Man it's been a while since my last blog post, mostly due to April being one of the busiest months I've had in a long while. Back to the grind, though.
I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the West Point tuba audition tapes my colleagues and I sifted through last week. Many of you are probably wanting something in the form of constructive criticism for those of you who didn't get an invite to the live round in June. As it would be very difficult to give individual comments to everyone who sent in something, I'll just give some generalized comments for everyone as most of our observations were somewhat uniform throughout.
First and foremost: we got a lot of really good tapes. The decision to narrow it down to 7 was somewhat difficult. Thanks so much to everyone for the effort they put into it overall. We were quite pleased with the turnout. With that said, here are some generalized observations for those who didn't get the invite:
1. Although we know recording the entire Hindemith Sonata was a tall task, not enough time seemed to be put into the excerpts portion. The excerpts were much more telling into your overall ability and how well you would fit into our ensemble. It was definitely a let down to be drawn into a great Hindemith performance only to be let down by poorly prepared excerpts.
2. March style is huge. It was tough to find candidates who played with great march style with cleanliness. Stars and Stripes was the most telling. The opening strain should have a sense of direction and moreover, the 16ths should be more like grace notes with lots of emphasis on downbeats. Be careful not to blat any of the accented notes. Marches should still be rather light even though the articulations written can sometimes be a little misleading. There should also be much more of a difference between short and long notes. It's all about contrast!!
3. Even more important than march style was time. It seemed like good time was what really separated the maybes from the invitees. We play marches a lot in the West Point Band and in military bands in general and it's absolutely critical that the tubas lay down a good foundation with solid time. It's not always the easiest to play marches perfectly in time by yourself but it's certainly telling when you're listening back. Make a habit of recording yourself daily and be super critical about your time and tempos. After a while, it becomes engrained.
Most disappointing part of the submissions: THE POOR AUDIO QUALITY OF THE RECORDINGS!
Obviously this part is perhaps the most troubling for me because of my audio background, but it plays perfectly into my new low brass recording guide I'll be releasing shortly that should hopefully clear a lot of things up for those of you who recorded yourself. I won't go into a whole lot of detail in this post since I'll be releasing the recording guide soon but here are a couple of takeaways:
1. If you listen back and any part of the recording sounds distorted to the point you can't tell what you even sound like, do it over and turn down the gain. Most of you probably recorded on a handheld portable recorder. My recording guide will delve into this a little but figure out how to adjust the gain if you haven't already. We were shocked by how many submissions we got that were essentially inaudible. We did not look past the quality of the recording if that's what you were wondering. If we couldn't get a good idea of what you really sound like because of all the distortion, we stopped listening.
2. We had a lot of variations on amount of reverberation or lack thereof. Every room is different of course but do a sound check beforehand to see what the balance is like. There were a ton of recordings that sounded like they were in a tiny practice room. I know recital halls are hard to reserve sometimes, believe me. But try your best to get a space that has a little more space for the tuba to "breath" so to speak. On the other end of the spectrum, we had a lot of tapes that sounded like the microphone was just too far back to capture any kind of clarity of articulations or sound in general. Those were very difficult to judge as well. A good rule of thumb is to place the recorder (or stereo pair) about 10 feet back and 8 feet high. But the best results come from just experimenting with placement. Every hall is different and distances and height should change accordingly.
Overall, the main idea here is to make sure you produce a recording that provides an accurate representation of your true sound and ability. If you can do that confidently yourself with your own equipment, great. If not, then hire an audio engineer to record you in a good hall. It's that simple. Good audio gear that captures good sounds is more affordable than ever but knowledge of good audio concepts stays the same. A $4,000 microphone does nothing if it's placed poorly.
It's more important than ever in the 21st century music world to know how to record yourself well. Every musician should have basic knowledge of audio technology. Putting your best foot forward when applying for a performance position starts with a really good sounding recording. Keep that in mind for future auditions!
Hope all of this has been informative. There were a lot of folks that were right there in the mix before we narrowed it down. Keep trucking along and keep auditioning. You'll only get better and more focused the more you do it. Stay tuned for a low brass recording guide coming soon to the Audio Engineering page of the website. Very exciting stuff! Cheers!
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