A Conversation with the 2017 VEA Winners

How did you find out about the VEA competition?

 Colin Crake: Probably the very first time I heard about the VEA Competition was the fall of my senior year of high school, when I was taking lessons with teachers I was interested in studying with. At almost every school I attended for said lessons, I saw the VEA poster displayed outside the professor’s office. Since I’ve been in college, I’ve come to learn that VEA is a very well-known and respected competition, and I decided that I would probably participate one day.


Eric Abramovitz: I was practicing one night at USC, and my friend who is a fellow clarinetist walked in just to chat. He mentioned that he was preparing a recording for the VEA competition. I immediately searched it up and applied!


Tim Struven: I first heard of the competition a while ago from my good friend Brian Clancy (who was actually the first winner ever!). As it turns out, another good friend of mine, Alex Johnson, mentioned that he was thinking of entering the competition and that we should enter together.



What sparked your interest in auditioning for the VEA Competition?

 Colin Crake: I am fortunate to have several friends who participated in VEA before me who had nothing but positive things to say about the competition. This, along with the educational benefits of going through the process of competing and the extremely low cost of applying for the competition, really piqued my interest in VEA.


Eric Abramovitz: I believe that preparing for competitions motivates us to elevate our musicianship. Therefore, I try to compete as often as I can. It is certainly a nice incentive knowing that the potential outcome can lead to excellent experiences, prizes, and Vandoren products!


Tim Struven: I’m not entirely sure what sparked my interest in auditioning; it was a fun thing to do with my friends and sort of a “what do I have to lose” scenario. Looking back I am extremely glad I decided to enter. Going into the studio to record myself with a band was an incredible learning experience. I have been recommending that everyone I know enters the competition.



How did you prepare for the VEA audition? What did you play?

 Colin Crake: I started working on the required repertoire as soon as I learned what it was and could get my hands on the music. I am very thankful that my professor, Dr. Chien-Kwan Lin, encouraged me to compete and guided me through the process of preparing for my recording sessions. After all of his guidance, as well as the help of two excellent pianists who accompanied me in my recordings, I was very happy with the tapes I was able to submit. The required repertoire was Brilliance by Ida Gotkovsky and Improvisation et Caprice by Eugene Bozza. My choice repertoire was Concerto by Henri Tomasi and Jungle by Christian Lauba.


Eric Abramovitz: I practiced, and then I practiced a bit more. I played Andre Messager’s Solo de Concours and Carl Maria von Weber’s Concertino. I’d like to thank Heejung Ju for her excellent accompaniment if she’s reading this!


Tim Struven: To prepare for the recording I tried to play my selected tunes with a band (not just backing tracks) as often as possible. I always feel like I play differently when I’m out playing with people as opposed to when I’m at home working by myself, so my final step in “learning a tune” is to always play with a band to test how well I really know the piece. The pieces I chose were Cotton Tail, Groovin’ High, and Sophisticated Lady (one of my all-time favorite ballads).


When and how did you find out you won the VEA Competition?

 Colin Crake: I found out that I had won the VEA Competition in early January during a quartet rehearsal. We were rehearsing for a performance at the 2017 Navy Band Saxophone Symposium when David Gould called to inform me that I had won. Needless to say, I was very surprised and excited by this announcement!


Eric Abramovitz: One evening in January I received a call from David Gould as he announced the good news. ‘Twas a great night indeed.


Tim Struven: I found out in January when I received a call from David Gould, who told me that I had taken first place in the Jazz Category. I was completely shocked so at first (and for a while after) I thought he must be joking. Once he started giving me details on the Indianapolis trip I realized he was actually serious.


What did you do to prepare for the VEA performance?

 Colin Crake: Beyond just learning my part, I also spent a fair amount of time studying the score and communicating with the composer to make sure that I fully understood the music. The piece I performed was for alto saxophone, violin, cello, and piano, which is pretty unique instrumentation, so I tried my best to be as prepared as possible. The piece I performed was Recurring Dreams by Roshanne Etezady. She was extremely helpful in my preparations for the performance. I was also very fortunate to work with excellent musicians from the contemporary chamber music ensemble, All of the Above, who were amazing to work with and without them, the performance would not have been possible.


Eric Abramovitz: I had the great opportunity of playing a new piece commissioned for the event by a young composer named Michael Markowski, who was present at the rehearsals and concert. Preparing the piece with him, sharing ideas, and trying to realize his vision as accurately as possible was both challenging and rewarding.


Tim Struven: I took some time to try out every possible equipment combination to make sure I ended up with the Vandoren setup that was right for me and the way I like to play. Pretty soon after that it totally felt like home, and I was able to get around the horn easily while producing a tone that was to my liking. Once my setup was feeling great I relaxed and had a really amazing experience in Indianapolis.



What was your favorite moment of the VEA competition?

Colin Crake: Getting to travel to Indianapolis to perform at the Music for All conference last spring was very memorable. Getting to know the other VEA winners, as well as the composer and the collaborative musicians for the piece I performed, was truly special. Of course, I am looking forward to the trip to Paris this fall!


Eric Abramovitz: This is a tough question as there have already been so many good times and memorable moments in Indianapolis with the other VEA winners, but considering that we will be taking a trip to Paris in the near future, perhaps the best part of the experience is yet to come.


Tim Struven: I would have to say getting to work with the Jazz Band of America and some of the most incredible individuals I have ever met. These people inspired me a ton, and it was such an amazing experience to make music with them and to get to know them. After that the food in Indianapolis was pretty incredible; thank you David Gould for being our personal tour guide for the weekend!


 Do you have any advice for someone applying to VEA this year?

 Colin Crake: I think that the fact that I started working on the repertoire early on was helpful in preparing for my recording sessions that occurred later in the year. Beyond this, I can only advise that if you are on the fence about applying, you should do so. The repertoire that is selected always seems to give students an opportunity to learn both well-known and infamous works for the instrument, as well as an opportunity to showcase what you are able to do with choice repertoire. This, coupled with the extremely easy and free application process, makes VEA a unique and educational competition experience.


Eric Abramovitz: Other than practice, I would advise anyone making a recording to strive for the best possible audio quality in a flattering acoustic environment to ensure musical details and clarity of articulation and tone come across correctly.


Tim Struven: First of all, don’t overload yourself with trying to record too many tunes at once, unless you really feel like you have all of them down. I was lucky in that some of the tunes I recorded for the competition were the same tunes that I would be sending off to graduate schools for pre-auditions shortly after. However, I still ended up with too many tunes on my plate and didn’t feel I knew all of them as well as I could have, and I ended up going back to the studio for a second day to finish recording some of them. Second, don’t wait until the last minute to submit recordings like I did; it’s never a good idea. Lastly, excuse my cliche but have fun! This is such a great opportunity to record yourself and show what you can do, and your tapes will probably turn out better as a result.

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