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So You Want to Play in the Neopian Philharmonic?

by nolsterbuckr


     While it is indeed impressive to start a band from scratch and have it premiere in a concert hall in Tyrannia, it takes great musical finesse just to be inducted in one of the most prestigious bands in all of Neopia: the Neopian Philharmonic Orchestra. Thousands of musicians apply to audition for a seat, and if the applicant manages to get in, he or she will get to play for an audience whose members hail from many different parts of the world.

     In addition, the orchestra plays a diverse repertoire of music written by composers of differing time periods. Just last year, we managed to play the following:

     - Ugna Grark’s Boulder Serenade (which I still have no idea how somebody got to translate a bunch of rock noises into orchestral repertoire)

     -Igor Brainscooper’s third symphony, which the composer wrote after hearing the hungering moans of the Esophagor

     -Karlov Kelpbeard (no relation to King Kelpbeard of Maraqua)’s Altadorian Preludes, inspired by the twelve legendary figures of Altador

     Having played in the orchestra for five consecutive years, I can understand the thoughts an aspiring musician might have. Why even audition, you might ask? After all, this orchestra is the cream of the crop! Why not save yourself the trouble? Well, while I have said that thousands of musicians do apply, only a few hundred actually audition! Yes, you heard me right; you have a better odds of getting in by actually going through with the audition. The rest of the applicants have convinced themselves that they aren’t good enough musicians to go through the audition process. To them, the orchestral repertoire seems very intimidating.

     That is why in addition to following through with the audition, you must routinely practice. Applications for the Neopian Philharmonic are available at the beginning of the Month of Sleeping or the Month of Swimming (the orchestra performs semiannually) and auditions begin throughout either the first two weeks of the Month of Running or the Month of Gathering, depending on which cycle you applied to audition. This means you have ten to twelve weeks to prepare for your audition, assuming you have applied early. (Audition packets do not come by Neomail; they come by the good old fashioned post office; that is why I stress the reader to apply early!)

     You might dismiss what I have said so far as doable. After all, anybody can practice a particular skill for two and a half months so they can execute said skill proficiently. However, let me say that this line of reasoning is precisely why quite a few applicants never audition! Their complacency gets the best of them, and they then realize the deadline is so close that they don’t even bother to follow through.

     On the other hand, applicants might overcommit to practice to the point that they experience burnout, or even worse, suffer an injury. Here, I present my second bit of advice: do not immediately increase the time you practice in a manner you are not used to. If you practice for, say, thirty minutes a day, stick with that for the first week. Then for the second week, add another ten or fifteen minutes to your practice time, and so on. No Neopet improved their fitness at the Grundo’s Gym by first starting with a full intense workout!

     I would now like to go over what is in the audition packet given to every applicant. The first few pages go over the technicalities of the audition process, which I will not elaborate on in this article. After the written schedule for the concert season is the actual list of repertoire you yourself will play. No, you won’t be expected to play the entirety of every piece the orchestra will play in your audition! You will play, however, the most technically demanding passage for each work, generally lasting from twenty to forty measures. In addition, you are expected to prepare an exposition of a piece of repertoire specific to your instrument. For instance, as a violinist, I had to play the first movement of Hogwell’s Brightvale Concerto. This doesn’t mean you will play the entire movement or piece. While the other passages you must prepare display your technique, the exposition itself exhibits your artistry. The judge panel must have a good idea of both in order to consider your admission.

     I also advise practicing scales and arpeggios for any Neopet who applies. In fact, I don’t just advise it, I demand it. The reason you don’t play scales and arpeggios for the audition is because the judges expect you to already be fluent in playing them. But don’t consider this to be a chore for yourself. Certain parts of orchestral repertoire are literally scales and arpeggios, and if you have practiced those fifty thousand times, you can practically play them in your sleep.

     When looking over the passages you must prepare, you might be intimidated by the sheer technique required of you just to play the pieces decently. You might even bemoan the days you never practiced or regret having such a childish attitude towards byzantine etude books that served to improve your technique. After all, who has time to practice 150 different bowing variations just for one etude alone? This is where I give my next piece of advice: if it isn’t in your current practice routine, don’t practice etudes. While etudes are great at improving a musician's technique, the passages you are working on for your audition can be thought of as a sort of etude in themselves. In fact, teachers in the past have taken the time to compile a list of orchestral repertoire that help improve certain aspects of your technique! You can find this list for your particular instrument in the Neopian Music Shop’s sheet music section.

     I have previously explained what, when, and why to practice, so now I will briefly go over how to practice. The musician who attacks a passage at different angles will do loads better than the one who engages in mindless, repetitive practice (slow practice can only take you so far). A time-tested and versatile strategy for learning orchestral repertoire is rhythmic practice: modifying the rhythms of the passage you are practicing. For instance, if you give one note more time to be played and the succeeding note less time, you are teaching yourself to shift to the next note quickly and efficiently. Reverse the rhythms, and the time it takes to learn your music will be cut in half. Don’t just keep yourself to these two rhythms though; practice in triplets, make each note shorter in length, or double the notes if you have to! This is a practice technique that virtually every musician can use.

          I will now close with the following point: while I have played in the Neopian Philharmonic for five consecutive years, I didn’t get in on my first audition. In fact, I applied and auditioned for seven straight years (that’s fourteen auditions total!) only to be rejected every time. It wasn’t until the fifteenth time I auditioned that I actually got in. So do not be discouraged if you do not make it; barely anybody ever got in the first time they applied. I hope that musicians reading this article will strongly consider applying and auditioning for the Neopian Philharmonic. Admission or no admission, the entire process in itself is a richly rewarding experience.

     ~Nolan (nolsterbuckr), former concertmaster of the Neopian Philharmonic


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