Knowing the context of an orchestral excerpt is important. It is important for a number of reasons:
1. The player will have a better idea of the overall picture
2. The panel will be confident that you know what you’re doing, and
3. You will prove that you know what you’re doing on stage.
Context of excerpts can make or break an audition. Playing an excerpt badly because you don’t know how it fits can destroy the many hours of good work spent preparing it. The author has had this experience with the Beethoven Ninth symphony fourth horn excerpt. Horn players who often undertake auditions know this excerpt quite well, as it comes up often.
I went blank. More precisely put, I went blank halfway through playing the excerpt. This happened during an audition last year. The biggest cause was my lack of knowledge of what I was playing. I couldn’t quite picture how the part sat in a larger picture.
Know how your part fits into the overall picture of an orchestral score. This can be achieved via the following:
1. Listen to the work.
A little listening will go a long way in learning what you need to play and why you need to play it. Oh, that was a Bassoon playing the harmony part…
2. Get your hands on a full orchestral score.
Researching where your part fits into the score will give you the bigger picture. Better still: read through the score whilst listening to the recording. Think of it as using Nintendo Power to beat Castlevania I.
3. Research the actual work you are playing.
Beethoven… He was the guy who invented marshmallow spread right? No! He wrote Justin Bieber’s first hit song. Know who the composer is and what else they wrote. Learn about the actual work and the context it was written in. Does the work have text? Who wrote that text and where did they fit into the picture? Know the historic period in which the excerpt is set in. Playing your horn like a Wagnerian soprano might not be appropriate when it comes to Mozart… hmmm…
4. Learn as much as you can about your craft.
At the end of the day you are the person playing the instrument. This is your craft that you are practising. Knowledge is power when it comes to music. The more you know about what you are doing and why, the better you will become. Sites such as Horn Matters, Melbourne Horn-Stars and the International Horn Society (IHS) all provide great starting points for your journey as a horn player.
Next time on A Flat Major: We look at the question of accuracy in an audition.