Monday, October 26, 2009

The Third Chair Disaster

I just found out on Saturday that I made third chair in my MYA seating audition.  When I looked at the chair seatings, I found the clarinet section, and I looked for my name. It was the third name on the list. I felt sick to my stomach. I cared a lot about this seating audition. I practiced a lot for it. In the month leading up to the audition, I had practiced the selections for hours and hours. The day before the seating audition, I had practiced the audition selections for 3 hours total!

There are 4 chairs in the clarinet section in the Philharmonia Orchestra.  So that makes me second to last, and I have the 2nd part.  The 2nd part is so much easier and less interesting than the 1st part.  I have a 27 measure rest in The Prometheus Overture!

When you try really hard for something, and you don't succeed, it feels terrible.  You feel like you aren't very smart and you're not very good at what you are doing.  It crushes your confidence. 

After I found out my audition placement, I was really upset for around 15 minutes, but then I said to myself:  even though I'm third chair, I can still get the solo when we have an audition for that, because there is a short clarinet solo in March to the Scaffold.  I had also worked hard to learn how to play the solo well.

But then there was another disaster!  When we were rehearsing March to the Scaffold with Mr. Pearson, and we got to the solo part, all of the clarinets played it.  Then Mr. Pearson said that the solo was supposed to be played only by the first chair clarinet.  But it wasn't even a part of the seating audition!

Before the chair seating results, I was feeling great about practicing everyday.  I practiced a lot, and I practiced eagerly.  But after getting third chair, I didn't really want to practice at all.  I didn't practice on Saturday, and I only got to practicing on Sunday at 10:00 at night.

I found this web page that helped me think about the situation in a different way.

The article talks about 3 different ways to deal with failing at something you have worked hard for.

1.  Some people give up, blame other people, and blame circumstances for failing.  Don't do this.

2.  Some people keep doing the same thing over and over again with more determination without changing their strategy.  You can do this, but I wouldn't advise it.

3.  Some people change their strategy and try again.  If they fail again, they change their strategy again and try again.  They do this until they succeed.  This is the best idea.

Today and last night I changed my strategy and tried again.  I assumed that the problem with my practicing wasn't that I didn't practice enough, but that I didn't practice deliberately enough.  So last night and today, I practiced my scales and my technical exercises for a long time very very carefully.  I payed attention to my tone and the connections between the notes.  When I played some solos for fun after this type of practice, I played them better than I usually do.  Maybe this strategy will work and I won't make 3rd chair again. 

Maybe it won't.  If it doesn't, I'll change my strategy and try again.


  1. It sounds like you have a good idea how to move forward. Its tricky trying to both be proud of what you've accomplished while also wanting more success.
    I have a couple of additional suggestions:
    1) Talk to someone who plays well and ask them what they work on.
    2) (this one is harder) Ask for criticism of your method and style from the people who decided who would be placed in the orchestra. If you have an idea of what they want, you can tailor your practice to improving where they think you are weak.

  2. Torin,

    Do not think of this as a failure. As I tell all my students, in auditions, you will lose some and win some. When you win, don't get too happy, when you lose don't get too upset.

    While playing first is fun and challenging for obvious reasons, being a good section player can also be rewarding in a different way.

    Skills that are necessary to be a good second player include:
    > good intonation and tone
    > firm technique
    > a sensitivity to the first player so you match him/her
    > the ability to blend with the entire wind section.

    Remember you are still playing the same great music whether you are first or second.

    Enjoy the sound, be supportive of your fellow players, and practice for the next audition.

    Your number will come up in the future so think of this as a learning experience and not a competition.

    Mr. Gangolli

  3. Thanks, Dr. B. and Mr. Gangolli. These are good things to think on.