William Short

William Short was appointed Principal Bassoon of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in 2012. He previously served in the same capacity with the Delaware Symphony Orchestra and has also performed with the Houston Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra. William has performed as soloist with the Vermont and Delaware Symphonies, as well as the New York Classical Players.

A dedicated teacher, William serves on the faculties of The Juilliard School, Manhattan School of Music, and Temple University, as well as the Verbier Festival and Interlochen Arts Camp. He has presented classes at colleges and conservatories around the country and at conferences of the International Double Reed Society, for which he serves as an officer.

William has also performed and taught at the Lake Champlain, Lake Tahoe, Mostly Mozart, Stellenbosch (South Africa), Strings, and Twickenham Festivals. An occasional editor and composer, his works have been published by the Theodore Presser Company and TrevCo-Varner Music.

Committed to forging connections between audiences and performers, William's articles on the subject can be found on the MET Orchestra Musicians' website, which has been lauded not only by The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, but also by noted arts consultant Drew McManus and prolific cultural commentator Norman Lebrecht.

William received his Bachelor of Music from the Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied with Daniel Matsukawa and Bernard Garfield, and his Master of Music at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, where he studied with Benjamin Kamins. He attended festivals including the Music Academy of the West, Pacific Music Festival, Spoleto Festival USA, and the Verbier Festival. Additional major teachers have included Jeanine Attaway, Kristin Wolfe Jensen, and William Lewis.

Filtering by Tag: Preparation

Going on Autopilot

“Going on autopilot” doesn’t sound good. It sounds mechanical, unfeeling, antithetical to bringing an audience on an emotional journey. To truly affect someone, you have to be, well, conscious, right? In most cases, sure. But sometimes, things get scarymoments at the extremes of dynamics and range, moments of unusual technical and expressive demands. At those times, when your mind is distracted by sheer terror, the ability to let your training take over is indispensable.

Let me clarify what I mean. By autopilot, I mean ingraining your technical and musical mission (to co-opt a phrase from Daniel Matsukawa) so firmly that, no matter what else is going on in your mind, your body knows what to do. Most of us experience performance anxiety at least some of the time, whether it be in an audition or a high-pressure performance. Of the variety of ways to deal with that, and without judgment of any of them, I’ve found this to be the strategy from which I learn the most. By confronting my nerves head-on and finding practice strategies that enable me to (hopefully) play well in spite of them, I learn about myself and am able to put that knowledge to use in future high-stress situations.

What does this mean in practical terms? Practice a piece in the wrong key. Run around the room, then play before you’ve had a chance to catch your breath. Play an excerpt well five times in a row, consciously noticing the tension that creeps in as you get closer to your goal. All of these make your life more difficult in the practice room, so that playing under normal circumstances becomes easier. We don’t want to only be able to play a passage well when we’re at our absolute bestcomfortable, warmed-up, playing in the privacy of the practice room. We want our preparation to extend beyond the reasonable expectation of what we’ll have to dowe have to be better than the demands placed on us, because only then can we expect to play well in difficult situations.

This extends equally to one’s musical purpose. Making music is not an intellectual exercise, but many aspects of one’s musical goals can be quantified, and we can train ourselves to replicate them under pressure. A fantastic quote by Marcel Tabuteau appears in the liner notes to David McGill’s seminal orchestral excerpts CD: "If you think beautifully, you play beautiful [sic]. I believe to play as you think more than to play as you feel because how about the day you are not feeling so well?" It is precisely those days that we’re talking about. Mr. Tabuteau is referring to the ability to make music under any circumstances.

Gradually, we learn what strategies give us the ability to function on autopilot when necessary. We grow in our confidence that our preparation is sufficientfocused, intense practice that has done as much as possible to maximize the odds that we’ll play well, even if we’re a roiling mass of fear on the inside. Ultimately, the audience doesn’t care what is or isn’t difficult. That’s our problem, and it’s our responsibility to take the steps necessary to provide the insurance that, when the chips are down, we can still depend on our preparation to carry us through.

Reader Questions: Avoiding Burnout

I'd love to hear your thoughts about maintaining an emotional connection with the music during the preparation process and wanting to play music at all by the end—keeping any musical freshness, really.

We’ve all experienced post-audition burnout. Auditions are such an intense (and frankly, unnatural) situation, for which we prepare so exhaustively, that by the end, it’s hard not to burn ourselves out. And to a certain extent, I think it can be healthy to take a break afterward. I love the beginning of the summer, when the bassoon goes into the closet for a couple of weeks.

The problem comes when the burnout lingers for an unhealthy amount of time, as mine did after my way-overdone college audition preparation. I think that the key to maintaining enthusiasm is carefully pacing your preparation so that you peak at the audition. If you arrive at your pinnacle too early, you actually stop improving, which isn’t just boringit kills confidence. When you reach this point, the only way to play better is to be better at your instrument, which is the kind of long-term improvement that takes more time (and variety of repertoire and experience) than any audition or performance can provide.

When I was preparing for symphonic auditions, I liked to have three weeks of intense preparation. For the Met, it was closer to six weeks, because so much of the music was unfamiliar. I’m fully aware that this is a lot less time than many (perhaps even most) people like to have before an audition, but it worked for me. It’s not necessarily any better or worse than others’ systems that have yielded results. We all arrive at our own timeline.

And this, I think, is the broader answer to the question of avoiding burnout. If you find a system of work that yields tangible, consistent improvement, trust it. Others won’t have the same approach, and that’s OK. Everyone who is successful in music has worked very, very hard at it in their own way. By trusting in our preparation process, we stand a better chance of maintaining enthusiasm and remembering why we’re in this (often trying) business.

Please send in your questions via the Contact page!

Letting Go

Before this blog goes any further, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the sensational Katie Jordan for her remarkable editorial prowess. Without her discerning eye, this blog would be, well, a mess. (Full disclosure: she’s also my fiancée.) Now, on to our regularly-scheduled blog post…

“You will make mistakes. There’s just no substitute for experience.” When I won my job, this was the advice my mentor and friend Daniel Matsukawa offered. What’s stuck with me the most about it is its implied self-forgiveness.

Everyone makes mistakes. Intellectually, it’s easy to understandobvious, even. In practice, it’s tough to accept. What helped me in this regard was a simple idea: If I’ve worked as hard as I can and I still don’t play as well as I would like, then I’ve ultimately done nothing wrong.

My thinking went like this: I showed up at the audition. I played my best and the committee decided to hire me. Preparing all these operas, I worked as hard as I was physically capable, and if there were times when I still fell short, well, there was nothing more I could have done.

Of course, this doesn’t mean I don’t get frustrated when I make mistakes. I do. But we have to get past sub-par performances and focus on long-term musical development. This development doesn’t happen in a linear way. I’ve grown a great deal over the last two and a half seasons, but that doesn’t mean that each of my 300 or so performances at the Met have each gotten progressively better. Continual improvement is a messy, inconsistent process. It requires constant work, for both physical and mental well-being.

That's the most important part of this, and I think it bears repeating. Letting yourself off the hook is contingent on working very, very hard. There’s simply no substitute for doing everything in your power to make tonight go well. If it doesn’t? Let go of it and do better next time.