Well at least I've played Sibelius 2 before...
After the disappointing wash out of Proms in the Park at Caerphilly Castle, it is back into work for a week with our Principal Conductor Designate, Thomas Søndergård. This week we will perform six works in total and I have only prior experience of one of them. Aside from Sibelius 2, the works in the pad are all new to me.
I'm not from a particularly musical background. Although my parents have always been exceptionally supportive (except for the Frère Jacque incident of Halloween 1989) neither of them studied music. Neither is it the case that the area I am from is particularly well known for its classical music scene. When I visit home, it is understandable that my job piques people's interest and the thing I am most frequently asked is: "do you still practise?".
I think it is a common misconception that musicians turn up, ready made, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of all the masterworks etched into their being (I wish). You watch an orchestra, and everyone is sitting there in their smart concert clothes and it all (hopefully) looks so effortless. Without wanting to burst the bubble, it is often very effort-ful.
Although everyone approaches their practice differently, there can be no question that our job takes a great deal of continual maintenance of one's own playing, in addition to learning the repertoire for each programme. By the end of my first six months in the job I was exhausted. It felt like every programme we played was complete virgin territory to me. Me staggering out of the library under a mountain of practice parts was not an uncommon sight. There just seemed to be so much I didn't know and I was so anxious to prove that I had been a worthy choice for the position. It felt like every spare moment I had was spent learning dots.
I am fortunate to be in a section of wonderful, experienced musicians, and will be forever grateful for the advice they gave me in those first few months. There were countless times when I would be frantically tearing my way through something in a spare moment and a colleague would say "you probably don't really need to look at that bit, but the passage at Figure 32 is really exposed". As you gain in experience, you become so much better equipped to identify passages that genuinely need attention.
So, do I still practise? Of course I do. I love music and want to enjoy playing repertoire rather than feeling under par and struggling through it. This week I'm really looking forward to playing Debussy's La Mer. There is an excerpt from it that frequently comes up in viola auditions, so I'm looking forward to playing more than just those dozen bars! Being a musician isn't a sprint, you don't decide to be one and instantaneously have all the knowledge and skill you need. It really is a marathon.
You can catch the Orchestra and Thomas Søndergård in concert at St David's Hall on Friday 16 September, 7.30pm. Tickets are available by calling the Orchestra's Audience Line on 0800 052 1812, or St David's Hall on 02920 878444.