Anyone who has ever attended a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert would probably recognize Gita Roche. The young cellist has the kind of looks that are hard to miss: luxuriant dark hair, an olive complexion, coal-bright eyes that become saucer-wide with concentration, and a smile that breaks unexpectedly from her serious face.
Talented and popular, she deserves the name that her Bombay-born father, a violinist in the Minnesota Orchestra, and her mother, a West Virginia-born soprano, gave her. It is Gita as in the sacred Hindu text, the Bhagavad-Gita -- Song of the Blessed One.
The name suggests good fortune, but the 28-year-old Ms. Roche has had cause in recent years to wonder about her luck.
As one of the top free-lance musicians in the Baltimore-Washington area, Ms. Roche appeared in most BSO subscription concerts as a substitute. She was also the principal cellist of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra and the Baltimore Opera Orchestra. But for the last six years she had failed to win any of the auditions she had taken for regular orchestra jobs. That meant she never had a regular income, that she had no job security and that she had no medical benefits.
Then within a period of a few weeks early this spring, Ms. Roche seemed especially dogged by bad fortune: A foot-long crack opened up in her cello (cost of repair, $2,800), she broke her $3,500 bow, and the engine in her car exploded (cost, $1,600).
But suddenly there was a reversal of fortune: This past April, Ms. Roche finally won her first permanent job -- she beat out 346 other candidates for a cello position in the BSO. She'll start in September.
Q: You had been auditioning for years. What do you think was holding you back?
A: In hindsight, the best way to try to get into an orchestra is to take as many auditions as you can when you're just out of school and when you're cocksure and confident. When I first arrived here in 1985, my dad said, "Audition, audition." But I was having too great a time just running around. I also got scared.
Q: Scared of what?
A: There was a part of me that was always afraid to try my hardest -- because I might fail. If I tried as hard as I could and didn't succeed, I was worried that I might find out that I wasn't good enough. For months I would prepare an audition, but I was never really totally prepared. I mean I would learn the excerpts I was expected to know, but it wasn't with total focus. I began to doubt myself and began to feel that my life as a free-lance musician was like that of a hamster on a wheel. I kept trying and trying and never got any place. I was beginning to feel like an old has-been.
Q: What are the sorts of things that would happen?
A: When I went to audition last year for the Boston Symphony, I completely panicked. I went out on stage and did the worst thing you can possibly do -- I said to myself, "Oh, my God, this is Symphony Hall in Boston." My mind was anywhere but on my playing. I bombed. I walked out of that hall and sat down on the curb and just cried. When you take an audition, you can't think of the committee listening to you. You can't worry about if they like things -- you have to be completely convinced of what you're doing. And if you fail, you have to get right back up on the horse and prove to yourself you can survive.
Q: So how was the BSO audition this past spring different?
A: I had been [free-lancing with the orchestra] for six years and if I didn't take this audition that meant I was going to look like the ultimate coward because I was sort of the one to beat. I wanted to stay here, so for pride's sake I absolutely had to do it to get over any doubt I had.
Q: That sounds like you had put yourself under even more pressure.
A: At first . . . I was overanalyzing everything. Then in the last five days before the audition, I just began to play. My frame of mind was that I had been doing this for a lot of years and that I needed to go as hard as I could so that I could never look back and say, "If only you had tried harder." By the day of the audition, it didn't matter what they decided. So much of what happened was out of my control. When I walked out on the stage that I had been playing on for six years, I felt that I had one purpose in life and it was to play. I felt a surge of adrenalin. I made one big mistake -- I went crack on one of the notes in Debussy's "La Mer" -- but I just informed the committee that I was going to start over. I was told later that I had been playing great but that making that mistake and recovering from it made it even better.
Q: How big a difference will having accomplished this goal make in your life?
A: It's funny, I always thought that I would be jumping off rooftops if something like this happened. But I think it's really going to be more of a settling down. I've always lived in such a way that I was able to pack up and leave on a moment's notice. For the last few years every time I played an opera solo, I always thought if I didn't play really great, how would I get rehired? All these stupid thoughts would be going on as I was trying to get through these 8-bar passages. But now when I play with the orchestra I have so much fun. It's so cool to sit there and know that I really belong now. And it feels incredible to realize that this is what I get to do for a living.