The Dreaded Audition

The two hardest things to handle in life are failure and success. ~Author Unknown

We have a new director for the final half of this semester’s symphonic band (something to do with scheduling, we were told).

At our first practice, she began by praising us for our performance at the previous night’s concert.

So far, so good.

And then the you-know-what hit the fan.

She told us flute players that we would spend the first part of rehearsal playing sections of two of the pieces from our concert for an objective grad student.

So we could be seated in the “best lineup possible” for our spring concert’s sound.

Um, no. That’s called auditions.

And none of us ever anticipated that!

I had a million objections flying through my brain:

  • Auditions and/or chair assignments are a first — to my knowledge — for this band
  • None of the other sections had to try out
  • I haven’t been playing as long as all the other flute players
  • I’d already had a miserable week, losing my beloved dog
  • My new flute was in the repair shop, leaving me with only a backup
  • We didn’t have time to practice first
  • I don’t particularly like surprises of this nature

She sent us into the hallway, where we were to wait outside a classroom. When the first girl went in, the rest of us listened to determine which parts of which pieces we’d be playing.

And they weren’t awful.

Though, I confess, if I’d had my case and coat, I’d have packed up and walked out without auditioning.

Because I get so nervous over stuff like that, that I find playing at all a challenge.

It’s the main reason I opted out of majoring (or even minoring) in music at university.

There’s something about being on stage, playing a solo in front of judges, that wrecks my confidence.

And ability.

The next day, we received seating assignments, and they weren’t pretty.

One girl moved up five seats; another moved up three. One moved down two; two others moved down three. I only moved down one, and at least I’m not seated last.

I probably shouldn’t agonize over this, but I’ll always believe a good director works for cohesion in a band, not pitting one player against another. Or one section against another.

Walking out is still an option.

An enticing one.

But I’m not a quitter.

Guess I’ll postpone judgment awhile.

Note: The coronavirus pandemic has caused the college under whose jurisdiction our band meets to suspend in-person classes indefinitely. Don’t know how they plan to do band practice online.

24 thoughts on “The Dreaded Audition

  1. Debbie, Way to go not walking out! Auditions are nerve wracking. In Junior High & High School I played the flute in symphonic & marching bands, so remember the competition for chair placement. Don’t think I’d have nerve enough for that now! 🎶🤪🎶

    • I remember chair seating auditions, too, Virginia, and I hated them. Especially when a lower-seated person challenged for a higher placement. That always brought on jealousies and ill-feeling. And perhaps God in His Goodness has cancelled the rest of our season as payback (no, probably not, but see how such things bring out the meanness in us all??!)

  2. It was good you stuck it out. Some folks take perfection to the ridiculous level. You should ignore all that and focus on why you decided to play in the first place. In other words don’t let some hank of a type-A drive you away from something you enjoy.

  3. “But I’m not a quitter.”

    Good for you, Debbie!

    And I can SO identify with your nervousness at auditioning because having been a theater actor for so many years, I got nervous every single time I ever auditioned. I also used to get incredibly nervous not only on opening nights, but also every single time I had to walk out onstage during the run of a show. I never understood actors/performers who claim that they NEVER get nervous?!? Even Sir Lawrence Olivier said he would almost feel like he was going to upchuck every night he walked out onstage.

    ” I only moved down one, and at least I’m not seated last”

    BRAVO, my friend!!!! And you’re right…a good director does/should work for cohesion in a band, not pitting one player against another. Or one section against another. Because in the long run, that makes HIM look good.

    Keep us posted, and have a super Sunday! X

    • Ron, I suppose anybody who *cares* is subject to performance anxiety. Thank you for the comparison of a band member to an actor on the stage — I can see how both would stress over auditions. (Poor Sir Lawrence — it really takes courage to face nausea over every performance!!)

      And thank you for validating my thoughts that a good director won’t buy in to the drama between sections and players. After all, it’s his/her job to foster unity, not division.

      Thus far, we’re on hold as to the rest of this semester — because of the virus — so all the angst might be for naught. Go figure! xx

  4. OMG. I had such a visceral reaction to this that I had to close it and walk away, then come back and read it over again. Then wait to comment. And I’m still upset that you had to go through that. I don’t think it’s right or fair to spring an audition on you without notice. I’m sure your band website says something about everyone being welcome…not anything about auditions for seats. And you’re right…why just the flutes? Is the new director a flute player? Does she have a friend in the section who may have complained about not being in a high enough seat?

    Anyway.

    I don’t know if I would have stuck around, so I give you kudos for being strong and doing it. But if she rules with an iron fist or treats you flutes any differently (worse) than the rest of the band I’d complain. And if it’s not resolved I’m afraid I’d start looking for somewhere else to play. Which would be very sad.

    I know you love to play and I’m so happy you have a place to do that. But I can’t abide changing the rules midway into the season and with no warning, and I truly can’t stand being treated differently than everyone else.

    Our band also was suspended this week, no rehearsals allowed. We’re supposed to be practicing on our own…we’ll see how that works out. The Ann Arbor Symphony concert, scheduled for next week, is also cancelled, so I’ll be heading to Alabama sometime this week, after Katie’s teeth cleaning on Wednesday. I hope to take her with me, but it will depend on how she’s feeling after the teeth cleaning.

    You hang in there, you’ve had a lot of stress. I hope you can still play your flute, even just at home, and that will help sooth your soul.

    Hugs.

    • You really GET this, don’t you, Dawn? Thank you for confirming my impressions. It would be so easy to say, Who cares? but I can’t. You’re right, this is an “everybody is welcome” ensemble. The main reason I signed up in the first place is because my teacher told me I’d get more by playing in a group than I could in private lessons alone. This group is for college students who aren’t music majors (but still want to play), college music majors on secondary instruments, and community members. No competition there, and the pieces should be of a playable level (not as our new director has chosen, for advanced band members).

      I’m sorry this post upset you. Writing it (and even re-reading it) upsets me, too. She’s NOT a flute player, but I think she must have noticed something at our last concert that prompted her decision to audition us. We were getting along so well, and now, I imagine there will be some snippiness, if not outright jealousies. This could and should have been handled better.

      When I told my sister (who was in band as a kid but didn’t enjoy it as much as I did), she said I’m braver than she’d have been. She said she’d have walked and not looked back. Now this virus has made our whole remaining season moot, which might be a good thing, all things considered. You’re right — I’m still grieving Dallas, so this is the LAST thing I needed on my plate!

      Safe travels and send some of that sunshine up here!

  5. So unfair to spring that as a surprise though at least it meant you didn’t have a week to worry about it, I suppose. It does sound as if the new director is going for a more “professional” approach, and maybe forgetting that it’s supposed to be fun for the band members rather than a competition. Never mind, I’m sure you’ll all get her knocked into shape soon! ;)

    • I think it’s the coronavirus that’s going to get this thing sorted out, FF. It’s basically ended our season early through mandates to close schools and keep six feet away from everybody else. Sort of a blessing in disguise, if you ask me — minus the fact that even one person sick or facing death over it sends shudders up my spine.

  6. Eventually too, you’ll reach a place where who sits in which ‘seat’ doesn’t matter because everyone’s of similar skill level and mature enough not to give a flying fig. I currently play 1st in one ensemble & 2nd in the other, by my own choice. Our section leader in the larger ensemble arranges the 12 of us to keep the newest people in between more experienced players so that we can learn from each other and improve.

    • Your section leader is very wise! I’d like to think that happened with this audition. Sadly, we’ll never probably know, as rehearsals, concerts, etc. are cancelled in light of the coronavirus. Auditioning for seats brings out all the stresses — and pettiness — of junior high band!

      • There’s always next season, and who knows, those ‘auditions’ may be long forgotten by then. One can hope, anyway. I spent many, many years as 1st NOT by choice, but because many of the ensembles I played with were fairly small. Having others to share the load with now so I’m not constantly front and center is a huge relief. And I still panic when we audition for solos, even with 20+ years under my belt.

        • You must be quite GOOD! I’ve not been playing that long, but I love it. I guess I just assumed folks who play first-chair deserve to because they practice lots and relish being in the limelight.

        • Some do. I just happen to be an introvert with high-functioning anxiety. It’s something I’ve had to learn to deal with, to have any kind of musical career. The current shutdown & cancellation of our concert season here has forced me to look into other options, like livestreaming my gigs with a PayPal tip jar: not my first choice, but you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

  7. This seemed so strange to me, since I thought I understood that the point of the group was to give non-professionals an opportunity to play together and enjoy the music. Of course everyone wants to improve, and of course the really good players should have a chance to shine a little, but there’s no need (from my perspective) to introduce that kind of competition. Doing so without notice sugggests to me that she might have been enjoying the power inherent in her new position — although I don’t get why it was only the flute section that was made to compete.

    Anyway. The point is the music, and your enjoyment. It’s hard enough not to compare ourselves to others; it’s a shame that the anxieties that come along with that were exacerbated by the new director’s “directing.” It may be a hidden blessing that your rehearsals have ended temporarily. Any chance your original director could come back?

    • Linda, thank you for understanding. Yes, this band, according to the website, is an unauditioned group. To thrust an audition upon us — without notice — feels cruel to me. Maybe there was something else going on that we were unaware of (and now probably will never know). Every time I think about it, I get steamed all over again, which is the last thing I need with Dallas’s passing and the creeping pandemic.

      You’re right: the point is the music and our enjoyment of it. And did you see this one (https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/venice-canals-clear-water-scli-intl/index.html) about Italy? The virus might indeed have some hidden benefits (though gee, the stories I’ve read about how it affects humans, shudder.)

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