David Stabler/The Oregonian on timpanist Jonathan Greeney

David Stabler has a great piece in this week’s Oregonian focusing on the new timpanist of the Oregon Symphony, Jonathan Greeney, who finished his tenure period with the orchestra this summer. If you’ve enjoyed the fantastic Boston Magazine piece on the difficulties of the percussion audition circuit, read my thoughts about the flawed audition and tenure system here or here, or been following my series on the art of the timps here and here (quoted in Stabler’s article), you’ll love David’s piece, which also includes a great video feature showing Jonathan illuminating his craft away from the noise of the orchestra.

Read the whole thing here. Here’s a sample:

They returned to the States, but instead of hitting the audition circuit again, he went back to music school, and not just any music school. Among percussionists, Cleveland State University is known as “audition boot camp.” For two years, he worked with Tom Freer, the Bobby Knight of percussion teachers, to study every detail of taking a timpani audition. Greeney learned all the orchestral excerpts he’d be expected to know at auditions: Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. He took something like 100 mock auditions in front of his teacher, who threw chairs when he messed up, Greeney says.

It’s all wrong, Freer would say. “Fix this, fix this, fix this.”

Slowly, painfully, Greeney began to change. He dropped the nice guy attitude and turned more competitive. Auditions are as competitive as Olympic diving.

“You are not going there to try to win,” Freer told him. “You are going there to win.”

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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