Monday, April 13, 2009

2009 Tubonium Festival - Day 1

The morning of April 2nd, a Thursday, I set out on a journey to attend the annual Tubonium Festival, hosted by Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN. Joining me on the trip, were my wife, Jennifer, and my teacher, Prof. John Manning. This was my first visit to Tubonium. The entertainment for the trip was an audio book by David Sedaris, When You Are Engulfed in Flames. The trip north was mostly uneventful and we arrived with more than enough time to get settled in at our hotel before the preliminary round of the Tubonium solo competition began. I was the last competitor to perform that evening, so I made my way to the music building to find a practice room to warm up in. I heard some great sounds coming from the other practice rooms. I could tell this was going to be a strong field of musicians to compete against. The required piece for the preliminary round was the Hindemith Tuba Sonata. As stated in the rules of the competition, the Hindemith was to be performed with SmartMusic accompaniment. The reason for this decision was likely due to the extreme difficulty of the piano part for this particular piece. Accompanists willing to tackle this piece can be hard to come by sometimes. Also stated in the rules: a microphone would be attached to the bell of the tuba for the accompaniment software to follow, headphones would be worn by the performer, and the sound would also be projected through a sound system. I uploaded the SmartMusic accompaniment to my iPod, so I could practice playing along. There are some spots in the music where it is difficult to play without any interaction with a live accompanist, but I figured those wouldn't be an issue when the computer was following along.

I was warmed up and did a few full run-throughs. I had 15 minutes remaining until my start time, so I gathered my things and went out in the hall to mentally collect myself and prepare for the performance. In the hall, I was told by the monitor that the competition was running early and they were ready for me now! He quickly ran through the rules before sending me in.

1. Don't use the microphone. (What? How will the computer be able to follow me?)

2. Don't forget the headphones. (At least I still get to use those.)

3. Hit play on iTunes. (WHAT? iTunes? I thought we were using SmartMusic?)

In the few seconds I had to comprehend these sudden changes, my mind became suddenly scattered. I took a deep breath and walked into the room. The judges were situated behind a panel and we were not allowed to talk. This was done to preserve anonymity and prevent bias. I sat down and looked around. There was a Macbook on the table next to me, with the accompaniment cued up on iTunes. On the floor, was what looked like a pedal and a pile of wires. The monitor didn't say anything about a pedal, so I ignored it. I hit play. The four clicks began. Wait, where are the headphones?!?!?!?!?! It was too late. I played the first note right on the down beat and it was off to the races. I could hear the piano part being played through the speakers in the room. A mental sigh of relief. Things were going OK, until the dynamic in the accompaniment shifted from forte to piano. I could still hear the piano, but only during my rests. I freaked out just a bit. But I pushed forward and just did everything in my power to keep the tempo steady until I could hear the piano part again. This wasn't working very well however, because I would catch little hints of piano here and there and try to adjust on the fly. At the bottom of the first page, a multi-measure rest. Finally! I listened intently to the piano as I tapped my foot and counted the rests. A few measures into it, I suddenly remembered. Headphones!! I looked around. No headphones. I looked down on the floor at the pile of wires again. Amidst the pile of wires......Earbuds. Earbuds? Gross!! Those have been in 15 other people's ears! I snapped out of my temporary distraction and realized the rest was almost over. Here comes the next entrance! The second half went roughly the same as the first. I focused on two things for the duration of the terrifying performance: making a great sound and keeping the tempo as steady as possible. Finally it was over! I was disappointed. I was afraid my chances at advancing in the competition were severely diminished by the incident. I thought it went OK, considering the comical, yet terrifying circumstances. But I still hoped I could have given it my best under more ideal conditions. We returned to the hotel and I tried to put it out of my mind. It was in the judges hands now. I was determined to relax and enjoy a great conference! Stay tuned for Day 2.

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