Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Another Way to Get to Carnegie Hall: Still Practice, Practice, Practice

A few months ago, the idea of a YouTube Orchestra was born: musicians (amateur and professional) were invited to submit auditions to be posted on YouTube which would then be voted on and the winners would then gather at Carnegie Hall in April to perform a concert (I'm hoping it will be broadcast on the internet, right?).

Part of the audition process included playing your individual part (including counting all the rests just as you'd do in a performance) in a work Tan Dun (see the third video clip) wrote especially for the project. Here is the composer talking about how he first thought of the piece:

Devin Howell, a bass player who plays in the Harrisburg, Lancaster & Allentown Symphonies and teaches at Franklin & Marshall, Dickinson and Elizabethtown Colleges, decided to audition. So I asked him to tell us what it was like:

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A friend of mine let me know about the contest/audition a few days before the videos had to be submitted. I wasn't preparing for any auditions at that time so I decided to take it seriously, practice the music (like I would for any live audition) and make the videos by midnight of the submission date.

Two videos had to be submitted. The first was your live performance of the entire 1st movement of Tan Dun's new symphony. The second was what they called the talent video. It had to be no longer than five minutes. They gave a list of excerpts for each instrument, all standard orchestral repertoire you would find on any audition list.

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Here is Tan Dun conducting the YouTube auditionees in his Internet Symphony No. 1, "Eroica"

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The Tan Dun video created some logistical problems which I became pretty frustrated with. Youtube provided two videos of Tan Dun conducting this piece. One had sound. The other did not. The idea was to record yourself while watching the video (without sound) so the video you submitted would be just you playing through your part, synchronized with the conductor. I don't know why youtube didn't catch this, but the video without sound had a bad cut or two in it, so you would be playing along with your part and all of a sudden you saw the conductor doing different meters or giving sforzandi where there was no place for them. I think the conducting video also stopped about three or four measures early. At first I thought I was the problem, but I was happy to find out that others were having the same issues that I was. I then decided to use the conducting vid with sound, but since youtube required the submitted video to only include your playing and no accompaniment, I would either have to mute the video or use headphones. I started using headphones, but I had trouble hearing my own playing. I finally decided using an earpiece (only in one ear). I put my laptop on a chair beside me. Since the cord on my earpiece wasn't that long I set up a mirror about five feet in front of me so I could still watch the conductor (in the mirror). Practicing this probably looked like something out of a Laurel and Hardy film. It was very awkward, and my playing wasn't the best because there were so many different things to pay attention to other than the music. It was what it was.

The "talent" vid was a little easier to make. The only issue was the repertoire list they gave was a bit vague. The listed repertoire did not include the Beethoven 9 Recitative, but the principal of the London Symphony played it in his online master class for the contest. I decided to continue practicing it even though it wasn't on the list for this reason. Also, another bassist or two already posted their audition videos and included this excerpt, so I figured others had the same idea I had. About a day before the submission date I began setting my laptop up in front of me and turning the webcam on so I could record the excerpts. If you've never done this before it's a very humbling experience. It's a pretty awful thing to listen to a bass through laptop speakers. The sound is thin and buzzy. Dynamics are squashed. Headphones or good speakers are a must... really. Also I was recording in my living room and not a decent hall. Halls, at least the good ones, are very forgiving and can hide certain string noises, or even subtle intonation flaws. When you're playing in your living room, you hear everything. I had a friend record me on the evening of the submission date. To this point I never really decided what would go on the video. I was practicing the entire list. I did quite a few takes of each excerpt. Then I listened to all of them and picked out what I thought would be the best package for an audition video.

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Here is Devin's 2nd Audition Video with Beethoven's 9th and Mozart's Symphony No. 39:

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So yesterday it was announced he was one of the winners! And now, it's off to Carnegie Hall next month!

By the way, you can hear all the winning auditions here and see all the master class videos and other promotional videos here.

- Dr. Dick

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