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Graduate Horn Player Wins Job at the Dallas Symphony

New DSO Member Evan Mino (M.M.’10) Shares Experiences Performing During Interview

By Chris Calloway (B.A. ’12 - Music, Journalism Minor)
Last spring, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra held auditions for Assistant/Utility Horn. Evan Mino won the job while finishing his graduate studies in horn and music at SMU. He talks about the experiences that helped him land the position as well as what he has learned about performing while playing with one of the top orchestras in the country.

You played with the DSO a few times before undertaking the Assistant/Utility Horn audition. What were those performing experiences like and how did they help prepare you for your audition with the DSO?

EM: Every horn section has their own distinct sound, their own style of playing. Having the opportunity to sit in that section and hear them play, up close and personal, allowed me to get an idea of what kind of style they would likely be listening for at the audition. Every horn (or any instrument) student at SMU gets a small dose of that in private lessons when the instructors demonstrate excerpts, but it’s much different (and, in my opinion, more beneficial) hearing them actually perform works in the full orchestra setting, especially when you’re sitting right there on stage. Hearing concerts from the audience helps in this respect too, but you can focus on your specific instrument a lot more easily and hear much more subtleties when you are sitting right next to them. Being able to have their concept of sound, articulation, dynamics, etc. in my ear really helped me internalize that sound concept and bring it to the stage when I auditioned. I am sure that probably played an important role in my success that day.

What has been your most memorable concert playing with the DSO (regardless of whether it was in the Meyerson or elsewhere)?

EM: Each concert certainly has its own unique moments, but the one that sticks out in my mind right now is Bruckner’s 9th Symphony from November 2009. I had played with the orchestra once before, almost a full year earlier, but this was the first major work I played with them. My part had a short solo that was not technically difficult, but it was exposed enough to scare me to death every time I played it that week.

Could you describe what the process was like when you won your audition? How did you feel about your playing that day?

EM: I think every audition has its own little quirks, and mine was certainly no exception; it most definitely was not the typical “I walked in, played my best, and won” audition that we all picture in our heads. I do not want to overstep my bounds and give away too much about the orchestra’s audition process, but I can talk about my experience a little.

The first round I played actually did not go very well. There was nothing outstandingly bad in my playing, but it was not anything spectacular either. Walking off stage, I could have sworn I was done. I was not expecting much to begin with, so I had packed up and was just waiting to be officially cut before heading home.

When that round was over, they asked to hear me again and let me know some of the concerns they had from my earlier playing. I don’t really know what happened, but something clicked in my head; I kind of got into a “just let go and have fun” mentality. When I went out the second time, I really tried to address the panel’s concerns too much, just completely overdo what they were asking for. I was the last one to play that round, so shortly after I left the stage, they announced the finalists and, much to my amazement, they advanced me to the finals.

I was first to play out of three finalists, so I did not have too much time between those rounds. For the final round, the screen was down so they knew who everyone was and could talk to each candidate, etc. In many final rounds, the panel can ask the candidate to play excerpts again in a slightly different way to see how responsive and flexible the player is, but they did not do that a whole lot with me. I basically played the whole list down without interruption. On the very last excerpt, I missed a couple notes so they had me play it again. That time I missed a couple different notes, so they let me go. I felt a lot like I did after my first round; I thought the last excerpt sunk me, so I just packed up and waited for the official results. I don’t think anyone was more shocked than I was when they were announced.

What would you recommend to people about preparing for an audition? You seem to do much more research by listening to many recordings, looking at scores, and knowing the basic historical details of the piece. Do these factors make any sort of difference when you audition?

EM: It is amazing how many people just study the notes out of the excerpt book and have no idea what they are really playing. Playing excerpts is like reciting one or two lines from a play. You simply must know the whole play in order to deliver the line properly. Which character are you portraying by delivering the line? What message is the line trying to convey; is it angry, sad, happy, or something else? Are any other characters involved in this scene? Are you responding to another character’s line or giving them a line to respond to? Does your line return later in the play under a different context or through different characters? All of those questions can easily translate to every excerpt we learn. I had scores for every excerpt on the audition list either purchased or checked out from the library for months preceding the audition. I had at least three recordings of each excerpt on my phone and listened to them at every opportunity. When applicable, I made sure at least one of those recordings was a period instrument recording (Beethoven, Mozart, etc.), and I tried to get DSO and/or Jaap van Zweden recordings of as many of the excerpts as possible. Some of this stuff may sound obsessive, but it makes a huge difference.

What is it like transitioning from playing as a student under Mr. Hustis to performing beside him?

EM: Great question. I think I am having a much harder time adjusting to the relationship change than he is. I’m so used to calling him Mr. Hustis not only because he was my teacher, but because I have such an immense amount of respect for who he is and what he’s done. Now we are colleagues (though he is still my boss), and I can call him Greg, but that is proving to be a rather large mental hurdle for me. On top of that, I am pretty old-fashioned anyways when it comes to calling people “Mister” and “Miss/Mrs.” So that first name basis thing is proving to be a bigger challenge than I would have thought.

The playing aspect of it is a whole other story entirely. I do have to say that playing assistant to your former teacher can play a lot of mind tricks on you. If I were anywhere else in the section, I would be on his right and aiming my sound away from him. When I play assistant, however, I sit on his left, so I am playing right into him and there is absolutely no hiding when I screw up. I’m sure that’s probably a good thing in the long run, since he can help me fit into the section better, but it can be terrifying at times. Greg has been great about it so far, though. Sure, he tells me when something needs to be louder, softer, crisper articulation, etc., but it does not sound like he is the teacher talking to the student anymore. I am sure it will take me a little time to get used to it. I am not the only member of the section that used to be Greg’s student. David Hyede, our Associate Principal, is an SMU graduate as well and studied with both Greg and Haley Hoops, our 2nd chair horn. Watching them interact now, you would never guess he was a former student; they are completely comfortable with each other as colleagues. I can only assume I will get to that point eventually. It just might take me a while.

What sort of things do you find you have to do to keep up with the rest of the players in the DSO horn section? Haley Hoops has commented on how you have to play at much greater dynamic ranges. What else do you notice is different between playing in the MSO and the DSO?

EM: The difference in dynamic ranges is noticeable, but probably not in the way most would expect. Loud sections are certainly louder, but the biggest difference comes in the softer sections. Maestro van Zweden never accepts half-hearted pianissimos. I am still amazed sometimes at how soft the orchestra can get. That first rehearsal definitely made me realize that I needed to spend more time on my dynamic extremes.

I know I’ve said this before, but one of the biggest differences I have noticed between school and the DSO is simply the level of preparation. When we are warming up backstage, I frequently hear people practicing passages (and they already sound perfect) from works that are not up for at least 2-3 weeks. Since a lot of the repertoire this year is stuff I haven’t played before, I have my parts printed off for every classical concert through October sitting on my stand at home, so that I can be as prepared as possible.

The level of professionalism during rehearsals would also surprise most students. When the Maestro cuts off, everybody stops immediately and there is no talking. It is a rare thing indeed to see the Maestro have to repeat himself because someone was not paying attention.

Why do you wear tuxedos with the long coattail and white bowtie? Has that been standard wardrobe for a while with the DSO?

EM: Tails and white tie are standard dress for many professional orchestras. We wear it for all evening classical concerts with very few exceptions. For evening pops concerts our dress is slightly different: tuxedo (no tails) and black tie. All daytime concerts (Sunday matinees for both classical and pops, school concerts, etc.) require black suits with long ties. Those are the three main outfits for men. There are a few others we’ll wear over the course of the year, such as all black for casual Friday concerts or white coat with black tie for summer pops concerts. It’s kind of cool being able to call your tuxedos “work clothes.”

What is the rehearsal schedule like?

EM: The rehearsal schedule can vary depending on what kind of concert it is. Classical concerts can have up to five rehearsals: Tuesday morning and afternoon, Wednesday morning and afternoon, and Thursday morning dress rehearsal before the concert that night. Rehearsals for works that utilize chorus (like Beethoven’s Ninth) will be in the evening instead of morning to accommodate the DSO Chorus schedule. Most other types of concerts, such as Pops, Family, Parks, etc. will have one or two rehearsals.

How would you describe the work environment?

EM: It is fantastic. Everyone is friendly and supportive of each other. Maestro van Zweden is anyone’s dream conductor; he is very intense in rehearsals, which keeps the orchestra playing at their best and avoids letting the music sound dull or lazy, but never to the point of being demeaning or rude. Those two elements (among others) allow for an environment where everyone’s committed to making the best music possible, but also to having a lot of fun while doing it. It doesn’t feel like a job at all; it’s just plain fun.

What will be your role in the orchestra throughout the season?

EM: The role of Assistant Principal/Utility Horn has two major functions. I guess you could say that my primary function is to play assistant, meaning I will double the first horn part to give the principal the chance to take a break whenever he needs it (right before a solo, for example). I might also double other parts in certain passages to add support or volume, or to accommodate a bad page turn.

The second function is to act as kind of the “spare tire” of the section. If, for example, third horn gets sick on the day of the concert, I will likely be playing their part that night instead of doubling first. That part of the job can be unnerving sometimes, but I try to make sure I know the pitfalls of each part so I am prepared for something like that. This year is a little weird in that respect, because our 3rd horn position is vacant. Our Associate Principal Horn, David Hyede, is covering that position most of the time, but there are a few concerts where I will be covering the part.

If we play a larger work that uses more than four horns, usually David will play 5th and I will play 6th. Again, this is affected by our vacant 3rd seat this year; David will usually be playing 3rd and I will play 5th. If an assistant is deemed necessary on a larger work, we usually hire a substitute.

What concert(s) do you look forward to the most?

EM: That’s a tough one! The orchestra is playing a lot of great repertoire this year, and I’m looking forward to most of it. I have never had the pleasure of playing all of Holst’s Planets before, so I am really looking forward to that concert. We are also doing quite a bit of music that I played while I was an SMU student that I am looking forward to revisiting. Rite of Spring, in particular, should be quite interesting with Maestro van Zweden leading us. We are also playing Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, which is one of my favorite pieces to play. If I had to narrow it down, those would probably be my top three this year, but there are a lot more that are close behind!

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