The Final Stretch

I am at that point in my audition prep where I’m in a terrifying race against my body—trying to squeeze in enough osteo and massage therapy and physio appointments; and ingesting enough teas and…calming medicinal substances…to off-set the hours of practice that are making my left-shoulder hang stubbornly 5 inches lower than my right; my ring and pinkie fingers on both hands go completely numb, and my leg do that thing where I move it the tiniest bit and then suddenly, like the gears of a clock, everything goes out of alignment from my hip to my ankle, and I have to hop everywhere. I literally own crutches.

I’m at that point in my audition prep where I am having dreams about walking into a mall completely naked, having forgotten my clothes in the car. Where I am rehearsing the Brahms violin concerto with Symphony Nova Scotia 1 hour before the concert, but I can’t get through the first 3 lines without having a memory slip, or without my violin literally slipping down the front of my sweater. (Little on the nose there, subconscious) I’m having dreams that Donald Trump is HITTING ON ME AT A BAR. If anybody wants to try and interpret that for me… please don’t.

I’m at that point in my audition prep where that little voice in my head is saying things like “You’re good, kid, but you’re just not cut out for this. You’re no virtuoso, you’re an orchestra player—and you know they only hire soloist-caliber players at these things. That one part in the last movement of Mozart 39 with all the string-crossings is going to give you away.”

—I played for a friend in the violin section the other day, and he told me that everything is sounding great—it’s all in tune, rhythmically solid, yadda yadda—but that my fortissimos need to be WAY louder, I need to over-exaggerate the crap out of all the dynamics. He had me play a few things over again, giving what I think is “too much,” and he’d tell me at what point it was actually too much. I popped my left ear-plug in, because I literally cannot handle the sound of my violin right under my ear at full-volume—and let’er rip. “Good! YES!!!!” He was happy. But it felt SO UNNATURAL to me. 1. because, I realized, I’ve been subconsciously playing at like 65% volume at home so as not to make my neighbors want to jump through the window; and 2. BECAUSE I NEVER PLAY THAT LOUD IN ORCHESTRA! If I did, I’d see the left eyes of about 8 of my section mates, as they slowly turn in their seats to locate the source of the offensive non-blending sound, staring at me with silent disapproval.

I’m at that point in my audition prep where I’m ignoring phone calls and texts; and I haven’t seen my friends in ages—because somehow, I’ve convinced myself that “fun” is the OPPOSITE of productive. Like if I were to spend this precious last free weekend before D-Day doing ANYTHING OTHER than brooding in my apartment, covered in shawls, poring over my scores that are so marked up at this point you can barely see the original ink—I will surely get kicked out after 1 round. I know whats-his-face went drinking the night before he won the New York Phil, but I can’t pull that shit off. One glass of red wine for me is like drinking 2 bottles of tequila. I spend the whole next day dragging myself from my bed to the bathroom whining out loud about how disgusting I feel, vowing to never go out again.

I’m at that point in my audition prep where I’ve gotten a bow rehair, I’ve changed my strings, I’ve adjusted my bridge to exactly 52.5mm from the ridge of my tailpiece, thanks to a $30 tiny artisanal ruler; but I still can’t hack the clarity needed on the G-string in those fast passages, and I’m CONVINCED it’s because my SOUNDPOST NEEDS TO BE ADJUSTED!! Should I go to that guy at the violin shop who tells me with a frown every time he does an adjustment that my violin doesn’t sound as good as it did when I first bought it? No, that’s not good for morale. Should I drive all the way to Ann Arbor, Michigan to get it adjusted by the maker himself, David Burgess, like I did two auditions ago? Probably not, for myriad reasons, although he did buy me a steak dinner last time. Should I try to convince some rich collector to lend me a $200,000-$5 million dollar violin, so I can match the sound of the people who have freaking instruments from the Canada Council instrument bank at the audition, or who have rich parents, or who decided to buy a violin INSTEAD OF A HOUSE and are now what they call in the biz “instrument-poor?!?”

I’m at that point in my audition prep where if I so much as peel a clementine the wrong way, I get an injury on my left index finger that lasts for days.

I’m at the point in my audition prep where if someone sends me a facebook message that even mentions the “A” word, I travel down an endless spiral of panic, wondering, should I tell them that this “A” topic is off the table? No, I mean, maybe it won’t happen again. But what if they text me on the day? What then?? I want to just be safely locked into my vestibule of solitude, not answering questions about what time this and that is happening!! No I’d better tell them now. “Dear X… please can you not ask me questions about the A—” No what the hell, I’m mega over-thinking this. I’ve got it. I’ll just DELETE FACEBOOK.

I’m at that point in my audition prep where I am cooking various stews every night to give my hands something to do other than wreck themselves over-practicing; and I’m freezing perfectly measured-out portions of each meal, so that in the 3-5 days before D-Day, I won’t have to cook and risk pulling out my shoulder when I bend over to put the dutch oven back in the lazy susan.

Is this worth it??????

I’m at that point in my audition prep where despite being cumulatively more prepared than I have ever been for an audition, I’m just ever-so-subtly considering the possibility that maybe I DON’T have to do this. Maybe I could just… not show up. That day when all the bazillions of violinists are having stress-dumps or anxiety-vomits right before they walk on stage to demonstrate, in 7 minutes, what they have been practicing for hundreds of hours (thousands of hours, really, since they started doing auditions and hundreds of thousands of hours since picking up the instrument at age 4)—I could just be… eating spicy dill-pickle chips in bed.

GAHH but something snaps me out of it. Like every single other time. For one thing, I’ve already worked so freaking hard. And all that work would go down the drain if I just decided to give up. Also, when have I NOT had this exact thought before something really important and stressful? And then, it actually ends up being perfectly, totally okay? I mean, it USUALLY ends up being okay, not always… *cough* that time I played Paganini 24 in a competition and just, basically, played something that resembled… sounds… like it was definitely in A minor… but it sounded more like contemporary improv that was infused with the spirit of Paganini. Anyway.

I remember in 2008, 2 days before my audition for the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, my bridge full-on flew out from under my strings and across the room, smacking against the wall as I was performing one of my standard pre-audition manic string adjustments. “THAT’S IT!! I’M NOT DOING THE AUDITION!” I yelled. “THIS IS CLEARLY A SIGN!!” I put my violin away and immediately started binge-watching 30-Rock.

But then 2 days later, I tucked my bridge back under the strings, walked to the hall, played the audition, and won a spot in the orchestra. I had an amazing time that summer touring Russia, Lithuania, Germany and Armenia with a bunch of budding alcoholics.

SO in closing…

Writing this post has not calmed me down, and I imagine it has not calmed you down, either. Sorry about that. But, it’s where I’m at. And I wanted people to know, that this is what we go through, before every single audition. “We,” meaning, highly-sensitive, highly-trained, quasi-crazy orchestral players trying to pretend we’re soloists for just one day. Wish me luck!

One thought on “The Final Stretch

  1. Hi Lauren Sending you strength as face this audition hurdle again again again. I have about ten of those t-shirts in the bottom of my dresser drawers. Every once in awhile I pull one out to put myself through the process, remind myself of the mental and physical struggle it took to get the job I am lucky to have, as much as it drives me f*%¥ing nuts a lot of the time. As per the g-string clarity, no doubt you’ve tried it, but don’t forget you can experiment with edge of hair and a bow speed and placement/pressure. One more amongst the thousands of things to remember …. Best, with you in spirit, this is not a comment for publication, just as moral support, David TT

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