Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Suck 'n Blow

The LSO is the hardest partying orchestra of any with whom I currently play. Now, granted, this is not a tough title to earn. Most regional orchestras consist of two groups of players: 1) 40-somethings or older who have kids or grandkids and 2) college kids who hang together or not at all. Conspicuously absent are the 25-39 year olds. The adult tweens. With no other orchestra, if there even were post-concert socializing, would I find myself playing suck 'n blow in Hooters at 1am. Yet this is precisely where I was after this past Friday's concert in La Crosse, WI.

Now, I've only played one set with the LSO this year and didn't even know most of the people in the orchestra. Somehow, though, suck 'n blow has a way of breaking the ice and bringing people together. That and pints of Killian's. Or could the LSO musicians' near-universal, white hot hatred of that group's stick flicker be the tie that binds? It is difficult to tell. In any event I learned a new game, made some friends, and went to Hooters for the first time ever. (It boggles my mind how a restaurant can blatantly use tits and ass as marketing devices and still portray itself -quite accurately- as family dining.)

This set was one of two I'll play as principal with the LSO this season. All the other sets will feature my highly capable friend SM in the hot seat. Eventually the powers that be are supposed to make up their fucking minds about who should be hired for real. I'm not holding my breath on that decision.

Interesting notes from this set: We lost our principal oboe player to a migraine at the intermission of Friday night's concert and then lost our tuba player (said oboist's husband) to an emergency appendectomy for Saturday night. The show must go on, but first, is there a doctor in the house?!

Suck 'n Blow tips:
  • It's all about the lip seal, man!
  • Use tongue at your own peril.
  • Gravity can be your best friend or your worst enemy.
  • Suck, then blow!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Post From the Road

After eight+ hours behind the wheel I made it to rehearsal here in Springfield, IL (from the boonies) fifteen minutes early. For some reason I love how that almost always seems to work out. No detailed planning. Just a look at a map, an estimate of distance and speed, the subconscious takes over and "Voila!" You're there just in time to blow a few notes and play. I'm crashing at a Motel6 tonight before a double service tomorrow and I was lucky enough to pick up an unsecured wireless signal so I thought I'd post a short update.

Seasonal weather has finally started to hit us here in the Midwest. This adds a bit of excitement to the routine task of simply getting to gigs. What's usually a relaxing two-to-three hour iPod-accompanied, mind-drifting commute can turn into a four-to-six hour, heart-pumping, washer-fluid-draining, white knuckle sleigh ride all the way Ho-Ho-home. That has happened only once so far this season but Winter hasn't even officially begun yet.

Last Sunday I had some successes. I placed 6th in the 5k Reindeer Ramble in Moline, IL and won my age division (complete with 10 degrees, 15 mph WNW wind and homemade pumpkin pie). Then, twelve hours later, I became a regular member of the CRSO. Oh, and I had to play a concert in between too. That didn't go so great. Not terrible but not great.

The up sides:
-I got a neat little plaque for the race.
-I now have contracts with the three best-paying orchestras in Iowa.
-I out-sprinted a 16 year old whipper snapper at the finish.
-I beat out a couple Clevenger students including a h-h-hot (and very funny) Australian woman. (It must be that accent! Man-oh-man.)

The down sides:
-The race sweatshirts are absolutely, hideously unwearable.

-My mini Canadian Audition Tour '07 (Calgary and Victoria) is now in serious doubt because of new CRSO concert set conflicts (unless I can find 5:00am flights from Chicago or Minneapolis or Saint Louis to Victoria or Seattle or Vancouver and Calgary for less than the price of a kidney transplant). As my brother's highschool friend JM used to say after crappy cross country races, this seriously sucks the bag. Seriously.
-My splits were all positive and my final time was slow enough that I'd rather not mention it. Also three 50-somethings beat me.
-I can't for the life-o-me remember the Aussie horn player's name.

Sleepy time...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Post-Thanksgiving Post

Back to reality after my first weekend off since the seasons all began. And I even filled one of my only other weeks off between now and Christmas with a call to play here again. This Fall has been just about as financially productive as could be possible living where I live and doing what I do (short of teaching a gazillion little nose-pickers every free hour.) Next Sunday, if the audition gods are on my side, I'll have a chance to secure a regular seat in this orchestra which will go a long way toward making the Spring just as fruitful. I'm also trying to get a brass quintet and a horn quartet off the ground too so a break was nice.

I think I spent my time off well. I found/made enough time to practice before the wine started flowing each day. I got in a couple good short runs with my little brother, AP. I even learned a thing or two.

Lessons from Thanksgiving

  • Ground cumin is not a viable substitute for ground cinnamon though it is a tasty* alternative.(*Tastes may vary.)
  • A red eyeball is freaky.
  • The average plate at Thanksgiving dinner contains about 2 to 3 pounds of food.
  • It is really hard to eat more than two such plates without special preparations.
  • Sipping water with each swallow keeps the body from rejecting the last dozen or so unappetizing bites necessary to win the family "Most Weight Gained In One Meal" title.
  • I do not have a discerning wine palate. It all tastes drinkable to me.
  • Off-road go-carts are really fun and are every man-child's dream toy!
  • Pogo sticking is not as easy as a little kid makes it look. Sure AP has the record at 35 successive jumps but he didn't look pretty doin' it!
  • Making a jigsaw puzzle is a pretty good metaphor for life. It starts off simple. You put together the obvious parts like the corners and the edges. Like learning to tie your shoes and stand in line and make appropriate animal sounds (How does a cow go? Mooo). But it just gets harder and harder. First you focus on the parts of the picture which are easily discernible even when hacked to pieces. You put them together separately and then fit them into the whole. Kinda like college, right? Right. Then all that is left are regions of solid color and you swear there aren't enough pieces in the box and you have to go by shape and some seem to fit together but don't really give that warm snap feeling they should but it is so close and you try to convince yourself it is right but eventually, if you keep looking, you find the one which fits tight and then you have to break up the ones that are slightly mismatched but that's okay because in jigsaw puzzles there is always a place for everything in the end. You just have to keep looking. And in life? Not so much.
  • Bingo can be really exciting even if you're only playing for an old Snickers, some pencil-end troll dolls and a matchbox. Try speed blackout: Numbers are read very fast and only once (no repeats!) so stay focused.
  • Bunk beds, ceiling fans and adults do NOT mix!
  • Yoga is more than just relaxation and stretching. I would rather do thirty push-ups than hold another downward dog "relaxation" pose. And don't go for a run before doing half a dozen deep warrior poses unless you're a lactic acid junky. Oh and this is not going to happen without the accompaniment of popping, grinding and tearing!

Time for a run. I'm gonna try and break 18:00 in this 5k on Sunday. Then play a matinee concert here and then take an audition here. Should be fun. At least I should sleep well that night.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Tofu Spinach Pasta

Okay, I'll enter the recipe exchange. Here's a dish I make weekly. Pretty simple and vegan but feel free to make substitutions to your liking. Fresh spices are best but I often use dried ones.

1 lb tofu (not silken unless it has been frozen for longer than a week*)
6 to 8 flavorful mushrooms, sliced
6 to 8 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 to 2 big handfuls of fresh spinach
Fresh chopped basil
Several cloves crushed garlic
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
Dash of red wine
A long pasta of your choice

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large frying pan or wok over medium heat. Begin boiling water for pasta. Use a dash of salt and a drop of olive oil in water for flavor.

Slice tofu in half and squeeze out water between two cutting boards. Slice halves of tofu long way making strips. Rub garlic, salt and pepper on all sides of tofu strips and cover with chopped basil.

Place rubbed tofu into pan with any extra garlic and basil and cover for several minutes.

Add pasta to boiling water.

Turn tofu strips when bottoms begin to brown and use spatula to cut strips into cubes. Add mushroom slices and red wine (and, if necessary, enough extra olive oil to keep things saucy). Cover for several more minutes.

Stir, add tomato halves and re-cover for several minutes.

When tofu seems lightly browned on a couple sides, but not too crisp, add spinach right on top of everything, re-cover and turn off heat.

When spinach is nicely limp serve over pasta with a red wine and some french bread.

This is a single meal for me but would serve two to three normal people.

*Tofu note: Long frozen silken tofu acquires a fibrous texture much different than its original slippery, creamy state. Almost like that of baked fish. It tends to fall apart easily which is why I prefer to use the sponge-like non-silken variety for rubs like this.

Non-vegan/non-vegetarian options:
Substitute chicken for tofu if you like and/or dust with some grated hard Italian cheese.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Here's Mud In Your Eye...

...and your other eye, and both ears, and crunching between your teeth, and under your finger nails, and between your toes, and...
I ran the Living History Farms cross country race this morning. 35 degrees, 15 mph North wind, 5,500 runners, 7 muddy miles, a half-dozen water crossings, hills so steep they came with ropes (optional), hay bale jumps (the seven foot high variety), wipe-outs and pile-ups left and right, and of course the requisite crazy costumes. It's billed as the largest race of its kind in the country and I can't imagine it becoming much bigger. That many runners makes for a frustrating start, especially on uneven terrain. I spent the first three miles cutting through the pack to get up to a group that was running at my pace. My friend CC, who got stuck starting near the back, did more zig-zag maneuvering looking for passing lanes than forward progress. And she did it running on a recently sprained ankle no less. Now that's who my old high school band director would call a real trooper.

The above picture accurately depicts what the water jumps were like visually but if you want an image of what it feels like as you're doing it, try this or this or, near mile 6, this. The first was the worst for me. It was waist deep and I made a poor exit choice: a slick, steep section of the bank with little grass left at the top for grasping. If I had been a Serengeti-migrating wildebeest, I would surely be croc chow after that crossing. Thankfully I got better and by the last one I was able to make it entirely across in one leap taking the water out of play. Of course that landing sapped any reserves my quads had left and it took me the better part of half a mile to recover.

As mentioned, costumes were in abundance. I snapped these caped and winged crusaders on the way to the start. There were at least three other batmen that I saw, several muscle-suited supermen, a woman trapped in Christmas garland, a hula dancer complete with grass skirt and coconut shell bikini top and the blue man touring group was apparently passing through and decided to race. I had the bad luck to be stuck behind a guy wearing an ISU thong and sports bra for about a mile. Can you imagine the chaffing?! Sadly though, C had the extreme misfortune of following a guy in nothing but a loin cloth, and by her description a rather loose fitting one at that. If that doesn't motivate a surge and pass I don't know what would. My favorite was a man in a business suit with the pants cut off to shorts. Amazingly he had hardly a lick of mud on him.

I wasn't in any sort of racing shape for this. I just start running again after letting a few minor summer injuries heal up. I was on a seven minute pace through 5 but didn't see any markers after that. I finished in 52:00 and the last mile or so felt awfully slow so that time makes sense. It would be nice to hack five or ten minutes off next year if the course stays the same length. After it was all over, a cup of hot cider, a few laps around the complimentary doughnut tent and a slow hot shower more than soothed any cuts and bruises. I'll definitely try to do this one again next year. Maybe even with a team. Anyone interested? Comment below.

Now I'm just resting up for the DMS concerts tonight and tomorrow with TW playing Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and boy does he sound great on that piece. In fact I can hear him warming up in the hall right now... unless that's the piano tuner... nope, it is definitely not the piano tuner. (I just love halls with guest wireless networks backstage.) Then it is off until after Thanksgiving week. Hope everyone has a happy holiday and for those expatriate readers out there who won't be making it back home I'll have an extra serving of stuffing, an extra glass of wine and hug my mom extra hard for you all.

Monday, November 13, 2006


All Washed Up
It's getting busier around here just before the Thanksgiving lull. I know because I finished a concert set tonight with the DSO (refreshingly near my house) and when I got home I went straight to the laundry room, stripped off the concert tux and threw everything (sans jacket) in the wash to pack up for a week of rehearsals, teaching and concerts in Des Moines starting Monday. This was slightly different than my usual behavior after the end of a concert set: falling asleep on the couch in said concert tux (sans jacket) trying to pound through my netflix backlog.

You Can Kiss My Asst., Principal!
Boy it sure felt good to get done with this week. I like Shostakovich a lot, but if I don't play his tenth symphony again until his 125th birthday it'll be fine by me. And I'm ecstatic to officially have no more assistant horn obligations on my calendar. This time I had to do all the heavy lifting (and a good bunch of the light stuff too), usually alone, while getting that silent left-hand-signal advice from the principal: louder, softer, longer... louder! He's a nice guy but it was definitely much more work than I've become accustomed to when playing assistant.

Something Old, Somethings New
Now on to my main money maker, the DMS. I get to play that Tchaik warhorse, R & J, for the second time in three weeks. It's fun to watch women swoon in the audience at the appropriate spots. Okay, I'll admit it. I swoon too. And I get to play Dvorak 8 for the first time. Just my luck, though. I've always wanted to play those trills in the last movement, then I go and win the fourth spot just before that piece comes up on the docket and now I don't get to play them. Maybe I'll sneak a couple in during a rehearsal just for fun.

Something else new: I just got a real haircut. (That is, I paid another person, with the appropriate skills, to cut my hair. Usually I just do it myself every few months.) First one in, oh... 7 years. And only the second one in probably twenty. My impression? I've been walking around with a hack job on my head for two decades. How come I didn't notice? I'm firing all my DIY-haircut enabling friends and family. If you really loved me you all would have tackled me, thrown a bag over my head and dragged me to the nearest barber. Or at least organized an intervention. It is still a degrading experience though, but I have a fun, new technique for getting through things like that. I just ask myself, "What would Larry David do?" and I act accordingly. Perhaps I'll blog about it in detail.

That's all for now. I've got to get to sleep and give the house mice some alone time. Just remember the deal, guys: I promise to use only live-traps and you promise not to gnaw through my toes at night.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Banana Nut Bread: The Mother Load

I had a couple shows with the QCSO last weekend. We played some Beethoven (#3) with ST. He wore puffy shirts! A black puffy shirt Saturday night and a white puffy shirt Sunday afternoon. Looked just like a pirate. Arrrrgh! We also played a little Barber I hadn't even heard before; "Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengeance." What a fun piece that is... unison high C's and all. We did a good job on it, too.

I made a batch of bread for a few friends in the orchestra on the morning before the last show. Here's the recipe if you're interested (and a running commentary based on actual events). It is a bit longish so grab a cup of coffee or tea and settle in.

Banana Nut Bread
(Makes eight loaves)

-2 2/3 cups butter
-8 cups sugar
-16 Tbs. sour milk (Finally! A use for that carton in the back of the fridge. Hmmm... At least I think that was milk at one time...)
-16 eggs (Bawk-Bawk-ba-KAWK!)
-8 cups past-ripe bananas (No you're not crazy. That is a lotta bananas. About 25 or so. Start stashing them away now for Christmas baking.)
-16 cups flour (Holy crap is right. Open another bag.)
-4 tsp salt
-8 tsp baking powder
-8 tsp baking soda (Cool! Equal amount of soda and powder. That's one less mistake waiting to happen.)
-8 cups walnuts. (Yes you will save money if you buy them still in the shell... unless you include the carpal tunnel syndrome physical therapy tab.)

Preheat oven to 350˚. This will be too hot but you don't know it yet.

First, substitute shortening for the butter. Let's face it. Butter has lots of everyday uses... and 2 2/3 cups is a lot, it'll completely deplete your supply... and you always forget to pick it up at the grocery store... you'll be eating dry toast every morning for weeks. Shortening, by comparison, comes in a huge vat that sits stoically in the back of the pantry cupboard for years. What's that? What about trans fats. Yup. Shortening is loaded with 'em, but why do you care? I mean c'mon. You're gonna give this bread away not eat all eight loaves yourself, right. Okay, so back to the recipe.

Cream the shortening together with the sugar in a large kettle. (It won't be big enough but you don't know that yet, either.) Yes I know. That's a lot of sugar... Well you've gotta have some more somewhere. Sure, use some brown sugar, that's fine. More?! I don't know, maybe molasses? Honey... corn syrup... maple syrup... sorghum... Do you got eight cups of sweet stuff yet? Okay, good. Now mix it all together.

Separate the 16 eggs into the group of ten or so which exist and another group of about a half dozen which do not, because c'mon, who has 16 freakin' eggs sittin' around. Mix in the well-beaten existent eggs, however many there are. That'll have to do.

Next combine the dry ingredients in another very large bowl or pot. That's 16 cups of flour, or until you lose count, in which case stop when it "feels right." What do you mean you can't find a large enough bowl? I know, that is a lot of flour. Well, what about your sugar container? That's empty now, right?... It isn't big enough either? Well, then use that for half the dry ingredients and we'll do it twice. Okay so we're dividing the above amounts by two and doing this step twice... Got it?

So combine half the dry ingredients in the empty sugar container and... Your salt is what? A solid block? Well, yes it was a humid summer but... You haven't used salt since the summer?! I don't know, try pounding the container on the floor. You only need 4 teaspoons. Okay, have you pounded enough salt loose yet? Good. Now slowly mix in the dry ingredients to the creamed shortening and sugar mixture. Add the sour milk intermittently. Keep mixing... Keep adding... Keep mixing...

About now you should realize your mixing kettle ain't gonna be big enough. I see you eyeing that Rubbermaid trash can. Don't even think about it. You'll have to create some sort of overflow system. Get creative. Gravity is your friend. Keep mixing.

All done? Good. Now the bananas. Peel and mash until you've got a nice banana pulp. Add them slowly to the lot and... you guessed it... keep mixing. Mix, mix, mix. Make sure the overflow is periodically added back to the main volume so it gets mixed with some banana pulp too. Mix, mix, mi... Do you smell something? No, it's more like electrical smo...YOUR MIXER! YOUR MIXER IS SMOKING!! Shit! Oh don't drop it into the batter! It's still beating! Quick shut it off before it sinks!! Pull the plug!! PULL THE PLUG!! Holy crap! That was close... Well why didn't you tell me when your hand started getting hot?!

Okay you've gotta get moving. The concert is in a few hours, you've got an hour drive to the hall and this stuff takes a while to bake and cool. Um... put the mixer in the freezer to cool it off quicker and then power through the rest of the banana pulp. Repeat this every time you start to smell smoke.

Done mixing? Good. Yes, it would've gone faster if the mixer wouldn't have kept randomly ejecting the beaters into the batter but what are ya gonna do? It's a cheap piece-a-junk. Now then, let's get those loaf pans greased... Yes all eight... That's right, you grease them with shortening... You used it all in the first step?! Well how did you expect to keep the bread from sticking to the pans? Okay, okay... hurry find something slick to substitute... No body lotion is not edible... I don't care if it does have cucumber extracts. All right, break out the butter.

Now, pour the batter evenly into the greased pans and put four on the top rack and four on the bottom rack because you don't have time to bake two separate batches. Yes, I think the oven is plenty hot. It's been preheating for over an hour-and-a-half. Okay now set the timer for twenty minutes. You'll have to switch the top loaves with the bottom loaves and the back loaves with the front loaves to ensure they all get baked evenly. Got it? Good. Now go take a quick shower to get ready for the concert. Oh and uh... do yourself a favor and test the smoke alarm battery on your way upstairs.

...Cue Music: Jeopardy Theme...

...Cue Sound Effect: Record Player Needle Rip...

Shit! Get out of the shower! We forgot about the walnuts! Hurry up! They shouldn't have baked too far along yet! You may still be able to mix them into each loaf separately!

Why is there only one bag of walnuts? Where's the rest of the walnuts?... You only bought one bag?! One bag is no where near 8 cups! This is gonna be banana bread with essence of walnut! Okay, okay, never mind get chopping. And do yourself a favor; don't mention to anyone you were baking in a bath towel. I'm just saying, it's not very appetizing.

Alright mix in those nuts. Make sure they sink into the batter somewhat. I don't know, maybe poke them down with a chopstick or something, but hurry up. Now put everything back in the oven and go finish getting dressed. Remember to listen for the timer. Oh, and uh... recheck the smoke alarm battery on the back way upstairs. In fact, better just put in a new battery altogether.

...Cue Music: Jeopardy Theme...

Beep, beep, beep! Go rotate those loaves. And don't lose track: top to bottom, front to back. Okay, now here is when you realize the oven is too hot. They seem to be brown around the edges already while the center is still just batter. It's not looking good. I guess go down to 300˚ and hope for the best. Reset the timer for twenty minutes and repeat these steps until loaves seem done. While waiting for the beeping go warm up for the concert.

When a knife inserted into the center of a loaf comes out clean they're done. Then put them on a cooling rack until they are at room temperature, about 45 minutes, and wrap them up in tinfoil. What's that? The concert starts in an hour and half? And you've got that hour drive to the hall. Right then. Well the freezer worked for the over heated mixer. Let's use it to cool the loaves. Take everything out of the freezer and fill it up with the loaves. Do Not Forget To Return The Contents Of The Freezer To The Freezer Before You Leave! Now, go finish getting ready.


Finally. Wrap up the loaves. I know, they're probably still a little warm, but... They're still hot, you say? Well you gotta leave, so wrap them up in tinfoil anyway... Burned hands? You're such a wuss... Yes I remember the mixer. Fine. Then... I don't know, use oven mitts. Just get wrapping! Wrap! Wrap! Wrap!...

I guess in retrospect, oven mitts were not the best protective hand apparel, because that wrap job looks like crap. Never mind. Throw them in a bag, grab your horn and get going!... No, I have no idea how the bread will taste. I guess you should have tried a piece before you wrapped them all up. But, I mean really, anything with that much fat and sugar has to be at least edible, right? Now get going! And remember that speed trap near Maquoketa!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Boston Massacre: The Gory Details.

Okay, I'm exaggerating because I like the sound of the title. Just like the real Boston Massacre, gauged against the unfortunate standards of our times, would hardly qualify as such, yesterday's audition was really more of a minor let down (thus are they all). What most certainly was massacred was the Schönberg Chamber Symphony excerpt, which was quickly followed by the dreaded disembodied utterance of the pseudo congenial platitude, "Thank You." What follows are the gory details.

Most of the experience felt remarkably comfortable and familiar. Right down to the dry, somewhat puffy lip feeling I get the morning after airplane travel and a hotel stay. I did mistime the downtown commute by about a 35 minutes but that still gave me about half an hour to get warmed up. (Really though! An hour and a half to go no more than 6 miles?! I could have walked there faster! That is insanity.) Scheduled for 10:16AM I was apparently the first candidate. This meant I didn't have to listen to too many people warming up or the tail end of the previous audition. I've always been told to avoid being first if you can. Everyone on the committee has perfection in their mind's ear and the first poor bastard to shatter that mindset is doomed. I don't know how true that is, not having sat on any real life audition committees but I don't think it amounts to much of an obstacle, especially when you consider the committee is completely fresh. I think that is a bigger plus. The BSO doesn't do hourly blocks of candidates. They give everyone one hearing and call-backs are literally that; they call you sometime that evening if they have advanced you to the semis a day or two later. Sort of like having your car in the shop and waiting for the estimate. ("Hello. Yeah Mr. Kamp? Yer two driver-side C-sharps were low, yer Siegfried Idle was high, and yer gonna need a new mid-low range setting. We can't do anything with this one.") Except that in this case if the estimate is really bad you don't get a call at all... and they won't tell you their estimate over the phone, just that you've advanced... so I guess it really isn't anything like having your car in the shop afterall. But I digress.

Like I said, most of the experience felt remarkably comfortable and familiar. I even had the same warmup module as last January. Since my warmup was somewhat truncated I still hadn't completely rid my dry lips of that slightly unresponsive morning feeling and decided to be cautious and initiate an official ban on pianissimos. ("By power of the instituting player, and under penalty of severe self-beration, no extreme soft dynamic will be attempted at any time over the duration of excerpts unless circumstances during the act of performing are deemed, by said player, to be highly inducive to a successful outcome. Under no circumstances are extreme soft dynamics to be attempted at the beginnings of aforementioned excerpts (see Das Rheingold clause).")

Cutting to the chase, the Bach cello suite movement again started the round. I had last played it through before a QCSO rehearsal for AG the previous afternoon and it went really well but much faster than I felt comfortable doing in the actual audition. Too risky to play it that fast. The wheels could come off. Never-the-less, when it came time to start I found my tempo still on the quick side. I was able to hang on until the end of the first section and then reined it in at the beginning of the second (no repeats), which I always start a little more subdued and legato than the first half anyway. It went pretty well, all in all. (Much better than last time when my bottom lip slipped off the mouthpiece during a "double stop" and I had to finish with only one lip!) The excerpts started out okay - Shosti 5, a bit from Don Quixote, some Mahler 3, a chunk of Daphnis and Chloe- but none were really good, just okay... until Das Rheingold, which is, at times, the bane of my existence. It can go very well (it's just a warmup arpeggio after all!) but also horribly wrong (yes, but a slow, soft warmup arpeggio right through the break!). My first low B-flat didn't speak immediately as didn't the penultimate descending dotted half-note. And in between was less than stellar playing (Das Rheingold clause: This excerpt is technically not covered under the pianissimo ban due to the dynamic marking being piano. Ergo, the aforementioned dumb-ass should play it louder! Dumb-ass.) Still I was allowed to go on to a fast Schönberg excerpt (rehearsal 28 to 30 in case you're curious) which I've done well a hundred times only to step all over it this time. That was the straw, or log as the case may be, that broke the committee's back after which I was summarily dismissed.

I can't complain. My goals included playing the cello suite well, which I think I did, and getting to play more excerpts than last time, which I definitely did. I'm glad I got to play that particular Mahler 3 excerpt (the first movement one at the recap which then goes down to the low E-naturals) in front of a committee. I've never done that before and have always somewhat dreaded it, even though that one is a fun "practice room excerpt." Of course I wish I had played most things a bit better and a couple things much better but I'm a stronger player now than I was even just 6 months ago due to working up this audition. I'll just keep at it.

Now it is back to the grindstone. A couple tapes for here and here and lists for this group and this group (maybe I'll get to meet you, LR!) to start work on. Of course, I'm in Beantown for another day and a half yet. I hope the hotel guests next door aren't planning on napping this afternoon.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Yes Dad. Fourth horn is a move up from assistant principal.

Finally! I'm the section slut no longer. After winning the fourth horn audition for the DMS last Tuesday evening I no longer have to obey the principal. Well okay, I still may have to obey him, but not love and honor. And I'm no longer within fist's reach of him. I'll have a couple chair lengths head start should he come after me for dissonant octaves!

In truth, our principal, BS, could not have been kinder during my two plus years of servitude. He gave me lots of big, fat brackets to play, he held his tongue when I'd go on frack* binges, and he would cheerfully pimp me out to fill any vacant chairs in the section. Plus his house is the horn hostel on concert weekends. Thanks for everything BS!
Now I only hope I can fill MW's shoes. He was a scary good low horn player and is one hell of a guy. I will miss your 16 va basso impromptu transpositions and your great sense of humor, MW. Enjoy your new life and say hello for me to your ex-wife CB when you see her next.

Let me tell you this: I am not going to miss playing assistant one bit and will try my best to avoid playing it ever again... after this weekend with the CRSO... and again two weeks from now with the DSO... oh, who am I kidding. If you'll pay me I'll play assistant kazoo if you want.

It did feel good to win a fourth horn audition one week before the BSO audition. I played pretty well in rather harsh acoustical conditions (a boomy old hotel room, circa 1920). Both rounds were screened so I feel confident that no one on the committee was playing favorites (I'm not even sure I would be the played favorite of everyone behind that screen anyhow). There weren't any Chicago players in attendance however, which hurt the depth of talent, but there were a few good players. Any one of us could have won on any given day. That day it was my turn.

Now on to Boston for a shot at The Show!

*I got the idea from AH of the CRSO that 'frack' might be short for 'fracture'. Any thoughts on this possibility? Sounds like a ripe discussion topic for one of the hornlists to me. A useless triviality with the potential for much lengthy, heated debate between non-peers.

Friday, October 20, 2006

T - 10 days

One metric week before the BSO audition and all systems are go. I'm not delusional. Horn players don't go from playing with the DSO to playing with the BSO in one fell swoop. But the way I see it, any audition for The Show is a worthwhile experience. I don't understand players who say they aren't ready to play at that level yet so why bother auditioning for that level. You bother with it so that when you finally get to that level you have all this experience in the bank. You bother with it to eliminate uncertainties so the audition process becomes old hat. I know what train takes me to Symphony Hall, what the fare costs and how long the ride is. I know there will only be ten to twenty players total as opposed to the usual cattle call. I've been in the practice rooms (modules, really) in the basement already. I know what it feels like to play in them. I know I'll have to climb a flight of stairs to get to the hall. (That may not sound like much but it is enough to get the heart pumping a little extra hard right before you go on and play.) I know I'll be able to hear the candidate playing before me as I wait in the green room to go on. I know the committee will be on stage with me with a screen separating us, as opposed to way out in the dark hall somewhere. I know the hall will sound absolutely amazing; distractingly so (though it did just get a new stage floor). Any one of these things can shake your mind off task enough so that you do something stupid during the few minutes you have on stage. And all of them can combine to reduce you to a jello mold of a real horn player...and not even the kind with bananas! There most certainly will be new things this time which pop up to distract me, as there are at every audition. I'll just put those in the bank too.

I'll try to play the list for as many people as will hear it during the next two concert sets (DMS this weekend & CRSO next weekend), especially the Bach cello suite movement, which was the first thing asked for in the last BSO audition in January. It is much stronger now but I've not performed it at all since then. Maybe I'll try and play it for a cellist and see what they say. I got in touch with my friend, DC, whose a horn player and Boston resident so hopefully we'll be able to meet up for a visit while I'm there. She was kind enough to put me up for the last audition but this time I'm going to hotel it.

This week we have LL as a guest conductor/soloist. He is very French and very animated and it is a nice change of pace. He's been much more overtly focused on musicality (phrasing, color, style, character,etc.) in rehearsals than we're used to. It gave me the feeling of being at a summer festival back in college for some reason.

As I mentioned in the last post, we are doing the same Schumann symphony (No. 4) as CWSO did last week. The horn parts are ho-hum but it is growing on me. Oh, and as a addendum to the last post, I'll be playing Shostakovich 10 again with the DSO in November. So it'll be 14 years between my first two performances of this piece and about 14 days before my third performance. And yet again, I'll be on assistant!

Friday, October 13, 2006

An army of one...just not this one.

I received word from the Army Band on Wednesday. After reviewing my submitted recording they are "unfortunately not able to invite me to the final round of auditions." The news (to which my sister responded, "The army is rejecting you?! But they'll take anybody these days!") is disappointing but will take some pressure off this month. Having to prepare two auditions simultaneously is not ideal. Now I can focus solely on the BSO audition which is set for 10:16 am, Monday, Oct. 30. I've still got to Priceline a hotel room. I low-balled my first offer a bit too low and had to wait 24 hours to make another offer. I'll notch it up 20% and try again today.

Another round of resumes here and here (plus another Army position with this group) went out yesterday. There is actually an audition for 4th horn in the DMS, too. Since that audition is one week before Boston's 4th horn audition it'll be a good run-through for me. This weekend it is Schumann 4 with the CWSO in Stevens Point, WI. Then next week we begin DMS rehearsals on the very same symphony and perform it next weekend. I get to play principal on it and then fourth. I've never had that happen with Schumann before! Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky yes, but Schumann? I mean, c'mon.

And we also begin rehearsing Shostakovich 10 in the CRS. I played assistant on this symphony 14 years ago at the NOI. I'll be playing assistant on it again in Cedar Rapids. How's that for variety; the same ho-hum symphony performed twice in two weeks, once at each end of the section while performing a monster like Shosti 10 only twice in nearly a decade-and-a-half and I'm stuck on the same lousy, thank-less part. Actually AH, the principal in the CRS, will probably let me play almost everything with him in that ball-breaker face-baker* of a piece!

Going back to NOI for a moment, this orchestra now counts two players from that summer's horn section among its own (and another has made the finals with them several times)! I guess I haven't lived up to expectations yet. I better get the lead out. Well gotta go teach!

*Boy was I wrong about this piece. It is great fun to play and there is plenty of rest. It isn't taxing at all. I guess I was just looking at the last page.

Monday, October 09, 2006

How do you cover your "ass" with your "assistant"?

I had another season opener last weekend, this time the QCS with CY. We played Hindemith's Mathis der Maler but, as so often happens on regional orchestra programs, we ended the first half with this dramatic work and ended the concert with the soloist on Saint-Saens 3rd Violin Concerto. Don't get me wrong, she played great. A huge, fantastic sound. But anything after that Hindemith is anti-climactic.

I played second horn on these concerts and the principal, MF, let the assistant, AG, play the concerto. I wonder how many of you horn players out there would use an assistant in this manner. From my experience it seems to be about fifty-fifty. Half use their assistant to cover the lesser work on the concert (in addition to being "assisted" on the heavier works) while the other half play everything themselves but are assisted on the heavier works. I think this is different in upper level orchestras where the associate principal covers the lesser work(s) on a concert and the utility or assistant fills in on third. I think letting the assistant play an entire work gets their chops nice and warm and lets them feel more like a contributing member. One thing is certain. Playing assistant sucks the bag no matter what kind of principal your playing for. I never play worse than when I'm assisting. It is tough to stay warm physically and mentally when you're watching most of the music go by. I try to stay in the game by fingering and breathing along with the part (though not distractingly so) and of course we mustn't forget the main roll of the assistant...counting rests! What do you all think?

On the audition front I was glad to hear back from the BSO about my CD. They accepted it again so I'll be flying to Boston at the end of the month. This time I'll be much more prepared (same list as last January) and I look forward to playing well on stage at Symphony Hall. I'm still waiting to hear about my CD from the Army. If they invite me to audition I'll fly to Fort Myers, VA two days after Boston. Plus I'll be squeezing in rehearsals for a QCS set that week. I hope the weather is good in and out of O'hare, Logan, and Moline!

One more season to kick-off here and then I'll be firing on all cylinders (well almost). The bad thing about having sets scheduled every week for months is when you get calls to play more lucrative gigs and have to turn them down. That has happened twice so far. I guess it is much better to be too busy and have to say no occasionally than to hope the phone rings every week!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A few things this traveling musician loves when on the road...

1) Gas for $1.89 a gallon! (Indianola, IA)

2) Driving three and a half hours and getting to a rehearsal twenty minutes early.

3) Engaging, interesting, attractive travel companions of the opposite sex.

4) Belting it out along with Ella Fitzgerald at 1 am.
4b) Belting it out along with Sinatra at 2 am.

5) Bucket o' pretzels and tub o' peanuts.

6) A rest stop right when you need one most.

7) Travel reimbursement.

8) Just missing driving through nasty weather.

9) NPR

10) Making it all the way home that night.

And a few things he hates.

1) Running out of gas ten miles outside of Indianola, IA.

2) Driving three and a half hours and getting to a rehearsal twenty minutes early without music.

3) Engaged, interesting, attractive travel companions of the opposite sex.

4) Dead iPod battery at 1 am.
4b) Dead car battery at 2 am.

5) Tic-tacs and water for dinner ("just one calorie").

6) A rest stop right after you needed it most.

7) Travel deimbursement.

8) Just missing other drivers through nasty weather.

9) NPR pledge drive week.

10) Hitching it all the way home that night.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Well, at least they all had plenty of leg space.

Last night's DMS season opener was a mix. First of all the ~2200 seat hall was half empty. This was a disappointment and a bit of a surprise. The past openers I've played with them featured YM and IP and they were sold out. It is very exciting to play to a big sold out house. There is something visually stimulating about looking over your stand into a massive sea of strangers. And maybe it is also the thought that if we played well enough they might rush the stage in delerious rapture trampling us in the process. ("Excuse me ma'am. I'm glad you enjoyed the Moncayo but could you lift your heel out of my ribcage? We have to play Capriccio Espagnole next. And would you mind very much plugging the hole in my lung, at least for the beginning of the second movement?") Anyway, the soloists this year were admittedly not as big as previously. And classical guitar is somewhat of a niche instrument. I just hope this attendance doesn't signal a trend for the season.

The concert got off to a shaky start when only half the orchestra stood up as we started to play the National Anthem. Then, here and there, the rest stood up as the piece was being played. Very second rate looking. Everyone seemed a little unsettled at first but things smoothed themselves out during the Chadwick, "American Sketches" and all was fine (mostly) by the end of the guitar concerto by Bernstein. (Not that one; the Hollywood guy. Elmer. "Airplane II", "Meatballs". That guy.) Well at least the people who showed up seemed excited and enthusiastic. That's all we can ask. Plus, now we can use all those extra programs to help heat the hall this winter!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Another Season Opener

It's almost two in the morning. I'm lying in bed at one of my many homes-away-from-home. I've just finished a set of rehearsals with the Des Moines Symphony for our opening concert with Christopher Parkening and Jubilant Sykes tomorrow night. This starts my third season with the DMS, and thanks to a couple of successful late summer auditions (for this group and this group) and lots of sub-work (with this group, this group and this group) it is shaping up to be a busy year. I also squeeze in playing principal horn in my hometown orchestra for a few concert sets a year. I get to see my folks and eat some home cooked meals. Can't beat that.

The only problem with a busy playing schedule is that auditions become hard to fit in. Not preparing for them, mind you. There's plenty of time to practice. Actually having a day or two free to fly to another part of the country (or world); that's the hard part. It becomes a balance between taking the per-service gig to pay rent now, or taking an audition for a real gig (full-time with benefits) which might let you pay a mortgage later. A really good economics lesson in opportunity cost. Of course if auditions are investments in the future, their performance is terribly unreliable (even when my performance goes well). Of course, you may only have to win once in your life.

And that's my goal. To finish paying my dues in the regional, per service orchestras and move up to The Show. Don't get me wrong, for the time being I'm enjoying myself immensely; traveling from town to town, spending a week here and a week there playing great music with many fine musicians. But if I wake up one morning and find myself doing this at 40, with a bad back and an even worse attitude... Well, let's just say that won't be a good morning. And speaking of good mornings I had better leave it at that and hit the hay. I want to be up in time for checkout. (And to catch some of the WGC from Ireland before I am once again not only cable-less but TV-less!)

So hello blogosphere. Anyone out there listening?...