You’re in a room full of strangers, and everyone wants the same spot. Rather than dwelling on the 100 things that may sink you to the bottom, here are 5 things that will help you rise to the top.
Auditions are a rite of passage for every musician. All those hours of practice are eventually put to the test, and you’re asked to showcase your abilities and potential with the goal of being selected. In this post, I offer 5 tips for those traveling to Winter Guard International (WGI) and Drum Corps International (DCI) auditions this winter. From the perspective of a former participant to eventual caption head, here are some thoughts that may be helpful for students to read while traveling, and for teachers to share with their students.
1. BE PREPARED
This is a very broad piece of advice, but an appropriate starting point as it’s perhaps the most important. There are multiple facets to the audition process that require you to “prepare,” but to begin, I’m specifically talking about preparing the audition material.
Simply put, memorize your music. Memorizing music requires time and repetition, both of which reflect your ability to prioritize and take care of business independently. It also frees up your mental ability to focus on the real work that should be taking place at camp, which is receiving instruction, performing in the moment, and adjusting your habits. Instead of constantly looking down, or “sort of knowing the music,” having all the warm-ups, etudes, and music memorized will allow you to execute. “Perform” rather than “Play.”
2. BE CONFIDENT
It’s natural to feel nervous, but realize that everyone wants to see you play your best. In fact, the staff and the vets are rooting for you! Vets want to stand next to people they consider peers, and staff members are looking for the best of the best. Approach the camp with attitude that says you’re there to display how much your musicianship can contribute to the ensemble.
If you have any feelings of doubt, start by giving yourself the credit you deserve and recognizing all the experience you’ve accumulated over the years. This doesn’t mean being over-confident or cocky, but rather, conveying a sense of comfort and ease in what you do. Your body language speaks volumes about how you feel, so stand up straight, make eye contact, and go for it without fear.
One of the best pieces of advice my teacher gave me in high school was, “When a staff member is looking down the line, if you look like you belong there, that’s one less person they have to worry about.” The vets will look confident and so should you. Some students wait until making the cut, the first lot warm-up, or even Finals Week to realize that they belong there. Don’t do that. Realize that you’re a bada** now, and present the best of what you have to offer.
“Please” and “Thank you” go a long way.
3. BE POLITE
Whether intentional or unintentional, every interaction you have with someone is making an impression. Being polite is a quick win for everyone and an easy way to make sure you’re leaving a positive impression on the number of people you’ll be meeting throughout the audition process.
People in the know realize that it takes a village to make things happen behind the scenes, many of whom are volunteers. Countless hours have been spent preparing for the weekend, from housing sites logistics and equipment setup, to food prep – the list goes on and on.
So make it a point to be appreciative and thankful as soon as you arrive, starting at the registration table, during informational meetings, and walking through the food line. Audition weekend is about displaying your musical chops as well as your interpersonal skills. “Please” and “Thank you” go a long way.
Drum Corps is about discovering and growing a better version of you – You 2.0. Realize your potential of being not just a great musician, but a great person. Imagine the impression you’re making from other people’s perspective. Are you the kind of person people want to have in their organization?
4. BE ADAPTIVE
The approach to playing may be different. Music will change. Drill will be added to the music. In short, a lot of learning is taking place during and between camps. During auditions, staff members take snapshots of your performance: they assess what you’re doing, diagnose how you can improve, and give feedback on how you can go about doing so. Over time, these samples reflect to what extent your habits are changing. In other words, your ability to improve by applying the information you’re receiving informs the staff members how teachable you are.
This is especially difficult considering the number of people auditioning and the limited amount of time they have to zoom in on each player. Your goal is to take the information and adapt quickly. Are you able to take the information and adjust your habit, or are you being told the same comment multiple times in a row?
A strategy you can use is to create a mental checklist. Each time you receive a comment, put it on your mental checklist. As you perform, you scroll through the checklist and remind yourself to make that adjustment. “Stand up straight.” Confirm you are standing up straight, then move on to the next item: “Put your beads together in the center of the drum.” Check. Move on to the next item, “Balance to the player next to me.” When you reach the end of your list, cycle back to the top and repeat. Once you are consistently demonstrating the habit as you scroll through the checklist, you may move it down and prioritize another comment to the top of the list. If I receive a comment from a staff member more than once, you can bet that comment is moved straight to the top of the mental checklist.
Everyone is trying to improve, and you will be making many corrections over the weekend to embody the approach and style of the group. How well you adapt is key, and more importantly, how much independent learning and correcting is taking place reflects your maturity. It’s very telling for a teacher to see a student catch themselves and self-correct.
Mature musicians listen and adjust how they play depending on the room, instrument, and players around them. Things that prevent change may include perception, ability, attitude, etc. Do everything you can to show you can adapt and improve, and that you are taking incremental steps towards becoming the archetype member.
Pro Tip: Keep a notebook. At the end of each block, write down your big takeaways. You will be learning more than you can remember, and writing them down is a way of having something to come back to and reinforce your mental checklist. If you get a specific individual comment, that should definitely be written down in your notebook.
5. BE POSITIVE
I’ll keep this one short. The summer is a long grind, and members need mental tenacity and grit to keep up. Your attitude is just as important, if not more so, than your playing ability. Nobody wants to be a Debbie Downer. Be optimistic with correcting your own problems. Tell people around you, “Good job.” Be upbeat and proactive when talking to the staff.
I was once told there are two types of people in the room: those who bring the vibe up, and those who bring it down. Those who can inspire confidence and bring out the best in the people around them are the ones that others gravitate towards. Be the kind of person other people want to be around for an entire summer.
Thanks for Reading
Hopefully you found some new information or reinforced what you already knew. What are your tips for a successful audition weekend? Share it in the comment section below.
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For a PDF of my mental audition checklist of all the things you should be thinking about in addition to the playing, check out: LESSON #19: IT’S ABOUT THE LITTLE THINGS
Most importantly, best of luck to everyone with their upcoming auditions!
Huei-Yuan Pan is a Los Angeles based musician via Chicago, originally from Houston. His drum corps experience includes performing with the Phantom Regiment Drum and Bugle Corps (Snare, 2001) and The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps (Snare, 2002-2003; Front Ensemble, 2004). From 2008-2011, Huei served as Director and Arranger for Green Thunder Percussion, and in 2012-2013, Percussion Caption Head with Regiment. He is currently the Director of the Jumpstart Young Musicians Program at The Colburn School in downtown Los Angeles. For more on Huei, click here.