I normally reckon I’m virtually immune to performance nerves, in a strict sense of ‘performance’. It is possible for me to feel stressed about playing ‘live’ to some kind of audience, but usually only when I’m aware that I’m massively underprepared. I hugely prefer it to recording, even under good conditions. If I have any confidence in what I’m going to do (including believing that I can wing it adequately!), then it’s pretty reliable that my playing won’t suffer.
Auditions and performance exams are a different matter, at least since some git left the electronic piano transposing up a semitone before I took grade 4 violin, aged about 13. I will reliably undersell myself in an empty room with some poker-faced examiners, and I hate doing auditions as a result; and of course that’s a neatly self-sustaining cycle, especially as long as I’m very rarely called upon to audition – I assume I would get used to it eventually, like pretty much anything else (it can’t be harder to get into the way of than injecting insulin four times a day, right?).
A fairly new concept has thrown itself at me lately – the audition performance, you might call it, or ‘tryout’ to borrow a term from US team sport. Tomorrow (Saturday) I’m playing for a 24-hour musical – you know the sort of thing, only the directors know what it’s going to be in advance, cast, band and crew find out 24 hours before curtain up, rehearse furiously and perform (I’m losing a lot of the prep time to a festival slot with the Filthy Spectacula, but that’s another story … ), in Cwmbran, near Newport on the Welsh side of the Bristol channel. The main carrot drawing me to it is not that it will be fun or some free food (which I think I’ll also miss to the other gig), but that playing for it is acting as my audition to join the Welsh Musical Theatre Orchestra, a professional (though not very well paid) ensemble that does concert versions of musicals, operetta and material from them.
Hopefully I won’t find that too intense (and hopefully a pit band viola part won’t be all that stretching to my technique). On Tuesday, I did a short violin-piano duo set at a restaurant in the ziggurat of consumerism that is the Shepherd’s Bush Westfield shopping centre; various people were doing these over a spread of dates to get residency work (or perhaps preferential dep listing as a consolation prize) some week nights up to Christmas at four branches of a small chain.
I expected this to be a performance with a prospective boss watching. I don’t know if it was the awareness that the work would amount to a lot of one-off freelance fees, or having picked myself a moderately difficult showcase set, or playing with a pianist I’d had just one fairly brief rehearsal with, or being aware of several very technically drilled other violinists after the same jobs, but it was much more like an audition with some people eating dinner in the background. Apparently I didn’t look nervous, but I certainly felt it, and I was trapped by nerves into some significant musical errors, so by my standards I sounded it too. Low point was definitely somehow losing track of how far along the neck my left hand was about halfway through the first piece, which qualifies as a schoolboy problem by any standards. Positive I suppose that I improved, rather than collapsed, from that point; but I’m still not holding my breath for the results of that application.
It’s not going to help me make any money to keep avoiding auditions though, so I guess I’m going to have to get used to them. Any offers to sit in a small room looking impassive while I play pieces I haven’t been allowed to choose and then give emotionless feedback?