Company Front – Issue 6
DCI – Back to Basics
“As the audition dates grow near and you’re having doubts, go for it! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Nothing is impossible.”
So…you’ve been to the shows and competitions, you’ve tracked your favorite Corps all over the States and beyond and you have decided that this is the year that you audition for Drum Corps International. First of all, let me say a big “congratulations.” No matter what the outcome, you’ve committed to something bigger than yourself, and you’ve gone farther than a lot of people ever will. Sure, there’s always a lot of talk about auditioning, but you’ve actually chosen to follow through. So, even though you might be from one of the smallest bands in your region, or have to travel miles and miles to get to the audition site, you’re not going to let that stop you, right? At the end of the day there are numerous excuses you could give, but if you don’t audition now, then you are one more season closer to aging out, and then you’ll always wonder what might have been. When the next season comes around, you want to be on the field performing and not watching from the sidelines, right?
In my research for this article, I was almost overwhelmed by the response I received about the topic. Undisputedly, one of the most interesting tales was that of Irina Gonzalez. Irina, a clarinet playing music major, didn’t even try out until her age out year. She still took the chance, taught herself mellophone and auditioned. She remembers that even though her technical skills weren’t the fastest or most impressive, at the end of the day, she still had a great sound. In the end, her confidence paid off and she marched an unforgettable 2007 season with the Blue Knights.
With Irina’s positive story in mind and before we look into what exactly the audition process is like, I think it’s interesting to know why people audition. For some, it’s a lifelong dream or family tradition, for others, it’s a natural progression of skills, and for still others, it’s a step towards a future goal of teaching and instructing. Finally, for some, it’s an inspirational band director or instructor that can lead their students to join up for a season of music’s major league. That was the case for Jordan Walker, a returning lead soprano for Carolina Crown. He went to a high school with a very competitive marching band, and related, “My high school band director, Matt Harloff, is the brass caption head at Crown, and he’s really the reason I got going in drum corps.”
So, now, you have the motivation. The next step is preparation. As you are probably well aware, whichever of the Corps you’re auditioning for, will release their information in the months before the actual dates of audition. So, as soon as the material is available – do the obvious thing and practice! Like any person dedicated to an art or skill, you have to maintain your abilities. Keeping your chops in excellent working condition is only going to help in the long run. Basics like rudiments and scales are always going to be necessary. If you live close enough (or can convince some friends to carpool), some of the organizations offer preparatory sessions or clinics for those who have a free weekend. By familiarizing yourself with the Corps and their staff ahead of time, you might not feel as nervous when you actually go in for the audition.
Emily Rendini, a mallet player, said of her upcoming auditions, “My preparation is mainly parking myself behind a marimba/vibraphone every single morning before school.” She sarcastically added, “And trying not to kill the people who find it necessary to watch and ask, ‘What’cha practing for? Why are doing that?’”
Friends and section mates from school, your parents, and siblings might understand the level of dedication it takes to audition, but that’s what sets musicians and performers in DCI apart from everyone else.
So, the day, which has been in your calendar for months, has finally come. You’ve made arrangements to get to the audition – you know where it is, what you need to bring, and maybe you’ve even convinced a friend to come out with you. Not to worry, with all your practice, you should go in feeling confident; after all, there was nothing more that you could do to prepare for this audition, right? That being said, I don’t think it would hurt to consider this excellent advice from, Jason Smith, a Corps veteran, “Most corps’ staff are looking for few things: rate of improvement, general attitude, and grace under pressure. Choosing a member, whether a rookie or a vet, is an investment in the person of time and energy. Each individual a huge potential to contribute to – or detract from-the entire corps’ summer experience and ultimate performance. Staff members want someone who can survive the long haul-and raise the bar through every day of it.
Showing up with a well prepared audition is obviously the best way to make a good first impression, but if you show no further improvement or respond poorly to new ideas or instructions, you do not represent a good investment for your corps. You need to demonstrate the ability to make improvements through every moment of the audition, whether it is a one-weekend affair or a month – long process.”
If you don’t go into the audition with that in mind, well, perhaps your experience might be a little more like Jacob Brunsman’s, a percussionist. He spoke honestly of his audition for the Glassmen, “It felt really awesome to be with forty other people who shared your passion. I was pretty nervous because I felt like I sucked, but I eventually didn’t care just because it was awesome to be with other devoted musicians. The actual audition was pretty nuts. I was in a room in front of the percussion caption head with a snare drum and he just told me to play certain exercises (which I stumbled horribly through) and it was over.
I got a pretty bad rating but it was excellent experience so I will know how to prepare myself this year.”
Basically, I think the general concept of the audition – no matter which section or instrument you twirl or play, is that preparation is key. You do not want to go in and waste the time of those professionals who have come together to better their organization. So, if you know that sight reading is particularly difficult for you, then spend extra time practicing that. If you know someone who has gone through the experience before, why not ask them for some extra help? If you have the means, private lessons might be a wonderful way to improve yourself.
Furthermore, you do not have to limit your preparation to just your instrument – there is a lot of valuable information online! In addition to the collected info and links on dci.org, most of the corps home websites have well attended forums where members can post questions and queries about the process. All of the corps’ websites outline exactly what will be needed during the audition process, and even better – with technology that’s available, many offer a way for members to audition via video submission. On many of these sites, you can e-mail the caption head or instructor directly if you have questions. There are also a number of non-corps specific websites where musicians or performers gather, and many of whom can provide valuable first hand experience. You never know, the person you contact might end up marching next to you next season!
Finally, I think the parting advice I’d most like to share is from Colleen, who mentions this final bit of wisdom. She stressed, “Don’t worry, after all, it is the word ‘play!’”
Whichever of the fantastic and talented corps you choose, I wish you the best of luck!
If you want to do further reading on the subject, there are two books available for details on true life brass and percussion experiences with DCI; Not for the Faint of Heart by Jeremy Van Wert, and On the Field…the Blue Knights! by Gregory M. Kuzma.
This column was originally scheduled to be published in early December. A publisher’s error resulted in the delay of the publication. My sincere apologies to the author and all that contributed to it. -jmd
Company Front is a regular series of articles and essays, written by a group of young authors that have published books related to the marching arts. You’ll find all of the issues of Company Front by clicking here.
Twenty-something author Courtney Brandt proudly declares herself a ‘Jill of All Trades’ and is the author of The Line. Even though the author’s latest adventure takes her far from the marching field, Ms. Brandt is still humbly developing a fictional voice for the under-represented Band Geeks of the world. Although Courtney has enjoyed writing a number of Young Adult fiction novels on the subject, she looks forward to exploring individual nonfiction stories within the world of Drum and Bugle Corps. The opinions expressed in this column are strictly those of the author, who may be reached by writing to cbrandt [at] drumcorpsplanet [dot] com?subject=Question%20from%20DrumCorpsPlanet" style="font-style: italic;">cbrandt [at] drumcorpsplanet [dot] com.