It's the dead of August, and I'm grateful for a productive summer. Our family has drafted a new member, I've been lucky enough to play a couple of weeks and weekends at the two shows I get to sub on, and I even got to travel a bit with our new family! Unfortunately, I'm finding myself staring down the barrel of an empty calendar for the next three months, a position that all freelancers inevitably find or have found themselves in around this time of year. So what's a horn player to do?
I stay busy but I don't really work enough to welcome a break until I get to play with Patriot Concert Brass again in November. I find myself spinning my wheels and going musically stir crazy without goals. As any parent of young children knows, it's easy to use this time to take a few weeks off of the horn and be a full-time parent. I can't afford this luxury, as I work mostly off of last-minute calls, and I have to be in shape at any moment. On top of this, I've recently been rebitten by the orchestral bug, and I realized that there are quite a few auditions that have either been announced or are coming up. In an effort to stay positive and continue to be a musician that helps other musicians in spite of myself, I have other plans for this pesky hiatus.
I recently concluded a two-year orchestral draught by playing with the Manchester Music Festival two weeks ago. I was lucky enough to play principal on a program of Beethoven 3 and Brahms' Second Piano Concerto, a dream program for a principal horn player. I was so happy to relive and remember the joy of being surrounded by music, the thrill of jumping into the texture like a double-dutch game, and the physicality of pushing myself to burn chop calories when I don't think I can play any longer. In light of this, I am putting myself on what I'm calling an Orchestral Diet. I may not be subbing with any orchestras right now, and I may not have any orchestral positions of my own, but I feel that I am the most horn player I can be when I'm playing and thinking orchestrally.
This came about when I stepped back and looked at the auditions that were coming up. As I was weighing my options I was seriously wondering whether or not I was still good enough at playing the genre to justify taking an audition. Preparing for Manchester was enough to assure myself that I have a reliable system for learning this music, and I'm more than capable of being in shape to not only get through a program, but to contribute musical playing and leadership to an ensemble as well. The challenge at that point was coming up with a way to keep this momentum going and my face...well...what I like to call "torn up". So here's what I came up with, on top of regular scale work and routine practice:
Day 1: intense practice of a large symphonic work, or a smaller symphony with an overture and concerto
Day 2: a full run through of the program I've picked with a recording, and a later session of score study and practice
Day 3: a full run though, plus practice of spots I missed
Day 4: two full run throughs, plus practice
Day 5: two full run throughs
Day 6: one run through
Day 7: recuperation day, including light scale practice and a routine intended for preventing bad habits from creeping in.
Instead of blindly practicing the usual excerpts that I know will be on these lists for these upcoming auditions, I am choosing to make sure that I am good enough to play any job I might win. I've done a lot of that for the many many auditions that I've taken, and I have the time right now to improve my playing level before I invest in an excerpt list. Auditions are a separate issue for me, but I have had success in auditions where I felt I was playing at a level that I knew would work well on the job. I'm starting with Strauss' Symphonia Domestica, a piece I love but have never played before.
I recently spent a lot of time worrying about money and the looming lack of work. On top of this, I heard about other horn players' playing opportunities and ended up doing favors for others that have great potential of advancing their careers. To be honest, it can be really tough to be happy for others when there's nothing on the horizon or any promise of your future getting better. I'm hoping that this regimen I've set for myself will satisfy my own desires of being a great player. I do get bitter and I really wish that things were different. I wish I was a player that was always in demand and got to play in the best places in the city every week. All I can do right now is be kind to the people I come across; to make extra, double, triple sure that I am at the top of my game; and to keep fighting back.
I once asked a brass musician whom I respected, "what's the most valuable advice you ever received and would give to a brass player who's trying to come up the ranks?"
He answered me quickly and said two words: "don't quit."