Diary of a YouTube Symphony tryout: Well, that was short!


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Three weeks. That was all the time I was supposed to need to get fit enough to make an audition video for the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. I had barely touched my French horn since I quit playing in 2004 but I wasn’t worried. As a university student, I used to quit playing every summer until three weeks before Labor Day at which time I would my get out my horn and begin my fitness routine.

There is a modicum of method to my madness. For players at a professional level, daily maintenance is required to keep the face muscles in tip-top shape. During the school year, I could go one day -- at most -- without playing before I noticed a difference.


Somewhere along the line, I discovered that muscle fitness is exponential, not linear. You don’t lose, say, 5% of your facility for each day you don’t practice. Instead, the impact decreases as time goes by. The difference between one and two days of not practicing is much bigger than one and two weeks.

Why spend the summer feeling guilty about not practicing enough when I could just get it all done in the three weeks before school started again? I’m sure this line of reasoning horrifies many a music teacher -- mine were appalled. All I can say is that is worked for five summers. Proof, pudding, etc.

This time though, after announcing I was going to audition, I got caught. (With that level of smugness, it was inevitable.) It turns out my system had a weakness: breath control.

After five years of my not playing, my horn needed a bit of coaxing to operate smoothly again. My brain, on the other hand, needed no time at all to remember what to do with my face and hands. The problem was that somehow I lost increased lung capacity and breath support. Oops. Not only could I not take as much air in as I needed, I wasn’t very efficient with what I did have available. With Mendelssohn’s ‘Notturno’ from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ on the audition list -- an excerpt chosen to test this very skill -- I was in big trouble.

Gasping for breath every two bars kind of ruins the summer idyll vibe I think Mendelssohn was going for, and I’m fairly sure the audition panel -- drawn from the world’s best orchestras -- would notice if I played the piece at twice the standard speed.

Sadly, I had to admit defeat. No performance in Sydney, Australia, for me. As far as hurdles go, the ‘Notturno’ certainly is a beautiful one to fall on but in the end, three weeks just wasn’t enough time to regain what had taken 10 years to build.

Starting Friday, at, you can vote on the videos submitted by people who are slightly less insane and much better at planning than I am. Each instrument plays the same set pieces, so it’s worth checking out a sampling of each group to see how differently each musician interprets the music.

If you leave a comment on their auditions, please be kind. The musicians have almost certainly beaten themselves up already for any mistakes, so there’s no need for you to have a go as well.

As for the comments here it is, as always, open season.

--Marcia Adair


Diary of a YouTube Symphony Orchestra tryout: Meet the horn player

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The YouTube Symphony at Carnegie Hall: What did the critics think?