A few years ago my grandfather bought me a new tuba. I was thrilled because it had been ages since I’d played and I really missed it. My aspiration (ok, I suppose I do have some aspirations), was to play in an orchestra. I’ve been longing to do this again since high school. I have no illusions about my playing. I’m not even close to being a professional. I set my sights lower. I just wanted to be a part of a community orchestra of some sort.
Enter the OU Civic Orchestra. It’s an orchestra for both students and community members. I think Surely I can get into this orchestra if I practice hard enough. I contact the director and he says that he will need a tuba player in the spring. The audition will be in January. Good, I have a few months to prepare. I look at their website for the audition requirements: Two two-octave scales to be played slurred on the ascending scale and articulated on the descending. Plus one two-octave chromatic scale. And finally, two short etudes or orchestral excerpts.
Surely, I think, I can pull this off. I’d practiced a fair share of scales and arpeggios in high school. Heck, I even made 1st alternate in the all-state band. I GOT THIS. But when I sit down for the first time, I realized that I had NEVER in fact played a 2-octave scale, much less slurred. This may give you some idea of my skill level. It was far more difficult than I imagined. I couldn’t bridge the gaps between low, middle, and high registers. I’d been dancing around it all this time.
So what does one do when one has such a problem? I proceed immediately to youtube. What I learn is that I need to adjust my emboucher (the way the lips meet the mouthpiece). I need to make a change. After 20 years, I need to make a change. It is difficult at first. I struggle for two months, trying to make the necessary adjustments. But finally, I master it. Wow, I actually grew as a tuba player! I was ready for this audition.
I am very nervous the day of the audition. My daughter wants to come with me and I’m grateful for the company. I’m supposed to meet the director at the university near the music admin offices. So while I’m sitting in the waiting area this kid walks by and kind of stares at me. It’s the director. And I think, how old am I when a grad student looks like a kid. He leaves me in a cramped office for a warmup. This office is tiny, but they still managed to squeeze a baby grand piano in. There is just enough room in the center of the room for me to lay down my tuba case and pull out my instrument. I run my scales. My daughter sings along and makes tuba player faces. My fingers are fumbling. He steps in. We chat for a moment.
Then he says, “Ok, so what to you have for me?” And I’m thinking 3 scales, 1 easy etude and one that I sometimes flub. And I’d really rather not attempt the scales at all.
“Just play whatever you want. No big deal.”
So I pick the easy etude and play. I play fairly well.
“Ok. That’s just fine. So our registration is tomorrow. You’re the first tuba player who’s shown any interest who actually owns a tuba, so….”
So that was that. I could’ve played Mary Had a Lamb and the results would have been the same. “Ok, that’s just fine. So our registration is…”
You never really know how these things are going to turn out. I’m excited, though. We’re playing Rimsky-Korsokov; one of my favorite orchestral composers.