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The Trials of an All-State Audition
It was first period. She walked into the band room--her home away from home. People greeted her--How are you? How was your weekend? Good, fine. She sits down and assembles her instrument. Her clarinet--more than an instrument--a piece of art, beautifully crafted from dark African wood with contrasting silver keys. After wetting the reed and meticulously placing it on the mouthpiece, she blew a steady stream of air into the clarinet. She began warming up before rehearsal started--scales, long tones, and articulation studies. With still more time left, she took out three etudes, music for her audition this Friday. Her fingers began moving and the etudes were played, for the thousandth, millionth time.
A fellow clarinetist sits down to the left of her. You’re such an excellent player, Anna! You play with perfection! Anna nods, letting her know she heard the praise, but is too busy practicing, trying to perfect the music that will never be perfect. She knows it will never be good enough; it will always sound horrible to her. Yet people continuously admire her musicianship.
They don’t know, not in this band. They don’t know what a truly exceptional clarinet player sounds like. They don’t know she is far from ever being excellent, far from even being good. They don’t know that when she hears herself practice, it takes all her willpower not to scream out in frustration. She will never be perfect.
The band director stands on the podium, signaling the band that rehearsal will begin. Alright, let’s play “Albanian Dance.” Measure 56, one, two, ready, play. Good job. Clarinets, that wasn’t too hot. Let’s try that again. One more time. One more time. Come on now. The band doesn’t hear themselves, doesn’t really hear how bad they sound. Or else they don’t care. Band is no longer enjoyable.
At her clarinet lesson that afternoon, she tries to keep calm. Her teacher says she sounds fantastic, she will do great. Anna has her own private doubts, but doesn’t say anything. She never says anything. People expect her to smile, to laugh, to say she’s a wonderful clarinetist. In reality, she wishes she didn’t even have to touch her clarinet ever again. Music used to be fulfilling; her sanctuary even, but now it has become an obligation. She hates playing, hates hearing the awful sound she produces, she wishes to quit. However, people expect her to be in band, so she cannot abandon music.
She goes home after her lesson and practices the etudes; they have become a memorized ritual. She moves her fingers and blows the warm air, not thinking, just playing. After finishing the first piece, she repeats it--ten, twenty times--until she can’t stand hearing it anymore. She is not improving. She puts down the instrument, and throws the music and stand across her room. She feels a little calmer, and decides to stop practicing so her mood doesn’t get ruined again.
The next morning she goes to school again, sits through band rehearsal.
The band director asks her to play the audition pieces in her office, to make sure she’s ready for the audition. She plays the first etude, growing angrier with herself as she plays more. At the end she stops, and the band director offers her praise. Very well-played, artistic, beautiful. You’ll do excellent at your audition tonight.
She shakes her head. It was terrible. How can that sound good to you? She asks. I’m not going to make all-state. I don’t want to try out, what’s the point? I’m a horrible musician. Some tears roll down her face--she’s let her guard down.
Nonsense, the band director says. You’re a fantastic musician--one of the best I’ve ever heard. You are going to go into the audition tonight and play your heart out and make it into all-state.
She nods, knowing that if she doesn’t, the band director will never stop talking. Part of her knows the band director is right. She knows that she’s a half-way decent clarinetist, that most people don’t hear all the mistakes, that she’s her own worst critic. Yet the other part of her knows the band director is lying--doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Did she hear it at all? The appalling tone quality? The horrible technique? She will not make all-state. She has not perfected the audition etudes.
That evening, she takes a long time preparing to leave for the important audition. She puts on her black pants and shoes, her blue shirt. Dressing up will help her get into the right mood--serious musician. She opens the front door, checking that she has her instrument and music. She does. On the short drive to the audition, all she can think about is how she is going to be the worst person auditioning, she won’t make it. She’s not perfect.
She signs in at the registration table. Walks to the warm up room and says hello to various people she knows--her competition. She plays some scales, long tones, articulation studies--her warm up. She doesn’t look at the fateful etudes. What’s the point? It’s too late for them to sound decent, anyway. It is time.
She makes the long walk to room 401, where the audition will take place. There are a few other clarinet players waiting in the hallway, nervously running through the fingerings. She finds a spot against the wall and sits down. It’ll be a good ten minutes until her turn.
After what seems like ten hours, the assistant calls her name. She slowly gets up, walks into the room, sits down, looks at her music. The adjudicator says from behind the curtain--You may begin by playing your e-flat and a-flat scales.
Those are easy. She quickly runs through them, three octaves. They were flawless. Then she is told to play the etudes. She takes a deep breath.
Blowing a steady stream of air and moving her fingers for the notes, she performs the dreaded etudes one last time. She doesn’t think too much--just plays for the judge. When she finishes all three, she takes another deep breath. Stands up, leaves the room.
It’s over. All she can do now is wait for the results. She knows she won’t make it. The audition was poor. It was far from perfect. Why had she even bothered to audition? She prepares herself for the rejection that is sure to come. Tells her family that the audition was horrible, that she most likely didn’t make it.
The next day her band director calls her. Congratulations! You made it into all-state! I knew you could do it.
Relief floods through her like the air she takes in. It’s all over. I made it. I wasn’t perfect, but for some reason they liked how I sounded. It’s over. I made it somehow.
And she knows that even though she had doubted herself, part of her had known all along that she was going to make it. She is a decent musician. And next year when all-state auditions take place, she’ll audition again. It’s worth all the aggravation, the anger at the imperfection. She finally feels satisfied.