Civic Orchestra Talk

I was asked to do a talk with members of the Chicago Symphony's Civic Orchestra about my experiences in auditions. I covered a lot of topics, and I hope to post a video of clips from that conversation soon. In the meantime, here is my outline of the questions that were posed to me in preparation of the event. Enjoy!

 

How teaching/working with students has informed your playing or your audition prep

I think teaching forces you to explain how you execute things instinctively, out loud and in detail. In doing so, you may find crucial information for your own personal development. Students can have strengths and weaknesses which could be similar or different from your own. Seeing how the students learns, plays and expresses themselves can inform your own playing in different ways.

Growing up in the Percussion Scholarship Group , I really was given a strong technical foundation, to the point where each week we would be given a new piece or new exercises. Nothing felt stagnant or stale, and even if we were working on the same technical aspect, we would always approach it differently until it was perfected. Having this variability in my lessons helped me learn how to explore my technique and practice by myself, and that has always influenced my teaching and now my auditioning.

Had I not had a music class in elementary school, I would not be in this position, more than likely. I’d be playing drum set in a church band probably, which would be fun of course, but the experience I’ve had as a classical musician, the places I’ve gone, the people I’ve met, none of that would’ve happened had I not had a music teacher at school who gave me the opportunity to try it out. I’ve maintained contact with them to this day and I’m always thankful to them for their support and for them believing in me. I try to do as many school visits as I can, just to give back and try to motivate another young student to follow their dreams with hard work and passion.

 

Specific tips/strategies you’ve used in preparing for auditions

Don’t take it personally. Play the way you want, not what you think the panel wants. Someone should be able to transcribe what you played, and it be exactly what the music is. You can’t want the job too much, don’t over hype it.

 

What’s your specific audition preparation routine?

Memorize all the excerpts. Play them along with multiple recordings. Slow practice them to find physical and musical defects in the performance. Should be able to play the excerpt perfectly 10x’s in a row. Visualize and audiate the excerpts in your mind, mental practice. Find what happens to the body when nerves enter, find something that triggers a similar response, and expose yourself to it as often as possible. Mine was horror films.

 

How have you adapted it based on auditions you’ve taken?

I’ve put more emphasis on the mental aspects of auditioning. Developing the mindset and focus needed to execute a successful audition. If your daily practice is efficient, when audition prep time comes along, all you’ll have to do is play the list down, fix minor things, and focus on the audition day mindset and physical awareness, instead of just the musical execution.

 

What feedback (if any) have you received after auditions, and how were you able to incorporate it?

Personally, I couldn’t take criticism well when the stakes behind them were high. It’s a source of high anxiety for me. So, I either ignored the comments I got, at least for the time being, or I refused to view them entirely. However, I would accept all comments from mock auditions and lessons, which I felt were the best example of what my peak level could produce. During the audition itself, I can always tell and remember when something went awry. Either a tempo was off, or something was unclear, or not phrased properly, I could remember exactly what happened, why it happened, and what I needed to do to prevent or fix it. So looking at the comments seemed pointless to me, especially when I already knew what the problem was, or if there was a problem that normally was not there.

 

What non-musical practices (if any) have you incorporated into your audition preparation, and how have they been helpful?

Meditation, body scanning, and listening to philosophical and motivation podcasts. These were the biggest influences, not only in my prep but in my entire technical development. Meditation away from the instrument helped me to quiet my mind and train myself how to focus. Turning my practice into a meditation just liberated me to do anything I wanted without the stress of needing to improve or win a job. Body scanning allowed me to analyze how my body was reacting to what I played or thought. Philosophy helped me develop better and healthier mindsets around auditions and practicing. Motivational podcasts helped boost my esteem, determination and confidence.

 

What lessons or takeaways did you get from your time with the Detroit Symphony? How did it influence your audition preparation?

Just play the music. Forget technique, forget perfection. Just play the way you play. Literally, after I accepted this, I advanced in every audition I took after that. I began preparing auditions as if I were just going to play the pieces in an actual concert. It made everything easier. Auditions are easy, that’s what I learned from Detroit.  

 

What are your short-term priorities as a new member in an orchestra?

Have the season planned out for the section assignments and set-ups, publish my book, and begin building my drum studio.

 

How would you like to see your career develop?

I want to keep taking auditions, finish my series of books, teach masterclasses clinics on not only playing but the spiritual and mental aspects of musicianship, teach at a college on some level, create a summer camp or intensive for drumming and meditation, teach online as well as in person. Have my own drum stick and perhaps a drum.

Liquidrum Interview

15 (or so) Questions with Josh Jones - Principal Percussionist, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra

by Todd Meehan October 22, 2017 

The internet and social media can do some pretty incredible things, especially in terms of enabling connections between people and ideas that might not otherwise occur in the everyday physical space we each inhabit. I first heard about Josh Jones over a year and a half ago when a video popped up in my newsfeed. I shared the video, which detailed Josh's incredible musical journey, and went on my way. And then several months ago I started following him on Instagram, my interest piqued by his warm up routines and approach to technique development. On a whim I reached out and asked if he'd be interested in either writing a blog post for Liquidrum (about absolutely anything) or doing an interview-style exchange. We opted for the interview approach, at least for this first offering, and I'm thrilled to share this glimpse into Josh's life below.

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TM: You recently won the position of Principal Percussionist of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. Who did you call first to share the good news with?

JJ: My Mom was the first person I called, but I forgot that I did not have international calls included in my cell phone plan. So I Facebook messaged her and the rest of my family instead.

TM: You seem to have a really nice blend of creativity and discipline in the practice room, and in particular with how those two things relate to technique work. How do you develop practice routines that remain fresh, balanced, and continually challenge your growth?

JJ: Part of what informs my practice is knowing how I work as a person. I know what keeps me engaged in school, a conversation, a relationship and in listening and studying music. If I find that something that I am doing is becoming boring or stale, I try to find a new way of looking at or approaching it. Not only that, but always having a new goal in mind when one has been achieved is a way to keep you going and interested. As far as balance, it's important to keep in mind that there is a lot to learn away from the instrument, as Jojo Mayer once said. Music is all about expressing feelings, events, life itself and the world. We cannot hope to achieve this level of expression by only living in a practice room. We have to take time for ourselves, not only for rest purposes, but to remain participants in the ever changing world. As we find more things to express, we challenge ourselves to grow in our ability to execute that expression. It's a road of endless growth and experience.

TM: If you had an infinite amount of time, what other craft/skill/hobby would you spend an inordinate amount of hours developing and enjoying outside of music?

JJ: I would totally spend my time either doing yoga and meditating, or listening to a number of audio books a day.

TM: Sports teams and marching bands have stylized uniforms or jerseys that sometimes represent the geography, culture, and/or perhaps corporate sponsors of their organizations. Do you ever see orchestras going in that direction or is the tuxedo here to stay?

 JJ: For orchestras like the Chicago Symphony and New York Philharmonic, I think the tradition of the tuxedo or tails is pretty set in stone. However, with the appearance of wind ensembles and smaller orchestras in different areas of the country, depending on their philosophy, we have a unique opportunity to interject and present a new example of the orchestra and even classical music to new and existing audiences. It just takes a collective effort and very frequent exposure.

TM: Which stick or mallet do you end up pulling out of your bag more than any other each day?

JJ: My hands tend to have a mind of their own sometimes. They may feel fine using one stick for three months, and then completely hate the stick for six months. The one I always use is a Freer General Orchestral stick, but I have seven pairs of that one stick. They all have different densities, weights, and rebound responses, so depending on the day, I'll use a particular version of that stick.

TM: Favorite 19th century piece?

JJ: Mahler's 2nd Symphony, hands down. I cry every time.

TM: Favorite 20th century piece?

JJ: This might be cheating, but Hans Zimmer's "To Die For" from The Lion King was the piece that made me want to play classical music. I literally would not be in the position I'm in right now without hearing that. But to stay Kosher, Prokofiev's 5th Symphony.

TM: Favorite 21st century piece?

JJ: Also could be cheating: Jojo Mayer's "Mind Wash" from his album Live in Europe. I literally listen to it every day. It will never get old for me. Again, to stay Kosher, John Williams' score from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a piece I heard for the first time this year, and that's my favorite classical piece so far in this century.

TM: Coffee or tea? Or is caffeine nature's evil?

JJ: I prefer tea. Melissa Tea to be exact. I don't usually need coffee, because of my insane energy level, but I do drink it occasionally.

TM: Beer or wine? 

JJ: Wine, keep it classy. However, my favorite beer is Chicago Route 66 Root Beer, non-alcoholic.

TM: If you had to permanently eliminate an instrument (percussion or non-percussion) from the orchestra, which one would it be?

JJ: This is tough. Actually, no it isn't. Hand claps. I wish I could have an orchestra where I would never have to play hand claps in a piece ever again. Give that part to the audience.

TM: We know Berlioz liked opium a little too much. What other composer, based on their percussion writing, do you think tapped into some questionable substance usage?

JJ: Mahler. It's hard for me to believe that he could write such amazing and intense music, especially after the 5th Symphony, just by sitting at a desk and composing sober. If anything, I think he knew how to tap into his own zone that helped him access that state of being without any help from illegal substances, similar to meditative practices these days.

TM: How early do you show up to the hall before a performance?

JJ: I try to get there 2 hours before. Lots to prepare and I don't like rushing.

TM: Pre-concert warm up routine? 

JJ: I usually do a short yoga stretch to loosen my body up before I play anything, but especially for concerts. Then I have a specific stick control exercise routine that involves the basic stroke types and Moeller strokes. I usually play that along with a playlist I named "Hype".

TM: Complete this sentence — "A life in the orchestra is _____________."

JJ: "gratifying"

TM: Did you play a perfect Porgy at the Calgary audition?

JJ: Note perfect, yes. Musically perfect, not all the way through. They had us change the character and sound of the excerpts as we played with the orchestra, and though I did execute the changes well, sometimes I didn't fully invest my musicality to the performance. I was still happy with the result, but I wished I had been more resilient and consistent in my musical interpretation.

TM: Consider this scenario — you arrive at a dinner party and there are three groups of people having three different conversations. One group is discussing politics, the next is discussing religion, and the last group is discussion sports. Which group/conversation are you most eager to join?

JJ: I'd love to talk about religion actually. I grew up in a religious family and have a pretty unique experience and viewpoint.

TM: Which would you like to avoid like the plague?

JJ: Sports. I don't really care about them enough to study and actively participate, so I would avoid that crowd instantly.

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Joshua Jones has been playing drums since the age of two. From accompanying church choirs to performing at Carnegie Hall, he has shared his passion for music with many people. Joshua began taking private lessons through the Chicago Symphony's Percussion Scholarship Program at the age of ten, and he continued his education at DePaul University, the Cleveland Institute of Music, and Carnegie Mellon University. He is currently an orchestra fellow with the Pittsburgh Symphony, but will soon begin working in his new role as Principal Percussionist of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. 

In his spare time Joshua enjoys studying acting and philosophy, watching Japanese anime and trying new foods and restaurants. Currently, he is writing a method book series, as well as teaching private lessons, clinics and masterclasses.

Todd Meehan is the founder of Liquidrum. He currently serves as the Associate Professor of Percussion and Division Director of Instrumental Studies at the Baylor University School of Music. Todd has performed as one half of the Meehan/ Perkins Duo since 2006 and was a founding member of So Percussion.

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Original post can be found here

Be Human

These days are pretty interesting. With politics and society changing and sexism or racism and everything else going on, the world is slowly losing more empathy towards their fellow man. Some of this is caused because of their honest disdain towards groups of people, but it also is caused by the neutrality or passive nature, or nurtured nature, of everyday people. "Oh it's not my problem" or "It's so far from here."

Why do I bring this up on a music site? The cliche, music is the universal language, but what exactly are we "talking" about? Well, the truth, honestly. The fact is that our creative instinct is tied to our being. We all want to make something, either a career, a family, a piece of art, and anything we create is thereby an extension of ourselves, whether it's a good, bad, appropriate or inappropriate creation. If then, we cut off our humanity, our ability to create honestly is severed. This is the difference of playing technically perfect and musically perfect, allowing the emotion to speak. 

So, when we as musicians either hold disdain for a certain person or thing, we lose our ability to connect with them. Now I'm not saying by connecting you agree with it, but you're actually being compassionate towards it, respecting the choice or belief on the principle that those people have the right or will to believe or do what they want, you in turn give yourself freedom to either strengthen your own beliefs or actions or update or even change them. I thought pressed buzz strokes were stupid, but when I allowed myself to respect that people liked it for certain reasons, I opened my mind to it and eventually found a way to make it work for me. Now that's a very trivial example but the same is true for cultural exchanges. We probably wouldn't have certain things or traditions had we not been open to our neighbors ideas or actions. 

All this to say, really observe how you treat or think of your fellow man. Are these thoughts justified or are they simply a "jumping on the bandwagon" opinion? Even if you disagree, do you still respect the person or the culture? This of course is not easy to do because often we are raised to despise not only the action or belief but the people who believe or do it. The only way to connect with people is to connect with the person, not their actions or beliefs. How can we make music and connect with anyone if we hate them, or disregard them or think lower of them than other people. Would you play for royalty the same way as a homeless man or woman? Would you play for a convicted murderer the same as a priest? 

These are the kinds of questions I ask myself, because ultimately, everyone is broken in some way, and unless we stay open and loving, we can't give them the healing they desperately need. Even a murderer deserves to be healed, because they are suffering, even if they aren't aware of it. If I can bring someone like that back into his or her humanity, then that's something powerful, and music, any art really, has the power to accomplish that. That's what we should aspire to. Changing lives for the better and not segregating our music or any art, only for these people or good people or people we like. That's how we can liberate not only the world, but ourselves.

Open up your heart, even if it's hard, and it often is, you gotta stay open. You can't grow without space, so open your space! All we have is our one heart, so it has to break in order to be rebuilt and made stronger, and we constantly have to do that or else we become stale and zombie like. So every heartbreak leads to a rebuilding, and the more this happens, the more human we become! That's how we know we're even alive in the first place, we feel things! We feel our joy, we feel our pain and if we deny or hide ourselves from any feeling, we risk losing all feeling! Feel bad so you know what good is, feel love so you know what heartbreak is and hate so you learn if it's justified or not; through all of these we gain awareness of their truths, and through that awareness we become better, wiser, more human. That's amazing!

As artists we have, more than an obligation, but a calling to be human. We have to be messengers to the world and show them how to be more human through our mediums. Actors show the humanity of situations in life through plays and scenes, etc. Artists show the humanity of visions and imagery, etc. Dancers show the humanity of movement and motion, etc. And we show the humanity of the intangible, the audible and the inaudible. Let's go for that! That's what's worth working for, that's what's worth living for, that's what's worth dying for.