I have taken many auditions over the last decade. I have flown, driven, and taken the train to them, and I (like all bass players) have had my share of inconveniences. There is one audition in particular that stands out, however.
I auditioned for principal bass of the San Jose Symphony in January of 2000. This orchestra went bankrupt a few months after I auditioned for it–now an orchestra in San Jose exists called Symphony Silicon Valley. Don’t try to go to www.sanjosesymphony.com–some nefarious people have taken it over and are using it (which is actually kind of funny, I think).
Principal bass of the San Jose Symphony was not a good job. The job was being advertised as paying $25,000, which doesn’t take anybody very far anywhere in the country, let alone in Silicon Valley. Still, I was graduating and desperate, so I got a ticket to fly out there. The flight was actually one of the smoother bass flight experiences for me, and I got to San Jose without incident. I had picked a hotel that had very reasonable rates. The reason for these cheap rates, I soon realized, was the scary nastiness of the neighborhood. I figured that there wouldn’t be a ghetto in Silicon Valley, but I managed to find it. Still, the hall was only two miles away, and a morning cab ride would take me all of 10 minutes. I called a cab service the night before and arranged for an 8 a.m. pick-up, which would give me plenty of time to make it to my 10 a.m. audition.
The next morning I am outside my hotel room in the ghetto waiting with my bass, and there is, of course, no cab in sight. This is something that I ran into over and over and over and over and over while auditioning. I would always arrange a wheelchair-accessible van cab (the only kind that fits basses now that nobody uses station wagon cabs), for a certain time, and it would maybe show up 10-15% of the time. About 20% of the time a regular cab would show up, and about 10% of the time a regular van cab (with a plexiglass partition) would show up. Over half of the time no cab would show up. This was one of those times.
I called the cab service and was told that there were NO van cabs at all available that morning, even though I had arranged for this the night before. I let them know what I thought of them and called a couple of other cab services with no luck. It was now about 9 a.m. and I decided to head out on foot. I could cover two miles in less than an hour easily even when carrying a bass.
Living in Chicago, I would often forget that other areas of the country are not freezing cold in January. I packed for the trip like a Chicagoan, with turtlenecks, sweaters, and corduroy pants. It was 80 degrees fahrenheit and sunny, however, and I was stuck in a black long-sleeved turtleneck and black corduroy pants and walking a bass two miles through the ghetto in summer weather.
I got to the hall about 15 minutes before my audition time drenched in sweat. There were only about 20 people at the audition. Most of them were from California, but there were a couple of guys from New York and Boston as well. I ended up getting assigned fourth for the 10 a.m. group, which meant that I was playing around 10:30 a.m. I played a few minutes in the scrub room (the room where everybody unpacks their basses) while I was waiting to go into the “on-deck” room (the room you go to where you see the excerpts you are about to play).
The “on-deck” room for this audition was a dressing room. When I went it I discovered to my horror that some candidate before me had vomited all over the floor. This was a very small room, and the smell was overwhelming. There is nothing like waiting to audition after hiking your bass a couple of miles while smelling someone else’s vomit to get you in the mood to audition.
I get called into the audition room, which looked like the boiler room of the building. The San Jose Symphony couldn’t even get a rehearsal room to for their bass candidates. The screen (which separated the committee from the candidate) was a chalkboard and a couple of sound bafflers with some drapes covering the holes, and the air conditioner was running in the room (RATTLE! RATTLE!). I played badly and got out of there after about three excerpts.
They only advanced one person to the semi-final rounds, and they proceeded to not give her the job. Then, a couple of months later, they went bankrupt and ceased to exist.
“Nobody’s good enough! Ha ha ha ha…uuuugh….bankrupt….”
What a good expenditure of time, effort, and money that experience was. Thanks, San Jose Symphony!
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