Archive for January, 2011

My “Kids” Audition

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Poring through my Google hits, I found one that read “Kids From Wisconsin, is it hard to get in?” or something to that effect. The short answer is “no, not as long as you win the audition”. It brought to mind my own particular experience with that organization, and my getting in (didn’t make it the 1st time). They really apply to a lot of situations, so I thought it might be worth sharing. So, HERE GOES.

When I auditioned my first time, I was a junior in high school, I had just made it into the Wisconsin Honors Jazz band, though it was a good month or 2 before the camp. I was a pretty good sight-reader, had good high chops, good sense of time. I wasn’t much of an improviser, which is still true to this day. I never spent the time on it, plus I don’t think I “get it” when it comes to taking solos. I tend to believe that some people are set up that way, and some, like me, are not. Ah well. I practiced my tail off on the HJ material, and I practically had it memorized. I guess TIP #1 will be PRACTICE YOUR TAIL OFF. No amount of raw talent will ever replace 10, 100, 1000 hours in a practice room.

So, “the Kids” were accepting applications, as they did every year. The first step was to fill out an application and make an audition tape. I had a great deal of help from my high school band director, Ken Petersen, himself a successful Dixieland trombone player. TIP #2 GET HELP (FROM SOMEONE WHO KNOWS WHAT THEY’RE DOING). He knew the kind of playing I’d be in for, so he guided me in my choice(s) of repertoire, the requirements of which I don’t exactly remember, possibly 2 contrasting pieces and some scales. Maybe 1 standard tune, like “Sunny Side of the Street” (played through “vanilla”, then with some VERY slight “jazzy ornaments”) and then a bebop etude from a David Baker book, which was the audition material for the Honors Jazz. Nothing fancy, just showed what I could do, in tune, in time and in tone. So I guess, TIP #3 PICK APPROPRIATE LITERATURE. I also had to send a full-length picture of myself; it was, after all, a show troupe, and while looks aren’t everything, certainly, they were a factor in the audition process in this case. Which leads me to TIP #4 UNDERSTAND THAT THERE MAY BE FACTORS THAT WILL DETERMINE THE OUTCOME OF THE AUDITION THAT HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU. I could talk about that one for days. All I’ll say is that they held auditions whether there were spots open or not; if your tape was good, they wanted to hear you anyway in case they DID have an opening at some point in the future. So, #4b SOMETIMES “NOT WINNING” ISN’T NECESSARILY “LOSING”.

I passed the 1st round, and I got the invite to come down to Milwaukee and do a live audition. I was nervous as heck. I did a perfunctory warm-up, and then I was called in. I basically just played my audition tape material. The “band” coach (now Director), Mark Dorn pulled out the thicker-than I’d ever seen Trombone 1 show book and pulled out a chart or 2 and had me sightread. I read, and I threw in my “lead trombonist” stylings in a couple of spots, met with a terse “just play the ink”. TIP #5 DON’T GET FANCY. Sometimes, this case having been one of them, they just want to see if you can play the part. Most of the time, that’s all it’s about. Anyway, after that was done, the rest of the previous-year’s band came in and I was put in the hot seat with a female trumpet player who was also auditioning (who did end up getting in) and we read through a couple of their band features; some of the “singer-dancers” filtered in to spectate as well. It was pretty cool; I’d never heard a band play that tight and together. It was a small 13-piece band, and there was a really solid player on every part, so for me it was actually a little nerve-wracking. I did my best, which at the time was “ok”, but I was definitely a fish out of water. I got the “we’ll let you know” on the way out, which every musician knows to mean “better luck next time”, or possibly something more crude. I took it as a “go home and practice some more, kid, then come back”.

TIP #6 IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED, TRY AGAIN (WITH A BETTER PLAN). So, I dusted myself off, went to Honors Jazz camp, which was mind-blowing. Played my butt off everywhere else I could, came back the next year and tried again. This time, it was old hat; I’d grown up, I was more of a solid player, I had seen the audition material already. I held down my part and did my best to make it sound like I belonged in the band. After we finished playing, the Director, COL Mark Azzolina came down and said I played great (I forget what exactly he said), and then gave me an uncharacteristic ‘high-five’. I got the same “we’ll let you know” but the bass trombonist caught me on my way out, and said “oh yeah, you’re in.”