Mike Tetreault has spent an entire year preparing obsessively for this moment. He’s put in 20-hour workdays, practiced endlessly, and shut down his personal life. Now the percussionist has 10 minutes to impress a Boston Symphony Orchestra selection committee. A single mistake and it’s over. A flawless performance and he could join one of the world’s most renowned orchestras.
For about a week around Thanksgiving, Tetreault rehearsed eight hours a day with the Colorado Symphony, then drove 30 miles to practice at the university in Boulder. He would use the university’s recital hall from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. to work on the excerpts. After a week of recording, he was at last satisfied with his audition tape, and sent it off to Boston.
On December 3 he got the e-mail he was hoping for: Of the 74 people who’d sent in tapes, 35 had been invited to audition, and he was one of them. In a little more than a month, he’d be auditioning live in Symphony Hall.
As he neared his visit to Boston, Tetreault scheduled a “hard day” to simulate the audition. He didn’t eat at all. He moved heavy things around in order to wear out his shoulders, back, and hands. Then he played through all of his music without warming up.
It was in the last week of August 2010 that Lee Vinson, unsuccessful in three tries at tenure, lost his job with the BSO. Unfortunately for him, he’d just signed a yearlong lease that started on September 1. The symphony offers a final year of performing to players who don’t make tenure, so Vinson, unsure of? how to make the rent otherwise, took it.
When his final season ended on August 31, 2011, Vinson packed up everything in his brownstone and moved to Alexandria, Virginia, where he now lives in a modest two-bedroom apartment. The second bedroom is full of instruments, including two snare drums, a xylophone, a glockenspiel, and a marimba. He has neighbors above and below him, but thankfully, they don’t mind his constant practicing.
It’s March when I visit Vinson at his apartment, and the place is impossibly clean. Sliding doors lead to a concrete patio that shows no signs of use. For a musician, his home is strangely quiet. There’s no background music, and he doesn’t play a single note during my time with him. When there’s a break in the conversation, we listen to foot-steps and the children playing on the sidewalk outside.
He tells me that he hates the small chandelier that hangs over the dining room table because it blocks the view of his antique drum collection, then he begins to pace all around me. There’s an edge of panic and uncertainty to his voice, but for the most part he’s remaining calm. It’s when we start to talk about the audition committee that he quickly loses his composure and heads to the bathroom. I hear him crying. The idea that he was betrayed, that his dream was taken away from him, still affects him profoundly. He comes back, visibly shaken. “I’m not going back up there,” he says when he recovers. Then, in the next beat, he says, “I miss Boston dearly. I worked harder than anybody there….”
The time he spent with the BSO after being told he’d lost his job with the orchestra was “the worst year ever,” he continues. “I was like a fetus on the couch. Balled up bawling for weeks on end.”