30-Day Reflection

I’m quite a bit overdue for my 30-day challenge reflection. Like I mentioned, this was a super-easy (theoretically) commitment to simply practice every day for 30 days.


The view from my home, which I just moved into this week, makes practicing a little more pleasant than, say, a random office at work with no windows and no heat…

There were a few days where life got in the way legitimately enough to prevent a completely perfect 30 days. We bought a new car, so after a half day at work, the husband and I went into Seattle (a 1.5 hour trek) to buy the car, and of course there is so much paperwork and approval from everybody that we didn’t leave Seattle until 8pm. No, I was not going to force myself to practice at 10pm when I had work the next morning.

I went to a small clarinet festival at one of the local universities and decided that scoping out clarinet lectures and recitals was as good as practice – it was at least active mental engagement in clarinet, and honestly, I think most musicians don’t listen enough. But that’s a different topic for a different day.

I think there was another day where my face was just so sore that I determined it was better to rest and listen than it was to try and play. It was also the day after I had a lesson, stayed for the symphony, and didn’t get home until midnight (that commute from Seattle, guys).

There was also a day or two where I just showed up, played some long tones, and called it a win. Perfection should not be the enemy of good enough. But having said that…

So what happens when you commit to doing something for 30 days straight (give or take a little bit of life)?

First, just getting through your fundamentals doesn’t cut it. That’s called survival mode when life gets too busy to dive deep into anything, but I couldn’t commit to 30 days of nothing but my one hour of long tones, tonguing, and scales every day. Bo-ring.

Consequently, my practice time increased to accommodate some literature. I chose orchestral excerpts.

Second, because you ARE still doing your fundamentals every day (you really are, right?), you start making more observations about pitch, tone, voicing, etc. and playing around with adjustments. I was no longer in spinning-wheels mode, I was actively in progress mode, and that’s motivating.

Third, since I’m a clarinet player, I started really giving a darn about the state of my reeds. I tried to challenge myself to work on reeds every day, and I got through the break-in process on one box and then halfway through another box before I got derailed. Thank goodness I hadn’t ACTUALLY made a 30-day commitment!

Finally, I also learned that a day of rest is really important, both physically and mentally. That can change based on the individual, but for me right now I need the consistency of 6 days a week, plus a day to recuperate.

During that time, I felt prepared enough to go in for a lesson, and the assignment I came away with was… substantial. Going back through the Jettel scale book and doing all C major and A minor scales, the first movement of Crusell’s 3rd clarinet concerto, and all the excerpts we didn’t make it through in my first lesson (which was most of them). That’s right back up to college-level playing assignments, which I’m thrilled about – nothing whips you into audition shape like playing ALL THE THINGS.

I mention the lesson because I realized that while practicing every day for 30 days got me into the habit and started getting me into shape again, it’s not enough. I need to make the most of my time in the practice room because I (and pretty much everyone else in the room) don’t have unlimited time to hash things out ad nauseum.

That brings me to my next 30-day challenge: journaling every day. When you’re done practicing, spend a few minutes reflecting on what went well during the practice session and what needs improvement. Set an intention for the next day, plus smaller goals for each of the things you’re working on. During the next practice session, each time you make an observation, write it down, and for each solution you try, write down whether it worked or not. And then at the end of the practice session, reflect again, set up the next day, and do it again.

But the point is this: write it all down. Every day.

It sounds like a lot. It is. The point is to create a habit of intentional practice instead of mindless repetition. Personally, I’m horrible at journaling. But there’s really nothing more obnoxious than doing a ton of work one day, then walking into the practice room and feeling like you made about 1% progress.

And with that, see you in 30 days! (give or take)


30-Day Practice Challenge

Well here I am suddenly in the Pacific Northwest, right in the midst of fall.


This is the view outside our room at the Navy Lodge. Not gonna lie, the fall colors are gorgeous, and the whole place smells like… nature.

The smell of earth, bark, and crunchy leaves is awesome, but honestly it makes me miss the smells of all the Hawaiian flowers in the evenings. And being able to walk outside without having to guess if I’m going to be hot or cold. And swimming in the ocean instead of a dingy 25-yard pool. I could keep going…

We had two days of sun, and then it just turned straight up cloudy. My reeds are unhappy. My feet are unhappy. My brain is unhappy.

So with that, enter a 30-day challenge.

Between PCS-ing and trying to close the fiscal year simultaneously at my last command, I found that I literally practiced only two days a week, three if it was a good week, since August. That’s a lot of not practice, and while people say that oh hey, you need a break once in a while, my break was supposed to be only when we went on vacation at the end of July. Basically, since mid-July, I have not had a consistent practice routine.

I’ve heard people get down on 30-day challenges because once the challenge is over, what are you going to do? I look at it as a way to re-create consistency. My lofty goal? Practice every day for 30 days, including the weekends. I’m already on day 3! Yay for streaks!

It doesn’t have to be the most amazing practice session. If all I do is show up and do some fundamentals and scales, I’ve won. If I’m having a good day and play longer, then all the better.

The beauty of a 30-day challenge is that you either do it or you don’t. You don’t get to shift around days off or tell yourself that you’re feeling a little too tired today to do the practice. You show up, and you practice.

When I’m done with this, my next 30-day challenge will be a reed challenge, where every day I work on reeds, whether I need to or not. Again, the benefit is doing something consistently for long enough that it becomes part of your routine. Plus, the more you do something, the better you get at it. I might even end up with front-loaded reeds that are broken-in and balanced but can then sit and stabilize until I actually need them.

And maybe after that, I’ll do a 30-day listen-to-clarinet-music challenge, cuz we all need to listen more to be better musicians. Or maybe that’ll be my challenge for after the baby is here and I’m not practicing until I’m cleared to exercise. The possibilities are endless!

Just a thought for the next time you want to shake things up!

Stretching Without Striving

I got this phrase from a book I’ve been slowly working my way through, called Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World. I came to it because I’ve been really stressed out recently – January was a rough month, to say the least, and I followed it up in February with an audition for the Unit Leader Course and the Navy advancement exam the following week.

It resulted in an astoundingly horrendous performance for my audition. Sure, people will say it was fine, they got what they needed to put together my application for the course, blah blah blah, but for me it amounted to a giant step backward in the mental work I’ve done.

First of all, I did no mental preparation for this in-house audition. I now know that was a big mistake. It’s actually probably been about a year that I’ve consistently done mental work, so I’m refocusing on the the thing that I had the hardest time with: focus.

But I also realized that I had to start getting control over the thoughts inside my head as I get busy with collaterals in my ongoing pursuit of ninja status on my clarinet. This book I linked above is free for Amazon Prime readers, and I’m kinda surprised – it’s a real gem.

Can you stretch without striving?

This came from the body movement meditation. Can you stretch without striving?

Can you push your limits without straining? Can you find the soft edge of your abilities and nudge them gently, stopping just short of causing unnecessary tension and strain?

I’ve been playing around, literally, with these concepts the last week or so, and I find I enjoy my practicing and I’m making better strides. The best athletes know which muscles to contract to execute their movements while keeping everything else relaxed. In order for one muscle to contract and create movement, the opposite muscle needs to relax; if they both try to contract, movement is impossible. Breathing is impossible. Technique is impossible.

The first one I’ve come to tackle is my throat. When I get nervous, or when I get desperate to get better NOW, I tighten my throat. I did this for years – still do – and for the longest time didn’t even know what a relaxed throat felt like. I figured it out by learning how to swim freestyle, of all things, but when you have years and years of a bad habit, it’s hard to undo. There’s all kinds of emotional baggage attached to your bad habits, but here’s the thing: you are not your habits. So let them go. Honestly, it was a little scary. A tight throat is all I know. But what happens if I don’t tighten my throat? Oh wait, I use my diaphragm, and wow what a difference!

So how do I now stretch without striving?

I apply it to my daily scales. I’m slowly trying to make my technique faster (it’s not that fast, on the grand scale of clarinetists), but I do it by picking a tempo that is slow enough that I can concentrate on keeping my throat relaxed and my fingers relaxed but snappy. And then I’ll do another round bumped up 20 beats. And then maybe, in a few weeks, I’ll feel so comfortable and it’ll be so automatic that I’ll bump the baseline up another 10 beats, and then do another round 20 beats faster, always focusing on making my faster round as relaxed and even as my slower round. That’s just a suggestion.

My other one is mastering the flutter tongue and the clarinet glissando, two things that I should have mastered a long time ago but didn’t.

I was one of those people who couldn’t roll their rrrrrs. Was. I actually taught myself how to do it, after a week of walking around like a dufus and asking a lot of bewildered people how they roll their rrrrrrs. So I at least take pride in being evidence that it’s not genetic.

But put the clarinet in my mouth and flutter? That one took me another two weeks, and I’m only now at the point where I can succeed in making it happen 10 times in a row. That’s not with a metronome, that’s not on any note other than open G. But I went from zero to 10, and now that I can do it 10 times, my knee-jerk reaction is to try all the things I can find with a flutter, only to be disappointed that I can’t even remotely do it in context. And so I take a step back and know that if I relax, take a deep breath, and focus on how it feels to do it correctly, I will do it correctly, and soon it’ll become second nature, just like rolling my rrrrrs did after a lifetime of being unable.

The key in all of this is to take my challenge and make sure I only go as fast as I can execute with relaxation. Any faster, anything that puts unnecessary tension in my playing, means it’s time to take a step back.

I’m turning my practice time into my own little meditation, and I have to say I like it.


Post-Audition Blues

It took a little longer than normal for them to strike, and it’s something I think people don’t really talk about. My colleagues have always been great about asking me, “Hey, how are you doing?” shortly after an audition. Each of us has our own timeline for hitting the “Wow, I suck, no wonder they didn’t hire me” phase of auditioning.

For me, that timeline is about two weeks.

Immediately after an audition, I’m like, “YEAH! I GOT THIS! WOOOOOOO!” and I’m chomping at the bit for the next one. This year, I went straight from the auditions into hard-core end-of-year hoops in the band’s fiscal department, followed by the E-6 nightmare exam.

Having those other majors stressors to keep my mind occupied kept me focused and motivated (if you could call it motivated… maybe more like just stressed), but as each of them drops away one by one, I find myself with just a little bit of free time to think about things, and that’s when it hits.

I did finally get my comments back from the Air Force Band. They liked my Mozart, straight up – probably the first time I actually got a compliment on an audition sheet. They thought my tone was a little stuffy (fair, the room is dead and my reeds didn’t love D.C., and I still have serious tone issues to work out) but loved my phrasing. And as for the excerpts? Beethoven 4 had good counting and rhythm, but I let the tone get a little harsh and spready on the high Ds and Cs, and then from there the Gounod and the Dahl were rhythmically inconsistent. No mention of my squeak.

When I listen back to my Marine Band audition recording, I can hear the same things, inconsistencies that don’t happen in my mock auditions either because of nerves or jet lag or lack of preparation, or all of the above (I lean toward all of the above). I fortunately have a backlog of recordings that I can listen to and realize that those problems are not inherent to my playing, but they sure show themselves in auditions.

And that squeak that I focused so much on? It was a symptom of greater problems. A train doesn’t just fall off its tracks randomly, there’s usually some underlying issue. In my case, still playing too fast for control. My usual rule is to aim for 10 beats under. Maybe I need to aim for 20 in audition situations.

So anyway, yeah about last Thursday the slump finally hit. I have chamber music to play with colleagues, and some of it is even on the Bb soprano clarinet (oh the joy!) I had that to hang on to, going with friends to see Composed, a new documentary about performance anxiety (so appropriately timed for me), and getting back to really enjoying my last year in Hawaii, but sometimes all I really wanted was a cold, rainy day so I had a good excuse to face plant in a Ted’s chocolate haupia pie and sleep for 12 hours.

I suspect I’m not the only one who goes through this. In a few weeks, I’ll probably be back in fighting shape again, but until then, it’s time to treat myself to extra sleep, sunshine, and good music and remind myself why I bothered to put myself through that… again.

If you’re reading, feel free to share your favorite post-auditon pick-me-up! We could all use a few more tools in the box!

Audition Challenge 3.0, Week 1

Yeah I got my countdown wrong! Time to discuss this past week, which was really Week 0 – the President’s Own audition.

As far as travel goes, a lot of the “silliness” I do turned out in my favor. I tried to book as cheap as possible, so for my flight to D.C., I chose American Airlines and had a three-leg flight: Honolulu to LA, LA to Dallas, and Dallas to D.C., leaving Friday night at 10:30 HST and arriving Saturday at 10:50 EDT. Coming back, I was flying Frontier from D.C. to Las Vegas with a layover in Denver, then switching to Hawaiian for another red-eye flight that would get me home at 5am the day after the audition – and planning on rescheduling those flights if I advanced in the audition.

Considering the multiple-carriers on the return day, I decided to go carry-ons only and managed to pack my entire life into a single tote bag – I wore my audition pants and shoes and packed pajamas, socks, changes of underwear, and two extra shirts, plus toiletries, in said tote bag. I carried my clarinets and a lunch box with every single meal already frozen or portioned out. That’s psycho, people.

But when my 4 hour layover in LA turned into 8 1/2 hours because my departing plane broke, I had food. And when I ended up staying in a Days Inn in Dallas because, due to the delay, I missed the last flight from Dallas to D.C., I had toiletries, pajamas, and a fresh change of underwear and shirt. And even breakfast for the next morning.

These are the things that reduce stress, and I consider that vitally important. Shit’s going to go wrong. It just doesn’t have to ALL go wrong!

Needless to say, I got there in one piece, but I can’t even begin with the level of exhaustion that comes from “sleeping” on a red-eye on Friday, getting 4 hours of sleep in a Days Inn on Saturday, and then having Sunday be the only day to try and de-jet lag and catch up on all of it before the audition.

Fortunately, a lot of the work I did with the Bulletproof Musician course helped keep my brain in “game mode” when it mattered. For anybody who has significant performance anxiety, I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’m only beginning to scratch the surface, but it did some incredible things for me.

So about the President’s Own audition:

Unlike the other military band auditions (or most other professional auditions, for that matter), you don’t get assigned a time block before you arrive. You arrive sometime between 7:15 and noon, preferably before 8am, and you get assigned your number in the order you show up.

I showed up at 8am, and was assigned number 53… out of 65. OMG. I knew I wouldn’t be playing until after lunch, so I got to meet up with one of the drum majors, who oddly enough was the drum major instructor when I was at the Armed Forces School of Music. She got me green tea and we chatted.

Then, no joke, I took a nap on the couch in the lounge. Girl’s gotta nap. I napped with this app that was recommended for me. It works. It was also like $13, but I figure if I spent as much as I did on sports psychology for musicians, what’s another $13?

Unlike past auditions, they didn’t post the list anywhere. You got the list in the final 3-5 minutes before you went in to the audition. That’s brutal!

And, in complete WTF fashion, I sat in a practice room for an hour, since they have a lot of practice rooms to go around, and near the end of the hour, it was time for the solar eclipse so, surprise, they took a solar eclipse break. At that point, I was just twiddling my thumbs. I might have been the only person there who warmed up, ran through my excerpts once under tempo, and then just let it sit. I was definitely not psyched out or psyched up or anything – I just spent the rest of it visualizing, and it worked.

The neat thing was that when I walked into the audition room, I was able to take stock of where I was and what it looked like. Usually from the stress, I remember just a big black void and me being scared (in discussions with others, this seems to be pretty common). This time around, I was able to notice the cream-colored curtain between the panel and me, the bright red curtains on the walls, and how BRIGHT the room was! And who knew, when I played the first note, the sound came out sounded… like me. No nervous vibrato, no “WHAT IS COMING OUT OF MY HORN?!?!?!?!?!” none of that.

That’s how I gauged my progress, because sure enough, my fingers froze in the fourth excerpt and I was dismissed from the room. So if you monitor your progress by advancing versus not advancing, I’m still a honking failure. Except that I’m not.

For those who want to know, the list was: Mozart first page (more or less), Ballet Music from FaustCarmen IntermezzoPolovetsian Dances, and the first excerpt from the Mozart Serenade. It was halfway into Polovetsian that I had my unfortunate finger blunder, and it’s again just a lapse in focus.

Only 5 people advanced anyway. That’s just this audition for ya.

Okay, so I scrambled home, made it to the airport 20 minutes before boarding (thank goodness I still had frozen dinner on me), made it in to Honolulu at 5am, showed up for command PT at 7:30, and my command said, “You’re here. Go home and take a nap.”

Best. Sentence. Ever.

And that’s that. The real question is where do I go from here?

I’m taking stock of what I learned, what went well, and what could go better. Here’s what I gleaned:

  • The sports psychology stuff really works. I need to apply it to all my performances so it becomes a regular habit.
  • A lot of the stuff I learned in my two lessons went really well, so I need to spend a lot of conscious time reinforcing those good habits until they become as much habit as the bad habits.
  • I found the holes in my audition prep. Mostly, I found out what was wrong, but I did a lot of “I’ll get it tomorrow” and before I knew it, the audition was a week away and people were still telling me that somehow Polovetsian Dances didn’t sound rhythmic. I have another app that has terrible recording quality, but I can slow down the recording and heard that I was condensing the triplets in the second half of the measures. One week before the audition is not the time to find this out. But now I have a tool.
  • The biggest thing I learned is the true difference between working on something so you can play it and learning something so you can never miss it. The Williams was a good example. Again using that app, a week before the audition (sigh), I found out that it wasn’t the 16ths that were the problem, it was that I condensed the triplet leading into the 16ths, and once that rhythm was fixed, the 16ths just fell into place and I never missed them. And now I just learned that apparently I just condense triplets.
  • I’m still a little haphazard and hack-n-play with my practice routine, but since trying to get a little more organized and a little more “work on the things that suck most first,” I don’t think I can ever go back to my old practicing.

On Tuesday, I’m re-enlisting for two more years with the Navy, which guarantees me about one more year in Hawaii and one year where, unless they change the conditional release policy, I won’t be able to take auditions. I’m a little like, “But I have so much momentum!” but I’m also looking forward to working on chamber music and studying some real clarinet literature just for fun, and that will be how I choose to continue working on my lesson material. Also, I look forward to redoubling these efforts with my fleet band. You are what you do repeatedly, so if I’m always working on my air support, my voicing, my technique, my rhythm, with every piece that I play, then it should be no different when I get to my next audition.

I probably won’t have much to say for a while, so if you made it this far, thanks for reading!

Audition Challenge 3.0, Week 2

I debated whether or not to even write a post as opposed to saving it, because the emotional rollercoaster has been pretty rough. I figured I might as well put it out there because hey, those of us who have done this before have been there.

I had a moment of frustration when I realized that I can count on one hand how many people I work with who actually have been through what I’m going through. It was even less in my last command. Maybe that’s why I write this blog – to connect with my friends out there who are fighting the fight and pick themselves up to try another day, many of whom stay the course and eventually succeed.

So I didn’t get past the first round – kinda par for the course for me, and frustrating to no end because I feel like I’m doing better, but the end result doesn’t show improvement.

How do I measure my improvement and keep myself positive for the next attempt? Instead of beating myself up, as soon as the audition was over, I sat down with a notebook and reflected on what I thought went well and what needed improvement.

Things that went well:

  • I think I portrayed confidence in the Mozart. I had no shaky vibrato for the first time since I started auditioning from Hawaii.
  • I think I had a great, controlled range of dynamics in Beethoven 4.
  • I think my staccato in the Gounod was clean and that I showed dynamics and phrasing that weren’t written on the page.
  • I fought the fight in the Dahl and know where my mental game needs to improve.

Things that didn’t go well:

  • I squeaked in the Dahl. In the end, that’s pretty much it, but a squeak is game over for a clarinetist.
  • From the squeak to the end, it was a mental battle to not throw in the towel. I didn’t, but it was a battle the whole way.

In a moment of big cajones, I actually e-mailed the committee asking for comments before they were even done auditioning. And yes, they hired someone. I think it was “so-and-so from U Mich and FSU.”

Someday, it’s going to be “Deanna Brizgys, from ‘Did it herself, bitches.'”

Anyway, I still await commentary to see if my impression of my playing matched their impression.

After reflecting a bit on my audition, I got a recommendation for the best ice cream in either D.C. or Alexandria and totally hit it up. It’s pretty much the perfect thing for either a broken heart or a celebration. You win? Ice cream. You lose? Ice cream. It’s a win-win.

What’s up next? Well, on Saturday, aside from the horrible jet lag because, thanks to a 2-hour delayed flight in LA, my travel back took a full 24 hours, I did not touch my clarinet. Some friends were having a get-together, and cake and whiskey with friends seemed like a better use of my time. Everyone needs a little soul-soothing.

On Sunday, it was back to the grind, and what a grind. I have only a week before the President’s Own, and I was in full “F… you” mode. Dahl? F you. Williams? F you. Beethoven 8? F you. I came home from a long practice session with a lot of frustration and also a lot of recognizing that when I’m most frustrated is when I find the inner drive to dig deep and work a little harder. So today might feel sucky, but tomorrow will be better.

I’m definitely a bit emotional and a bit on edge. The stress has made me scatter-brained, hence losing my car key and leaving my wallet at home. And I’m practicing so much now that my face hurts. At times I feel like this is the work I should have been doing two months ago, but it is what it is, and at least now I have some clearly defined fundamental goals for afterward, regardless of how this audition goes.

So for anyone who is curious, here is Sunday’s mock audition. I created my own list in two rounds: round 1 – Mozart, Brahms 3, Mendelssohn scherzo, Dahl Sinfonietta, and both Hammersmith excerpts. Round 2 – Faust, Mozart Serenade first excerpt, Williams, Beethoven 8, Bach duet. Since then, I’ve been putting some serious nose-to-grindstone work trying to get out the last of the kinks. After all, after Monday, it’s on to something new!

Audition Challenge 3.0, Week 3


That’s how many auditions I will have taken when I finish the Air Force audition on Thursday. For a lot of people, that’s nothing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the mental game this week, waffling between two extremes: the mental game, where I focus on visualizing my best performance and do simulation training to help me better deal with the unique pressure of audition day, and the preparation game, where I try to know my excerpts so well that no matte what happens in my head, my body is just going to do what it needs.

As my friend Sandy said today, “Everybody gets nervous. The question is what you do with it.”

I’ll be honest: I’m really nervous. To some extent, I’m as prepared as ever, probably more prepared than ever, and with that comes the burden of expectation. I’ve prepared so much, so shouldn’t I do better? This is a question I get frequently from musicians who haven’t dealt with the crucible of classical auditions. What does better mean?

I’m sure if I listen to my most recent mock auditions compared to my earliest mock auditions, I’ll see marked improvement, so from that perspective, yes. From the perspective of how far I’ve advanced in auditions, no. Am I close to winning a job? I have no idea. Will I win one someday? Again, I have no idea.

Let me take a minute and talk about a few things that aren’t just grinding: confidence, focus, and trust.

I spent a week or so working on confidence, borrowing tricks from the Bulletproof Musician and from friends. I have that “happy place” – that memory that made me really truly love playing the clarinet, and it’s so strong that no matter how nervous I am, when I think about it, I get this huge grin on my face. It can be a lot of different things for a lot of different people. I did find that no matter how poorly I think an audition is going, I can lock onto that and think, “This is what I’m fighting for.”

Focus is something else I have trouble with. I tried a few things: thinking about the scene I was trying to create with my music, trying to tell a story, things of that sort, but I found that for the most part, when I try those things, I find myself talking to myself about whatever and not focusing on the music.

One thing that really helped me is David McGill’s book Sound in Motion. He has this premise that if you’re thinking about where every note goes and how it relates to the notes before and after it, you’re too focused on the line to even notice that you’re nervous. This holds true for me unless I’m THAT nervous about an excerpt, and then I tend to go into “oh shit” mode. I’m pretty sure we can all relate.

For the love of expletives, I have an “oh s…t” mode and I apparently also have a “f…k you” mode. The one thing I’ve had in common in any of my mock auditions is that when someone on the panel asks me to play something again, something in my brain clicks and I freaking nail the excerpt. Mendelssohn, Dahl, that damn Oquin cadenza… all of them come out with a certain level of “f…k you.”

So when you care so much about an outcome, how do you let go, channel that inner “f…k you” and actually do the thing? Gosh I wish I had an answer for you. That’s that third level: trust.

Bear with me while I get to my point.

Over the weekend, I did the mockiest mock of all – I got up, did breathing exercises, put on my full makeup, put on my audition clothes, drove to the band room, set up an audition room, found myself a separate room as a large warm-up space, and warmed up with the most obnoxious app playing sounds of people chewing to practice focusing when things are distracting me. Around my designated “audition time,” I went to a small practice room, set my timer for 10 minutes, and then spent 10 minutes messing around with what I think the best use of my last 10 minutes is. Then I did my mock audition. I even randomly pre-selected my round 1: Mozart, Beethoven 6, Mendelssohn Scherzo, Brahms 3, Barber, and Dahl. It was as good a mock round as I could have figured out on my own.

And holy cow I was nervous. I was so nervous that I re-did the 10 minute prep time on Sunday because I realized just how big of a hole in my audition prep those last few minutes were. They were the most crucial and the most overlooked.

But okay, all that psycho-analysis aside, where does trust come in? How does one get from caring so much about an outcome to walking in there with a complete “f…k you” attitude and just laying it down because you’re a badass and you have no shits to give?

I think there’s a lot of rejection fear involved in auditions, and I don’t mean simply fear of being rejected. Most musicians are tied to their craft as an integral part of their identity, and so a rejection from an audition feels like a rejection of you as a person, especially if you didn’t even get to play Mozart and the three stupid excerpts in the first round.

It’s not.

I’ve heard enough times things like, “The audition I won was the first time I didn’t screw up that excerpt,” or “The audition I won was the one day I didn’t screw up AND they liked me, so the stars must have aligned,” or things of that nature. Preparation is half the battle, and trust in yourself is really the other half. Yes, I would say it’s that big, and an often-neglected part of the preparation process. A teacher once told me, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” I like to think, “If you can’t stand the heat, stick around and eventually you’ll get used to it.” A friend referred me to former BSO trombonist Norman Bolter, who in only the ten minutes that I watched of a video on authenticity, made me start thinking about how much we try to fit ourselves into a box for the sake of making a committee happy or simply not missing a note. And you know, there are parameters, but there are liberties within those parameters. I think where we get lost is where we try so hard to stick within those parameters that we lose trust in ourselves as capable, expressive, artistic individuals and start seeing ourselves and incompetent robots incapable of recreating each excerpt identically every time. We need to remember that the beauty of music is that it only exists in the moment it’s created, and then it’s gone, which means it can be different every time and that’s okay. That’s what makes it exciting. Out of 100 different Mozarts, what makes yours so special? There are parameters, but there is room for individuality.

I’m in the military – I may not be able to wear purple nail polish in uniform, but I can wear some hella sassy underwear under that uniform, and to hell with what the girls in the locker room think.

It’s kinda like that.

So… happy auditioning, and see you on the other side!