I try to contribute content when and where there might be pre-existing holes in our field. So I've hesitated when it comes to contributing something along the lines of taking college auditions. Others have already done this and done it well. Rob Knopper has covered aspects of this extensively. Will James has a really nice "Top 10 Tips" blog. And Adam Groh has an older but still totally relevant post in the DrumChattr archives. And there are others. We're kind of obsessed with the topic.
So why jump into this pool of excellent swimmers?
Well, because I'm going to take a slightly different angle that will hopefully pair well with the aforementioned posts. I'm going to tell you exactly what I (and maybe other percussion profs) am/are thinking as I go through my version of this experience. Just some thoughts from the other side.
Let's start at the beginning.
1) When I receive an exploratory email from a prospective student, here's what goes through my mind. First, please know that your audition started the second you hit 'send'. I'm evaluating you. Where are you from? Who is your teacher? Do I know her or him? Do you capitalize the first letter of the first word of each sentence in your email? What about proper nouns? Are those capitalized too? I'm not trying to be a stick in the mud. I'm just observant and this tells me something about you.
2) If you come for a campus visit and a lesson at some point prior to your audition, here's what I'm thinking. Ok, this person has some moxie. You're playing the game well or at least trying to. Probably getting some good advice from somewhere. I'm hoping you're good and I'm hoping I'm not about to dread the next hour or so while I hear you play. Fingers crossed!
3) When I ask where else you're auditioning, I don't care about the specific schools per se. I'm trying to find out where you are in your thought process and whether it all lines up. Are you orchestrally driven? Does it make you feel better when the word 'Conservatory' is in the name of the institution? Looking for something more general? Do you prefer Big Ten football over the Big XII? Are you drinking the family tree Kool Aid of Bob van Sice or Mike Burritt? Is money a big factor? And so on.
4) When I first meet you on audition day I'm studying you. Are your hands clammy when we have a shake? Are you having trouble putting sentences together? Why are you wearing a tie? (that's gonna cause some trouble later unless it's the 'bow' variety). Are you a refrain of uncomfortable laughter? Huh, huh. Huh, huh. Huh, huh. Get a drink of water and have a banana.
5) When your time comes and you walk into the audition room I'm probably not paying much attention to you. I bet I'm still typing notes about the previous candidate who just left the room. So you should use this time to get set up and get all of the awkwardness out of your system while I'm not tuned in. This will pay off in a couple of minutes when I look up from my computer to find you perfectly prepared, sticks and mallets properly positioned at each station, with a relaxed, confident half-smile on your face.
6) Listen, I'm flattered that you think I know every piece of music ever written for percussion and have everything stored away in my photographic memory. Really, it means the world. But just to be safe you should absolutely have several binders prepared with copies of everything you plan on playing with a table-of-contents-like rep sheet up front. And the binders should be nice and clean and presentable. Just like you.
7) If I tell you to choose your audition order, don't hesitate. Have an order predetermined that you can immediately launch into. Nine times out of ten I like to give you free choice up front, then I'll start determining the order thereafter. But have a preferred top to bottom order nonetheless, just in case you're allowed to have the wheel the whole time.
8) Before you play the first note of your first piece, stop. And breathe. Breathe several times even. Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth. Deeply. Couple times now. Let there be some silence in the room. Mentally prepare the beginning of the piece. Then step forward and engage. This takes some maturity to do in the moment. That maturity will speak volumes. And you'll sound better.
9) Once you start, let the music flow. This is now recital time, not audition time. Don't play to avoid missing notes. Play to communicate your ideas, show your performance personality, and be alive in the moment. If you trip and stumble, turn it into a graceful tuck and roll that you pop up from as if it were part of your tumbling routine. I'm studying behaviors as much as anything else. This is a dynamic process. Be awake in it.
10) Either during or after your audition, I'm going to talk to you. I'm going to say things like "tell me about your marimba rep" or "what other Delecluse etudes have you played?" or "the interval between your 32" and 29" timps is off — whaddya think. . . is it wide or narrow?" My hope of all hopes is that you are calm, cool, and collected enough to have a healthy conversation in the audition moment. If I'm asking questions then I'm probably intrigued enough to get to know you a tad better. Answer back. Have thoughts. Share them.
10.1) And here's a final thought to chew on. When I'm done hearing auditions, I'm going to go home, most likely put on some casual clothes, maybe some tennies, pull some weeds and not think about percussion auditions or percussionists or percussion at all. I'm going to hang with my family, I'm going to talk about the kids' basketball games, I'm going to think about what to cook for dinner. Is your audition important? Yes. Is it important to me? Yes. But it's one part of your life's fabric. And mine. And life is big. Have some perspective, relax, play your best, then go tell your parents thanks for their support, have a nice lunch and don't think about percussion.
Todd Meehan is the founder of Liquidrum. He currently serves as the Associate Professor of Percussion and Division Director of Instrumental Studies at the Baylor University School of Music. Todd has performed as one half of the Meehan/ Perkins Duo since 2006 and was a founding member of So Percussion.