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A Blue Devil Audition
by Scooter Pirtle
Indianapolis, Indiana, November 16, 2007 – “Eleven is up and twelve is on deck,” explains John Meehan to a group of auditionees at the convention center in Indianapolis on a Friday evening in November.
Johanna H. is the eleventh performer of over twenty musicians under the age of 22 vying for a position in the 2008 Concord Blue Devils this evening.
A talented mellophonist and horn player from Carmel High School in Carmel, Indiana, Johanna enters conference somewhat cautiously behind John Meehan into Room 148 to complete her audition.
The conference room consists of a table, two chairs, and a music stand. Blue Devils’ staff members John Meehan, Brass Caption Head, and Wayne Downey, Musical Director are seated at the table eagerly waiting to hear Johanna perform.
Johanna moves toward the music stand and takes a deep breath. She will be one of thousands of young people throughout North America competing for a position within drum and bugle corps this winter.
It just so happens that the corps she is auditioning for is based in a city that is over 2,200 miles from her home.
A National Market
Traditionally, drum corps have been populated with local kids. The drum corps they chose reflected their geographic region, sometimes their neighborhood or even their religious parish. Recruiting was fierce for talent and performers were often afforded numerous performance options in or near their hometowns.
In recent decades the total number of competing junior drum and bugle corps have diminished. An article in the November 2007 issue of Drum Corps World chronicled the staggering decline from 1972 when 442 junior corps existed to 2007 when less than fifty corps ventured onto a competition field. This is due in part to the increased costs of fielding a touring drum and bugle corps, but it’s also attributable to a reduction in the number of kids capable or interested in undertaking a season in the drum corps activity.
A staggering trend in school music program budgets being significantly trimmed our outright eliminated continues to reduce the number of kids with the skills necessary to participate in a World Class junior corps. In a November 19, 2004 article, the San Diego Tribune cited a 50% drop in music class enrollments in California schools during the last seven years alone.
So it's no accident that the Blue Devils are auditioning in Indianapolis. On this date it's a city teeming with marching performers from all over the country. The Blue Devils will also host an audition in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas area, as well as auditions in Northern and Southern California.
World Wide Web
Today many drum corps members travel significant distances to participate in junior corps rehearsal camps, requiring corps to continually refine their national recruitment initiatives. Drum corps are taking full advantage of the information superhighway to attract and prepare students to audition for their corps. The Blue Devils have prepared an outstanding amount of information to help prepare prospective performers "make the cut."
The Blue Devils utilize their Web Site (bluedevils.org) to promote their corps, sell merchandise, keep alumni informed, and attract new talent. YouTube videos of the corps performing, even the drum and brass lines warming up and rehearsing promote the corps to potential members.
John Meehan prepared an immense audition packet for would-be brass section members interested in auditioning for the corps. Such packets are not an unusual offering from corps of nearly every size, but John's info packet mixes a detailed overview of the audition process and performance expectations with quotes from members that help those auditioning with their decision-making. It also serves as a formidable motivational tool. Here's an example:
The fist time I auditioned for the Blue Devils I was scared out of my mind and I didn't make the cut. This held true for me again the second and third times I auditioned. The fourth time I did something a little bit different...I went in to the music audition determined to be confident and to pretend that I was the best that they would hear that day. I do not know if I was the best they heard, but I felt my confidence helped me secure a spot in the 2007 brass section. As a result, I had the best summer of my life that ended even better than I could have thought possible. The 2007 Blue Devils were world champions and I was one of them!
By reading the materials presented in the audition packet, performers auditioning for brass positions for the corps are provided a wealth of knowledge to help them prepare for a successful audition.
Johanna had just finished with the visual portion of the audition prior to her brass audition. The visual demands of World Class drum corps requires students to be in great physical condition. The Blue Devils recommend their performers be capable of running a mile and running is part of the corps’ conditioning program.
The visual audition evaluates the prospective member’s ability to march in time with proper body alignment. While adherence to the Blue Devils’ specific marching technique program is not a requirement, each person auditioning performs basic marching maneuvers such as high mark time, slides, backwards marching, even jazz running.
The brass portion of the audition involves the performance of several brass exercises and a brief performance of a selected piece. There’s no sight-reading and the staff takes great pains to ease the performers anxiety as much as possible.
In an earlier audition, Wayne Downey commented on how much improvement a performer has made since their first audition last year.
During Johanna’s audition, John Meehan compliments her on her full sound and briefly inquires about the equipment she’s using.
The Blue Devils have approximately 34 openings out of the seventy-member brass line for 2008. This may be a conservative estimate based on a rules change enacted by Drum Corps International for 2008 that allows corps to expand to 150 members from 135. It's very possible the corps will be looking for 40 brass performers to fill vacancies in the line.
The staff assesses each performer on their tone quality and basic brass technique. Each performers plays brief warm-up exercises specified in John’s audition packet and have an opportunity to play a short prepared solo work.
The staff then offers comments and ask questions of each auditionee. Considering the financial obligations associated with traveling across half the country for obligatory winter rehearsal camps, finances are part of the conversation. The staff asks if the performer can meet the travel requirements and fulfill the attendance expectations of a World Class corps. Johanna is in a fortunate position of having complete support of her mother in her desire to perform with the Blue Devils.
A rating system is used by the staff to assess each auditionee. Ranging from a "1" to "3," the system provides feedback about whether a member has been automatically accepted into the corps (“1”) or if a spot hasn't been awarded, but an open invitation stands for auditioning in the future.
Johanna did less than stellar in her visual audition, but earned a “2” rating and was invited by John Meehan to continue her audition at a winter audition camp with the corps in December in California.
If you are a performer under the age of 22 years and interested in performing with a corps, please consider auditioning. There are opportunities with nearly every corps in the country and specific information is available from each of the corps. Click the link below to visit their web sites to learn more:
- Scooter Pirtle (email)