Auditions, Caruso, and Music From the Heart: A Conversation with Julie Landsman

We are excited to have recently conducted an interview over the phone with the incomparable Julie Landsman! Julie was a joy to speak with and offered, unsurprisingly, a wealth of advice and information informed by her career.

About Julie Landsman

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Principal horn with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for 25 years, Julie Landsman is a distinguished performing artist and educator. She achieved her dream of becoming principal of the MET in 1985 and held that position until 2010, and has served as a member of the Juilliard faculty since 1989.

Landsman is a current member of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and has performed and recorded with the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic. Additionally, she has performed as co-principal with the Houston Symphony, as substitute principal with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and recently with The Philadelphia Orchestra as associate principal, and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra as principal.

Her students hold positions in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony, San Francisco Opera and Ballet Orchestras, Washington National Opera Orchestra, Dallas Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, New Jersey Symphony, Colorado Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic, and the American Brass Quintet. She recently received the “Pioneer Award” from the International Women’s Brass Conference and was a featured artist at the International Horn Society Conference in 2012 and 2015. Her recent series of Carmine Caruso lessons on YouTube have led to further fame and renown among today’s generation of horn players. Landsman currently resides in Nyack, New York.

 

Interview

Brass Chicks: Your career has been incredible and has taken you all over the world. What was the process of winning your position at the MET and becoming the first woman in the brass section of that orchestra like?

Julie Landsman: Winning an audition at the MET was one of the greatest experiences of my life. The audition was 100% behind a screen – anonymous – and it’s documented in a very famous book called Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. The last chapter describes the details of  my audition. The men who voted for me had no idea who I was or that I would become the first female brass member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

After playing three rounds for this audition, the third round ended with the high C from the famous Siegfried long call. I held on to it for about 20 seconds, just in case there was any doubt in their minds, and I heard them start to laugh! Then I knew I had won my dream job. When I walked out from behind the screen, I heard not only applause, but many gasps from the committee of men listening to me. They were shocked to see a young lady walk out from behind the screen. They were so stunned that some of them actually walked to the back of the room, while a handful of them, including my teacher Howard T Howard, heartily congratulated me. I had dreamt of this moment since I was 14 years old and it took until I was 32 to realize my dream job. I was in deep shock when I walked to greet my committee and decided very consciously to make a video recording in my mind to document the moment.  I can picture it right now! My victory lap is well-cemented in my memory bank.

BC: How much would you say gender colored your experience playing in the MET orchestra?

JL: I try my best not to tune into that channel. I often compartmentalize my priorities out of necessity. For my early years at the MET, my section consisted of many angry men and my only weapon was to play better than all of them. It drove me to excellence.

BC: That makes sense.

JL: My motivation to strive for excellence fit into my competitive and goal oriented personality.

Within a 10 year span of being in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the complexion of the orchestra changed dramatically. Four of my wonderful Juilliard students – Michelle Baker, Barbara Jöstlein Currie, Anne Marie Scharer, and Julia Pilant – all joined me to make a compatible section with a gorgeous blended sound.

BC: In addition to your playing, you’re also known for your teaching, in particular for your work with the Caruso method and with your new YouTube series. Could you tell us a little bit about Carmine Caruso, and about those exercises and why we should do them, and if we want to where we should start?

JL: I’d like to tell you about my exposure to Carmine as a young high school student. My band director in Ardsley, NY, Joe Greco, was a trumpet player and a student of Carmine Caruso. When he brought Carmine into the Ardsley band to work with our musicians, my horn teacher, Howard Howard, also began to work with Carmine. I feel so privileged to have grown up with really great teachers who offered me musical inspiration and a great set of well-trained chops. And where the Caruso fits into playing is that it is training, sort of like going to the gym, so that you’ve got well-balanced chops in all registers with an even response and sound, and you’re then free to play the music from your heart.

Learning the Caruso method at such an early age set me up for success. By focusing on timing and subdivision, it alleviates worry and concern about technique and chops. All of my students learn the Caruso method, and hopefully pass it on through the generations of wonderful horn players to come.

I have many success stories with my students as documented on my website, julielandsman.com. Also on this website are the YouTube videos, the printouts of the exercises, and a practice routine.  If you undertake learning the Caruso method, be very mindful to not overdo the exercises because of the extended techniques. Follow the instructions very carefully!

My videos are my tribute to my beloved teacher, Carmine. I adored Carmine. He saved my life, as did horn playing. He was my Mr. Rogers, telling me he liked me just the way I was. Carmine helped to shape my attitude and approach as a horn player and teacher with his non-judgmental and positive AND informative loving support. When Laurie Frink, a wonderful trumpet player and Caruso teacher, passed away, I was inspired to create these videos to preserve the integrity of the Caruso method.

BC: Do you think we have a specific role or responsibility as female brass players and, if so, how do you incorporate that or not into your teaching?

JL: I can say that you need to keep your boundaries and be professional at all times. Even though music is a very personal expression and your relationship with your colleagues can be very personal as well, you need to be very clear where you draw the lines defining who you are as a professional woman and be strong about setting those boundaries so they aren’t crossed.

In the era of #metoo, it’s extremely important to be mindful of this.

BC: Do you see any specific challenges for musicians in general in today’s climate and, if so, how do you mitigate those?

JL: We’re losing funding; we’re losing positions and things aren’t as plentiful as they once were for classical musicians. Practice hard, set your dreams and goals, and be the best player you can be! I notice many people are being very creative with how they put themselves out there.  There’s a lot of groups being formed that are more involved in the educational end of things and smaller chamber ensembles that are touring around the world. Many of my students are involved in them. But my jobs with the MET for 25 years and Juilliard for 25 years have kept me highly specialized and focused.

BC: Do you have any educational resources you’d like to recommend?

JL: I listen to a wonderful meditation podcast by Tara Brach. I listen to her meditations all the time. They’re guided meditations available online for free. Meditation has become an important part of my growth as a human being and of managing performances and trying to learn to stay focused and be as totally present as possible, as well as kind and compassionate. My favorite kind of meditation is metta meditation. There’s another mentor that I have in the meditation world: Sylvia Boorstein. Between Tara and Sylvia, it keeps me in check with myself and with my heart and with loving kindness.

I began my practice in yoga and meditation when I was a student at Juilliard. I was very diligent, and then there’d be something at the end of yoga called savasana, when you go into corpse pose – and I started using visualization. At that time there was a book called Creative Visualization, by Shakti Gawain – all new-age stuff – and I started picturing, in a very relaxed state, my success. I started visualizing audition success and performance success, and I really took it and ran. And then it turned into more of a meditation practice, where I would also get into a very relaxed state when I could do some of my visualization.

There’s a lot of different ways to performance excellence; certainly, being the best possible player you can be, practicing a ton, and having a fabulous teacher is a wonderful underpinning to excellence, but then you have to manage your career. Once you’re there at the top and have professional pressure and public expectation, it doesn’t necessarily get easier. Because the higher you climb, the more you really have to keep your end of the game up. So I highly encourage people to set their dreams and their goals and to take care of all parts of your being; not just as a player, but as a human being. I also swim every day and that keeps me moving and limber and helps my breathing. I used to have a very extensive yoga practice. I now practice Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais Technique. Both physical disciplines lead to coordination of the mind and body, as well as creating new neural pathways where you can reach parts of your nervous system that are very powerful for performance and being a balanced person.

BC: Thank you so much, that is some wonderful advice and insight!

JL: It’s my pleasure!

 

2 thoughts on “Auditions, Caruso, and Music From the Heart: A Conversation with Julie Landsman

  1. Ariel Weiss January 11, 2018 / 3:43 pm

    Brava Julie Landsman! Thank you for being an advocate for musicians’ wellness and self-care practice!

    Like

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