about the 1994 Southeastern Theatre Conference Convention.  My first set of Spring SETC Professional Division Auditions.

The most recent SETC Convention was just held in Chattanooga, Tennessee; it was their 59th Annual Convention.  As I was preparing my opening remarks to the actors and actresses auditioning, I was all set to say that it was my 20th Anniversary year with SETC.  Well, after thinking it through, I realized it was more likely my 15th year.  Then after consulting the "Past Conventions" listing in the convention program, it turned out it was only my 12th.  I guess it only seemed like I’ve been playing the Spring SETCs for 20 years already.  *For anyone doing the math: I haven’t played for all of the Spring SETCs since 1994.  Due to work commitments, I’ve missed three of the annual conventions.  Strangely enough, the three years I missed (1997, 2001, 2006), the conventions were held in Florida (Miami, Jacksonville, Orlando). We’ll have to see if that pattern continues in the future.  (I also play for the smaller Fall Professional Auditions, so I’m guessing that may have contributed to my 20-year syndrome.)

My first SETC actually came about after I had lobbied for the job.  That year, a number of theatre students I played for at Virginia Commonwealth University had made it through the state screenings, and were passed on to the regional level.  I just wanted to see if I could play for them.  As it turned out, the pianist who had been playing for the auditions the previous couple of years was not available that year. After a few brief phone conversations, as well as some recommendations – including a particularly glowing, unsolicited one from the Theatre VCU secretary – I was hired for the gig.  It was basically a blind and deaf hiring.  No one in the central office had ever heard of me, let alone had heard me play. And, truth be told, I had no real idea what I was going to be in for once I got down to Savannah. I had heard tales of the "Big Convention", but I had never experienced one myself.

Besides the travel woes, the weather and the pralines, there really is not much more I remember about my first SETC Convention. Oh! I do remember that a group of students had gotten mugged while walking along the River Street Waterfront, and they took a collection up to help them with their food, clothing and other expenses.  But as for the specifics of the actual auditions themselves, well, there’s actually not a lot I remember about those.  I think I had a grand piano in the ballroom.  It was the usual three days of auditions, with about 250 people auditioning each day.  And I was asked to come back the following year – and the following years – so I guess I did a job.  What I tend to retain about my annual SETC adventures are the airports, the hotels, and, yes, the food.

There aren’t that many specific auditions or auditionees I remember from the past 14 years.  Yes, I can remember being generally entertained from time to time, but as for which song and monologue went with which number, name and face in a particular ballroom, hotel and city, well, all bets are off.  However, there is one young gentleman who totally caught me by surprise by actually including me in his audition…

(to the tune of the Gershwin’s "They Can’t That Away From Me")

The way you play my pitch
The way you hit those keys
I think you’ve found your niche
Oh, no, they can’t take Jose away from me.

…Or something very close to that – and he continued on through the bridge and final refrain.  It also turned out that the monologue he performed before the song was directed towards me, but since I was multi-tasking – getting the tempo and other info from the next person – I didn’t pick up on that until someone told me he had customized his whole audition package "towards" me.  His monologue, I believe, was one of Shakespeare’s Fools.  Alas, since everything had happened so fast – and since I was sort of in shock – I was not able to follow-up with him to thank him, nor to see how many callbacks he ended up getting.

Otherwise, what I tend to remember are "trends". The end of "Soliloquy" made a huge comeback in popularity the year the Lincoln Center revival of Carousel opened.  There was even one young gentleman who, as he was placing his music on the piano, asked me, "Do you know this? It’s from a new show."  After making sure I only rolled my eyes inside my head, I just responded that I did know it, and made a semi-obvious gesture towards the copyright date on the opening page. Then there was the year of the Damn Yankees revival where I believe "Goodbye, Old Girl" set the record for the most performed, most repeated song. There was at least one actor who sang that song in each group of 25 auditions, sometimes two; and in the final group of the day, of the convention, there were four renditions of that song, perhaps even five, with at least two back-to-back. I had blocked it out after a while, and had had the accompaniment memorized by rote by the middle of the second day of auditions. It had even become sort of a joke among the people auditioning. One guy didn’t even bother giving me a tempo indication as he put his book on the piano, "I guess you know this one by now."  The most recent trends seem to center around the Kristin Chenoweth and Sutton Foster Songbooks: "Taylor, the Latte Boy", "The Girl in 14G", "Not for the Life of Me", "Astonishing", "Show Off", and, of course, "Gimme, Gimme".  And, yes, playwrights also seem to inspire trends from time to time.  If Christopher Durang, Jane Martin (the long suspected and speculated nom de plum of theatrical administrator, Jon Jory) and Neil Simon had a nickel for each time one of their monologues had been extracted, well, they’d have a lot of nickels.  -Too bad William Shakespeare’s benefactors and heirs(?) had not set up some sort of royalty agreement in place at the time of the Bard’s death.

I guess it’s a good thing I don’t remember more about the thousands of auditions I’ve played over the years at SETC and elsewhere. God knows, I kick myself enough during the process whenever I have a bad audition, I would go crazy trying to retain all the details of even just a fraction of the auditions I’ve played – the good, the bad, the ugly, the downright awful, the painfully oblivious, and the refreshingly brilliant ones.  Although, I have to wonder if somewhere down the line, something in my head will snap, and I will be found walking around Times Square re-enacting the audition packages I’ve experienced over the years.  So, if you happen to come to New York City, and run into a shaggy-haired Filipino with a sign around his neck reading, "Will sight read for food," and reciting the "Tuna Fish" monologue from Laughing Wild, and sprech-stimming "How Could I Ever Know?", well… Just remember: He likes the Monkey Cake from Amy’s Bread, and the Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies from Levain.

I guess the first few weeks of 2008 with their leisurely, almost worrisome pacing have finally given way to a virtual flood of work: auditions, auditions, and yet more auditions. Over the past two weeks, I have found myself sitting at a different piano, on a different bench or chair, in a different studio from practically one day to the next. A variety of shows, styles, people and situations. Lots of changes and adjustments, and a bit of self-appraisal along the way.

From the multitude of self-help and self-image books lining the best-sellers shelves, it seems (and reassures?) that all of us go through times in our lives and in our careers when we begin to question the Why, the What If, the Is It All Really Worth It aspects of our Existence, of our Happiness.  Well, I guess I’m going through one of those phases right now.  Rather, I’m coming out of one of those phases right now.

As one best-seller states in its title, "Don’t sweat the small stuff." But what if your Life is made up of the "small stuff"? What if your daily routine centers around deciphering small black dots and lines of ink on a page?… Of trying to read words printed in newspaper-sized typefaces under dim lighting that still somehow manages to cause a glare?… Of determining whether that was a nod to start playing or just a simple breath?… Of wondering if that smile was genuine or simply polite?

I will be the first to admit that I do not do everything well, that I do not play everything well – in the brief life-span of this blog, I know I’ve already stated that a few times. We all have our specialties, our comfort zones, our limitations. I will be the first one to turn down a job when I know I will feel like a fish out of water the whole time I am in the room. I hate being uncomfortable when I’m sitting down at the piano, and if I know that I am not able to fully contribute to the process at hand, then I would rather not be there. Alas, due to the nature of my work, and the nature of the biz, sometimes what looked like a "comfort zone" on paper, turns out to be anything but comfortable.

I’ll spare the specifics – the small stuff, as it were – but I will say I recently had one of those days. It’s natural to have those thoughts of I can’t play, I’m not good enough go through my head whether or not I happen to be playing at the time – I could have just been listening to some music rather than playing it. But I happened to find myself unexpectedly put into a situation where those thoughts, those doubts were just reinforced and, in a sense, amplified over the course of a few hours. At the end of the day, I could not help but feel a bit disheartened, small… Helpless and Non-Helpful. Nothing was said directly to me at the time, even though my own mind was filling in the blanks throughout the day, however, the coda for my day consisted of a pleasant phone call, followed by a not so successfully suppressed flow of tears on the subway ride back home.

What could I have done? It’s not like I was hired blindly for the gig – someone thought I was good enough, the right person for the job. And for a portion of the day, I was "right", I was more than "good enough". Then came a part of the day which had me summoning up a skill set I have never had to use, I never studied, and, frankly, never wanted to use nor study. But I was the one who got the call that day, who was sitting at the piano, so I did the best that I could do. I even voluntarily abstained at times when I knew any contributions from me at the piano would hinder rather than help – at least I had enough knowledge to discern when those situations would arise. Alas, getting that phone call confirming my "lack of ability" (the quotation marks are mine) did nothing to ease my own self-analysis of the day’s proceedings. Even though I fully understood what was being shared with me at the time – and, in retrospect, it allowed me to take a very real sigh of relief –  the phone call just confirmed, albeit falsely, the thoughts and doubts that had been lingering in the back – and sometimes in the forefront – of my mind throughout the day. I can’t play. I’m not good enough. And worst of all: I did not help today.

It’s amazing how fine and malleable the line between a "Can" and a "Can’t" can be from situation to situation, from moment to moment. The Mind is most certainly a powerful Thing, and sometimes that power is used for Good, sometimes for Bad, and sometimes for the In Between. Lots of gray. Now that I’ve had a few days to process everything, well… Maybe "process" is not exactly the proper word. If anything, I’ve "displaced" what happened, or "re-placed" it. The whole situation was unexpected and new to me. In a sense, it was also new to the people who had hired me: they had never seen nor heard me using the skill set that I was called upon to use that day. In fact, after my work for them in the past, they had assumed that I could play Everything, and play Everything well. Now they know. Now I re-know. (And this was truly not a case of, "You know what what happens when you assume?…")

When I was in college, there was an inevitable sense of competition – some would call it jealousy! – between piano studios, between teachers, between students. Comparisons were unavoidable due to the closeness of the practice rooms and the not-so-soundproofing of the studios. Sometimes, I would even go as far as accompanying someone else’s solo piano part in a concerto through the cinder block walls. Or, if I was feeling particularly feisty that day, I would play a song accompaniment at the same time – up a half step! My teacher was a wonderful Polish woman who came to the States in the 1960s. She was – and still is – a fine Pianist and fine Teacher. Growing up and training in Europe at the time that she did, she was very familiar with the "Russian School" of piano playing that was personified by Emil Gilels, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Lazar Berman, Vladimir Horowitz. She, too, was a part of that pianistic royal lineage having been a pupil of some Star Pupils both in Poland and in the United States.

My first lesson with her was not really a lesson at all. It was an interview. A two-way interview. After she had asked me some questions about my musical and personal preferences, she then asked me to ask her some questions. At first, I didn’t know what to ask, what I wanted to know, so she started off by giving me some answers: 53, married, two sons, two dogs (standard poodles), New England Conservatory, Catholic University of America, Prokofiev piano sonatas, Purple. Needless to say, I was caught off-guard by her frankness, her openness; consequently, I was also a bit in shock to inquire about anything else personal, musical or pedagogical at the time. However, that first lesson perfectly set up the Teacher-Student dynamic for our time in and out of Studio B-16 over the next couple of years. She had already begun planting, nurturing and insuring(!) the Idea that Music is not and can not be isolated to the piano studio. Whatever else was going on in our Life would most certainly affect our Music. It was all connected. Music was an integral part of our Life, but not Life itself. -She even required that we take at least one class outside of the Music Building each semester: she would not allow her students to isolate themselves figuratively, academically nor geographically.

I believe one of the greatest lessons I learned from her – as if that were not great enough – was that there was a difference between being Good and being a Virtuoso. Being Good ultimately results from one’s own honest self-appraisal. Being a Virtuoso is a label applied by someone else. Yes, one could be Good and a Virtuoso, but one did not have to be a Virtuoso to be Good. I did not have to be a Virtuoso. I did not have to work, to strive for something I was not meant to be, for a goal I never really wanted to achieve. It does sound very pat and simplistic – and maybe even a cop-out to some people – to say that someone knows how they fit in the larger scheme of things, but there is never anything wrong with Honesty. It truly does take all kinds. Just because I was not playing the Liszt "Transcendental Etude" that I could hear coming through duct work, did not mean that I could not still enjoy the Music that was being made.

So, as the proverbial dust settled from the events of earlier this week, and as I realized that the tears that I cried were a result of that situation and many other smaller matters preceding it, I remembered and was reminded (with the prompting of a very dear friend) that I am Good. It was the luck of the draw. It was not a matter of being "good enough" or "not good enough". I was simply the one who got the phone call to come in and play, when I would have been happier in the hallway listening through the door that day.

As I looked out through the window – a window in dire need of some cleaning or at least a good strong rain – just staring somewhat blankly into the distance seemed to muffle the din of room. Observing the buildings in the distance, the brightly clouded sky, the water towers on the rooftops across the street provided a pleasant distraction. At least momentarily. At least for me. Shuffle-hop-step… Reverse Cramp Roll… Push… Pull-back… STOMP! Over and over. Again and again. The roomful of Hopefuls – at this moment all men – were learning or, at least, attempting to learn a tap dance combination. Not easy stuff today. Very aggressive, very athletic. Very loud. Thankfully, I always keep a set of ear plugs – two sets, in fact – in my bag, so those helped to protect my ears from any possible auditory damage. Alas, there’s only so much noise they can keep out, and since I still had to hear the "sounds" in conjunction with my own playing, I could not totally isolate myself from the twenty pairs of tap shoes making contact with the studio floor.

I noticed the small length of pink ribbon sitting at the top end of the keyboard, just resting quietly on the highest B-flat. Previously, it was used to tie up a small bag of macarons that I had bought at lunch. I just happened to come across a recently opened café on 36th Street: a sliver of a place which consisted of a counter, a display case, a set of chairs and a small couch. More of a café in spirit, if not in execution or square footage. Besides the macarons – one violette and matcha green tea (which always seems somewhat redundant labeling to me) – my petit déjeuner included a baguette layered with a few slices of jambon and gruyère, sliced cornichons, moutarde and beurre.  A Ham and Cheese Sandwich which the café’s management called a "Paris".  Alas, when the order was called back to the kitchen, it was a "pair-riss", and not a "pah-ree". Ce ne fait rien. At least the proprietor was a true Monsieur.

As I played the brief excerpt of music, the piece of pink ribbon proceeded to do its own dance. Not only was it rocking along to the shuffling boogie that I was playing, but it was also succumbing to the room-quake caused by the 20 men dancing just a few feet away – the literal repercussions of each footfall. Between repetitions, it would settle back into place, although, if a breeze would come through the window, I would watch to see if it would get blown further down the keyboard or onto the floor, but it managed to stay put.

After the teaching phase was done, it was time for the Hopefuls to dance for the judges: the assistant choreographer and the casting director. The assistant choreographer’s assistant, the "dance demonstrator", for today went through the combination one more time before each Hopeful went up for their final exam as it were. He counted off the tempo, "5… 6… 5, 6, 7, 8…".  I started playing. As he danced/demonstrated, he called out the names of each step – a vocabulary still somewhat embarrassingly foreign to me after many years of playing dance auditions. Some of the Hopefuls just watched and listened, others moved their feet along with the demonstration checking to see if their movements were in sync. Still others just closed their eyes, running the steps in their head, hoping (and praying) for the best.

Three names were called out. The first three Hopefuls were lined up left to right. This time, after receiving a nod from the people behind the table, I started the count-off… 5… 6… My left hand hit the first octave of the descending bass line… 5, 6… My right hand started playing the offbeats… 7, 8… And we were off. The three Hopefuls picked up their left foot for the first step, then three taps made contact with the floor a fraction of a second later, while three pairs of eyes and ears watched and listened and evaluated. Two hands, ten fingers played along, emphasizing the rhythms, accenting the downbeats to help keep everyone from rushing. Eight short measures of music, 12 seconds later, it was over.  Well, at least for a few seconds, just enough time for the three Hopefuls to catch their breath before running the combination one more time. And then it was over. Another three names were called out, the next three Hopefuls lined up, the nod from the table… Line Up. Dance. Repeat.

By this time in the day, this whole routine had already been completed three times. The day started off with a group of women and a group of men before lunch, and another group of women after lunch. We were dancing the final group of men for the day before moving onto the singing portion of the process. Due to the number of people that were called back, that needed to be heard, the singing part of the day was a flurry of 16-bar cuts of pop/rock songs, or at least something resembling a pop/rock song for some of the Hopefuls. Lots of Billy Joel and Elton John, Cyndi Lauper, Janis Joplin, etc. Towards the end of the session, I found myself just playing what was put in front of me, not really recognizing the titles, the melodies. It had all become a visual and aural blur.

After the last singer had come back to the piano to reclaim his "book", the three-ring binder filled with the copies of his music, I began to put the piano back in order. As I lowered the fallboard, I noticed the length of pink ribbon still sitting quietly on the upper keys. After the countless repetitions of the dance music, it was still there. After all the dance-induced rumbling, it’s shiny finish still reflected the dull, yellow-gray output of the fluorescent ceiling lights. It reminded me of the café I had discovered on my lunch break, and of the two dainty, delicate and delicious pastries that were placed in a small cellophane bag that was then tied and sealed with that piece of pink ribbon. I continued to close the fallboard, leaving the ribbon undisturbed, content in its stillness. I wondered if it was afraid of the dark, of being closed off from the rest of room. And I wondered – No! – I Hoped that the next person to open the piano, after catching a glimpse of that piece of pink ribbon out of the corner of their eye, would suddenly think to themselves, "Ah, macarons."



Gimme, Gimme – You’ve Got That Thing – Vanilla Ice Cream – Her Face – Stranger to the Rain – I Could Write a Book – The Hostess with the Mostest – Sweet Thursday – Almost Like Being in Love – Could I Leave You? – Rain – A Summer In Ohio – Home – As We Stumble Along – It’s an Art – I Believe In You – Goodnight, My Someone – I Can Hear the Bells – What Do I Need With Love? – Easy Street – Days of Plenty – A Little Bit In Love – Someday – You Should Be Loved – Sailing – Your Daddy’s Son – Don’t Tell Mama – Dance Ten, Looks Three – I Won’t Send Roses – Some People – I Could Have Danced All Night

When I woke up today, it was just so nice not having to be up and out of bed and functioning by 8:00am Central Time. However, I am always amazed – and proud of myself! – for being able to switch over my bodily waking-sleeping schedule like that when I need to do so. I have no qualms when it comes to admitting that I am not a "morning person", but at least I know I can play one in real life from time to time. In Memphis, I basically worked six to seven hours each day – well, there was a lunch break in there too – but the monologues and the other periodic breaks helped to ease the built-in stress and fatigue that comes with any set of auditions.

Gimme, Gimme – How Could I Ever Know? – Keeping Out of Mischief Now – Here I Am – The Life of the Party – Heartbreak Hotel – Miss Byrd – Don’t Do Sadness – My White Knight – Solla Sollew – Those Were The Good Old Days – Easy Money – Dancing Through Life – It’s a Perfect Relationship – And They’re Off – Old-Fashioned Love Story – The Streets of Dublin – Our Time – Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun – The Girl in 14G – The Devil You Know – Comedy Tonight – The Beauty Is – Into the Fire – One Track Mind – Dancing All the Time – Fools Fall In Love – I Wanna Go Home – Younger Than Springtime – You Can Always Count On Me – A Wonderful Guy – Gorgeous – My New Philosophy – Maybe This Time

All in all, it was a pretty good batch of auditions. Thankfully, the ratio of Good to Bad was very much in favor of the Good this year, but, at least from my perspective, there weren’t as many "WOW!"s as I would have liked. However, I did find myself giving some very hearty nods of approval from time to time. I was particularly impressed with one young man who sang two simple, non-show-off-y songs. He sang them well with a perfect sense of style and with no personal interpolations. He was not trying to prove something. He was just being himself. Very honest. Very refreshing. Very smart.

Gimme, Gimme – I Am On My Way – That Dirty Old Man – Take A Chance On Me – Poisoning Pigeons in the Park – Wherever He Ain’t – On the Street Where You Live – Legally Blonde – I Want To Be A Producer – Not A Day Goes By – Waiting For Life – Enchantment Passing Through – Roadkill – Maybe I Like It This Way – The Music That Makes Me Dance – Bride’s Lament – Infinite Joy – Lucky to Be Me – Never Neverland – Beauty School Dropout – Take Me or Leave Me – Times Like This – Use What You Got – Mama Who Bore Me – One Hundred Easy Ways – The Highest Judge of All – Life With Harold – Coffee – Astoria Gloria – A Trip to the Library – Daddy – Notice Me, Horton – The Sadder-But-Wider Girl – Holding to the Ground – Ol’ Man River – Rita’s Tune – Someone To Watch Over Me

Of course, there were a few crash-and-burns, train wrecks, totally botched auditions – it’s just the nature of the beast, the luck of the draw. Some of these not-so-good auditions resulted from a bad choice of material – songs and/or monologues. Others were hurt by severe lack of preparation. Some self-delusion also seemed to be in evidence this year. Sadly, I could also tell that some people were the victims of bad advice, teaching and coaching; coupled with a lack of honesty, reality, from the people giving them pre-audition opinions and criticism. I would have thought that with the popularity of "American Idol" that people – well, at least actors – would be a bit more honestly self-critical in regards to evaluating their talents. -Especially after paying for headshots, registration fees, airplane tickets, hotel rooms, cab fare, etc., to just get to the audition. It’s a far cry from taking the R Train into Manhattan for $2.00.

Gimme, Gimme – Gooch’s Song – Tonight – A Quiet Thing – Nobody Does It Like Me – A New World – She Loves Me – So Many People – I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today – Lost and Found – Nothing – You Must Meet My Wife – Jimmy – Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat – That’ll Show Him – My True Love – My Rules – Look What Happened to Mabel – The Finer Things – Someone Like You – Where in the World – This Place Is Mine – Let It Sing – Forest For the Trees – See What I Wanna See – Not While I’m Around – No Other Love – Home (the other one) – Till There Was You – Lost In The Wilderness – Glitter and Be Gay – Art Is Calling for Me – Soliloquy – There’s a Fine, Fine Line – Should I Be Sweet? – Anything – Come To Your Senses – Kind of Woman

As I mentioned, there was a lot of Good this year, and, there was also a greater variety of songs and monologues being presented. Anytime you get just under 1000 actors in one place – or even just 20, there’s bound to be some duplications of material along the way. Again, it’s just the nature of the beast. However, there were more than a few times during the last day of auditions when I would take my first look at someone’s music, and say to them, "We haven’t heard that one yet." -Which, of course, would bring a big smile (of relief) to their face. There were even a few "Greatest Hits" that did make the rotation this time around: no "Maria" (from West Side Story, not Paint Your Wagon), no "Defying Gravity", no "Old Red Hills of Home", no "Green Finch and Linnet Bird". No "I Can Cook Too"!?!?!?

Gimme, Gimme – If I Can’t Love Her – Astonishing – Dear, Friend – Crossword Puzzle – Sara Lee – I’ll Know – You Don’t Know This Man – Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee – What Is It About Her? – All That Jazz – I Am Adolpho – Hold On – Lost In The Wilderness – Glitter and Be Gay – The Mason – One Night with You – No Man Left For Me – You Don’t Know This Man – Winter’s On The Wing – There Won’t Be Trumpets – A Cockeyed Optimist – What Did I Have That I Don’t Have? – If You Could See Her – Thank You for the Music – Much More – Schaudenfreude – Turn Back, O Man – Me – Is It Really Me? – (Not) Getting Married Today – On the Street Where You Live – Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm – Let Yourself Go

So, today is my recovery day. My first auditon-free day in over a week. A month from now, I will be repeating the same duties for the SETC auditions in Chattanooga. In the meantime, well at least for today, I shall watch the snow fall (yes, I’m happy about that), perhaps take a walk in it, watch the some TV, hang out with some friends. I don’t have to be "on" today. I don’t "have" to smile. I can giggle out loud.

Oh, and…

Gimme, Gimme

An interesting thing happened towards the end of my audition day. It started off with one of those "everything in a second" moments:

I looked at the music… I looked at the actor… I started to play… I noticed some writing on the music… A cue line?… I noticed the actor start to speak… Or was he opening his mouth to sing?… Was the actor going to stop me and start his audition again?… I finished playing the very short intro… Still he did not stop me… Then the actor started singing…

For the next 30-40 seconds as he sang, and as I accompanied him, my mind raced: Was I wrong? Did I throw the actor off? Should I just go ahead and stop and request to start again? As the actor held the last note of the song, and as I played the "outro", I hoped and hoped for the best. Then I heard him start his monologue, and from the very first words I could tell that they were leading to the phrase that he had printed on his music. Another 30 or so seconds later, when I heard those words spoken, my heart sank even more.  When the actor turned back upstage and approached the piano to collect his music, I did not want to look at his face, but I knew it was something I had to do. When my eyes briefly met his, I could sense the confusion, the shock, even some anger (which was totally understandable under these circumstances), the self-control. I received the confirmation I did not want to receive. Unfortunately, due to the situation, the process, all I could do while handing him back his music was to say somewhat sheepishly, "I’m sorry." I had to maintain a semblance of a smile, an air of "nothing is wrong" in order not to upset the next person. He did not say anything to me after he took his music, and started to walk away. I still questioned my questions.

All of that in just a little under 90 seconds.

After those 90 seconds – after that audition – I made sure I asked the right questions. Confirmed and reconfirmed the answers I received. There was even one person who turned back to me once they were in place to say that they were doing their monologue first. Did word already get back to those waiting to go on? Or was she just in her own world of self-security?

In an earlier post, I had asked, "Do I care too much?"  Now I know that I do. That I must.

Did my mistake possibly cost the actor a job? Did my mistake ruin that actor’s day beyond his time in the audition room? Did he think that I did that on purpose? Did he think that I wanted to sabotage his chances for getting a job? Did I offend him? Did I hurt him?  All of that and more was going through my mind during and after(!) those 90 seconds. Another 90 seconds later, I did confess to those in attendance that I had made that mistake: hopefully to explain any confusion or unsure footing they might have sensed from that actor during the course of his audition. Alas, my confession felt a bit too little, too late.

I am not foolish nor self-deluded enough to say that I am the one in charge during an audition. Yes, I have joked from time to time that I can make or break someone – Well, I’ll just play it my way! –  but it is so against my nature to actually follow through on that faux-threat. Even with my not-so-favorite people that I end up playing for audition after audition – sometimes more than once in the same week – I just can’t make them have a bad audition. The revenge would most definitely not be sweet.

I have two more days of auditions to go. There are another 400 musical auditions. Another 400 songs to play. Another 400 Actors. Another 400 reasons to care too much.

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.

Wow! That’s a lot of eye-shadow… And perfume… Whoa!
Hi! And what are you singing today?

(Puts music on piano)
That’s not going to stay on the piano – Put it in a binder!

Well, I’m just gonna start here, and then at the end, I hold the note for a bit longer. I’m sorry I don’t have this in a book.
Well, at least she apologized for not having it in a binder.
OK. How slow do you want to take it?

Tap-Tap-Tap-Tap
Hmm… That’s a bit fast.
That seems a little on the fast side.

Oh, yeah, I tend to like it faster than normal.
What’s normal?!?!?
OK.

I’ll just give you a head nod to start. Can you play my first pitch for me right before I start singing?
No, I’m not going to give you your pitch, bi-yatch. You should have that pitch ingrained in your head. Of course, I’m going to give you your pitch, Duh!
Sure. Do you want me to come right in with you? or just catch you on the downbeat?

Yes.
Do not roll your eyes, Do not roll your eyes…
OK.

Thanks. And just wait for my head nod.
I heard you the first time. And it’s written on your music.
OK.

(Goes to center of room. Looks down. Takes deep breath. Nods head.)
(
Play pitch…)

Oh, not yet.
You said to start after you nodded your head…
Oh, I’m sorry.

Just wait for my head nod.
But you did nod your head.
Yes.

(Puts head down. Takes deep breath. Looks at me. Nods head.)
(Play pitch…) Oh, she does want me to play the lead-in with her…

Although he may not be the man some
This is "normal"…

Girls think of handsome
Get to the pitch, get to the pitch…

To my heart he carries the keeee-…
Almost there… Almost there…

-eeeey
Ouch!

Won’t you tell him please to put on some speed,
What were those notes?… Damn, this pedal squeaks

Follow my lead,
This is the end of the group, right?

Oh, how I need
Looks like two more to go till lunch

Someone to watch
Falafel or Chinese?

over me
Oh! she’s taking the turn around ending…

Someone to watch
Someone to give

O-
me

-ver
a

me.
clue.
-eeeeeeee… And she’s not holding that last note out..

(Comes over to piano.)

(Hand her her music.)

(Starts to walk out of the room.)

You’re welcome… You’re Welcome… You’re Welcome…

Next!

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