Tuesday, February 12, 2008


It's application time! CD's are being prepared for competitions, jobs, auditions, grad schools, summer institutes, etc. Committees everywhere will have stacks of concertos of Haydn, Hummel, picc solos, and lists of excerpts to sort through. Sadly, some will never be heard past the exposition. What justifies the rejection of so many valiant efforts?

We first need to get into the minds of the judges. What appeals and what offends? A good committee is very good at quickly sifting through applications. They can usually tell all they need to know in the first few seconds. For that reason the best playing should be offered immediately. Judges are not known for being forgiving, but for recognizing excellence. No A's are awarded for effort, and no flaws are allowed. They are looking for the standout. If you want to win, you must nail it from your first entrance.

The general impression of your playing is only as good as the excellence of all the parts. Discerning evaluators will be impressed by your attention to those small but vital details. Notes may not be out of tune. They also cannot be clunky and lifeless. Each note must be polished. No notes can be ignored, but must be crafted for their perfect fit in the music.

So how do you practice crafting? Suggestion: imagine a floating fermata that plants itself randomly on any note. As you play, say the phantom fermata lands on one of your 16th notes. You quickly hear the quality, or lack of it, fix it and continue. It then finds an out-of-tune 8th note and parks on it until you adjust it. Call it the "stop-the-tape" game. Wherever it stops, it alerts you to make corrections. Eventually the ear starts to get picky instead of being willfully tone-deaf.

The Dynamics Police will also arrest you if distinct dynamic markings are not observed. Judges must know that you are aware of everything that is printed on the page. And then you must please the Phrasing Freaks. How about those judges with "last-noteitis"! They listen to make sure you leave as nicely as you entered.

Just as it is with all art, each part contributes to the greatness of the whole. None of our notes don't count. Awards go to the best quality, and that applies to every leaf in the forest. What we tend to neglect is the painstaking effort to recognize and remedy our bad notes. Hearing them is one thing, but it is the one who has learned how to craft them that wins the prize.

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