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September 1, 2009

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The alarm clock at my bedside signals 8 o’clock in the morning of the first of September, 2009. Another day has passed, and I’m twenty four hours closer to one or more of the following: extreme disappointment, joyful exuberance, or being altogether angry and unresponsive. On the nineteenth day of the month, less than three weeks away, is the audition.

I was quite the procrastinator in deciding whether or not I would do it. Nevertheless, last Friday, I made my final verdict.
“Mr. D, I think I’m going to—try.” The words ring through my head faintly. I attempt to pound in the fact: try is all I promised to my band director and myself; but deep inside I sorely want to do well at that audition. It’s All-State Band, the best middle school musicians in Florida, and who wouldn’t want to have that title?

From 9:15 in the morning to the end-of-school bell at half-past three, everything is fine and dandy. Nothing has been displeasing so far today, in fact, it has all been wonderful! Sixth period is done, and now what? All I have to do is… well, perform my audition music and get some well-meaning, friendly critiques from Mr. Dixson, right? Wrong. Waiting for him to return from a short errand becomes an eternity, and my heart starts to beat faster, the length of time only increasing my nervousness. The area quickly fills up with students from other bands who have come to retrieve their instruments from the lockers within the classroom. I pray that all my practice over the past four weeks, diligent oboe playing at midnight, and the emergency run through this morning have paid off.
He has arrived back again. I snatch up my folder and prepare to march into the practice room, but he walks in my direction carrying a stand. “No… no. I can’t stand all these people!” My brain is screaming, but my lips stay sealed. I’m starting off the after-school audition help by trying to pick up some analysis on my technical piece, the most challenging and quickest paced etude.
Hands shaking, I lift my instrument, and on the command, “Whenever you’re ready,” I release my tongue and the air flows. The moment the sound comes out of my oboe, the crowd in the room realizes something is going on—turns, stares, and strides toward me in a mob. They gather around in a perfect semicircle, and gawk at me like I have just been bewitched into a frog. An assembly of open-mouthed sixth and seventh graders is standing on tip-toe to get a better look. Involuntarily, I stop playing, because everyone’s previously busy chatterbox has become suddenly silent, and their deep gazes are causing me to tense up. A slow round of clapping commences from the spectators and I’m sure that adds a nuance of ruddy color to my cheeks.
Smiling at them, I aim to continue, but the hard music and uneasiness of having an audience team up as my opponent; two things tricky to overcome against one inexperienced oboist. Although I try not to let it, the technical piece defeats me. Then I notice the onlookers seeming disinterested.
Relief flows into my every vein when the circle disperses, some going off to other corners of the room and some leaving entirely. For the sake of time, I switch to the melodic, slow, and pretty “lyrical” piece with gratitude. This time around, my focus is unsurpassed. Staring at this white sheet of paper sprinkled with black notes and making sense of it takes more work than would be expected. The finale middle C signals the end of my performance, and the start of the comments.
“Start here again, and try to make this really smooth.” I follow the instructions carefully, resisting the urge to touch my tongue to the reed, and the few measures I was asked to repeat end in praise. “Not bad, not bad.”
A couple more minor corrections and the wall clock tells us it’s already four in the afternoon. My dad who was standing outside the door of the band room, walks in when Mr. Dixson stops coaching me and highlighting certain parts that need more work. A thorough review of our practice session is given, and then some casual music chatter.
I go on to explain further to my dad in the car. The thirty minutes spent playing oboe after band was quite an adventure, and the second half, a success. I am pleased with the outcome, but the oboe quest for the day is not yet complete! A private lesson to awaits in four hours.
Homework and dinner fill all my time between getting home and leaving to head to Great Southern Music. I haven’t seen my teacher since June, since our summer was rather hectic, and I have hopes that he won’t be too unhappy about all the possible lessons I could have had. I hit on the point post-greeting and the usual “How was your summer?”
“I don’t know if you knew, but I’m auditioning for All-State. So if you don’t mind, I’d like to put the spotlight on that for the next few weeks.” Joseph, my amazing teacher, has been already informed. We get straight to it, because he’s not feeling so well and the lesson has to end early. He says so himself (multiple times) that he is very impressed with the amount of work I have put into this so far. The scary “technical,” which I didn’t get a second chance to try in band, was the one he thought I sounded best on. That coaxed a grin out of me, as it was entirely unexpected.
As Mr. Dixson had earlier the same day, he enforces rules of slow practice. I am to not speed up until I can get every note perfectly at a snail’s pace. I am to play everything repeatedly, again and again, until there are no kinks whatsoever, and only then may I combine the difficult sections with the rest. Going a beat at a time seems meticulous to me right now, but I know they are spot on in telling me to go about stuff that way. “If I manage to keep up with the suggested techniques, and lots of hard work, I think, maybe I do have a chance at making the All-State Band.”
At exactly 8:20, I’m finished. Upon walking out of the small room, I find that the entire store is practically empty… they’ve closed for the night. Apparently my session was a special arrangement, scheduled to get me extra assistance on the audition pieces. I feel warm and fuzzy inside thinking that my dedicated teacher scheduled a lesson much later than usual solely for me.
When my ride home comes, a time and date of the next meeting is decided upon. Joseph leaves me with a sincere remark that means a lot, and lifts tons of the weight and stress of the try-out from my shoulders. “I can’t guarantee you anything. I can’t guarantee that you’ll get in, but I absolutely can tell you that you will be one of the strongest players there.” I smile, wave goodbye, and hop into the waiting car in the parking lot. Maybe All-State won’t be such of a nightmare after all.



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