Tag Archives: orchestra

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!)


Orchestra recording session experience

Recording session

I recently participated in an orchestral recording session.  I’ve done a couple before with WASO and the ABC, but this time still struck me as a very unusual experience.  

So after signing in, I walk into the studio.  It’s basically a really large room with very high ceilings, dimly lit and set up for a full symphony orchestra.  But one major difference is the recording equipment.  There are microphones mounted from stands everywhere.  There are headphones and headphone volume controls on every stand.  There are wires running everywhere on the ground.  There are wires from the lights on the stands.  There are extra people everywhere for sound, etc.   Yep, it’s a major spaghetti and I’m glad I’m not in charge of the sound engineering!

As you may have seen on DVD extras, the conductor has a large video monitor in front of him with the movie footage being played, and probably a video link to the sound control room.

So I find my desk, introduce myself to my desk partner, get out the violin, tune up, turn off my iPhone, put on the single sided headphone.

And then it’s go.


I think every take is recorded.  Even the very first one before we’ve even rehearsed.  The pressure is on.  From doing recordings at home, I know how sensitive the mics are – they will be picking up EVERYTHING – every wrong note, every mis-timing, every paper rustle.

Orchestral playing is an unusual job.  It’s a lonely individual pursuit where you have to perform well yourself. You don’t really talk to the people you’re working with at all when rehearsing/performing.  Yet, you have to play with the others in your section like a single entity.  

In a recording session, that’s even harder as you’re wearing a headphone playing a click track – basically a metronome so that the orchestra and the conductor stays exactly in time with the movie.  And so the conflict – do you play with the click, with the section, with the rest of the orchestra or the conductor?  Ideally, all of the above!

After it was all over, I look back and can categorise the two things you do most at a recording session are: 

1) Sit in absolute silence (when other sections are recording, or if you’ve got rests)

2) Repeatedly play the same part over and over until it’s as perfect as time permits

It almost feels like being used and not very individualistic – either play exactly the same as everyone else in your section, or sit in silence.   I find it ironic that there is a lack of artistic individuality in this artistic pursuit!

Quite different to an office environment where…  I sit in front of a computer in silence for hours at a time 🙂   But at least I can get up and move about, am doing my own set of tasks that are different to everyone else, bounce ideas off others, draw upon references when needed, have meetings where we talk and collaborate, innovate…

And so it all finished, I packed up, caught up with some old friends, waited for my lift..  and now I can’t wait for the next phone call…

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…

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!