Tuesday, May 17, 2011
The audition day thought process actually began two months prior to the actual audition. I received a forwarded email from my professor announcing the Navy Band audition and the next day had my resume emailed to the Navy Band. From that moment, I hoped and imagined myself performing in the U.S. Navy Band.
The day before the audition my mind is racing. Will I get there on time? Where exactly is the Navy Band building? Will members of the Navy Band yell at me like a drill sergeant? Will I find a good reed? Did I just waste two months of preparation?
I leave for Washington, D.C., from Pittsburgh around 6 p.m. the night before the audition. I was obligated to a rehearsal with the Pittsburgh Opera until that time and did not want to press my luck by asking to leave earlier since I would be missing the next day’s rehearsal.
I was nervous about getting enough sleep because it took about five hours to drive from Pittsburgh to Washington. I get to bed around 11:30 p.m. and figure I will have to get up at 5:45 a.m. to get to the Navy Yard in time for my 7 a.m. check-in time.
I take a cab from the hotel to the Navy Yard because I heard D.C. traffic was bad; plus, I have no idea how to get there. I’m expecting to have the taxi drive me around the Navy Yard and drop me at the entrance to the Navy Band building. Well, that doesn’t happen because taxis aren’t allowed on-base. Thankfully, at the visitor check-in building, I recognize another saxophonist whom I’ve met before. He drove his personal car which was allowed on-base and offers to drive me to the building.
We are on our way through the maze of roads on the Navy Yard and just in time, it’s about 6:50 a.m. We pull into the recommended tiny parking lot adjacent to the band building and can’t find a spot because it’s full. Now it’s panic time. We pull out of the lot and head towards the backup parking garage on the other side of base. En route a Navy Yard police car starts to follow us. My heart sinks. Were we speeding? Did we miss a stop sign? Oh yeah, my seat belt isn’t on. I buckle up and we slow down to a crawl. The police car drives in another direction and we find a parking spot in the garage. It’s 7 a.m. I’m anticipating that we won’t be admitted to audition.
We enter the band building around 7:10 a.m. and apologize profusely. Mercifully, no one yelled at us for being ten minutes late and we were welcomed to the Navy Band saxophone audition.
I sign in, get weighed, and am shown to the large warm-up room where approximately 15 other saxophonists are warming up. By now it’s 7:20 a.m. and I haven’t played a note. I get as far away from any other saxophonist as I can – about 15 feet.
At 7:30 a.m., the first group of audition candidates is called together for a pre-audition pep talk, and told the order of excerpts we are to play for the first round. Next we draw numbers to determine our order. I’m one of the first people to get my hand in the bowl, hoping that I draw a good number since I haven’t completed my warm-up and it’s already 7:40 a.m. I unfold the slip of paper and my worst fear comes true: “1.” I report my number to the audition proctor and scramble back in to the warm-up area. I finish my routine and begin running the prepared excerpts. Much to my surprise, I’m adding notes where they shouldn’t be and my fingers aren’t moving how I’ve practiced.
At 7:55 a.m. my number is called and I’m taken to a private office where I can continue to warm-up for a few minutes. I can easily hear myself since 15 other saxophonists aren’t blaring “Danse Volatre” right next to me. I test my reed and decide some slow practice is the best medicine.
At 8:00 a.m. an audition proctor knocks on the office door and asks if I’m ready. Since I can’t say no, I follow him through the office and in to the large rehearsal space where he wishes me good luck and announces “This is candidate number one.” A Voice from behind the large screen welcomes me, offers me a chance to play a few warm-up notes, and says to begin with excerpt number one. I decide to sit in the chair provided, take a brief moment to gather my thoughts, and focus on the music in front of me. I performed the first, second, third and fourth excerpts. I was very pleased with my reed choice and five-minute performance. I was led back to the warm-up room where I must now wait for the 15 other saxophonists to perform their excerpts.
After everyone in my group had finished their audition, the audition proctor called the first group of saxophonists aside, gave a brief speech and announced that candidate number one was the only person to advance to the next round. I was incredibly thrilled and now had several hours to pass before the second round would begin in the early afternoon.
Saxophonists are arriving throughout the morning because there are several waves of check-in times. I recognize many saxophonists and chat with them to kill some time.
Around 11 a.m., my stomach starts to grumble because I’ve only eaten an overpriced banana and juice from the hotel. I venture out of the Navy Band building in search of the Subway which is on base. After several wrong turns and going into the wrong buildings, I find Subway and wait in line for 25 minutes. This is apparently where the entire base eats for lunch. I’m too nervous to finish the rest of my sub and head back to the band building. By now the first round of auditions is just about over.
Six out of 46 auditioning saxophonists were advanced to the second round. The six of us are politely instructed to gather our things as we would be moving to a much smaller warm-up area. We are told that the audition committee wants to hear four specific excerpts, parts of our prepared solo, and several sight-reading excerpts. The proctor says we have about an hour before the second round would begin at 2 p.m. and we would proceed in our original order which meant I am the first to go. In the small rehearsal space all the saxophonists are very congenial and we spend some time introducing ourselves and talking. We eventually get down to business and start practicing the excerpts and prepared solos.
A little before 2 p.m., I’m escorted to the private office where I test my reed and wait as patiently as I can for my turn. The proctor takes me back to the large rehearsal space where I stare down the blank dividing screen. The proctor announces “This is candidate number one.”
A Voice from behind the screen welcomes me back and tells me to begin when ready. I don’t have the option to sit this time because there is no chair. I take a few moments to collect my thoughts, focus and begin playing the excerpts. When I completed the excerpts, the Voice tells me to play my prepared solo beginning with the first movement. I play about a page of the solo and when the Voice says to play the third movement, I comply. I perform a couple pages before the Voice from behind the screen cuts me off and tells me to look at sight reading excerpt number one. The Voice once again speaks and says, “Here’s your tempo.”
I hear a metronome – c l i c k... c l i c k... c l i c k... c l i c k. I look at the excerpt and think, “Alright, not too bad.” I play through the example and feel pretty good. The next sight reading excerpt followed in a similar manner. Before I play every excerpt, I spend at least 20 seconds looking over as much as possible.
During the first and second round, a member of the Navy Band was sitting like a statue about 10 feet away from me. I was suppose to whisper to him if I had any questions or concerns that I needed to ask while I was in the audition room. I decided to utilize him for the third excerpt. I forgot what the suggested tempo was so I asked him to communicate to the Voice I would like to hear the tempo again. I heard the metronome click away for a few beats then I began the third sight-reading excerpt.
As I was going along, I noticed each excerpt becoming progressively more difficult. The fourth excerpt followed the pattern. The Voice gave me the tempo on the metronome - click click click click. I’m determined to give this one my best shot. I somehow get through it. I see excerpt five and think, “Really?” Then I hear the metronome – clickclickclickclick. “Really!?” I was able to maintain most of my dignity after the last excerpt as the Voice thanked me and I was escorted back to the small rehearsal room. My second round lasted about 15-20 minutes but it seemed much quicker than that.
Back in the small rehearsal room I continue talking with some of the other saxophonists and call my parents and friends to let them know how things are going. Around 4 p.m. the six finalists are gathered together because the audition committee determined its results. The audition proctor announced candidates one and 46 would be recommended to fill the two vacant saxophone positions. I was ecstatic! In a few months I would be off to basic training and eventually the U.S. Navy Band.
Musician 1st Class David Babich plays saxophone in the Concert Band and Ceremonial Band.