I’ve been watching Project Runway again as I work at my reed desk. It’s amazing to watch the designers sweat, and struggle, and create beauty under pressure. I notice that the competitors are always talking about being "true to themselves" as designers. Or showing “who they are” as designers. And they are happiest with the clothes that fulfill the challenges set to them while still reflecting their own "design aesthetic". And sometimes, the judges fault them for just making “clothes” instead of fashion, or letting their designs be too generic.
I recently sat through a day of string auditions for the South Bend Symphony. As usual, I LOVED doing so. It’s always inspiring to hear the quality of the players who come, and interesting to hear the reactions of my colleagues on the committee. I suspect that most of the candidates weren’t giving much thought to presenting “who they are” as cellists. Or making sure that their “aesthetic” came through.
Honestly, when you are playing behind the screen, you are just trying to do it right. Music happens in real time - although we work on our art for years and years, the audition is just this seven minutes, right now. You have to overcome your nerves and the internal voices telling you to fail, and play a selection of the hardest things you would ever have to do in your job, perfectly. In addition, orchestral excerpts by their very nature require the player to be a bit of a chameleon. You can’t play Mozart the same way you’d play Richard Strauss. Bartok is different from Bach. As I play, I’m not focusing on presenting my personal brand, just on dealing with each piece appropriately, beautifully, with the context that it requires.
But having said this, I couldn’t help but notice that from the safe side of the screen, people’s personalities do come through. It’s easy to hear the violin jocks, and the ones who are more shy. The technicians, and the musicians. The ones for whom nervousness overcomes their abilities, and those who rise higher than they’d expected. And those personalities came through the appropriate stylistic changes and came through even in very soft or very loud passages, just in the way the players approached each piece. It was unmistakeable.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this parallel. The equivalent of “just making clothes” would probably be a very blank, perfect audition, with no real personality behind the notes. That is the kind of playing that can bring a candidate successfully through the early rounds of an audition, but I believe that the final choice usually comes down to the personality that we can hear in the playing.
Do I have a point here? I suppose it is that you are always presenting something of yourself. That every note you play is a chance for your listeners to get to know you. That maybe it’s not a bad idea to know who you are as a musician, and to have that image in mind as you prepare. That anyone can play well, but only you can play like you, and THAT is the thing that will win you the job in the end. Be confident, and proudly show who you are as a musician.