“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy, there’s vomit on his shirt already, mom’s spaghetti” – Eminem.
I think Slim Shady captures the feelings associated with auditions as well as anyone.
Personally, I hate taking auditions. I’ve always felt that they were staged, artificial, and at best a poor representation of my abilities. Back in college I sweated more over my piano proficiencies than any final exam.
It seems they’re always crammed into a stuffy little room while several people sit behind me scowling and scribbling down notes. Their pencils frantically trying to keep up with all the wrong notes belching up from the piano. My fingers chunk across the keys like bulbous misshapen sausages, and lick and phrases that were burned into my memory the day before have all but vanished. Leaving only hollow whispers of things that should have been so amazing.
But unfortunately for most of us, they are a necessary evil. And if you find yourself heading into the Army…. auditions are a bona-fide GUARANTEE!
You’ll have to endure three auditions before you even get to your first band:
Audition for a band liaison (liaisons are Army musicians whose sole purpose is to find and recruit capable musicians into the Army Band)- proving that you know what you’re doing AND that you would be an asset to the Army Band field.
You’ll actually take an over-the-phone interview with a band liaison before the audition is scheduled. They’ll want to know about your musical experiences, education, skills. WARNING: if you’ve never heard of a minor scale, or can only play songs in the key of “C”, you may need to head back to the woodshed before picking up that phone.
Audition during your first week of Army Music School. Where you will be assessed, strengths and/or weaknesses identified.
Audition during your final week of Army Music School (10 weeks later). Checking to make sure you can play at least the minimum level required to be functional in a band. (The minimum just ensures graduation. A higher score is always better).
And now the good news…
For that 1st Audition, (the one that allows you to sign up for this gig) the ball in entirely in your court.
You can spend all day long practicing (assuming you have no life, no job, no family, no bills and no other responsibilities) and set up the audition when you’re good and ready. This will change after you’re in uniform. - In fact, I’ve been told more than once, that people find more time to practice AFTER joining.
But once you leave for Basic Training, those next two auditions are coming whether you’re ready for them or not.
The audition consists of 4 parts:
Patriotic music. Shocking, I know. The Star Spangled Banner, the Army Song. Trumpets get to play some bugle calls. You can do your best Toby Keith impersonation. The liaisons should be able to hook you with the proper versions.
Prepared music. Pick 3 or 4 pieces that you can rock the house with, and “bring it”. They should be contrasting styles. The idea is to make yourself look (and sound) as good as possible. Don’t pick something that you can sort-of play, but hope to one day. Play your stuff that knocks it out of the park. Playing with backing tracks/play-alongs is encouraged. If you’re in a band, see if you get have the guys play a tune with you, or better yet, bring the liaison to a gig. Pianists should have a solo piece ready to go. This is the meat of the audition, dazzle ‘em!
…And when I say contrasting styles, I don’t mean country AND western. I mean country and samba, baroque and death metal, trip-hop and dixieland. The Army is a gig where versatility counts.
Quickly prepared material. This used to be sight-reading, but recently the Army realized that we almost never sight-read on a performance. So… they removed sight-reading from the audition (Which in my humble opinion, RULES). Now you get the music the day before the audition. Giving you roughly 12 – 24 hours to become familiar with it. It will probably be around 5 pieces of music in contrasting styles.
Additional skills. This is essentially the “extra credit” part of the audition. You get to show off all the extra skills that make you more valuable than the next guy. You can sing, improvise (more for the horn and oboe types), double on trombone. Drop some street knowledge with a verse of “The Humpty Dance.” Anything else that you can bring to the table, should come out here.
That’s it. Audition Complete.
*Preparing for auditions could be a blog all its own. But I’ll just share a couple of tips that I’ve found beneficial.
Have your stuff ready now. Don’t wait until you’ve scheduled the audition to start putting your music together. That’s stress you don’t need. Keep several pieces polished and ready to go At All Times.
Play your audition pieces for everybody. I grab anybody I can for 15 minutes and say “please listen to me play this.” Musicians, non-musicians it doesn’t matter. I tell them to scowl and take notes (or just doodle) while I play. Trying to replicate that “audition vibe.” Once you’ve grown accustomed to this setting, the audition itself will be much less foreign.
If you’d like further info on specific instrument auditions, or any other Army Band information, check out www.bands.army.mil/careers