Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Tie-Breaker

Mock trumpet auditions today at CCM. Four competitors played Leonore 3, Pictures, Scheherazade, Academic, Mahler 5, and Petroushka, six must-haves needed to advance to round two. There was some fine playing by each one. Written and spoken critiques followed, along with the desire to get another shot at it, which is a good sign. Another couple of at-bats, odds are, will produce a hit or two, maybe even a home run. And that's the point, learning to belt out a lot of hits under pressure.

Lessons learned: need for control in spite of nerves, accuracy, steady rhythm, clarity of articulation, intonation, control of dynamic extremes, ability to make an impression, and the rest of the usual list of things that all of us always need to work on. Nobody plays perfectly, and it's nice to remember that everyone is in the same boat. However, the struggle is to see who can get out of the boat first! First one out wins!

A review in the Enquirer of last week's Chicago Symphony concert had a few phrases that caught my attention. There were some high praises for the principal cello solo as well as a comment about the oboe playing that seemed to be just what we were discussing briefly in our mock auditions today. It was said that the cello solo showed "immense sweetness of tone and warmth of expression", causing the piano soloist "to grin from ear to ear the whole time." About the oboe: "it was the most relaxed lyrical oboe solo ever heard."

Now of course, nobody expects trumpet playing to be only about lovely, relaxed lyricism. We must have our killer-instinct helmets ready for battle on a moment's notice. By the way, isn't it interesting that composers usually depend on those in the rear of the orchestra when those visceral statements are required? Maybe the demands on the brass are greater than those of our woodwind and string colleagues as far as extremes are concerned. But, even in those high decibel visceral climaxes, there must be a core of enormous quality of sound. Regardless of dynamics, that sound must be noticed by critics and be able to make headlines in concert reviews.

It's difficult to pinpoint one single quality that wins auditions. But maybe high on the list would be sound and the ability to make an impression on the listeners that distinguishes the best candidate from the rest. Most will make mistakes, but the one who is accurate and sends the best overall message has the best chance of winning. Quality is that tie-breaker.

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