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Laurie Niles

October 14, 2004 at 4:40 PM

It's been nearly six months since I took that crazy Los Angeles Philharmonic audition, and I think I am just emerging from a sort of post-audition depression.

I was never exactly sad or surprised that I did not get in. Though I tried as hard as I possibly could, the competition was just incredible, and the odds – even after they paired down the number of auditionees from 500 to almost 200 – were not exactly in anyone's favor!

It was just a huge amount of effort to expend, and the reward was...well, the consolation prize has been somewhat elusive.

I definitely did conquer any fear I've had of auditions, at least I conquered them on that day. But I also completely burned myself out. The idea of taking another audition makes me react like my seven-year-old daughter reacts to doing homework after an arduous day, when she whines, “I'm tired! I don't know how! But I don't remember how to spell [or read, or do math or put a pencil in my hand]!”

I thought about taking another audition, but I couldn't commit. I needed to learn some pretty major concertmaster solos for it, and odds were pretty high that they already knew who they wanted for the position. I half-heartedly applied, half-heartedly started learning the new stuff. Started wondering, what good is it to learn all this new music, to play for a committee behind a screen? Yes, it is beautiful music, but if I don't have a much greater chance of getting this gig, why should I put myself through learning something no one will hear?

The icing on the cake came when I took the excerpts for a coaching from a new teacher. He was polite and had some nice suggestions. As I left, he congratulated me for my efforts to continue improving on my instrument. “I really admire it when people keep trying. I don't know, you start the violin, you fall in love with it, something makes you keep going with it. Then you reach a certain point where there's only so much you can do. You have a family, you can only practice so much,” yada yada yada.

What a great idea. Giving up.

I wondered, do I possibly need to do something that makes me like the violin again? Like perhaps play for someone other than an audition judge? Sure, I want to take more auditions, but...

Why on earth did I ever fall in love with this instrument?

It has something to do with Doug Bradley, a journalist, music critic and family friend who would stand by our fireplace with a cigar in one hand and a Scotch in the other and tell us about life in Wales. He certainly knew more –and cared more-- about music than anyone in my well-meaning American family, and he worked at my dad's newspapers. On one of those happy nights, the grownups encouraged nine-year-old beginner me to scratch out a little something on my new fiddle.

“A violinist!” he said merrily. Oh, ha ha ha, I thought. But from then on, he found clever ways to get my family to the symphony now and then, to go see a concert with a violinist from time to time. He gave me the 1977 recording of Eugene Fodor playing the Tchaikovsky concerto, and I played it on the tiny mono cassette player in my room. In fact, I liked that one. I forced my family to listen to it when we drove to the Grand Canyon.

I kept listening to it. I loved it, in fact. I went to see Fodor (a Coloradan) play it live, with the youth orchestra that I eventually became a part of. Wow, did I love that Tchaikovsky conerto.

Ha ha ha. Right. Like I'll play that.

We turned to Mr. Bradley when it became evident that I was obsessed with the violin and I needed a good teacher. He helped us find Jim Maurer and later Harold Wippler. Who taught Mr. Fodor quite a lot about the Tchaikovsky.

I played the Mozart concertos, the Mendelssohn, Bruch, Wieniawski, Saint-Saens, even some Bartok.

But I always wanted to play the Tchaikovsky. I never got to it in college.

When I did finally take it up, it was because I wanted to play something at auditions that would make me feel “studly.' You know, something with some oomph, that I could be proud of. I was 30.

It has taken me so long to learn that epic first movement, because I started it when I was pregnant with my daughter. I went back to Harold Wippler and took lessons; it is definitely one of those concertos that requires the collective wisdom of violinkind to play. I have worked it up while having two babies, taking about a dozen auditions, moving several times across the country, getting teaching has always been there, on the back burner.

The LA Phil audition put it on the front burner. I knew I just could not go in there without knowing the entire first movement from memory. Even if I didn't have to play a note of it (and I didn't), I needed to know that I could.

So I learned it, took the audition, and then got so depressed that I didn't even notice that I had not changed my strings for six months.

I forgot all about my consolation prize, forgot about it until now. I learned the Tchaikovsky!

Perhaps I should play it for someone other than a member of an audition committee. If you can believe it, I find the prospect of playing the entire movement for “real people” even more frightening than preparing it for an audition. For one, I'd actually have to play the entire thing, every note.

Oh, it's actually a much more exciting prospect.

So I have decided to subject my students and their parents to my Tchaik during the student recital. I have a rather small studio, so the recital won't be too long, even if I attach my little project to the end. And imagine, working up a concerto movement without simultaneously working up 12 orchestral excerpts. Wow!

I think I'm beginning to feel consoled!

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