Next week marks the end of another large chapter of my life. On Monday I'll be driving up to Detroit (with Andy) to play my last week with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. On the docket is Mahler 3, and I'm playing fourth bassoon. I'm late writing this post, because for the past few weeks I've been reflecting on these past two years and really trying to highlight the stand-out moments of this experience. This has certainly been the most important part of my development as a musician, and I'm overly thankful for this opportunity, even though the road was often rough (or just really snowy).
I remember very vividly my first week playing with the orchestra. I was assigned to play 2nd on a Cirque de la Symphonie show, and panic was all over my body when I opened the folder and saw how thick it was. I learned more music that week than I had learned in several months, and for me it was a good introduction to the demands of playing in an orchestra, and to the Detroit Symphony itself. The power of the brass, and the precise tuning of the strings really amazed me, and I knew that I had never played in a group anything like that.
Over the next few months I adjusted to the group fairly well, but I discovered what was my biggest weakness as a bassoonist - my volume. I never really got any critiques concerning tuning or preparation while playing with the orchestra, but it always made it back to me through the grape vine that I was simply not playing loud enough. In school we learn that second players should play softer and remain lower than the principal, but I think this is actually false information. There are exceptions, but for the most part I now believe that supporting members of a wind section should match the principal, and this idea has helped me be successful in my new job with the Knoxville Symphony (just something to think about).
A big part of the fellowship are the mock auditions, so as I should have, I scheduled my first one around November of my first season. I played well, and the musicians who heard me even told me that they would probably advance me if this were a real audition, but the headache of scheduling the event turned me off a little. I won't bad talk any individuals, but I've learned that sometimes you have to do what you're supposed to do despite the attitude or (lack of) interest of people involved. This mock audition, by the way, was in conjunction with a real audition I was to take the next week in Rochester. Between canceled flights and driving all night to get to the audition, my playing wasn't solid and I didn't advance. Recognize the signs the universe is throwing at you.
At the end of my first year I received a unanimous "yes" vote from the section for me to return for a second year, but this did not come without a very harsh year end review. I saved face in front of the group, but I definitely cried all the way back to my apartment. I even spent all summer searching for jobs, and if I had found one that I liked I wouldn't have come back for another year (in retrospect, I'm glad this plan didn't work out). I can't say that I didn't deserve some of it I guess, but I think I needed to be broken in this way to really focus on becoming the best I can be, instead of just doing the job. I imagine that a gymnast, for example, needs to fall really hard on his face to regain disciplined focus in his craft, and for me that was my moment.
Upon returning for my second year, my goal was the win an audition to prove to everyone (and myself) that I am indeed the real deal, and I did. Winning a job with the Knoxville Symphony opened my eyes to real possibilities, and I'm happy to be one of the individuals that affirms programs like these. Winning an audition doesn't magically make you any better or smarter about being a classical musician in my opinion, but it does, in the words of the second bassoonist in Detroit, give you "street cred". I was also happy, honestly, to have a reason to spend less time in a city that requires me to exhume my vehicle every wintry morning.
The biggest thing I'll carry from this experience, oddly enough, is a Beatles song. The DSO bassoon quartet performs around the city pretty often, and I got to play with the group when one of the members was busy or out of town. The set list includes a bunch of classic pop tunes, and "Hey Jude" is one of them. I'd never heard this song before playing with the quartet, and I instantly loved it. After rehearsing it for the first time, I went home and bought the original, and have connected this song to my time in Detroit ever since.
It was often very difficult to fit in with such world class musicians. The initial difficulties of making new friends in a new city were almost more difficult than I (thought) I could handle. Feeling like my words, both in person and over social media, were under surveillance caused great rifts between me and certain individuals in the orchestra. Feeling like I was treated like a kid by some people made me a little salty sometimes. I could go on and on about the things that I didn't like about these past two years, but the truth is I needed every bit of it to continue the process of becoming who I'm meant to be. From now on, anytime I hear "Hey Jude" in a commercial, on an oldies station, or even reimagined on "Glee", I'll think of the days I was on the brink of quitting, but pushed through anyway. I took a sad song, and made it better, if you will. :)