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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
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
The mezzo-soprano was in the middle of spinning the second phrase of "La flûte de Pan"…
Pour le jour de Hyacinthies,
Il m’a donné une…
…when the gentleman turned to his female companion and whispered something along the lines of "Oh, she sings well, no? And in French too!" The requisite head nods of agreement and self-confirmation soon followed. I was seated in the second row of the small hall, and this couple was seated in front of me… In the front row. During the pause before "La chevelure", the woman picked up her program, then pointed out where the next sets of texts and translations started…
Il m’a dit: "Cette nui, j’ai rêve."
Another set of head nods accompanied by some still-audible murmurings of the English translations, which I then realize were colored with a Germanic accent.
The whispering, the head nodding and program shuffling continued throughout Debussy’s Chansons de Bilitis, and I eventually realized that I was not alone in my irritation at the apparent lack of manners on display. Other audience members in the immediate vicinity started to look over at them too. At one point, I was about to put my hand on the shoulder of the gentleman as a way of silently saying, "Please, could you be more respectful of the Artists… Who just happen to be performing just six feet away from you!?" However, I was afraid any sort of gentle physical contact would have prompted an ever more audible and demonstrative response, so I refrained.
After "Le tombeau des naïades" came to a close, there were a few moments of silence followed by a well-deserved and freely offered round of applause. As the applause died down, I was able to confirm that the couple sitting in front of me were indeed German – well, perhaps even Austrian. The woman then turned around looking for some friends who were seated a couple of rows back, motioning them to come join her in the front row since the seats next to her remained unoccupied. Apparently, her friends wished to stay put for the time being which resulted in the woman making even larger gestures in exasperation. All I could think to myself was, "Good. They’re not to join her. That would just give her more people to talk to during the recital."
The house lights dimmed once again, the door stage left opened, and the Artists walked back onto the stage. Of course, this only prompted the couple in front of me to re-shuffle and re-open their programs to the texts of the Schumann, followed by more audible whispering and head-nodding. As the pianist played those first two pensive quarter notes chords, they were still whispering, talking to each other. I just had to take action. While gently placing my hand on the man’s right shoulder, I whispered….
"Silence, s’il vous plait."
Why I suddenly started uttering in French is beyond me, and I even ended up laughing at myself, to myself – inaudibly! – for a split second. However, my very gentle protestation seemed to do the trick. Silence.
Seit ich ihn gesehen, glaub’ ich blind zu sein;
Wo ich hin nur blicke, seh’ ich ihn allein;
Wie im wachen Traume schwebt sein Bild mir vor,
Taucht aus tiefstem Dunkel heller, heller nur empor.
Sadly, halfway through "Du Ring am meinem Finger", the women raised her program up to eye level, pointed to something, and then nudged her companion to look at what she was looking at: the pianist’s program biography. And, yes, during the brief piano postlude that completes Frauenliebe und -Leben, they started conferring with each other again, long before the pianist extinguished the ringing of the final notes by releasing the damper pedal. Intermission.
As I re-setttled myself in my seat, I noticed that the woman’s friends had gone ahead and joined her in the front row for the second half of the program. What is the German for "Please, be quiet"? Fortunately, the other couple seemed to be on their better behavior. Truth be told, it seemed that the husband did not really want to be there, and he remained slouched – and silent! – in his seat throughout the Harbison and de Falla song cycles. The woman and her companion also seemed to be a bit more settled during the second half, although, I could tell they were questioning exactly what an "aerial" was during "Ballad for Billie I" – more finger-pointing and whispering. Then there was the rhythmic head-nodding and hair-bouncing during the more dance-inspired selections of the Siete canciones populares Españolas, "Jota" seemed particularly motion-inducing. Even I will admit to air-playing along with the right and left hand patterns of the guitar-invoking accompaniments from time to time, but at least the pressing of my fingers against my jeans produced no sound unlike the slight jangle of the woman’s earrings or the scuffing of her blond curls against her companion’s nylon jacket…
Dicen que no nos queremos
Porque no nos ven hablar;
A tu corazón y al mio
Se lo pueden preguntar.
This was my second vocal recital in as many days. The night before, I had attended Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s recital in the main auditorium of Carnegie Hall. This night’s recital was being held in the more intimate(!) Weill Recital Hall, and featured the mezzo-soprano, Sasha Cooke, filling in for an indisposed Joseph Kaiser. Song recitals hold a special place in my heart. While I was in college, I discovered the true Joy and Beauty of the Human Voice, and I subsequently devoted a good chunk of my studies to Classical Art Song Literature as both an Accompanist and a Singer. I accompanied voraciously. There were a few times when I had up to 15 voice majors to play for during the end of semester juries. -I still have the three-ring binders filled with all the Xerox copies of all of that repertoire! I even sang a few juries myself. I was also blessed with a wonderful Song Literature teacher and departmental Vocal Coach who was more than happy to let me sit in on other singer’s coachings from time to time.
When I saw the program for Sasha Cooke’s recital, it was like seeing a couple of old friends. I had studied the Debussy, Schumann and de Falla songs while I was in college. (The Harbison cycle, "North and South" was written a couple of years after I had graduated.) Although I was looking forward to hearing Liszt’s "Petrarcan Sonnets", and the selection of Rachmaninov songs on Joseph Kaiser’s originally scheduled program, I had heard the Liszt earlier this season, and the Siberian baritone had more than satisfied my Russian romance requirements for the time being. Being familiar with Ms. Cooke’s program allowed me to put my program and translations in my bag, and just sit back and enjoy the recital. Just Watch and Listen. Alas, I found myself watching and listening to other things during the course of the recital. -Thankfully, there were no errant cell-phone rings during Ms. Cooke’s recital, unlike the night before during Mr. Hvorostovsky’s concert – at least four times! – and always during the quieter sections!!!
Being a somewhat-former somewhat-performer myself, I really do try my best to be the Perfect Audience Member (PAM, for short). I arrive at the hall early enough to get seated, and if I know I am sitting in the middle of the row, I will make sure to take my place early enough in order not to inconvenience the others in my row sitting to the side of me. I dress appropriately. -Although due to an oversight on my part – "Oh, the recital starts at 7:30, not 8:00!" – I was not able to run home in time to put on more presentable clothing, and I ended up feeling a bit self-conscious as I sat there in the second row in my half-zip fleece pullover. I turn my cell-phone off – even "vibrations" can be heard. If needed, I keep my paper-wrapped Ricola’s in my hand ready to go at a moment’s notice. And if I’m not that familiar with the repertoire, I read the program notes and translations beforehand so that I can devote my full attention to the stage, and not have my head buried in the program reading along and cross-referencing the song text with the translations.
As I sat there listening to and watching the Artists and my fellow Audience members, I began to wonder just why I was being distracted by the low murmurs and the shuffling of the programs? If I really was paying full attention to what was going on on stage, then I would not and should not have been distracted by anything else going on around me. Right? Was I no longer the PAM I prided myself on being? Had I suddenly become one of Them?
With vocal recitals, in particular, I find myself from time to time wanting to advise some of my fellow audience members to Look Up and Listen. Stop reading along. Stop trying to match up each German word with the corresponding English word. The Singer is Singing. Communicating. Just let the Singer Communicate with You, to You. A related annoyance occurs whenever I attend a piano recital where Ravel’s "Gaspard de la Nuit" is being played. Inevitably, there will be people reading the texts and translations of the poems (if provided) that inspired the triptych, seemingly trying to match up the French and English(!) syllables with the piano figurations. But again: Why do I notice such things?
After a bit of theorizing – and, boy, did I come up with some far-flung theories – the answer to that question suddenly became quite obvious. If I was on that stage, I would want an audience filled with PAMs. A bit narcissistic, yes, but not an unreasonable request. Whether I was playing a Beethoven sonata, a Chopin ballade, or accompanying a singer or instrumentalist, I would want – and hope – the audience to Listen. A Musician’s life has good a deal of isolation built into it. A practice room can truly be the most "separate" place anyone can know, an inherent loneliness. Before a piece of music – or even just a brief phrase of it – can be shared with others or just your teacher, it must be pored over, dissected and repeated many times over, and the only ears that ever hear it during that process are your own. At times, it can seem like you are forcing yourself to listen to the music. Or vice versa. But then you reach that point where you want another set of ears to take in what you have been creating and re-creating. Music is Sound, and Sound is meant to go through the air. To borrow another analogy: If a pianist plays Chopin’s "Revolutionary" Etude, and there is no one in the audience to hear it…
I guess I should give my fellow audience members a break, or at least not allow myself to get so upset when such distractions occur. I was already feeling slightly uncomfortable sitting in Weill Hall dressed in a more casual manner than I would have liked, but then to have them right in front of me – and right in front of the Artists – well…
As the encores started, something almost miraculous happened. -I noticed this night before during Hvorostovsky’s recital too. Yes, there were a few mutterings throughout the audience as the pianist began playing the introduction – "What piece is this?", "Ah, very nice!" – but once Ms. Cooke started singing…
Yeshjo f paljah beleyet snek,
A vody ush vesnoi shumjat,
Begut i budjat sonnyi brek,
Begut i bleshjut, i glasjat…
There was no translation to consult. There was no program to rustle. There were just two Artists on stage. Playing and Singing. Sharing and Communicating. And for a few minutes – during Rachmaninov’s "Spring Waters" and the haunting aria from John Adams’ "Doctor Atomic" – the hall was filled with PAMs. Listening. Receiving. Remembering. Smiling.
And, yes, she sang very well. And in Russian too!
*I would be sorely remiss if I did not mention the fine pianists who performed along side these fine singers: Ivari Ilja did the honors for Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Pei-Yao Wang was Sasha Cooke’s musical partner.
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.
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.
A few weeks ago, I gave myself what you might call a self-administered reality check. I went to my shelf of music books, and pulled out a few "old friends": Bach’s "Two-Part Inventions" and "English Suites", Mozart’s "Rondo in A-minor", and Brahms’ "Fantasy Pieces, Op. 116". I had studied and performed a couple of Bach’s "Two-Part Inventions" early on, as almost all piano students do and will continue to do. I occasionally dabble with the English Suite in A-minor (Bach for grown-ups!), and the Mozart has always been one of those pieces that I know I will play some day. As for the Brahms, they were part of my Senior Recital in college (along with some Bach, Ravel and Ginastera).
My own "Classical Period" basically ended almost as soon as I graduated from college. Since then, I’ve made my living playing shows and show music. Broadway shows, tours, some cabaret work, and lots(!) of auditions. Due to orchestrations and economics, whenever I play in a pit of a show, I’m usually playing on an electronic keyboard (synthesizer), and not a real piano. Consequently, my fingers get and have gotten lazy over the past couple of years. No matter how "good" the feel and action is of a weighted keyboard, it will never truly feel the same as playing on a real piano. The vibrations just aren’t there. Of course, what do I usually practice on? -A Kurzweil PC-2X that I bought a couple of years ago. It has a decent piano sound, a decent "feel", but it is still nowhere near like playing a real piano. Not even the beloved Chickering upright my parents bought when I first started taking lessons. (Alas, my parents gave away that Chickering a few years ago without telling me. Even though it was not really my piano, it still was my piano. I still remember how I felt that day when I came home to visit, and noticed that the piano was no longer in the garage. An old, dear friend had gone away, and I never got a chance to say, "Goodbye.")
Even though I still listen to Classical music on practically a daily basis, I don’t play Classical music every day. So, every once and a while, I go back and read through some of the music that I grew up on just to keep my fingers "honest"; to remind me of how I used to play, and to reclaim (hopefully) some of the dexterity I’ve lost since finishing my degree.
I started with the Mozart. What a truly magical and mystical piece of music. Thankfully, it fits well under my fingers, and, technically speaking, it’s not that difficult. So, it was an easy read, and once I was done, I felt like I had spent enough time with it for the time being, and put it away. I would definitely come back to it again later.
I moved onto Bach. I started to read through the A-minor English Suite, and about eight bars into opening Prelude, I sadly realized that it had become a stranger since the last time I had pulled that score off the shelf. It was no longer in my fingers. OK! Moving on —
As soon as I started playing the first Two-Part Invention in C-major, there was something automatic, something very familiar. -And after that debacle with the English Suite, there was also a welcome sense of comfort and relief. After I finished the first one, I just kept turning the pages, playing each of the succeeding ones, sometimes stopping to fix things, sometimes just playing on. After I had read through all of them, I went back to the one in F-Major. The F-Major Two-Part Invention is one of those pieces that just says, practically yells, "I’m Bach!" And I’d bet if a person only knew one or two pieces of Bach, this would most likely be one of them. Or they would at least be able to identify it as Bach if they had not heard or seen it before. -Thank you, Wendy Carlos!
I went back to one of the fundamental ways of practicing: hands separately. I started with my right hand, playing that single line that is sometimes melody, sometimes accompaniment, sometimes both. Then I did the same with the left hand. Then it was back to the right hand. Wow! Was this piece this difficult when I was ten-years old? My brain just started to notice things it never noticed before, and those two lines of music became so much more than the sum of its parts. When I finally put both hands back together, I had a few train wrecks, a few stumbles… Oh, the counterpoint!.. Oh, the figure does this here, then this there… Hmm, I would love to check another edition to see if that note might be different… After spending more time on that than I ever thought I would – and after playing it through with almost no finger slips – I moved onto the Brahms. My fingers were warmed up, and my brain was most certainly in gear.