I used to hate playing for other people. In the weeks leading up to an audition, I never felt “ready.” I thought I had to play my absolute best, or else it would be a waste of time. What use would it be to ask for comments, when most of them would boil down to practicing more? So, I wouldn’t do it. I knew that I should, but I didn’t ever feel up to it until I was so close to the audition that it seemed too late. In retrospect, I misunderstood the deeper value of playing for others. Of course, feedback is often helpful and sometimes invaluable, but there was much more I was missing out on.
I finally broke through my self-imposed barrier when I prepared for the Met audition. By that point I understood that my reluctance was a crutch, so I made a conscious choice to start playing for people long before I felt “ready.” I told my studio mates to ask me to play any excerpt, at any time, on any reed. (This led to some horrifying renditions of Figaro.) I asked everyone I could think of to hear me, and immediately set times so that my determination didn’t just evaporate into a series of “somedays.”
On a superficial level, I was forcing myself to run through excerpts in their entirety again and again. I was out of my comfort zone. I made mistakes and didn’t have the option of going back and correcting them; I was put through the most sadistic lists my friends could create (I’m looking at you, Joey); most of all, I was doing this in front of people whose opinions I respected.
But on a deeper level, I developed the ability to project positive feelings at the dreaded “committee,” because I was playing for people I knew and liked. I get much more nervous playing for people I know than for strangers—even if those strangers are on the other side of a screen, deciding my career trajectory. Especially in the early stages of my preparation, I fell flat on my face, but I learned that life went on. By repeatedly putting myself in these high-pressure situations, I learned what my real weaknesses were, as opposed to my imagined ones.
In retrospect, this was one of the key differences between how I prepared for previous auditions (which I wanted to win) and how I prepared for the Met audition (which I really, really wanted to win). It was hard, unpleasant, and ultimately invaluable, because it helped me get most of my “bad mojo” out before I ever arrived in New York. So, to my ever-patient friends who put me through my paces and taught me to appreciate the people on the other side of the screen: Thank you.