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What was your audition process/preparation like? What was it composed of? And what did you think put you ahead of other musicians?
Answered by George Nickson, Principal Percussion
My audition process for Principal Percussion was a very rigorous one! The audition consists of over 50 excerpts (short pieces) from the orchestral repertoire on about 10 different percussion instruments. Xylophone, glockenspiel, marimba, vibraphone, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, tambourine, triangle!
Preparation for the initial audition, which is 4 rounds, prelims, semifinals, finals and super finals, lasted about 6 weeks for me of playing many hours each day. I would estimate that I prepared for this audition with about 200 hours of practice.
After winning the audition, I had two different trial weeks, which are full weeks of rehearsing and performing with the orchestra, before they voted to determine whether I could join the orchestra. It was a long process!
I think that diligent preparation, musical expression and treating every musical detail with the utmost care and thought helps to set oneself apart from the rest of the field.
George Nickson, Principal Percussion:
A percussionist and conductor of great versatility and virtuosity, George Nickson has been hailed by The New York Times as “a performer handling his role with ease and flair.”
Prior to Dallas, Nickson served as Principal Percussionist of the Sarasota Orchestra from 2012-2019. He received the Master of Music degree at The Juilliard School where he studied with Daniel Druckman and completed his undergraduate studies at the New England Conservatory with Will Hudgins. In addition to his position with the Sarasota Orchestra, Nickson has had the privilege of performing with the orchestras of Boston, Detroit, Washington D.C., Toronto, Honolulu and San Francisco.
Recent highlights include world premiere concerto performances at ensembleNEWSRQ in Sarasota, Florida and at Tanglewood, solo performances at The Spoleto Festival, and solo recording projects that can be heard on NAXOS, Bridge and Albany Records. Nickson frequently appears as conductor in notable performances with ensembleNEWSRQ, including world premieres, Charles Wuorinen’s New York Notes and Le Marteau sans Maitre of Pierre Boulez.
Answered by Paul Garner:
Thank you for your question regarding the clarinet's use in the orchestra. A composer will always specify the clarinet to be used in a given movement or piece. The most commonly used are clarinets in A, B-flat, C, D, E-flat, and bass in B-flat. Sometimes the composer will change the clarinet notation in the midst of a movement. The choice of instrument has to do with the key of the music: For example, the Mozart Clarinet Concerto is in the key of A, so it is scored for A clarinet, thus the player is playing in C major (no sharps or flats) on the A clarinet. If he were to play the piece on B-flat clarinet he would be in the key of B major (5 sharps), which is a very awkward key and remote from the natural scale of the instrument. There are certain passages that the clarinetist might play on the clarinet that the piece was NOT scored for if the passage "lies" better on the other clarinet. A good example is Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2 in which the opening is scored for E-flat clarinet in the key of B major. I play this on the D clarinet, which puts it in the key of C, and the passage is much easier to execute as a result. Clarinetists are usually good at transposing up or down one-half step, and also up a step for parts scored for C clarinet, as this instrument is rarely used by modern players. There are many symphonic parts for C, however the instrument has tuning issues and can be a little shrill in tone quality.
I hope this answers your question and enhances your enjoyment of the orchestra. Thank you for your support!
Paul Garner, Associate Principal and E-flat clarinetist
Prior to his Dallas appointment, he held similar positions in the orchestras of Denver and New Orleans and was a member of the United States Military Academy Band at West Point. Garner is Principal Clarinetist of Music in the Mountains in Durango, Colorado and has performed with the Grand Teton Festival Orchestra of Wyoming. He has also served on the faculty of Brevard Music Center, North Carolina. He is a member of the contemporary music ensemble Voices of Change and is active in several Dallas-area chamber music series, including the Nasher Sculpture Center, Fine Arts Chamber Players, Walden Chamber Music Society, Crowley Chamber Music Series at the University of Dallas and Hubbard Chamber Music Society. He has been a contributing writer for "The Clarinet," and has presented master classes at universities and music festivals throughout the country. A dedicated teacher, Garner is presently on the faculty of Southern Methodist University where he teaches clarinet and chamber music. He holds degrees from Michigan State University and the University of Kansas.
Answered by Jamie Allen:
There are many great music theory textbooks available, but if your son is fairly young, I would recommend Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory series. The books are clear, and formatted well for younger learners. There are several volumes, so there's a feeling of accomplishment with finishing one book and moving onto the next. There are also lots of supplementary materials (different clefs, jazz theory, activity books, teacher guides, CD-ROM packages, etc.), which makes it easy to tailor the teaching to the individual student.
Jamie Allen, Director of Education:
Jamie Allen has over 30 years of experience as a composer, conductor, performer, and music educator. He has been named "Composer of the Year" by the New Mexico Music Teachers Association and was hailed as "the most inventive young composer in the state" by The Santa Fe Reporter.
Allen was a Teaching Artist and director of Children’s Choruses for the Santa Fe opera for ten years, and has taught music at every level, from primary to college. He continues to be a frequent presenter, educational consultant, and conductor for many arts organizations. He has also co-chaired the Education & Community Engagement Leadership Committee for the League of American Orchestras.
As Education Director for the Dallas Symphony, Allen helps the orchestra to reach over 70,000 children and adults each year with award winning educational programs, including Youth & Family Concerts, an innovative string instruction program for minority students in Dallas, in-school & community programs, pre-concert lectures, open rehearsals, web sites, master classes and more.
Some time in the Romantic period horn parts were divided so that horns 1 & 3 played higher notes and 2 & 4 played lower notes. It seems like during the late 19th and into the 20th Century this wasn't always the case, though. Have composer now drifted to where they give horn parts out as they fit, so that sometimes the 2nd is asked to play high, while the 4th horn is still on the low notes?
Answered by David Heyde:
Good Question! Most of the time, the high horn parts are still written for the first and third horn parts. However, the modern day professional horn player is expected to be able to play both high and low. There are many pieces that have high horn parts in the 2nd and 4th part, and low notes in the 1st and 3rd horn parts. It really varies from piece to piece and from composer to composer. Hope this answers your question!
David Heyde, Associate Principal Horn:
David Heyde serves as Associate Principal Horn in the Linda VanSickle Associate Principal Horn Chair with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Before coming to Dallas in 2003, Heyde served for two seasons as the Principal Horn of the Omaha Symphony Orchestra. He received his bachelor's degree in music from Baylor University and a master's degree in music from Southern Methodist University. Heyde has performed as soloist with the Omaha and Waco Symphonies. He has attended numerous music festivals including Aspen, Sarasota, Music Academy of the West, the National Repertory Orchestra and Tanglewood.
Answered by Steve Ahearn:
I have a few very broad pieces of advice as I don't know the age, level of playing, or amount of experience of the student:
1) find a private teacher and have regular lessons. This is absolutely the best way to improve the fastest
2) Follow your teacher's advice! Whether it is your band director or private instructor, always buy into the program for best results
3) Make incredibly small progress every single day. Whether you are practicing 20 minutes a day or 2 hours a day, set small, deliberate, attainable goals that you can achieve that very day. For example, play through a difficult passage in your band repertoire at quarter note equals 60, 62 and 64. It doesn't seem like much, but do that every day for a month and you'll be flying. But notice that I mentioned practicing every single day? That is the real key. If you have 2 hours a week to practice, great! But don't do it all on Sunday afternoon, find time every day.
4) ensure your instrument is always in good mechanical order. The pads must be sealing, and the mechanism should feel even and quiet
6) reeds! If you are using cane reeds (I use D'Addario Reserve Classic) always make sure you have at least 4 on hand that are broken in and ready to go. This way when the weather changes or you get a chip in one, you have more on hand. If you opt for plastic I recommend Legere European Signature cut clarinet reeds, still have multiple reeds on hand as these too wear out or can break.
Steve Ahearn, Clarinet:
Stephen Ahearn joined the Dallas Symphony in the fall of 2012. Prior to moving to Dallas, he served as the acting second and E-flat clarinetist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, bass clarinetist with the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra, the Principal Clarinetist of the Sarasota Opera Orchestra, and adjunct Professor of Clarinet at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Stephen has recently appeared as a guest of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Stephen holds a Bachelor of Arts in Biology and Music from the University of Richmond, and a Master of Music from the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. His teachers include Todd Levy, Ricardo Morales, David Weber and David Niethamer. Stephen lives in the Dallas Arts District with his wife Jori and bulldog Lucille.
Answered by Bruce Wittrig:
I would start by inquiring at Brookhaven or one of the other community colleges. They could probably offer some possibilities. Excellent lessons for adults are also provided by the Suzuki Music Institute of Dallas (https://www.suzukimusicdallas.org/adult-program/).
Bruce Wittrig, Violin:
After playing the cello for a year as a child, Bruce Wittrig began serious musical study with viola lessons at age 12. At 19, he turned to violin. In addition to his symphony duties, Wittrig enjoys chamber music and serves as Music Director at his church, Bethany Presbyterian in Uptown. His wife, Mary Alice, formerly with the Dallas Opera, is now a violin teacher as well as a published and award-winning composer of songs and music for students. They have a multi-talented daughter, Melanie.
We live in a small rural community and, in the few short years my daughter has been learning the flute, she has had several instructors already. Apparently, her first teacher taught the fingering for a certain note incorrectly, so last year my daughter spent time re-learning the correct fingering. Now the instructor who taught it wrong is back and wants my daughter to play it the wrong way again. The technicians where we take her flute for a yearly check-up told her that they were glad she had fixed how she played this note, as it will prove beneficial when she advances to harder music. So she said no to the instructor. Is this OK?
Additionally, her band director now has her playing both flute and oboe parts on the flute. Is this normal? It seems like a pretty balanced band to me, but when I asked the director, she said that my daughter is strong in the lower notes and she needs that in the band. As a student going into only her 3rd year of playing, is this going to slow down her progress on the flute? I don't want my daughter to be behind on learning her instrument because she isn't learning the full range.
Any thoughts on the matter would be appreciated.
Answered by Kara Kirkendoll Welch:
I would suggest she find a private lesson teacher on flute so that she will be getting what she needs outside of band and can feel confident doing whatever is asked of her in band.
If she lets me know the note and what the issue is with the fingering, I can confirm one opinion or the other.
Let me know how else I can help!
Kara Welch, Flute:A native of Illinois, Kara Kirkendoll Welch joined the Dallas Symphony in 2000. She graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a bachelor's degree in flute performance and continued her studies at Southern Methodist University, where she earned a master's in flute performance in May 2000. Kirkendoll is the recipient of many reputable awards in such competitions as the International Flute Talk Competition (Chicago, 1999), the Orchestral Masterclass Competition with Jeanne Baxtresser (Dallas, 1997) and the National Flute Association Masterclass Performers Competition (1996). She was a featured soloist at the 2001 National Flute Association Convention in Dallas, and has been recognized in Flute Talk magazine.
My daughter has played oboe for 3 years, is now interested in and teaching herself flute. If I buy her oboe solo sheet music, can she "translate " it and use it also for flute?
Thanks from a non-musician mom.
Answered by Willa Henigman:
I am an oboist who also taught herself flute...yes, oboe sheet music can be played on the flute. However, the flute range is a bit higher than the oboe so the oboe pieces will only use the flute's middle and low range. Actual flute music will tend to explore the high octave more.
Willa Henigman, Oboe:Willa Henigman joined the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in 1996. Prior to coming to Texas, she was Principal Oboe of the Wichita (KS) Symphony Orchestra and served on the faculty of Wichita State University, recording two CD’s with WSU’s Lieurance Woodwind Quintet. An active chamber musician, she has appeared on concert series at the Nasher Sculpture Center and the Dallas Museum of Art, as well as with Orpheus Chamber Singers and Voices of Change. She is also a member Symphony YES, the DSO's public school outreach program.
What was your audition experience like for the DSO?
Answered by Peter Greiner:
My audition for the DSO was, of course, a memorable experience. I flew in to Dallas the morning of the audition, which was at 1:00. That's probably not a good idea, rather coming the day before would have been better. However, this was the tenth audition for me in that year, so I was pretty comfortable with the audition process. The Music Hall at Fair Park, which was the DSO's home at the time, was not available, so the site was the Cliff Temple Church in Oak Cliff, a big cavernous space. The audition itself was straightforward, no surprises. It was a bassoon/contra audition, and the contra was first. There were the standard contra excerpts - Mother Goose, Ravel piano concerto for the left hand, Beethoven 5th Symphony, Adagio from the Mozart Symphonia Concertante, Brahms 1st Symphony. Then immediately to the bassoon, so being able to switch quickly was important. Again, very standard stuff - Mozart Concerto, Marriage of Figaro, Beethoven 4th Symphony, Firebird Suite. I felt it had gone well, and the initial field of 15 candidates had been whittled down to three. The final round was contra only - Mother Goose, Beethoven 5th, and Mozart Symphonia. The music director, Eduardo Mata, was present for the final round, and after some deliberation I was declared the winner. It was obviously a life-changing event for me, and I am grateful and fortunate to have had the opportunity to be the DSO's contrabassoonist for these 32 years.
Peter Greiner, Bassoon:Peter Grenier joined the Dallas Symphony in 1982. He received a bachelor's degree in music from the Eastman School of Music and a master's degree from Northwestern University. He was a member of the Buffalo Philharmonic from 1981-1982 and, prior to that, had a freelance career in Chicago. In addition to playing the bassoon, he is a saxophonist and woodwind doubler, having toured with the Buddy Rich Band and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. He is also a specialist in the repair of bassoons and contrabassoons, and is an avid bridge player, having achieved the rank of life master.
How many hours a week are dedicated to rehearsal?
Answered by Peter Greiner:
Rehearsals vary according to the program for a particular week. For a classical subscription concert there are four, sometimes five rehearsals of two or two and a half hours, for four, sometime three concerts. For a pops concert there will usually be two rehearsals for two or three concerts. There are other types of concerts such as DSO on the go or youth programs which will have one or two rehearsals. But the classical concerts, especially with our music director Jaap van Zweden easily get the most attention.
Peter Greiner, Contrabassoon:Peter Grenier joined the Dallas Symphony in 1982. He received a bachelor's degree in music from the Eastman School of Music and a master's degree from Northwestern University. He was a member of the Buffalo Philharmonic from 1981-1982 and, prior to that, had a freelance career in Chicago. In addition to playing the bassoon, he is a saxophonist and woodwind doubler, having toured with the Buddy Rich Band and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. He is also a specialist in the repair of bassoons and contrabassoons, and is an avid bridge player, having achieved the rank of life master.