Jason Goes to Juilliard

This Spring I sat down with Jason to hear of his recent trek to New York for his audition to Juilliard. In addition to several orchestral excerpts, Jason prepared the First Clarinet Concerto by Louis Spohr, Aaron Copland's Clarinet Concerto, and Hommage á Manuel Dufalla by Bela Kovac. All photographs are taken by Jason Baker - the King of Selfies.

The bottom-line of what I experienced was: it’s just an audition. I have now succeeded in two major auditions. One was the Fort Worth Symphony.They denied me, and then I asked to go. I really had no business doing it because they went straight to the hardest Eflat-Mahler-type-symphony excerpt. It was horrible. I had a 50% chance of nailing those notes. Julliard is now in that same category of ‘just doing an audition’.


·      Sunday 3pm or so was when I arrived.

·      7pm was the piano rehearsal.

·      10:45am on Monday was the audition.

·      Then there was the anticipation of waiting

·      There were a couple of sessions to go to learn about Julliard. It’s mostly geared towards the freshmen.

Tuesday was set aside for the callback. The DMA callback would’ve been an interview, not another playing time. By the way, I got to the audition solely based on my resume. They did not ask for a pre-playing thing. I didn’t even have to ask them to reconsider anything. They accepted me to come out there because of my resume and my letters. I had to write a letter of motivation, why a DMA program, and who was my most significant mentor. (Randal Bass was my mentor.)

The piano accompanists they provided for me: I’m going to try and keep this as nonjudgmental as possible. But I don’t think there can be a way to keep it from being judgmental, because I know what my tastes are in piano accompanists. Out of the three that I messaged and they provided, (which would’ve been free minus a $40 rehearsal thing) one of them never responded at all. I think they responded after the audition. Can you believe that? That was the better out of the three.

The second one responded but didn’t answer my questions: “Have you played the piece before?” “What is your rehearsal time?” All they said was, “Yes! I can do your audition.” I never got another communication from them by email.

The third one communicated plenty, but was very opinionated. I had a typo in one of my words – which, ok, I need to stop having typos. She was like, “By the way you should probably spell this correctly.” It was an ‘e’ in Copland by accident. C-O-P-E-L-A-N-D. (On my list that I submitted on the website I spelled it correctly, so somehow an ‘e’ got in Copland.) I’m like, “You’re just here to play piano.”

I got so stressed out about this piano accompanist situation. This is not working – I can’t get them to answer the question of whether or not they’re available for a rehearsal, what time they’re available for rehearsal, and I can’t get a clear gauge of whether or not they know the Copland. Copland is not something easy. Someone said it looks deceptively easy. It’s not. It’s very hard.

I threw it out on Facebook. I got lots of support. That was so rewarding to see so many people working hard to find me a piano accompanist. Some people were confused - they didn’t know I was going to New York. “Well there’s this person over here in Bedford [Texas], and there’s this person over here in Euless, or UTA…” In our circle of friends and musicians, someone found me someone.

 This could get out and it could be bad, but I’ve decided that it needs to be said:

Piano accompanists need to do their job very objectively, not subjectively. They need to not throw their own weight around of their opinion of the music or how to play the music. They just need to play it. It better be clean, it better be prepared, and you better not be reacquainting yourself with the music in the rehearsal. Because in a situation like this someone is spending a lot of money to fly out to show up to that one rehearsal they get.

Now, me, I might be naïve. I had my little quirks of things I was worried about that were going to be consistent. This pianist that was found was very well versed. He’s got a very nice website, had a lot of things that he’d accomplished, and knew the piece. Indeed, h­­­­­e knew the Copland. But man, it was scaring me to death in this rehearsal. It was choppy. It was inconsistent. I could not play my part because I needed the foundation of that [piano] part. I was breaking down in the rehearsal. After the rehearsal, I had to call a couple friends to get my sanity back.

Shout out to Andrea Harrell and Joel Adair. They gave me really good confidence with their own experiences. Andrea told me, "for the mistakes the pianists might make, you got to be able to fight your way through it.” So she told me to put on a distraction: “Put on death metal or something.” I put on the TV – on that channel that’s in the hotel where it does all the previews of all the shows. I’m sitting there practicing my solo, listening and watching the TVI think I remember somebody telling me that they used to practice by reading the newspaper and playing. Something that distracts you and you can still maintain your music – you know it that well.

Rewind back to that rehearsal, I managed to go back to one particular part of the Spohr clarinet concerto, and I said, “Let’s just do this spot again for the next ten minutes.” I turned away from the pianist. I pictured myself back at home playing with Smart Music. I blanked out everything elseI imagine there are some books that tell you to try this technique or something, right? It worked.

He said he loved German music, he loved Sporh. So when he started playing it, he started playing it with his own emotion and started putting his own nuances. I’m sitting there (in my mind) going, “No! No! You better play this as classical you possibly can.” This is early – I say early Spore – it’s his first clarinet concerto. I feel like it rides the bridge between classical and romantic. I’m going to play this as clean and straight and as pure as possible. He was all putting emotion into it.

Got to the audition the next day. The panel was about approachable as possible. Charles Neidich, he’s a clarinetist from the Orpheus Chamber Ensemble – a childhood hero on clarinet. He was on the panel. Their eyes were very welcoming. I’m sure they were judging in their mind, but their body language said something completely different. So I wasn’t nervous for the panel. I was lucky that I played the unaccompanied [Hommage á Manuel De Falla by Bela Kovac] which probably would’ve taken up the first 7 or 8 minutes. Then they asked for Spohr, and they only listened to the first movement – the first half of it.

So we played through that and I felt like it went really well, minus one spot that I flubbed on. I recovered, kept going, didn’t stop. Then they asked for the unaccompanied cadenza part of the Copland. I believe my audition was a good 85 to 90% representation of what I play. I was proud. And I think that Joel told me, “If you can walk away from an audition and be proud of what you put out in front of you as a good representation, then you know you had a successful audition.”

I tried to play the Super C right before I played the Spohr, I looked at [the panel], and I go, “Excuse me.” I went off to the side to change my reeds out, and they go, “Yeah, the Super C.” And so I change reeds, and I tried the Super C [sings excerpt]. And they’re like, “Yep, that’s a good reed!” It was the coolest thing ever! And it came out in the version of it that I played. That was nerve-racking.

The anticipation for the email at the end of the day: it was anywhere between 6pm and 10pm that an email was supposed to show up. I believe the email showed up around 9:30. It was brief, clean and dry. It says, “We are not considering you for the next round.” So I’m like, “Alright, there it is. Tuesday is now a vacation.”

By the way, all of this was Monday and Tuesday of UIL week. I lucked out that my UIL time was Thursday. Monday, the high school director rehearsed my kids. [She] came in, and it was basically a clinic session, so I’m thankful for her for doing that. So Tuesday I’m sitting there, walking around the park, stressing out about UIL. I’m trying to enjoy Central Park and the museum. One of my other friends from UTA was also auditioning for the Manhattan School of Music, so we met up and had lunch. He got $25 tickets to the Metropolitan Opera. I looked up ticket prices, thinking, “Oh, I’ll just go buy me a ticket.” $663! That’s probably like the cheap tickets, too. Well, there’s our football game version of tickets I guess. (NFL comparison) He got student tickets somehow. And I couldn’t get any, so I missed out on that.

All of this gets put in the book – my little mental or experiential portfolio. It’s the second audition that I’ve achieved, where I had to spend a lot of money, get on a plane, work up some literature, play in front of a panel. And that one was more successful that the Fort Worth one, so that’s good.

In the future, I actually might fork out the money to bring a piano accompanist with me if I have to. Or, I will pick my literature better to be unaccompanied. I almost played “Abyss of Birds, which is an unaccompanied Clarinet solo in Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. I should have chosen that. Although if you’re nervous and shaking that is so hard because it starts nothing-quiet and crescendos to the most intense volume you can get to.

 When you got the email and you read it, how’d you feel?

 I set aside a place in my mind to accept whatever answer. When I got it, I was in the hotel room, staring up at the skyscraper out the window, just kind of chilling and relaxing. I was actually letting my phone charge too, so I was constantly going over and looking at the phone. Email? No. Email? No. When I finally got it, I just sat there in a calm state paying attention to my emotions, my thoughts, my feelings, whatever it was, and I go, “What is it? What am I feeling? How am I processing it? Do I want to post it to facebook? Everyone’s anticipating the results.”

I knew that Juilliard was a huge audition. I wasn’t, like, sad. Maybe I was like, “All that effort, and there’s the no.” It took probably a good 24 hours to process after getting back home. That’s when it finally dawned on me: auditions are a long trek of ‘audition, no; audition, no; audition, no.” And I’ve only done two. I had that Fort Worth Opera audition that I tried to do, but they didn’t initially invite me. I need more auditions if I really want the auditions to be a thing. But I don’t know if I’ve got it in me to do so many just for a lot of no’s.

That’s a thing that those that are on the audition circuit just have to accept. Ms Fabian said, “When you have these auditions, you just have a credit card. You go do the audition, and then you just pay it off. Whether you pay it off because you got the job or you pay it off slowly because you’re just still freelancing.”

That’s a really fascinating thought because you sort of pay it off in two ways. You do your sort of ‘pre-work’: you’re building up your rep, you’re practicing, people listen to you, like a month or two in advance. And then you do it and pay it off afterwards, whether or not you do get it.

 There’s a huge payoff in the experience.

·      Now I know something about piano accompanists.

·      Now I know something about budgeting for the trip – like having extra time for another rehearsal.

·      Enough time for maybe the pianist to get a chance to let it stew. I like to call it percolating.

·      The experience of choosing your literature.

·      The experience of what to wear. I wore my coat, my vest, my blue shirt. I wore that blue shirt that everybody likes.

It’s just a bag of experience. Each time you have something different. The amount of work I put into my reeds gave me a good selection. I had stuff that was inside a moisturized case. I had some that were just in a box to allow the climate change. I had some really old reeds as my third back up of reeds.

Lessons are probably a thing that need to happen too. I need to take my audition lit to some people. Now that I’m out of college I have to think about taking lessons with somebody. Andrea actually suggested this: going to Rice and talking to that Clarinet Professor because apparently his students are winning all the Clarinet jobs.

What’s the next thing you want to accomplish?          

I’m coming back to my entrepreneurship and my freelancing. There are a lot of things up my sleeve that I want to do. I want to do another recording project. I want to do more arrangements, and I want to make my arrangements sellable (if I print them out and sell them, and that includes the quality of paper and the binding that it’s in). I want to collaborate with my fellow musicians more. I’m currently playing Stravinsky with an octet at UTA. This is my second time to play it and I see the melody in this piece, and that is more rewarding than anything else that’s going on right now. That really is rewarding.

Interview: Katie Wolber

Photo Cred: J eremy Gilliam Photography

Photo Cred: Jeremy Gilliam Photography

Katie Wolber is currently Third Horn of the Dallas Opera Orchestra and Principal Horn of the Dallas Chamber Symphony. Katie received her undergraduate performance degree at Southern Methodist University and her graduate performance degree at Northwestern University. 

S: What was your beginning on the horn?

K: My parents are both music teachers. It wasn't really, "Are you going to play an instrument?" It was: "What are you going to play?" They kind of always suggested very strongly that I would play the french horn. And I wanted to be different, because my mom plays flute, my dad plays trombone, my older sister plays flute, my brother plays percussion, and my little sister plays saxophone. 

I tried to start in 2nd grade. I was like 6 or 7. My dad brought home a French Horn because he was a band director, and he tried to help me get started. I was just too small: even putting the bell on the chair rather than your leg, the mouthpiece still went up to my forehead. So my dad said I would try to reach it with my lips. (Which I don't remember!) For two weeks, he would hold the bell for me as I learned to play on it a little bit. After that I just couldn't continue like that, so we put it away until 4th grade when they actually start instruments in Maryland. (We start younger.) I picked the French Horn. When I picked it up I already knew how to play a C scale because of learning in 2nd grade. 

They started me on lessons right away with my first teacher, Phil Hooks. He is really into the International Horn Society. He goes every time there's a symposium - no matter where in the world it is. I'd go to his house once a week for an hour for lessons. It's a lot different because they don't teach lessons in schools in Maryland. You have to go to the teacher's house, so not very many people take lessons. 

S: Did you ever want to try another instrument?

K: We had to play piano. We had to learn to read music before we actually started an instrument. Because my parents are music teachers, they didn't want us trying to learn to read music while learning an instrument. Like French Horn - it's just kind of hard. So that was kind of annoying in 4th grade when I had to wait for everyone else to learn to read music. I didn't last very long on piano, though. I hated it, and I hated being forced to practice. My sister was already really good at it. 

So actually considering another instrument? No. I played cello in high school for two years. But since I was the best horn player they kept saying, "Well, we need you to play on this piece because we need a horn player on it." So at one of those region/symphony/contests or whatever, I ended up playing half horn and half cello. Those two instruments combined with my color guard flags (and rifle and saber) in my car: it was just too much to carry everyday. And my backpack!

But I liked the cello. I liked the sound of it because it's so similar to the horn. I didn't ever really want to play anything else. I thought the French Horn was the prettiest. It's what the Christmas tree ornaments are! Ha!

S: So it's kind of like you've grown up on the Horn?

K: Yeah! I'm 28, and I started, technically, at the age of 8. So it'll be 20 years this fall. 

Katie, as I knew her in college.

Katie, as I knew her in college.

S: Have you ever thought about doing anything else?

K: For a living? Uh, well, yeah. Many times. 

S: Why do you keep sticking with the Horn?

K: Well, it's what I'm best at. I had a car accident almost five years ago. Right before the accident, it was a year after graduating Grad School. I wasn't really getting any work. I was teaching [private lessons], and I don't like teaching. I'm not a good teacher. I was like, "Man, maybe I should do something else with my life. Maybe I could do cake decorating for a living." I was thinking: "What should I do? I could go to culinary school," but then I was like, "Well, then I'd have to work restaurants during dinner hour."

Just thinking about it, I thought, "I don't want to do this anymore." Then we had the car accident, and I could not play my horn for 7 months. I didn't know if I would ever play again, and I missed it a lot. Even when I did start playing again, I didn't get a gig for a few months. 

I just like playing on stage, especially playing something like a Mahler symphony - big powerful horn stuff. I like it; I do enjoy it. There are definitely bad days, but, you know, there's a lot of good days too. It's also kind of nice that it's flexible. You usually get summers off, which is nice. 

S: You're speaking specifically about the Opera?

K: Opera, or even if I were with the symphony. Even when I was teaching, I didn't have all my students every day in the summer. I had like half of them. 

S: Do you still teach?

K: No. I mean if someone calls me for a lesson, then yes. But if someone asks for regular lessons I usually say no because I don't have the time. Or it's not necessarily the time, it's: they want regular lessons, on such a day, after school, every week. My opera schedule is so sporadic that I can't guarantee a regular lesson. Plus I travel a lot. 

S: To play?

K: Sometimes. 

S: Oh yeah, you took an audition in Norway!

K: Norway, yeah. That was fun. It was a low horn spot in the Bergen Phil. That was the last audition I took - April 2015. 

S: Do you feel the need to go on more auditions?

K: No. I think I'm done. I gave myself until I was 28 to win a job, and technically I've won a job. But you can't make a living on it alone. Luckily I'm married to an attorney. Also, the reason I'm not taking auditions is he [husband] is in school. We're not going to leave while he's in school. 

S: Do you think you'll ever audition again in the future?

K: No. Only if it's local, and even then only in certain circumstances. 

S: How long have you been with the Opera?

K: I won the job in March 2014. I should have started October 2014, but I had to take off the first half of the season because I had thyroid cancer. I had my thyroid taken out, and my doctor/surgeon wasn't sure I'd be playing again by the first rehearsals. I just took the first productions of the season off and started January 2015 on Everest. 

S: You've been through a lot of health stuff!

K: Yes! [laughs] Plenty of it. I've had like 10 surgeries. 

S: How has it been getting back into a routine of playing after taking time off?

K: When I started playing again after the wreck, I wasn't working very much. I guess I was teaching, and I was nannying. But I had a lot of time because I wasn't doing my normal concerts and stuff. After the ankle surgery, I actually did play, I just had my foot propped up on a chair every time I practiced. I'd have it set out on the table for weeks, and I would just wheel myself over with my little ankle-scooter-thing. I'd set myself up in my chair and practice. It wasn't the best posture, but I practiced. I had to go to my first Opera in a boot. I had just gotten off my knee scooter and crutches two days before my first rehearsal. I was able to walk on my boot, but I couldn't drive. The whole spring season I was driven around by the principal cellist. 

Photo Cred: J eremy Gilliam Photography

Photo Cred: Jeremy Gilliam Photography

S: How was it getting over surgery for your thyroid cancer?

K: It wasn't that hard actually. I talked to another horn player who had the same thing, and she said she played the week after - she played a gig. It was just kind of sore, and I had some scar tissue build up that made swallowing feel kind of funny. I played a concert - a Halloween concert was my first gig back. So two months after [the surgery] I played my first concert, but I had started practicing again about 2 or 3 weeks after. 

S: Any advice you want to give to anyone going through something similar?

K: Don't rush it. Take your time. Always have a good sense of humor about it. That's a good question.

S: Well, obviously you had to do it. 

K: People are always saying, "Oh, you're so strong; I couldn't do that." And I'm like, "Well, if it happened to you, you would do it." You're not really given a choice. It just happens. It's not like I'm just going to roll over and cry for the rest of my life. You know? There's no point in that. It doesn't accomplish anything. 

A young Katie! This is about 2007.

A young Katie! This is about 2007.

S: What is the worst thing about your job as a musician?

K: I would say the worst thing is the politics and the drama involved. You realize that even in a world of music, it's kind of about who you know. That's how you get work.

S: What is the best thing about your job?

K: Uh, I don't know. Ha! I guess my favorite thing is getting to travel for free to play. I've been to Japan, Chile, and a few countries in Europe and not had to pay for it.  

S: Was that for festivals?

K: Festivals, and the European tour with the [Dallas] Symphony. That was 2013. 

S: I remember all the photos of Gail [Williams] and Greg [Hustis]. Do you still keep in touch with Gail?

K: Yeah a little bit. She's actually coming in town for the TCU Horn Fest first weekend of April. So you should go, get your students to go.

S: Alright, any final thoughts?

K: I would say one more thing: part of the reason I continued to play after the wreck is I figured if it wasn't meant to be my job I would've lost the ability to play forever. Because I did damage my face pretty badly in the wreck. And I have a fake tooth. So I figured if I can still play, I should do it.  

Photo Cred: J eremy Gilliam Photography

Photo Cred: Jeremy Gilliam Photography