If it seems like we’ve been silent the last couple of months, that’s because Akiko’s life has been pretty different since early March! One moment she was working out at the gym like she did five times a week, and the next she was flat on her back with paramedics on the way.
Suffice it to say that she hasn’t been playing with the LA Phil since then, but we can see the way back at least! Midway through her recovery, we talk about her time in the hospital and back at home.
We also take the opportunity to answer some fantastic questions that you emailed during our time away, including what audition recordings are all about, whether we’d fake Prokofiev’s Cinderella suite, and how we deal with audience distractions!
Nathan Cole: Hi, and welcome back to Stand Partners for Life.
Nathan Cole: And this time, after a bit of a long break… we took a long break last summer. This one was a little different. Akiko, do you want to tell us why?
Akiko Tarumoto: I have been recuperating from an unfortunate incident at the gym. I took a bad step, fell on my bottom, and spent the next eight weeks recovering.
Nathan Cole: Eight weeks and counting.
Akiko Tarumoto: Seven weeks and counting.
Nathan Cole: Oh, okay. And not working, not playing in the Philharmonic.
Akiko Tarumoto: Not playing. I’m playing but not playing at work.
Nathan Cole: Take us back to the incident a little bit.
Akiko Tarumoto: People keep kind of guessing what it was, and they’ll be like, “Oh, were you…?” I don’t know why it bothered me at the hospital. The doctors kept talking about how I was doing step aerobics, and I was like-
Nathan Cole: That makes you sound like a-
Akiko Tarumoto: I didn’t take a time machine back to the ’80s and don skintight, shiny spandex…
Nathan Cole: “And one, and two…”
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, no. So I was not doing step aerobics. It did involve a box, one of those foam boxes. They come in various heights, and this one was the lowest one. It was a 12-inch box, and I was just trying to do something to keep my heart rate up between weight lifting rounds. And yeah, just, it was one of those weird things that just, I guess I was kind of tired, and my foot didn’t come cleanly down from the box. My other foot was already on the way up. So the box slid toward me, and I landed. I had nowhere to go but on my bottom.
Nathan Cole: And I’ve had other people ask me, people who don’t know you very well — But just to make it clear, I mean, you were probably at the gym or were, at that time, five times a week, doing these kinds of classes.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, yeah. In fact, I was joking that I should probably spend as much time playing the violin as I did at the gym. Because at that point, just working out, and running… if you added up all the time I spent exercise-wise, it, yeah, dwarfed my actual time practicing on my instrument. So yeah, it was a little bit sobering. So now, finally, my practicing found a way to reverse that proportion.
Nathan Cole: Against your will. And yeah, I think just the day before you had run 10 miles.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, that was disappointing, because it’s been a while since I ran that far, as you know. And so it felt like a milestone to get back there, and it was. Won’t be seen again for a while.
Nathan Cole: Well, I’m looking forward to you getting back to it, because you will. I know they didn’t like the look of the fall and all that. So they called some paramedics who…
Akiko Tarumoto: They talked to me as if I were probably about 60 years old or older.
Nathan Cole: Wait. Did they ask you who was president and expect you to say it was Ronald Reagan?
Akiko Tarumoto: No. (I do remember that, by the way.) No, they asked me if I was on any medications, and when I said no, they looked really encouraging, and they said, “Ooh, very healthy.” I’m not sure if they thought I was kind of out of it because of the fall, because they were trying to speak slowly to me, in any event. They seemed like they wanted to really cheer for me when I said I wasn’t on any medications regularly.
Akiko Tarumoto: And then they asked me, I think more than once, if I really was used to exercising. It was a little bit insulting.
Nathan Cole: Covering their bases.
Akiko Tarumoto: Other than having just fallen on my rear, I thought I looked like I was in acceptable shape, like maybe this is something I do more than once a year. They didn’t seem so sure about that. So yeah, a little humbling.
Nathan Cole: We got you to the ER with a little difficulty because you were in pain, and then ER did a cursory check plus an x-ray and said nothing was broken, take this Advil and all that. Which you did for a couple days, and it was not getting better. It was getting much worse.
Akiko Tarumoto: As you recall, I got home and was almost instantly sure something was not right. And I tried to sit down on the bed or something, and there was a terrible stabbing, burning sort of… It was strange because it was a pain that wasn’t present until I triggered some movement or a nerve or something. And so everything would be fine, and then I’d sit down or try to stand up and then… it was horrible. I don’t think there’s any way I can actually describe how terrible it was.
Akiko Tarumoto: So I try not to be dramatic about it, but that pain stayed with me for the next week. I guess it was a solid week of going through that. So that wasn’t so fun.
Nathan Cole: Right. I mean, anytime you tried to basically get down or get up.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. Still, the doctors are pretty stumped by what that was. I mean, it was obviously some kind of nerve that I tweaked with this fall, but the doctors were stumped, in the hospital, anyway. The pain doctors had no answers, and so that’s not so encouraging when-
Nathan Cole: Well, we’re skipping the fact that we went back to the ER and then they did a scan and found there was a fracture-
Akiko Tarumoto: Right, which is why I ended up hospitalized, but yeah.
Nathan Cole: Yeah, yeah. Fracture of the sacrum, which… I pronounced “sack-rum” for the first couple days until I-
Akiko Tarumoto: I think we made a number of Rite of Spring jokes.
Nathan Cole: Right. That’s true. So, yeah, seven nights in the hospital, and, yeah, go Percocet! That was the…
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. For anyone who’s wondering what my painkiller of choice is for some horrible, horrible, otherwise uncurable pain, it’s Percocet.
Nathan Cole: But it did have some side effects, and they did warn you to get off it within two weeks if you could. And you did.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. So thank goodness for that. I was on so many medications in the hospital, it’s kind of staggering. They’d come in every 90 minutes or so and shoot me up with something else that didn’t work. Other than that, it was strange.
Akiko Tarumoto: I was actually, after a few days, thinking, “I actually have not been bored.” Everyone was like, “You must be going crazy in this hospital room.” Yeah, I literally could not get up out of bed. I think that it’s possible that I’m exactly the kind of person who takes to bed rest very naturally. Yeah, for sure.
Nathan Cole: Yeah. And you discovered the Great British Baking Show–
Akiko Tarumoto: I did. I started-
Nathan Cole: -during your convalescence.
Akiko Tarumoto: It’s an unfortunate timing, getting into that show and being unable to move very much because I rediscovered my obsession with sugar at the exact moment where I was unable to physically do anything about that other than bake and eat.
Nathan Cole: And we watched some good movies and had a few good take-out meals in the hospital.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, but you didn’t get into the things that I actually made, thanks to my-
Nathan Cole: Oh, well, since you got home, yeah.
Akiko Tarumoto: Well, because of my newfound courage, I… after watching the show, I thought, “Well, these people can throw together a tray of cream puffs. And on top of it, they can make a showstopper cake with the cream puffs involving an entire chocolate sculpture.” And I was like, “These people can do this in three hours. I’m sure I can put together a halfway decent birthday cake for you.”
Nathan Cole: “Halfway”? That was an amazing… First of all, it wasn’t even a cake.
Akiko Tarumoto: It depends on what you call a success. I didn’t burn down the house, and I didn’t burn my hand off, so…
Nathan Cole: I mean, this was a sculpture of cream puffs. I have a picture. I should post that picture. That was amazing.
Akiko Tarumoto: My little half-tower of cream puffs. So yeah. But it was, I think, a nice surprise for you.
Nathan Cole: It was amazing. I was shocked.
Akiko Tarumoto: So one of my projects during my convalescence here has been-
Nathan Cole: Was this sort of, does it relate to performance anxiety on the violin, performance anxiety in front of the mixer?
Akiko Tarumoto: I mean, my personality is just… I really become sort of paralyzed by my inability to predict how something’s going to turn out sometimes. And there’s just definite, I wouldn’t even call them parallels. I think it just translates so directly to playing for me.
Akiko Tarumoto: So maybe I need to watch hours and hours of a show about playing the violin. Maybe that would inspire me to just get out there and do it. But fortunately, since no one’s expecting me to turn out world-class or even high-level baked goods on a regular basis, I think that when it happens, everyone’s astonishment is reward enough for me. But I think that that’s not quite the case on the violin.
Nathan Cole: Well, so since then you haven’t been at work. And in fact we both… this happened right before the L.A. Phil was to go on an Asia tour-
Akiko Tarumoto: Right.
Nathan Cole: -well, the L.A. Phil still went on the Asia tour. But we didn’t go.
Akiko Tarumoto: Really? They went without me? I didn’t hear about that!
Nathan Cole: But we knew… I mean, pretty much as soon as you fell, we knew you weren’t going to go because, I mean, fracture or not, with that much pain, you weren’t going to be getting on an airplane in just a few days.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. Well, that one guy, the first guy thought I’d be fine in five days. So there was that guy. And then… but yeah, pretty quickly I think we figured it out.
Nathan Cole: But I think at that point we still thought that I would go.
Akiko Tarumoto: Right.
Nathan Cole: But then once it was clear… I mean, once you’d been in the hospital for a few days, it was like, “Huh. Even if she comes home tomorrow, we don’t have any family out here.” And so it was clear I needed to be here to take care of you. And luckily that was just fine with the orchestra, so the first couple stands of the philharmonic looked a little different for the tour, but I hear that they managed okay without us.
Akiko Tarumoto: I think they did.
Nathan Cole: Unfortunately.
Akiko Tarumoto: They got by. Yeah. We’d like to fantasize about being irreplaceable. Apparently it’s not true.
Nathan Cole: Everybody at work… I went back to work after the tour, so that’s been four weeks or so that I’ve been back. And of course everyone asks about you every day, which is nice.
Akiko Tarumoto: I’m sure concern is turning to morbid curiosity, but yes.
Nathan Cole: So. Yeah, at first it’s like, “How is Akiko?” And like, “How is Akiko?” And then, “How’s Akiko.”
Akiko Tarumoto: I think that word is now, “Where’s Akiko?”
Nathan Cole: Well, I mean look, your neurosurgeon, right when he saw the pictures, he said, “Eh, that’s going to be three months before you can work again.” So we’re only a little more than halfway through that.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. We like that guy.
On not working
Nathan Cole: So how has it been? Look, in some ways it’s everyone’s dream to not show up to work tomorrow, but tomorrow stretches into weeks. And we covered this a little bit, and we had a whole episode about injuries and all that. But now that you’re still in this one…
Akiko Tarumoto: And this one, you know, it’s funny. It’s like, what would you rather have? I mean, in this case, I’m actually able to practice as much as I want.
Nathan Cole: Standing up.
Akiko Tarumoto: As much as I want. So, yeah, however much that is. But yeah, I haven’t tried sitting down as much because, of course, sitting down isn’t as comfortable. But even from, I think, one or two days after I got home from the hospital, I had an urge to play. I think it’s just, I just felt so out of my normal routine. Not that practicing was going to restore my normal routine, but I think I just felt like I was vanishing. I could barely move around the house, really. And I was just so relieved that I wasn’t in terrible pain anymore.
Nathan Cole: Yeah, can’t pick up the kids.
Akiko Tarumoto: Couldn’t really parent my children, yeah. And it was amazing to me. I thought, “Well, look at this. I can play.” And I was taking the Percocet, so I guess I was kind of out of it. I felt a little swollen from all the medications. I didn’t feel totally right.
Akiko Tarumoto: And I hadn’t played in, whatever, 10 days since I’d fallen and been in the hospital. So it was nice. And I have found this, when in times of certain emotional distress or whatever… it’s sad to say that that has to bring you back to the violin, but it’s definitely a kind of a soothing thing to come back to. Just to feel that that’s still there is reassuring. So yeah, I think I felt reassured. Yeah. That’s probably the right word. And I felt the same since then, and even more so not being at work and not playing.
Akiko Tarumoto: I’m really worried, even now, about my stamina not being where it needs to be when I go back.
Nathan Cole: Yeah. I mean, sometimes the beginning of the season can be a little bit like that. Playing feels okay, but then you forget how it is to play a three-hour rehearsal or whatever it may be.
Nathan Cole: And actually, I just ran into one of our colleagues, who we happened to see in the emergency room at the exact same time that you were getting this fracture checked out. And they called a colleague’s name, and we both did a double take. We’re like, “Oh, they’re here.” And that person had to miss the tour as well. And I was just talking to them at work, and they said, “Yeah, coming back that first day, I thought I was ready, but we got halfway through the overture, and I was just like, ‘Ah, I’m out.'”
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. I am concerned about that. But so I was saying, what would you rather have? Would you rather be injured in a way where you could, the rest of your life is pretty much normal. Like you can take care of the kids, you can go to the gym, even go for a run, but you can’t play at all. Because we happen to have a friend who’s in that exact situation now who’s sort of… his life is pretty normal, but he hasn’t been able to play.
Akiko Tarumoto: So I don’t know. I mean, I’m so vain, like, sure. It would be great if I could still be… I hate being in bad physical shape. I hate it. And I hate feeling like it’s going to be a while, if ever, before I totally feel normal all around, because it was a bad place to have a fall.
Akiko Tarumoto: I suppose maybe I’d rather feel like I couldn’t really… no, like I have some kind of playing thing… I can’t play right now, but I can come back, I suppose, maybe? But the thing is, my confidence in my playing is somewhat fragile anyway, so maybe that would be a real blow. So it’s hard to know.
Nathan Cole: Yeah. I haven’t had this kind of injury like you’ve had. I’ve had something where I couldn’t play for a time. And, I mean, either way, there’s a psychological toll. Because when I was hurt, playing-wise, there’s always a bad moment where you wonder if you can’t come back. This, I mean, physically…
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, I’m a little nervous that I’m always going to feel it when I sit down or something, which is like, that kind of stinks. I guess sitting’s the new smoking, right? That’s what the doctor said to us.
Nathan Cole: That’s what the neurosurgeon said.
Akiko Tarumoto: So maybe this will be my impetus to not sit as much.
Nathan Cole: Well, and he kind of… I think he was asking seriously. He was like, “You can get one of those kneeling chairs where you’re kind of sitting on your knees at an angle but your rear is still supported.”
Akiko Tarumoto: Of course, I can only think of The Simpsons, where Lizzie Borden’s trying to sit on one of those chairs.
Nathan Cole: Oh, right.
Akiko Tarumoto: In the Halloween episode.
Nathan Cole: During the trial of the damned, or the jury of the damned.
Akiko Tarumoto: I think that’s what I would look like. I’d be falling off.
Nathan Cole: Yeah. We just both kind of looked at each other, and it’s like, “Eh, she’s not going to go back to work like that.”
Akiko Tarumoto: Can you imagine?
Nathan Cole: That would be quite a sight. Hey, it’s L.A. If any place can… maybe San Francisco, they’ll all be sitting in the kneeling chairs onstage.
Akiko Tarumoto: Or maybe, yeah, maybe I’ll get one of those… I’ll get a black balance ball and sit on that.
Nathan Cole: Yeah, like in Portlandia.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah.
Nathan Cole: So Asia’s not on the schedule for a while. We’ve got some other tours set up, in Scotland-
Akiko Tarumoto: Next time. Next time we’re scheduled to go, I’ll sit at home in a chair for two weeks straight before we go.
Nathan Cole: You know that’s not going to work, right?
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah.
Nathan Cole: The best-laid plans…
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, the roof will fall on me or something.
Nathan Cole: Well, I thought that this would be… since we’re easing back into our episodes. There have been quite a few people who have written either asking when are you guys going to put out another episode or with other questions. And I thought maybe we could take some emailed questions.
Akiko Tarumoto: Sure. The armchair orchestra musician here, sorry.
Nathan Cole: Right, yeah. You’re going to have to imagine what performing Akiko would say.
Akiko Tarumoto: Let’s see if I remember.
Episodes from the Fischoff
Nathan Cole: And just before we do that, I did want to let you know about a couple exciting things in just a few weeks now, coming up.
Nathan Cole: I’m actually going to be traveling, sadly without you, partly for reasons of fracture and partly because you may or may not be at work at that point. But I’m going to be covering the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition on behalf of Stand Partners for Life. That’s going to be exciting. That’s a competition I never actually participated in. Did you?
Akiko Tarumoto: No, no.
Nathan Cole: Did you, I mean, were you ever close to-
Akiko Tarumoto: No.
Nathan Cole: -taking a group there? I sort of…
Akiko Tarumoto: I missed the whole…. I never really went to music school for real, though.
Nathan Cole: Well, not until grad school.
Akiko Tarumoto: Right, but the whole era of being serious about it didn’t happen to me, so.
Nathan Cole: Yeah. My closest connection to the competition is that I joined a group, a string quartet, after they had gone to Fischoff and got not the first prize but I think the second prize.
Akiko Tarumoto: Not first prize.
Nathan Cole: Yeah, they got the not first prize. So this was the 1996 Fischoff Chamber Music Competition. So right before I got to school, they won the second prize in Fischoff, and then they… either their second violinist quit, or they kicked them out. I’m not sure what happened, but they had put a ton of work into this group, and then I just got to school and sort of walked into the group.
Nathan Cole: So I got to replace someone in a group that was already sort of competition-seasoned, and I didn’t have to do any of the work. So that’ll be happening in a few weeks. Those episodes will be lots of fun. And they’ll come out– It’ll be almost daily episodes really, for that.
More on the art of faking
Nathan Cole: So yeah, let’s get to those questions. First we have a question from, and I hope I’m saying your name right, Frank Seligman. And talking about having just played Prokofiev’s Cinderella Suite and how there’s a movement in there that just seemed… the violin parts are covered by the rest of the orchestra but don’t seem all that playable. And so you were asking whether we found that really doable or not.
Nathan Cole: And in that piece, I think, we were talking and couldn’t come up with anything in there that was really unplayable. But we had an episode on faking not too many episodes ago, how it’s sometimes unavoidable.
Akiko Tarumoto: Sorry, what’s the question?
Nathan Cole: Well, the question was whether there was anything in that movement of Cinderella, I believe it was the Midnight movement, that was just… would we really play all that or not. And I think in this case we would.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah.
Nathan Cole: But there are other pieces where either we couldn’t… I don’t know. I’m trying to think of an example of something we just couldn’t play. It’s hard. It’s hard to admit that we couldn’t play something.
Akiko Tarumoto: Well, like Turangalîla had some things that were really difficult.
Nathan Cole: That’s true, the Messaien that we did.
Akiko Tarumoto: I make it sound like I’m really reaching to find something that I find really hard to play, so no, it’s not-
Nathan Cole: There are plenty of things we don’t play perfectly.
Akiko Tarumoto: Sure.
Nathan Cole: But as far as things that we would just say, “Look, we just can’t play this. We’re not going to try.” Actually, you know the part in American in Paris, the Gershwin, what I’m thinking of?
Akiko Tarumoto: Yes, ew.
Nathan Cole: There’s a part that’s so fast with these scales. That might qualify as-
Akiko Tarumoto: No, aren’t you thinking of (hums)?
Nathan Cole: No, you can play that. I’m talking… No, I’m talking about (hums).
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, I don’t even think I was thinking… Yeah, I mean, I’m sure that. But, I mean, that thing, like I said, that never sounds good.
Nathan Cole: Yeah. There are things that… and mostly, as you pointed out in your email, one of the criteria for whether I’m going to try to play something perfectly or not is whether it’s covered. By the way, that’s a really annoying thing, isn’t it?
Akiko Tarumoto: It’s an argument for not practicing before the first rehearsal, by the way.
Nathan Cole: You can always say-
Akiko Tarumoto: You can spend like an hour on something. You’re like, “What? You can’t even hear it.”
Nathan Cole: Yeah, I know. Yeah. I’m going to see how the first rehearsal goes.
Akiko Tarumoto: Better wait and see, you know?
Nathan Cole: See what matters. But don’t you hate that, when… sometimes the conductor practically, before you’ve even gone through a brand-new piece… I guess here I’m talking about a premiere or something like that. The first read-through, they’ll say, “Okay first violins, slowly, and let’s do these eight bars slowly. Uh, not quite right. Again, and now a little faster. Okay, now let’s add everyone back in.” It’s like (brass sounds) and (drum sounds) percussion…
Nathan Cole: You’re like, “Come on, you can’t hear a single note of that. What was the point?” That’s just asserting your superiority.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. Or they just can’t tell what you can hear and can’t hear.
Nathan Cole: That’s true because they’re sitting right next to the violins.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah.
Nathan Cole: So that’s what they hear.
Akiko Tarumoto: There’s got to be a name for that kind of… Proximity–
Nathan Cole: Yeah.
Akiko Tarumoto: Obsessiveness Syndrome?
Nathan Cole: Yeah.
Akiko Tarumoto: POS.
Nathan Cole: Nice. The title of that episode, I think, is “Fake It Till You Make It.” And that’s all about when it’s appropriate or when and how to fake, what constitutes good faking and bad faking.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. What does constitute good faking? See, this is one of those things. Since I haven’t been at work, I kind of forget how to… wait, you fake?
Nathan Cole: You’ve lost your faking chops?
Akiko Tarumoto: And I’m looking at you like “you piece of dirt!”
Nathan Cole: Well, rhythm and dynamics are nonnegotiable.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, especially when you are done playing is not negotiable. We talk about that. It’s like, it does not matter if you’ve practiced your part to death and you finish a little bit after everyone, because that’s just not helpful. So yeah, let’s just make sure you always keep your ear open. No matter how well you are playing or faking, it’s not worth anything if you’re by yourself at the end.
Nathan Cole: Right. And that is a change in mindset. I mean, to learn to, whether you want to call it sight-reading or just playing music that you’re not very familiar with yet, learning how to prioritize dynamics and rhythm far above the notes.
Akiko Tarumoto: And the other thing I always complain about is, I think after a certain amount of time in an orchestra and not hearing yourself playing so much, I think you do lose the ability to hear and play at the same time. It sounds weird to say that. I mean-
Nathan Cole: Walking and chewing gum?
Akiko Tarumoto: But yeah, it’s unfortunate. You have to always try to keep that in your mind. And it’s a scary thing when you realize maybe you’re not sure if you’re doing that or not, you know? Because you always think you’re listening.
Nathan Cole: Well, there’s a couple of things, right? I mean, there’s the literal ability to hear yourself, which can be lost when you’re playing in the big group. But then there’s also-
Akiko Tarumoto: It is lost. Yeah, you really do not hear your individual sound.
Nathan Cole: But then there’s the finer, the inner-ear skill that erodes when you’re not honing it all the time. You can literally hear yourself, but you’d be so far out of the habit of listening for detail that it’s almost like you’re not hearing yourself.
Akiko Tarumoto: It’s weird. It’s like, if you practice on your own and you’re in an orchestra, you can… what you’re feeling and what you’re imagining is coming out. Those things stay close enough. But if you’re not practicing correctly… because it’s not as if no one practices, but somehow they’re not doing it right or it’s just, maybe over time it erodes. And then that disparity between what you think is coming out and what is actually coming out becomes a problem.
Nathan Cole: Well, I mean that’s the whole trick of recording yourself and doing it regularly enough that you can sort of keep tabs on where those things are.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. It’s almost as if what you’re honing is the ability to predict what is happening based on the physical movements, physical sensation.
Nathan Cole: Yeah, I agree.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. It’s just a strange skill to be working on, but yeah.
Nathan Cole: Well, I think that… yeah, I mean, that’s almost the whole ballgame. Because if you can get those two things in alignment, then you can really fix what your problems are.
Akiko Tarumoto: But I think a lot of people… what they’re working on is not what I think they need to work on.
Nathan Cole: Right. And–we’ve got the Pasadena police helicopters, they’re out in force at the moment.
Akiko Tarumoto: Why drive when you can fly? Why drive when you can disturb thousands of people at one time?
Setting up an audition recording
Nathan Cole: Well, this recording question leads into another email that I’ve gotten. This is from Gary Hayes, and it’s actually a lot of questions in one but all centering around recordings. And it’s because of the fact that, in an earlier episode, we sort of teased the fact that we were going to talk more about the audition recording requirements for the New York Philharmonic back for the audition they had last summer. And we didn’t really get into so many details about the recording that New York was asking for.
Nathan Cole: So, first of all, he was wanting to clarify whether a recording like that should be several takes or one take. And whether you’re talking about an audition for a school or an audition for an orchestra, I mean, you have to go with whatever requirements they say. But in general, all these places will say “unedited.” And what they mean by that is that each selection is unedited.
Nathan Cole: So if the New York Philharmonic wants eight excerpts, then each of your excerpts should be unedited. But, for sure, you take the best take of each excerpt and stick those all together. And if it’s a school audition, they want this concerto and this sonata and this thing, and generally that means each piece or each movement is an unedited take. Anything I’m missing there?
Akiko Tarumoto: No. I’m just thinking of your poor, unfortunate student who didn’t realize that. He thought it actually had to be just the first time through.
Nathan Cole: Right. I once did know someone who really wanted the audition recording to represent their playing most truly. And so sort of decided on the recording time, turned on the recorder, and they said, “Whatever’s the first take, that’s what I’m going to go with.” And it’s hard to make your first take the best one. So you don’t have to do that.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. And it’s funny, because I do, in my limited experience, there’s some magic to that first take that does sort of dissipate over multiple takes. But this poor guy really took it to heart and was much too honest about his interpretation of that rule.
Nathan Cole: Well, and Gary goes on in his email to say, “In many instances in recent years, players are asked to submit video recordings, which limits performance to complete movements or songs, guaranteeing an unedited performance. Wouldn’t an audition recording”… I assume we’re talking about the committee… “want some kind of assurance of a recording that represents the player fairly?” And that, definitely, is true.
Nathan Cole: I mean, you can, I guess, fake your way somehow or defraud your way into an audition or an opportunity for so long. But then when you actually have to play live, everything will come out.
Akiko Tarumoto: Well, that should be reassuring, right? It’s like, just think about it. What they’re really saying is, “We can tell what kind of player you are, even if you think you’re getting away with something quote-unquote by being able to do it over and without a mistake.”
Akiko Tarumoto: They’re not really looking for mistakes or lack of mistakes. Oh, I mean, sure. If you leave some glaring errors in there, they’ll think, “Well, they couldn’t get a better take,” possibly. But really, what they’re saying they’re looking for is, they can tell the quality of a player that’s sort of outside of tiny things that always catch our attention, the scratches or this or that. That’s not what they’re really focused on. They can tell if this is someone good, whether or not that happens.
Nathan Cole: I mean, if there are people who think they could put together an amazing recording with unlimited editing, that’s almost never the case. I mean, sound. You can’t make someone sound better with some tricks. You can’t make them sound like Itzhak Perlman. You can fix intonation, for sure. Especially nowadays, tools are much better than they used to be.
Akiko Tarumoto: You can. You can fix them here or there, but you can’t fix a trend. I mean, if someone’s just…
Nathan Cole: No. You’d have to go on a note-by-note basis, which is extraordinarily time-consuming and expensive. And you still can’t-
Akiko Tarumoto: And I always say that that’s what they’re looking for in an audition or playing, is trends. Either one, a good trend or a bad trend.
Nathan Cole: Yeah. I mean, and in that case, your editor would have to be someone who had as expert an ear for intonation as someone sitting on the committee, so then you may as well get that person to just play the recording for you! And you also can’t fix shifts very well, like the kind of shift someone does, the kind of string crossings someone makes. I mean, there are just a million things on the violin that are still hard to fabricate, so.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, yeah. What do you think is the hardest? To me, it’s the sound quality… the quality, but that’s composed of… someone’s vibrato, bow speed.
Nathan Cole: Yeah, the vibrato. That you still can’t–
Akiko Tarumoto: Vibrato, bow speed, and bow pressure. And you add all those things together, I think that just creates this quality that people suddenly start paying attention to.
Nathan Cole: Yeah. Well, like I told you this story recently, of someone playing me something over the cell phone.
Akiko Tarumoto: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Nathan Cole: And this happened to be a so-called, a wild recording, meaning there was no editing or anything like that, and it wasn’t a commercial thing. It was just somebody off the cuff playing for, I think it was five seconds. And they were asking me just to… they needed to know what piece it was. And I heard it for a second, and I knew, “Okay, it’s Glazunov Concerto. And then I was like, “Who is that? This is amazing playing.”
Nathan Cole: And it turned out to have been Perlman, since I just mentioned him.
Akiko Tarumoto: Is this really a story about you and how good your ear is?
Nathan Cole: No, I didn’t guess that it was Perlman! I just thought… but, I mean, you would have said the same thing. You’d be like, “Who is this?” Like, there’s only a certain class of player this could be. And this is not over the hi-fi, as they used to say, I mean, it was over the cell phone. This was one cell phone held up to another cell phone, basically.
Akiko Tarumoto: Right.
Nathan Cole: And still it was like, yeah, the vibrato, the pitch, the timing…
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, the shifting, sure.
Nathan Cole: Yeah. I just… I have a hard time deciding on this because I actually, in some ways I think it’s easier to face putting together a video recording than it is an audio recording, at least if we’re talking about people who are prepared.
Akiko Tarumoto: Sure.
Nathan Cole: Because with an audio recording you always wrestle with that question. It’s possible to edit, it’s possible to sweeten, to pull all kinds of tricks. Is everyone else doing that? Do I need to? Whereas with video, it’s kind of like-
Akiko Tarumoto: But don’t you worry so much? You’re so much more self-conscious, right?
Nathan Cole: With video?
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah.
Nathan Cole: I mean, sure, you think about what you’re wearing and maybe your gestures and all that, but then everybody has to deal with that.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, but there might be a certain kind of… well, I guess you could say that about audio recording too. There might be a kind of player who thrives more in that situation, but I guess that’s an audition, you know?
Nathan Cole: I just, I think it would encourage… Let’s say video were required. And, yeah, as you say, that would change the whole screened nature of an audition. But if it were required, I think you would get a truer representation of people’s playing, honestly. And they would just, they’d practice, they’d prepare, they do a few takes of the video, and that would be it. Then you’d see how they played.
A detour on “crashing an audition”
Akiko Tarumoto: Sorry, this is off topic. What is this whole quote-unquote myth about being able to just show up without an audition time? Is that a thing? Like…
Nathan Cole: Yeah, I always heard growing up that if you have your union card, you can show up to any audition.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. They legally can’t refuse you an audition. But that’s not true, right?
Nathan Cole: Well, again, it’s kind of like, what do you mean by “legally”?
Akiko Tarumoto: I see, and how far you’re willing to go with it.
Nathan Cole: Because it’s not like there’s a federal or state law about orchestra auditions. It’s just deals between… Even our contract that we have with the L.A. Phil is technically a contract between the local union and the L.A. Phil Management…
Akiko Tarumoto: The agreement. Right.
Nathan Cole: It’s only as strong as the rest of the union members that would be willing to stand up for you, basically.
Akiko Tarumoto: I see.
Nathan Cole: Which is I guess what belonging to a union is all about.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, so if you’re a member, shouldn’t they technically have to support you?
Nathan Cole: So someone who’s a member of the union shows up for an audition, and it’s the union guideline that they’d be allowed to audition and the orchestra says no. It should follow, then, that there’s some kind of union action like, “Hey, we’re not going to continue this audition until you allow this person to play.”
Nathan Cole: But in reality, hardly anyone goes to that much effort. But, you know, that’s why I would love to make it as frictionless as possible to audition. If you’re willing to put in the effort and prepare the list and show up, then you should be able to play.
Akiko Tarumoto: But do we know anybody who’s ever done it, shown up…?
Nathan Cole: And just kind of crashed the audition? No, I don’t. It’s not something I would do, just because I wouldn’t want to put in so many weeks or months of preparation without knowing that I had a time.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. Mentally, it’s a hard thing to do.
Nathan Cole: But I know that the L.A. Phil gets more and more resumes now for every opening that we have. I know for the last violin audition, we got more than 400 resumes, and you can’t hear that many people. So there has to be some way to narrow it down. And so recordings can be one way to do that.
Akiko Tarumoto: Right. Boston does that.
Nathan Cole: Right. And New York recently went to a system where they allowed a very small number of people to audition live and the rest they said, “Make this recording, and that will count as your preliminary audition.”
Mic selection and placement
Nathan Cole: So to maybe further answer how would I set it up, how would you set it up if you had to make an audio recording like they were asking for? And they had pretty specific what they called “requirements,” but that seems a bit steep because they were requiring really expensive microphones and all that.
Nathan Cole: The way that the professional audio engineers do it, they would have two really expensive microphones, and they’d put them on a stand 6 to 10 feet away from the player and a few feet above the player. And you’d be in a great-sounding room, on the drier side, maybe, but with a little natural reverb, and then you could enhance that if you needed to after the fact.
Nathan Cole: But that can be hard, to find a space like that and mics like that. You know, the videos I make are taken with a… now it’s a good mic, but it’s only two inches away from the violin. That’s not ideal, but it cuts out any of the bad room noise. That’s not how I would make an audition for an orchestra if I had to. I couldn’t do it somewhere in the house, so I’d have to either find a bigger room that didn’t have all hard corners like the rooms in our house, or rent a studio.
Akiko Tarumoto: I mean, you have a much broader understanding of audio stuff than the average person, so I feel like you should do a more detailed thing about this, because I never would have thought of these things.
Nathan Cole: Well, I do have an article on natesviolin.com, “How to Make an Audition Video Without Spending a Fortune.”
Akiko Tarumoto: Okay.
Nathan Cole: That’s specifically about video. Yeah, I mean, you can spend money, make more effort and get better sound. I guess the thing to remember is that the better your space the less you have to worry about. Like let’s say you’re recording in Walt Disney Concert Hall. You can stick a decent mic just about anywhere in the hall, and it’s going to sound good-
Akiko Tarumoto: I see-
Nathan Cole: -because that hall is built so that anyone sitting anywhere can get a good sound. The worse your room is, the closer your mic has to be.
Akiko Tarumoto: I see. Okay. I see.
Nathan Cole: Or at least let’s say the more specific your mic placement has to be. If you’re talking about a horrible space, like my garage, where I make my videos, there is no good spot, so I put it as close to me as possible to take away any reflection.
Akiko Tarumoto: Okay.
Nathan Cole: So you’re only getting the direct sound. So yeah, there’s your answer. And then the better your mic the more tonal qualities of your instrument you can get.
Akiko Tarumoto: Okay.
Nathan Cole: That matters if it’s a good space, because then you can capture some positive qualities. If it’s not a good space, then it doesn’t really matter because you’ll only be capturing more of the bad.
Dealing with audience distractions
Nathan Cole: And I think the last question we’re going to tackle tonight was one from Audrey Morris about audience distractions. She was playing a concert recently where that became an issue, and so do we ever deal with that?
Akiko Tarumoto: And I think we… yeah, I think I did mention a while back that it’s getting harder and harder for me to deal with those, strangely. You think it’d be easier, but it’s harder.
Nathan Cole: You mean you just notice them more?
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. And this is weird. When I was a little kid, I used to like when somebody would clomp in or out or do something because I’d be like-
Nathan Cole: Pressure’s off.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. It was like, “Wow.” It’s this whole weird atmosphere of complete silence, and the little bubble’s been pierced, and now I can feel more normal or something. But now it’s almost the reverse. I have to work myself up into this state of ideal conditions. And then, if something happens, and it’s like, “Ahh,” it just throws me completely off, you know?
Nathan Cole: Well, what are we talking about? I mean, so you mentioned people coming in or leaving.
Akiko Tarumoto: Well, and there’s always… I always feel like I have two answers. There’s the answer for when I’m in an orchestra setting and the answer for when it’s solo or chamber or something, you know?
Nathan Cole: Okay, well, what’s the difference, and then let’s focus more on the orchestra.
Akiko Tarumoto: Okay. So it has a much bigger impact on me, I think it’s obvious, if it’s solo. And I don’t know why that is. I don’t know if it’s like… Yeah. I think I come up with this ideal situation in my head when I perform, and this person was not part of it. This person, whatever is happening, they’re leaving. So, yeah, I think that’s why.
Akiko Tarumoto: But so, let’s say in orchestra, it doesn’t bother me as much. I mean, it doesn’t have as much of an effect on the overall performance, obviously, because it’s an orchestra. Which is what I like about playing an orchestra. It’s like these little things. The sum total is not changed by this one little thing.
Nathan Cole: Yeah.
Akiko Tarumoto: So that’s nice. But I do personally feel it, and more than I used to. It never used to bug… I never even really used to look out there, I think, between movements.
Nathan Cole: Well, Disney makes it easy.
Akiko Tarumoto: Sure.
Nathan Cole: I mean, I must say, we can see the audience-
Akiko Tarumoto: You can see it more easily.
Nathan Cole: -we’re closer, and we can see the audience so well. And in a way, that’s nice.
Akiko Tarumoto: So if it’s a chamber performance, I feel less nervous if I can see people.
Nathan Cole: You want to be playing for individuals, almost?
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. I don’t like just seeing black. To me it’s just like, it makes me feel very isolated to just see blackness. I feel cold. And cold is sort of the opposite of a “flow word”. You want warm!
Nathan Cole: Right.
Akiko Tarumoto: You don’t want cold. So personally that’s not good. But say in an orchestra setting… also, I think I get nervous for orchestra concerts, as you know, and that same thing applies. If I just see blackness instead of faces, it makes it harder for me to perform. But yeah, seeing people leaving, really, it bothers me. I don’t know what it is.
Akiko Tarumoto: I think of when we go to the theater, which we like doing, and how I assume that that person onstage can see me. And I think everybody in the audience at a theater performance feels that way.
Nathan Cole: Yeah. I mean, do you feel like it’s because they’re speaking to the audience that… Because I half imagine, if I were just to get up in the middle of a scene and leave-
Akiko Tarumoto: That they would say something there?
Nathan Cole: That they would say, “Hey, wait…”
Akiko Tarumoto: You could become part of the-
Nathan Cole: “I am baring my soul here, and how dare you walk out?”
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, I think because they’re trying– It’s like they’re trying to talk to you. It seems really directly rude, and I think you’re right.
Nathan Cole: Aren’t we trying to do the same thing?
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, but it’s much easier to tell yourself that it’s not that, I think, especially if it’s not a piece you’re enjoying.
Nathan Cole: You mean as the player?
Akiko Tarumoto: No, as the audience member.
Nathan Cole: In the audience. Okay.
Akiko Tarumoto: It’s easy enough for them to say, “Well, this isn’t speaking to me. They’re not actually speaking.”
Nathan Cole: Right.
Akiko Tarumoto: And we’re not. I mean, it’s true.
Nathan Cole: And we’re not looking at them, either.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. And there is a difference. Yeah. But I always look at it that way. It’s like, how rude! You wouldn’t just walk out in the middle of someone acting in a play. But you feel like it’s okay to get up and leave in the middle of this movement, you know? And yeah, to me it’s like, if you have to leave between movements, I get that. I understand the urge to flee, but I just feel like there’s a certain amount of decency that’s not being observed if you’re running out in the middle of the movement, you know?
Nathan Cole: I know, yeah. Maybe it’s your-
Akiko Tarumoto: And you know what I’m talking about.
Nathan Cole: It’s your neurosurgeon. He’s been called to..
Akiko Tarumoto: Yes, I’m sure all neurosurgeons-
Nathan Cole: …this violinist that’s fallen on her butt.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yes. I’m sure that that’s why they’re leaving. Well, then people try to tell me, like, “Well, your audiences are a little older, so maybe they’ve got some kind of medical issue themselves they need to attend to.” It’s like, well, okay.
Akiko Tarumoto: And I try to tell myself that, but it doesn’t always work. I still get annoyed when I see people leaving. And one of my favorite stories about Esa-Pekka, of course, the beginning of the Franck d minor Symphony with the cell phone ringing. And so we start playing, and a cell phone goes off in the first five seconds or something. I feel like this is kind of really… nowadays, I feel like it happens more, but back then…
Nathan Cole: Right. It seemed really rude.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. Like cell phones were not as-
Nathan Cole: Like, your mobile phone-
Akiko Tarumoto: If you can imagine-
Nathan Cole: -your satellite phone is going off.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. It was not as common to have your phone on.
Akiko Tarumoto: So he turned around to the audience and just stopped conducting, obviously. He just looked out there, and we all stopped, and he just stared at everyone and said, “Take that call.” Yeah, so everyone burst into applause. And I was like-
Nathan Cole: That’s how it should still be. It should still be that way.
Akiko Tarumoto: It was this big moment, yeah. So that’s one way of dealing with audience distraction. Just head-on, just turning around and calling them out. But so yeah, to answer the question, it does bother us. And it takes effort to… and sometimes I just, I can’t look out there. I know that it bothers me to see people leave, and that’s my trigger, is seeing people walking out. So I just have to not look.
Nathan Cole: Well, you heard about, in a performance of Hamilton, or did you read about this?
Akiko Tarumoto: No.
Nathan Cole: Someone was… everyone had been warned against recording with their cell phones. They said you’ll be ejected if you do. So Lin-Manuel Miranda was performing, saw somebody very close with a cell phone out and actually worked it into the verse, changed the lyrics of the song, and-
Akiko Tarumoto: Awesome.
Nathan Cole: -chided the person in rhyme. Yeah.
Akiko Tarumoto: See, this is why we’re so uncool. I mean, it’s one of the reasons.
Nathan Cole: Yeah. Then it got all the press, and the message was sent. Don’t screw with the cast of Hamilton.
Akiko Tarumoto: We need to work on better ways to stick it to the audience, I think.
Nathan Cole: Well, we’ll get there. Someday the L.A. Phil–
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. I think that you need to have like a year’s long wait list of people dying to see you in order to even think about pulling that one off. So bravo Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Nathan Cole: Well, we’ll close with that. And we do love getting your questions and comments. And now that you’re sitting more often, I think we can probably get you in front of the mic more often too.
Akiko Tarumoto: Oh, I thought you were going to say you can get me back at work more.
Nathan Cole: We’re not quite there yet, but…
Akiko Tarumoto: More on that later when I actually get back to work.
Nathan Cole: Well, but definitely more from the Stand Partners. And then, starting on May 10th or May 11th, look for episodes from the Fischoff competition, live from the Fischoff!
Akiko Tarumoto: Yay South Bend!
Nathan Cole: Exciting times. All right. We’ll see you next time on Stand Partners for Life.