Tag Archives: audition

I’m a finalist of the YouTube Symphony! Vote for me!

I can’t believe it!

After receiving the email about being a potential finalist, and some musings that it doesn’t necessarily mean that I could be an actual finalist, I got the email from YouTube saying that I really am a finalist in the YouTube Symphony 2011 competition!


What does this mean?   It means I’ve progressed to the voting round.  It seems they’ve whittled down the field to 80.  If they are choosing 8 desks of 1st and 2nd violins, that’s 32 to get through.   Although the fine print says that the number of votes doesn’t totally govern who gets through, it sure would be nice to get at least a few votes!!

So, if you have a spare minute, just log onto the YouTube Symphony website (http://www.youtube.com/symphony), click on Vote then Orchestral Auditions, click on the Violin section (bottom left next to the conductor) and then scroll to find my video (Jason Chong), click on it then click Vote!

What do you get?   I can’t offer you much unfortunately, but maybe a shout out on my blog!

The story behind my YouTube Symphony audition

I haven’t been giving my blog much love lately.    Real life has just gotten in the way with trips to Sydney and Singapore and an orchestral gig.  Blog posts to come up soon!

One thing I have squeezed in is to continue working on the YouTube Symphony Orchestra (YTSO) violin audition.  Unfortunately with travelling around and having 2 kids to worry about too, I didn’t have much time to learn or record my audition 😦  I had to fit in some of recordings just before I sent the kids to school on two mornings in the past week!  Yep, you’ll see Miss 9 run out of her bedroom to get breakfast!

The audition seems a bit fairer this time around.   You now need to prepare 5 pieces and it’s a more typical Symphony Orchestra audition choice – a solo Bach, a Mozart concerto and a range of orchestra excerpts.

Here’s what I chose!

Bach Partita in D – Allemande

I’ve played this before.  Actually, I think most violinists would have played this – it’s something you “have” to learn when you learn to play the violin.   For me, it was good to go back and polish this up again.

My interpretation has definitely changed since when I played it back in my teens.  Back then, I loved the heavy, grand versions of the Bach.  I used to use Itzhak Perlman’s BBC video as my yardstick.  But my current mood is for a more delicate, minimalist approach and bringing out all the intricacies of the various voices all intertwined.  I would have loved to have recorded this with absolutely no vibrato, but the style of your playing depends on the acoustics and my lounge room doesn’t have much reverb, so I had to use a little vibrato.

Bach is actually hard to play well.   Bach was a genius in trying to use a single instrument to play multiple voices.  Here there’s no double stops, yet there’s usually two voices throughout.  It’s also hard because there’s a lot of semiquavers, but you don’t want it to sound like a study.  There has to be some movement and phrasing, yet trying to keep time.   I hope I did it justice!

Mozart Violin Concerto in A – 1st Movement

I had trouble deciding between the two Mozart concertos.  I actually hadn’t learnt either of these concertos.  I’ve only learnt and played the 3rd concerto many years ago.   But I know wifey has been bugging me to learn one of these instead of the “great” violin concertos that I’ve been messing around with lately.

I chose the A major, mainly because I saw Renaud Capucon conduct a masterclass on this recently and was totally mesmerised by his playing of the introduction – read more here.

Mozart is deceptive.  People think these concertos are “easy”.  Easy – maybe easy to learn the notes, but to play it expressively like an operatic dialogue – no.   I remember the comments in a couple of my AMEB exams in my teens were all about trying to make my playing more operatic.  No, not like an aria!  But like multiple people having a conversation, and having some meaning or direction to the conversation.  After all, music is communication right?

So fast forward to today, I think I have a better understanding of what the music is trying to achieve, but whether I brought this out in my playing is a different matter altogether!   I know my intonation is not bang in the center here – and that’s really because of lack of consistent practice.

Strauss Don Juan excerpt

Argh!!  This is a hardy – from a technical point of view.   Fast runs and arpeggios.  But also so passionate!

The first thing I did was to listen to a recording of it.  There’s so many other parts in the orchestra during this passage, that it’s hard to play alone.   But at least I got a grasp of the tempo and what the music was trying to achieve.

I find it hard to play passages like this solo too because when you’re playing in a section of 5-8 desks of violins, and the whole symphonic orchestra around you, you get this feeling that is hard to replicate alone.   Also, you can probably get away with a few inaccuracies since the section swallows you up whole!

The trouble with this excerpt is that the difficult passages just keep on coming!  Especially when you think you’re out of danger near the end, but then all those quiet triplet passages hit you.  Aargh!

Beethoven Symphony No. 9 excerpt

I’ve played a few Beethoven Symphonies, but interestingly not the No. 9 yet!   I wasn’t familiar with this passage, so I had to find a recording and listen to this part to get the context.

I found this another hard thing to play solo.   With a whole section, you can change your playing to match the others around you, and to produce the common blanket of sound as one.  But individually, if I played like that, it would probably sound very plain indeed.   Also, in a concert hall with more reverb, one can get away with playing less but still sounding more.

So I decided to make my own tone nice here in my dead-ish lounge room by use of vibrato..  maybe too excessive?

Mendelssohn Symphony excerpt

Final excerpt!   This would be great to play in an orchestra!   The challenge here is the triplets – trying to keep them going without any other orchestral part to bounce off or to keep in sync with!

Here’s the final product!   I hope I at least get to the 2nd round this time.






YouTube Symphony Orchestra 2011


Youtube has announced the second YouTube Symphony Orchestra project.

I tried and failed miserably in the 2009 attempt.  Actually, it’s a bit of a coincidence because I was just watching my old video again a few days ago.  Hmm…  my Paganini was played most boringly…  I think I got all caught up with the technical aspect of it 😦

This time around, it’s unfortunately not at Carnegie Hall, but the Sydney Opera House.  Not so exotic for me being an Australian, but the experience should still be amazing.

Sneak peek here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LA2kcgOvwlA

and more info here:  http://www.youtube.com/user/symphony

And so the WAYO cycle continues

This Saturday, Miss 10 has her first audition to join a WAYMA orchestra.  Her cello playing has improved in leaps and bounds in the last 2 years, but so far, she’s really only been playing by herself. 

Playing in an orchestra or ensemble is such a different and enlightening experience that I really cherish from my youth.  Just mixing with other like minded kids, meeting new people, working towards that concert, going on fun tours/camps…   although there were obviously times when I thought orchestra was drab, boring, why did I have wake up to go orchestra every Saturday morning, why am I doing this instead of some sport…

I think Miss 10 has reached a stage where she needs exposure to other people who play the cello, playing in time and in tune with each other, and really, the joy of playing with other people making a bloody big sound!  There’s nothing like everyone playing some symphonic fortissimo passage together…

I hope she goes OK with her audition!  (and also the many other hundred kids auditioning tomorrow!)

YouTube Symphony Orchestra

Well, it’s nearly time for the YouTube Symphony Orchestra concert! 

I’ve noticed a bit of news coverage over the last day or two about it in Australia.   Like this one on the Sydney Morning Hearld website – http://www.smh.com.au/news/technology/web/video-in-symphony/2009/04/14/1239474911896.html.

I did have to re-upload my final Tan Dun video a month or two ago to be potentially used in the video mashup.  I hope my video makes the cut!   That will mean that the video of myself playing the Tan Dun symphony may appear for a split second at Carnegie Hall! 

But.. oh.. I wish I had maybe chosen a different audition piece, like the Brahms Symphony.   It might have increased my chances of getting through (looking at the proportion of finalists who played that as their audition piece).    My lesson learnt – don’t choose the audition piece until you’ve heard and had a play through each one!   Oh well, maybe there’ll be a next time…

Head shot photography

On the weekend, our 9.5yo daughter had an audition for a child part in an upcoming Les Miserables production. Wifey had a read through the sheet with instructions about the casting audition and saw that we needed to provide a head shot. I thought “Cool! I’ll get to use my flash setup!”.

So, I set up the light stand, umbrella and the Nikon SB-600 together with my recently purchased flash umbrella swivel adapter, to take a few shots.

I used Nikon’s CLS (Creative Lighting System) to expose the shot and communicate wirelessly between the Nikon D80 body and SB-600 flash. Unfortuately, it seems to rely on using on the on camera flash firing a pre-flash to communicate with the off camera flash, so you end up with 2 flashes in the end. It worked OK on our 9.5yo, but when I took some photos of our 8yo, nearly all the shots had her blinking. She is just more sensitive to the pre-flash and ended up blinking by the time the real flash fired. Hmm.. not good. Maybe I need to invest in a Pocket Wizard or some other wireless flash communication system.

The actual shot taken also seemed to be underexposed. I wonder if the white wall was playing tricks on CLS. Nothing that a bit of post-production can’t fix.

I learnt that this type of shot is called a head shot. A head shot is basically a head only, or head and shoulders shot only, used primarily as a portfolio, casting, audition or advertising function. At first I thought a headshot is not really a creative shot, but primarily more functional. But then I thought – a creative, yet functional shot, might help the applicant stand out from the crowd – especially when a director/producer is scanning through hundreds of people who audition, or if they need to choose between people in a shortlist for a role. Seems like there is much more to it than I initially thought!

Here is the final shot we used and printed out:


And here is a more fun shot I snapped when my daughter started playing up 🙂

Fun shot
Fun shot

Anyone in Perth need a head shot?    I think I need more practice…

No news is probably bad news

Well, it looks like I probably didn’t get into the next round of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra auditions. 

The offical “rules” say that potential finalists and potential alternates will be notified by or around the 5th February.  With eagerness, I’ve been checking my YouTube account and email accounts multiple times daily, but there’s been nothing…  It’s 4 days later now, and pretty close to the date where legal documents have to be submitted, so it’s a “no” for me.

It’s disappointing putting in that effort, and perhaps mistakenly and obviously with bias, thinking that I could get to the next stage.  But in reality, I’ve had a look at my video a few times since the submission, and cringe at some of my intonation and wish that I’d played it with even more vitality.  Maybe I should’ve chosen a more flashy piece instead of a technical one. 

Also, who was I kidding – I don’t really play the violin much at that standard anymore, haven’t had regular lessons for over 12 years, am not a professional violinist and had to learn the Paganini in only 2 weeks!

But then again, in the back of my head I’m doing sums – I’m not sure how many entries there are (there don’t seem to be too many), but if they choose 200 potential finalists and 100 potential alternates, that’s 300 for an orchestra of 80.   If there are 5 desks of first violins = 10 first violin positions, that means that relatively, there should be about 37 first violins chosen for the potential finalists and potential alternate positions which seems like a reasonable percentage.

My wifey says I should just let it go and move on – that I should be happy to have had a goal to learn new pieces and play the violin again.  I suppose so…  and so I worked a bit on the Sibelius violin concerto, and to inspire myself again, went out and bought the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto sheet music from Zenith’s.

YouTube Symphony Orchestra Audition Prep – Day 16


My YouTube audition videos are finally online!   Although, when I checked this morning, they weren’t listed on the YouTube Symphony Orchestra audition videos, but I’m hoping that this is due to some delay in approval, etc.

Here’s video  1 of the Tan Dun Internet Symphony No. 1.

And here’s video 2 of the Paganini Caprice No. 20.

I had some dramas trying to upload these though.

First I tried uploading them from home.  But my internet connection is a little bit flaky – I have problems uploading photos to Facebook and Flickr, so the probability of uploading a ~150MB video to YouTube was pretty slim.

I then tried from my wife’s parent’s house.  But their computer didn’t recognise my Western Digital USB2 drive.  Aargghhh!!!

And so, we stopped by my parent’s house last night and kicked it off.  And it seemed to have worked and turned up on YouTube this morning!  Yay!

I submitted them to the YouTube Symphony Orchestra page, got a confirmation email that I verified, and now, I just wait.

So where to now for my violin playing?

This experience has been a good intensive violin workout for me.  It’s good to have a deadline, but I’ve realised that fitting in practice everyday is unrealistic for me.   Also, my lack of consistent and long term practice is visible in the videos – I won’t hide this fact – my intonation is obviously not perfect.

I looked at the Paganini book and I did some sums in my head – 24 caprices, 26 fortnights in a year, spent ~2 weeks to learn Caprice No. 20.  I could set a target of learning all caprices by the end of the year, but after listening to some of the other caprices, I think 2 weeks per Caprice is a very tough target.   I think I’ll start by learning Paganini Caprice No. 24, and then finishing off Bach’s G minor violin sonata.  All good!

By the way, to read previous posts on preparation, see:

Day 0Day 3Day 8Day 12Day 15

YouTube Symphony Orchestra Audition Prep – Day 15

These last few days have been busy preparing for our 7yo’s two birthday parties – one for her school friends, and another for family and family friends. And so, I really only had parts of Saturday and Sunday to video the Tan Dun Internet Symphony violin part for the YouTube Symphony Orchestra.

I set up the music, set up the video camera, and then realised… I need to play with the video or backing track. But how?

I had a quick look online and various people have approached this in different ways. What I ended up doing was this:

Download the YouTube video
Instead of watching and replaying it online each take, I downloaded it courtesy of KissYouTube. Now I had the video as a file, I could play it as many times as I liked without stuttering or being online. Also, instead of the silent track, I chose the practice track with the music too, so I could hear the orchestra play with me.

Put the YouTube video on the iPhone
I was quite comfortable with standing to play, but I couldn’t raise the laptop that high, and it was too low on the coffee table. I guess I could’ve sat down. But in the end, I put the video onto the iPhone, and put the iPhone on the music stand so Tan Dun was right there for me 🙂

Tan Dun conducting via the iPhone
Tan Dun conducting via the iPhone

Extend the headphone cable
In order for the sound from the YouTube video to not be recorded, I had to use headphones. But the standard (and crummy sounding) white iPhone ones have a really short cord! I had forgotten to bring my headphone extension cable home from work, so I had to improvise and used my guitar’s DI box along with a long 1/4 inch lead. This meant I could move and walk around without pulling the iPhone off the stand 🙂 I did try to sync my iPhone up to a bluetooth headset, and play the sound through the headset, but that didn’t seem to work. I couldn’t even get the iPhone to “see” the bluetooth headset 😦 😦

Uisng a DI as a headphone cord extender
Uisng a DI as a headphone cord extender

There is one “long” tacet near the beginning of the piece for the violins. Looking at other videos online, people have approached this in various ways – just standing there for the rests, jumping past it to the next part, etc. I decided that I didn’t want people to watch me stand still for the rests 🙂 so I jumped forward to the fast section. I hope that when the YouTube people mash up the final video, they will be able to align the different parts with no problems!

Video Conversion
My video camera records in a M2TS format, which is Sony’s high definition AVHCD format. It’s pretty simple to convert this to MPEG-2 using their supplied software. To speed up the process, I used Normal Quality instead of High Quality, but I think I’ve paid the price for this as the final videos look a bit “soft”.

The Sony HD video cam was my audience
The Sony HD video cam was my audience

Now to upload!

For reference, here are my other posts on my preparation so far!

Day 0Day 3Day 8Day 12

YouTube Symphony Orchestra audition prep – Day 12

The deadline is fast approaching!

I haven’t had much practice lately, but the other day, my wifey took some time out to give me some feedback. I hadn’t realised yet, but I haven’t really played the Paganini for anyone else properly yet! I figured there was not enough time to get a violin lesson in.

In any case, it’s great to have a third party look at the score and listen to your playing. If you’re a music student with concert practice or having regular lessons, this is obviously no problem. But for people who do music as a hobby by themselves, it’s extremely fruitful. Of course, as an artist that has worked hard at it, you may be defensive at first, but that’s counter-productive. A musical performer is a communicator – communicating the composer’s written intentions, along with your own interpretation, to the listener.

So, we looked at the Paganini score, and adjusted some of my tempo interpretations and phrasing. I did a few more videos and looking back at the early ones, I now wonder what planet I was on!

A few more days to go. With Australia Day being a write off, and needing probably 1 day to process the videos and upload them, I think I’ll need to finalise the videos this weekend!

And I haven’t even recorded the Tan Dun piece yet!