Disney All-American College Band: First 2 Weeks

A few months ago I had the opportunity to audition for the Disney All-American College Band with a few colleagues from George Mason University. Among many qualified candidates, I was fortunate to be accepted into the program.

Now it is 4 months after the audition, and I am in Los Angeles for the summer performing with the greatest musicians I have ever had the pleasure to work with. In the following posts, I will chronicle my experiences and hope to give some insight for future students auditioning into this wonderful program.

Upon arrival in Fullerton CA (where our dorms are located at Cal State Fullerton) I moved into my room with 4 other members of the 21-piece band. After a few days of Disney orientation, we began our first day of a 2-week rehearsal period. The mornings began with a few hours of music rehearsal with Dr. Ron McCurdy. After the morning music session comes the rigorous 6 hours of choreography rehearsal. We are required to have the “book” (our music for 4 of the 5 shows of each day) memorized upon arrival in California. It is a daunting task for anyone but it can be done.

After syncing the music with our newly learned choreography, the polished show is brought to the overnight rehearsal. This is the only time the band can rehearse in the park without guests being around. We arrive at Disney at 11pm, down some cups of coffee, and prepare to run and clean the shows in the park until 7am. After a much needed day off, we are onto our first performance!

What has amazed me so far is the level of musicianship and attention to detail that each individual has displayed. Despite hours of rigorous rehearsal and focus throughout the day, we return home to our dorms weary and continue to practice, and refine. Our director, Dr. McCurdy always says “we are not perfect, but striving for perfection”. We will continue to perfect until our last day.

©2014 Andrew Dougherty

©2014 Andrew Dougherty

Alan Baer Masterclass

Recently I had the opportunity to hear Alan Baer, Principal Tubist of the New York Philharmonic, give a masterclass at the Army Tuba and Euphonium Conference here in DC. I will keep my own anecdotes short and simple, but I must say how down-to-earth Alan was; if he cracked a note, he blew it off or laughed saying “even the best of us do it”. His masterclass focused on orchestral audition preparation and repertoire. As he said “We play for these auditions, and 99% of the time, we are the only tuba player in the room. But now I’m playing for all tuba players… so I’m kind of nervous.”

Alan Baer Masterclass

– Realize that the excerpts are easy; it’s just a matter of control.

– The hardest thing is to get over your ego.

– Naked Tuba

– What do we want the tuba to sound like?

– We play for these auditions, and 99% of the time, we are the only tuba player in the room.

– Think of the committee as complete children. You have to speak so clearly that they understand.

– So much is lost beyond the stand.

Meistersinger

– The horn is so efficient that you don’t have to beat the hell out of it. You can really relax.

– Practice with the drone.

– Use a metered trill to practice.

Damnation of Faust

– Once you play those first four notes, you cannot change.

– On the ascending line, keep going to the high F, so that you ear train it. If the lines goes up, follow it.

– Play pretty.

– The committee does not want to hear you play the ride as loud as you can, they want to hear if you can play in tune and balance the section.

– Use a drumbeat in your practice. It’s doing the subdivision for you.

Prokofiev 5

– I advocate going back and fourth between the F and C. Match mouthpiece rims as well, otherwise you are confusing.

– Get yourself used to the multiple valve combination.

– Use the aperture and embouchure from a Db to use with an F# so that you do not overcompensate.

– Learn how to breath before you start something.

– There is a fine line between when your chops want to play, and when you want your chops to play. Always practice in time so they work when YOU want.

– Think about being on a committee, and listening to 100 guys play this slow, you are going to be pissed.

– Listen to the strings and how they move.

– I try to be as close to the fourth trombones sound as possible. I think ‘clarity for the basses and the mass for the trombones’.

– Get your valves vented.

– Not too loud, pretty.

– Make your music satisfy you.

– All of these loud excerpts, I practice at a comfortable mp or mf, so that you can make it pretty.

– Everything that you play, play with intent.

– “Now I’m going to play everything like the second movement of the Vaughan Williams”

Mahler 1

– “I don’t think of it in 4, I think of it in 12/8″.

– Thick is the thing to think here.

– Use 3 for the A and 1-2 for the D, if on F tuba.

– Whenever we miss a note, there’s a reason. Start looking for a reason.

– Do this one when the horn is absolutely cold, because that’s the real situation.

Fountains

– Only breath after the Low E, excerpt for pickups into 12, to show phrasing.

– Drop the wrist to make sure that the 4th valve goes down first.

When it comes to auditions

– You need to sell your product, and you have to believe in it. You must go in and show them, this is what you want.

– Stop drinking a month before an audition

– Next time you’re practicing a passage and you are just getting worse, take 5 minutes and do pushups, dips, and go back to it.

– No carbs before you are going to play.

– Protein bars and protein shakes.

Alan Baer

Alan Baer

Essential Steps to a Great Performance

Many of us have witnessed it: the person who gets up on stage, stops during a performance to correct a mistake or a missed note, then marches off stage without a thank you bow or nod. This type of performance makes the audience just as uncomfortable as the performer sweating bullets on stage. There are many ways to have a great performance before and after the actual piece is played. Here are a few things to keep in mind before, during, and after a performance.

Before- take care of everything in your control

– Make sure you are appropriately dressed for the occasion. If you need some help in this area I suggest artofmanliness.com. Simply put, be modest and professional.

– Ensure that your music is in order, neat and most importantly with you. For brass players, empty condensation from your horn prior to going on stage. No one wants to hear a water balloon drop on stage.

– As Jeff Nelsen (former horn player for the Canadian Brass and Professor of Horn at Indiana University) said, “Your level of nerves will be inversely proportional to your amount of preparation”. Thus, do all of your practicing prior to being backstage.

– Know what to expect and what not to expect. Simulate your performance in your head so it will all be familiar when you are in front of the lights.

– Treat every performance the same: do your best. Whether it is a piece you will be performing in Piano 101, or a recital, never settle for mediocrity. Even if it is a non-chalante piano performance, no one wants to hear you introduce yourself as “Well, I’ll be playing Under the Sea from the Little Mermaid. Its gonna be pretty bad so I hope I get through it.” Rather, “Hello, my name is _____ and I will be performing the Theme from NBC’s ‘The Office’ composed by _____. Enjoy.”

During-

– Focus. Listen and let the music speak for itself.

– Play everything with an exclamation point, not a question mark, as my professor Andrew HItz frequently says. In other words, be confident in what you’re playing whether its right or wrong, and don’t apologize for it.

– Confidence. You should have no doubt that you will be receiving emails and phone calls from the New York Philharmonic or CSO the next day asking for you to be their principal player of… This is an exaggeration of course but do be confident in what you can do. Just as important though, the second you walk off stage tuck that arrogance in your back pocket. Be modest, thankful and open to all comments, good or bad.

– Think ‘do’, not ‘don’t’. In other words, don’t think while playing “oh gosh here comes the worst part of this solo, I hope I don’t frack it”. Nonsense. Think “I’m going to play this part so well just like the other day”.

After- 

– Modesty. This is huge. Even if you are the best musician in the world, do not go on about how much you love yourself. If you have a great performance, the audience will tell you.

– Be respectful, courteous and grateful. Accept all comments with grace and poise. If someone is coming up to you to tell you how wonderful your tone is, don’t say “Yea it was alright, its usually better”. In essence, you are saying that they are wrong. You do not want to do this.

– Finally, move on. It may have been a circus-like frack fest, or a moving experience, but the only thing that matters for the progression of your musicianship is how your next performance will go.

For more performance technique and direction, I highly suggest visiting Jeff Nelsen’s page.

Guy doing yoga behind my tuba

Gene Pokorny Orchestral CD

For all those instrumentalists (or tubists specifically) who are discovering their sound or looking for someone to model after, I pass along the sound of Gene Pokorny. Principle Tubist of the Chicago Symphony, Gene Pokorny is a virtuoso of the tuba and a superb model for sound. In his album Orchestral Excerpts for Tuba, listeners can slowly see their jaws dropping to the floor as the run to the practice room. I need not say much more, simply enjoy Mr. Pokorny’s sound and take this as a tool for your practicing and inspiration for your own sound.

Lastly, to accompany this album, I recommend the Encore Publishing book entitled The One Hundred, containing essential excerpts and suggestions as to how to play these classic pieces.

Gene Pokorny- Orchestral Excerpts for Tuba

The One Hundred

 

Finally Written!