Thursday, November 12, 2009

Judging Band Auditions

Have you heard of "Band Auditions"? If not, then you either were not in band in junior high or you don't happen to know any band people (directors or students). If you don't know, it's okay... we still love you.

Band Auditions are a very interesting experience in which a band student (of course, it could also be a vocalist or string player, but then it wouldn't be a "band" audition would it?) puts themself up against a number of other students who play the same instrument in a search to see who is the better player. The best players are rewarded with a spot (or chair) in a band that will, on a given day, rehearse for 8 or so hours and then perform a concert for doting parents and friends. In the end, it may seem trivial and not much of a prize, but many a day has been ruined or celebrated based on the results of mere minutes of instrumental playing. (Don't get me started on my own experiences growing up in the "band world". I'm still bitter about some of those auditions). But I digress....

There are two sides to this audition process.

One side is that of the student who has worked for months (or in some cases only days) on special music that will be picked over with a fine-toothed comb (or ear) as they perform for 3-5 adults who sit behind a screen and place judgment upon them anonymously. Imagine a combination of a job interview and The Dating Game and you can begin to get the picture. It is tough being the student, but I always say that it is an important step in growing up into maturity as a musician (and often as a person). When he/she enters the room there is a monitor that announces their letter to the judges. What's fun is that the monitor comes up with some word to represent the letter as in: "Letter D as in Delta" or something like that. We used to give them free range to make up their own but then some would say things like: "D for Dummy" or "L for Loser" so we now stick to a phonetic alphabet or musical terms. Then the student plays the required material and either leaves pleasantly or in a huff if things did not go so well.

In the olden days (yes I turn 35 this month) all the students would be in one room and would not only face the judgement of the judges but also the room full of competition. It was gruelling and many a person did not play well when faced with "the eyes" from all around the room. Now students get to be in a room by themself without "the eyes" staring at them. I wonder if it really is the same in the end.

On the other side of the screen are the "judges". They are (most often) band directors, private music teachers and other professional musicians who know what the before mentioned music is supposed to sound like. They are equipped with little more than a pencil and some papers that look a lot like a blank accounting spreadsheet. As the students play they score each performance with a number based on a predetermined standard. Such a standard should already be known before the auditions begin. (If the judge doesn't know what the standard is, they won't be asked back again to judge any time soon. I can tell you that). The process of coming up with all these numbers is kind of boring to explain so I'll spare you the details now. If you truly are curious, I'd be glad to tell you about it in a personal message sometime. But, when it's all said (played) and done we end up with individual orders of letters that represent students who still remain in anonymity to the judges (remember that all the judges have is a bunch of letters to organize). At one point in this we get to put bar code stickers on a page and it seems a lot like elementary school. That's always fun!! Then these are turned in to the contest officials who put them into a computer program to determine the final "chair" order for that section in the bands.

But the real fun for the judges is getting to visit with friends. You see, most normal people don't really understand musicians and all of their oddities. (To this you say DUH!!). So when we get together we speak a different language and laugh at the strangest things. Like this weekend one audition sounded more like a lawn mower than a trumpet or the student that sped up and then suddenly slowed down or the one that ..... (sorry I got caught up in that world for a moment). Anyway, we have a good time behind the screen but we also must remember that the students have worked very hard and it is serious business to place them in the best order possible. This is why there is always more than one of us behind the screen in case one of us goes to sleep and misses something important. (Not that that ever happens when listening to 50 of the same instrument playing the exact same music for 4 - 6 hours. That's NEVER happened to me!). That's also why they provide really great food for the judges in the form of catered lunches and a food cart that travels from room to room providing snacks to keep us energized for optimal listening. Or maybe it's just to bribe us into agreeing to do it again next time. Who can really tell?

So, there is a little taste into the world of band auditions. And the next time you hear someone say they have "Region Band Auditions" next Saturday, you'll have a little insight into what in the world they are talking about.

Of course, now I have to wonder if I should worry about my band friends taking me out for giving away this secret.



  1. You had to play in front of everybody?! That's awful! (I mean back in the day.)
    I have had some pretty awful auditions myself. Besides having horrible performance anxiety, by high school my ensemble only went because we had was bad...