Current Newsletter Interview Piccolo

Erica Peel – Sound Advice

Interview by Rose Bishop

RB: What advice do you have for someone taking their first professional audition?

EP: Although I’m sure there exist musicians who win their first audition, that certainly isn’t the norm, and that definitely wasn’t the case for me! I took my first professional audition for The Florida Orchestra while I was still in college… and I did everything wrong. It took years of clueless audition taking before realizing that auditions require a unique skill set, and I needed a plan to prepare appropriately.

Here’s a list of things I didn’t do in preparation for my first audition that you should absolutely do in yours:

  • Develop a schedule for prep, working from the day of the audition backwards, so that you are certain every excerpt will receive your undivided attention.
  • Practice with a problem-solving mindset and a journal, figuring out ways to execute excerpts successfully and consistently, and write down things that work.
  • Record yourself relentlessly, at every level of preparation.
  • Set up mock auditions with people who make you nervous. The only way to deal with the special brand of nerves that auditions create is to put yourself in that situation over and over, and practice the mental preparation that is every bit as important as the musical preparation.

Each audition will be an experiment of sorts. Figure out, as quickly as you can, how to best prepare physically, musically and mentally to accurately represent yourself in the few minutes allotted. I have found that treating every audition, starting with your first, as an educational experience during which you grow exponentially, is a good setup for the mind. Discern what does and doesn’t work for you. Seek out ideas and methods by which others have had success.

Also, work hard to disassociate audition outcomes with your self worth. Your value as a musician and a person is absolutely not colored by how well you do in auditions. Separating the two is paramount to the health and longevity of your audition career.

RB: With so many great instruments out there, how did you choose the instrument that worked best for you?

EP: The only instrument that has ever felt like “me” is my Hammig. In my opinion, a singing, sweet sound and ease of control are the two most important aspects of piccolo playing. When I need that boost of power to unleash sound over the orchestra, I use my Mancke headjoint. I’m certainly open to, and love trying, piccolos from the other great makers, but there is a feeling of comfort and trust that must be present for me to play my best, and I find that in my Hammig.

RB: You have held other positions in orchestras, how is playing piccolo different?

EP: Each position has its own challenges and rewards. There’s a certain coziness to playing second flute that I adore. It’s a challenge in that you must learn the principal flutist’s playing almost better than your own. Your ear must be constantly gathering information, and you must be flexible enough to shift in an instant. You really act as a  support system, which can be rewarding in its own right. Playing principal requires a level of self-assurance that I so admire in my colleagues, because I find it exhausting! It demands so much of a player technically, but also affords a player great freedom and individuality.

The piccolo position is its own beast. It’s a lot of waiting, and then playing some of the hardest licks in the repertoire… for everyone to hear. It often feels like standing at the edge of a platform, about to step onto a tightrope. You are safe for the moment, but you know what lies ahead. Much of it is a mind game… preparing yourself for the moment, slowing down your heart rate, positive self-talk. The piccolo position requires a level of trust in yourself that is tested time and time again. But when everything goes well, there isn’t much else quite as thrilling!

RB: Can you give some do’s and don’ts for playing professionally in an orchestra?

EP: Oh, so many! Let’s start with some DO’s: always be prepared, always have a pencil on your stand, pay attention to what your section is marking and follow suit (don’t wait to be told), sit still, and the most important one… always assume YOU are the problem (balance, intonation, etc).

DON’TS: don’t argue with/talk back to the conductor in rehearsal (under any circumstances!), don’t turn around to look at musicians playing behind you, especially during a solo, don’t move around unnecessarily or make excessive noise, don’t warm up loudly (especially piccolo), don’t play principal excerpts if you aren’t playing principal parts!

RB: Was there one defining musical moment that shaped your career and musical identity more than any other?

EP: When I look back at my journey in music, what sticks out most is the profound influence my colleagues have had on me throughout my career. I’ve had the privilege of not only working with but also being supported and encouraged by musicians whom I greatly respect and admire. But it goes beyond being inspired by them, which I most certainly have been. My colleagues are really my teachers, and they have been most influential in shaping my musical identity, which is constantly evolving.

RB: What do you find the most challenging aspect of playing piccolo?

EP: For me, the most challenging aspect has been summoning the bravery and confidence to be heard over the entire orchestra. Just playing loudly is not difficult, but doing so while maintaining a beautiful, round and warm sound with great intonation is much more challenging. Coupled with that, the piccolo is often associated (wrongly) with tension, in the embouchure and the body. It is a constant struggle to keep it out of piccolo playing and remain relaxed, especially in the context of orchestral music!

RB: How do you work on intonation and ear-training, and do you have any words of advice?

EP: Working with a tuner to gain security in your own pitch tendencies is top priority. Once control over your instrument is achieved, developing a great ear and learning to be flexible is crucial. This is best developed with on the job experience, but it is possible to simulate this feeling by playing with recordings. Before my first trial with Philadelphia, I played with over 10 recordings of Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony attempting not only to immediately hear and play in that orchestra’s pitch center, but to adjust to individual instruments with which I played. It was an interesting experiment, and when I came to Philadelphia, I was confident in my ability to hear and adjust intonation very quickly.

Erica’s Biography

Piccoloist of the Philadelphia Orchestra since 2017, Erica Peel enjoys an exciting career as an orchestral player, chamber musician, soloist and teacher. A versatile flutist and piccoloist, she is praised for her effortless and authentic performances.

At the age of 21, Erica began her orchestral career as Principal Flute of the Debut Orchestra in Los Angeles. She went on to hold positions with the Honolulu Symphony (Associate Principal/Piccolo), Omaha Symphony (Piccolo) and San Diego Symphony (Piccolo), and has most notably performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, and Houston Symphony.

Erica has been a soloist with the Omaha Symphony, Independence Sinfonia, the Amerita Chamber players, and the Poconos Youth Orchestra. An active chamber musician, she has performed with the Omaha Chamber Music Society, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, and Art of Elan.

A sought after teacher and clinician, Erica has been Guest Artist for the Flute Society of Greater Philadelphia, the Music School of Delaware’s FluteFest, the San Diego Flute Guild, the Los Angeles Flute Guild, the Luzerne Music Center and the Philadelphia International Music Festival, among others. She works with students at Universities and Conservatories across the country, bringing a “real world” approach to audition preparation while guiding each musician to find the best version of their voice.

Erica’s primary studies were with Jill Felber (UCSB, ZAWA!), Christine Nield-Capote at the University of Miami, and MaryAnn Archer, formerly of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Erica performs on a Muramatu flute with McKenna headjoint and a Hammig piccolo with a Mancke headjoint. She lives in Haddonfield, NJ with her husband, oboist Jason Sudduth, and their 7 year old daughter, Avery.

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