Alana Alexander, Graduate Student in Music
Clarinetist Alana Alexander is completing her fourth semester of the Master of Music program, having earned her Bachelor of Music degree from University of Texas, Austin. She recently won placement at the International Festival-Institute at Round Top, a summertime professional orchestral studies institute, and she performs professionally, freelance, in southern California. Her advisor is Prof. Håkan Rosengren.
As a graduate music student in clarinet performance at Cal-State Fullerton, I’ve embarked on my career by taking professional orchestral auditions. To prepare for these auditions, I practice four to five hours a day and do many other things that will help me develop as a musician. Summer orchestral academy auditions and concerto competitions are a couple examples of the other things I do.
I had been preparing for weeks to participate in the CSUF Concerto Competition preliminaries, which happened Tuesday, February 22nd. Performing with music always makes me nervous, but playing from memory in a concerto competition is even more so because there’s no safety net. I was advanced to the final round, held the following Friday. A few hours later, in our clarinet studio class, I had to perform in front of my peers and visiting guest Andreas Sundén (who is the principal clarinetist of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra). This orchestra is one of the best orchestras in the world, so playing for its principal clarinetist was somewhat like meeting and performing for a celebrity athlete. Even though I went through two nerve-wracking events in just one day, I feel every experience, whether you perceive them as good or bad, helps you grow as a musician.
Early Wednesday morning, I drove to Los Angeles to audition for the New World Symphony at the Colburn School of Music. The New World Symphony is basically a year-round orchestral academy for students who have at least a Baccalaureate degree, and want to continue their orchestral studies. It’s a great program to be a part of because you play under the baton of a famous conductor named Michael Tilson Thomas, receive a stipend to allow time to prepare for real-world auditions, make great connections with musicians your own age, and play lots of orchestral repertoire (which equals more experience for real-world auditions).
I got a hotel room for the audition so that I wouldn’t have to worry about early-morning traffic on the 5 from Fullerton. It’s so important to arrive early to ensure plenty of warm up time, and have several hours to wake up especially if it’s a morning audition.
I was very nervous when I played, but the audition committee was really nice, and I was grateful for that. I played my audition repertoire, tried my best not to overanalyze every comment they made in the hopes of predicting the outcome (which I won’t find out for several weeks) so that I could go on to my next task. I still had to drive back to Fullerton and continue to practice for the concerto competitions finals the next day.
The CSUF concerto competition finals weren’t so great. Maybe it was too much pressure for one week, but my memory failed me, and I crashed and burned. I was heartbroken. My concentration was momentarily interrupted by something behind me on-stage, and I lost my train of thought. I should have been better prepared with my memorization, because then my fingers would have continued on their own, but I blanked and stopped. I desperately tried to find a spot to restart, but I could not. It’s like when a figure-skater in the Olympics completely falls during her routine,
slides on the ice, and has to get back up and keep going, but her rhythm is already lost. Sometimes you see her cry. I wanted to cry. The judges asked me if I wanted to look at the piano score and pick a spot. So I did, with shattered confidence, and fell again. So I told the pianist, “after the fermata,” and there we went. I didn’t fall anymore, but I knew I had already lost. When I left the stage, I let my composure shatter and sobbed into my pianist’s shoulder.
March 4th was the first day of my tour with Opera a la Carte. I had received a call unexpectedly about this gig weeks before, and decided to take it. It conflicted with a CSUF Wind Symphony concert, but the director let me off the hook just this once. It was my first paid gig with a professional group!
I woke up super-early to get to the airport, after doing the usual last-minute-late-packing routine the night before. I really had no idea what to expect, and was a little nervous and anxious. We were flying to Florida to perform The Mikado and H.M.S. Pinafore, two musicals, and then would travel by bus to South Carolina. The company was taking a pared-down orchestra because of short funds. Apparently they normally use two tour buses (one for the cast, one for the orchestra) but we traveled on one bus after arriving in Tampa, Florida. I heard a lot of the veterans in the group grumbling about this, but I didn’t know any difference since I was a newbie.
Plus, I happened to sit by the keyboard player for Mary J. Blige on the plane. No, he wasn’t part of our touring group…
The last performance of the tour I was a little sad. We had most of the day to do what we wanted, so a group of us found a nice café with really delicious pasta and cheesecake and coffee. I picked up some postcards to send to my family, but the post office was already closed. A nice lady named Joyce came in and offered me stamps, so I gave her a dollar for them and invited her to our performance that night.
As inevitably happens when you are with the same group of 30 or so people for a week, we began to tire of one another and were getting irritable. I was experiencing a little of that with my stand-partner. He had been in such a hurry to put his clarinets together (his Bb and his A clarinets) that he put the wrong parts of the clarinets together. How does one mix up the parts to his instrument? I don’t know, but leave it to Bob to do it. I felt so stressed, because he was so poorly out of tune that there was no way I could match his pitch. Thankfully he realized his error, and my anxiety passed.
At the end of the intermission, I was making my way back to my seat in the pit, when a lady appeared over the ledge above, waving. It was Joyce, the nice lady from the post office. She had made it to the performance! The people in that town were so nice.
Since I arrived back home two weeks ago, I haven’t done anything else too exciting. I did some catch-up work with my class, and practice and teach. We are finally winding down now to spring break, however, I still have my recital to work towards on April 23rd. It won’t be a complete break, but at least I can work at a more leisurely pace and catch up on some much-needed rest.
Of the multitude of paths I could have taken, I happened to have the good fortune of choosing exactly what I love. Music is in my life every day, and I have a special opportunity to meet creative and interesting people all the time who leave an indelible mark on me. Though it’s a difficult path that certainly has its ups and downs, the immeasurable rewards are boundless.