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The College Audition Trail

Joan Rudd | March 2010

  As a parent of an aspiring musician, I have been a cheerleader, chauffeur, psychologist, and advocate. Throughout my daughter’s high school years, I became known around town as a flute momager, similar to soccer mom, but with a music focus.
  There is nothing in my background that prepared me for this role. I broke my clarinet in the fifth grade when I used it to practice baton twirling, and then I quit playing. When I couldn’t sing Happy Birthday in tune, I thought I was tone deaf. Perhaps my personal lack of musicality spurred my enthusiasm when my daughter showed promise as a flutist. I devoted my spare time to listening, attending recitals, and researching every aspect of the flute world; its history, teachers, performers, and possibilities. My husband and I simply loved listening to her play and encouraged her all the way. However, when college auditions became a reality, we had no idea how things would turn out.    
  Along with the audition process for college,  senior year of high school was a fast paced march toward destiny. We were armed with maps, charts, and schedules rivaling the presidential inauguration. Making decisions and completing applications was intense, but preparing for auditions added an extra twist of tension. I had to remind myself that I would not actually be playing – I was just the instrument handler.
  Leading up to the audition season, I heard her practice the long D, as well as study for standardized tests and write essays, while I browsed Travelocity, double-checked repertoire requirements, mailing addresses, and audition locations. Even with all of the preparation and support, there were unexpected snags that popped up along the way.
  Some schools required prescreening CDs or a CD supplement with the application, and we found that making the recording was not nearly as difficult as scheduling the accompanist, teacher, and recording engineer all at the same time. In addition, the CDs had to be carefully labeled according to each school’s specific requirements. Despite an early start, we managed to mail the CDs just within the prescribed deadlines.
  Once she was notified at which schools she would audition, I tried to keep things simple by booking hotels most convenient to the schools. After weeks of making reservations online, I was enticed by an “add a hotel” link and thumbnail photo of a hotel in Canada that looked like it fit our needs. What it didn’t show was the “peep show” district in the neighborhood. We arrived and went to bed early, but were disturbed by shouts in the hallway. There was a bachelor party in progress a few doors down, complete with a stripper. I called in a complaint to the front desk and fortunately found earplugs in our suitcase.
  On one trip, I opened the suitcase and found only her black suede shoes. I desperately searched the rest of the suitcase until I realized that I had forgotten to bring her audition clothes. There was nothing to be done since my daughter only had tee shirts, jeans, and other casual clothing. In the end, she wore my sweater set and scarf. It didn’t look too bad, but it was a scary moment.
  Excitement followed us at another hotel that prided itself in making guests feel welcome. A less than friendly hotel manager and a large security guard loudly knocked on our door and ordered my flutist, who was practicing at 6:00 pm, to stop the noise at once! We apologized for the annoying sounds of a Bach sonata. After that I learned to sweet talk the concierge into allowing us to use an empty ballroom, conference room, or other area for practice. And if that didn’t work, we used it anyway.
  At one school, we witnessed a lot of frantic students and parents searching for pencils when a theory test was required. While there were pencils in the welcome packets, they were unsharpened, and there was no sharpener. The next problem was the restroom, which was locked on weekends. I tracked down the maintenance man who had the right set of keys.
  While some schools offered coffee, and light snacks, others had snack bars open for auditions. However, I was caught unprepared when there was nothing available and a serious blizzard prevented me from venturing outside. Thereafter, my handbag turned into a virtual picnic basket of snacks and water bottles that squeezed and wouldn’t drip on music.  
  Finding a practice room was an evolving skill. Usually we arrived early and scoped out the rooms. Sometimes it was easy and other times she had to share the practice rooms with other instrumentalists at the same time. We learned to be flexible.  
  At one crowded institution, I asked the young lady in charge of attendance if everything was running on time. I had seen her the night before, attending a master class. She looked young, but I assumed she was a college student. I asked, “Are you a grad or undergrad?” “I’m neither,” she replied, “I’m ten.” Another student turned to me and whispered, “She’s the teacher’s daughter.”
  Most auditions went smoothly and were a positive and enjoyable experience. Nearly all the professors made an effort to make my daughter feel welcome and relaxed. Sometimes I unexpectedly met the teachers and was introduced to the admissions counselors after her audition. I realized I needed to be on my toes as well.  
  My daughter is now a freshman at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music. Since she has left home for college there is a noticeable silence when I go up the walkway or when I am putting my key in the door. We are greatly looking forward to hearing her play once again on her visits home.