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Audition Challenge Week 12

I am a jedi knight and the Force is strong with me.

Or, at least, it will be by the end of this thing. Three weeks in and I'm really starting to hear a difference. Ok, sure, a big chunk of that is due to my new gear, but still. Approach something from a different angle and you may just see results. By using the skills I'm improving on every day, physical and mental, I really do feel like I'm harnessing the power of the Force.

The biggest thing I'm getting from this is how the whole list is looked at. In the past I've organized my practice based on three categories: excerpts that I know are extra hard or new; excerpts that I haven't done in a while or that will need some work; and excerpts that I'm confident with. The goal by audition day is to have everything in that last group. This time around the list is organized by skill set, and so far I've been working on the skills that clearly have needed the most work.

Fast articulation is something I've always struggled with, and Volière is one of my most dreaded excerpts because of it. I would describe my tongue as a lazy mule - I reach a certain tempo and that's as far as it's willing to go. And it's usually one click slower than the lowest acceptable tempo. Last time I prepared this piece I tried to focus more on sound quality, which definitely helped, so I've decided to dedicate more time to that this time around. It's still obviously under tempo, but with 2 months to go I don't feel the need to race to the finish line. I'm happy with the progress so far and I'm confident by the time of the audition I'll be able to play it the way I hear it in my head.

The Mendelssohn is one of the pieces on my "confident" list, but I tend to overlook the articulation aspect of it. Instead of worrying right now about the dynamics or breathing, which I know I can do, I focused on note length and keeping things light.

This is your brain on the Mendelssohn Scherzo.

Prokofiev's Classical Symphony is probably on most flutists' nightmare list. It's really hard, no way around it. That's why it's asked on auditions. Even if you master the back-and-forth between the 1st and 2nd flutes, there's still all those runs up to the high D. It took me a while to realize that nailing the D wasn't the issue, but the middle of the run. I still smudge those notes in the video, but it's a work in progress and it's coming along. I'm trying to anticipate the adjustments I need to make a little sooner, which is working at a slow tempo. We'll see what happens as I gradually speed things up.

The last three pieces demonstrate solid soft playing. This is my achilles heel, you could say. Strauss' Death and Transfiguration is probably one of the only pieces I've ever played in a lesson where my teacher told me I was too loud. That almost never happens with flute. Couple issues with soft playing, caused by using less air: 1. Less air usually equates with slow air, which drops the pitch significantly. 2. Less/slow moving air in the upper register also means less support, increasing the chance the note is going to crack. Strauss was kind enough to make the first solo in this piece start on one of the most temperamental notes on the flute anyway, before adding the soft, etherial quality to it.

My reaction both when seeing it on paper, and when hearing somebody play it successfully.

Mahler, not to be outdone, saw Strauss' high A-flat and raised him a 3rd. Twice. That's two pianissimo high C's. With some conscious practice and a lot of 3rd and 4th octave soft long tones, I know I'll be able to nail it, but nobody said I had to be happy about it.

The reasoning behind playing just the openings of these excerpts is to get mentally prepared and in character before you bring the instrument up so that you're ready to go before the first note. Taking my time between pieces to visualize how I'm going to play them is a newer concept for me - I started doing it in my last audition but just like everything else, it's a skill that takes practice. And when you visualize success in the toughest pieces, it increases your odds of nailing it.

I've written briefly about mental practice in the past - I'm still using hypnotherapy to help combat my nerves, but I'm trying to work more on visualization as well to help keep me calm and focused when I have to play the pieces I struggle most with. Coming up in the future there is a visualization exercise, so I will be coming back to this subject in greater detail.

For more information, visit My repertoire substitutions can be found here, and last weeks post and video can be found here. Next week I'll be performing a full run of the 4th movement of Prokofiev's Classical Symphony and the Domine Deus from Bach's Mass in B Minor.

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