I was a sophomore in college at the University of North Texas and I was really excited because I was “A” listed for the first time. Every year during ensemble auditions, all the UNT trombone players were placed on either the “A” list or the “B” list. Due to the large number of music majors at the school, seventy something trombonists alone, this really helped to expedite the audition process.
Anyways, I walked into my audition and it was at the big hall, the Winspear. I had been on that stage several times during my freshman year but it was always as a member of the Concert Band. This was my first time by myself. I was on the main stage facing a panel of all the brass faculty as well as Mr. Coroporon, the Wind Symphony director, and Mr. Fisher, the Symphonic Band director. Mr. Fisher in particular had a reputation as being really intense by calling people out in really public ways, yelling at people for mistakes, that sort of thing.
I finished my first excerpt and remember feeling that it went okay. That was when my Motorola Razr cell phone went off in my pocket. Of all the potential stupid ways to derail my audition, this was probably the worst. Some of the scariest stories involving Mr. Fisher was based on his reactions to being interrupted by student cell phones; forcing TAs to rummage through cases to find the ringing phone, throwing phones out into the ensemble, stomping on phones... None of my fear of him was based on any personal experience, just rumors and reputation.
The worst part of this ordeal was my ring tone. It wasn’t just some run-of-the-mill default ring tone, it was the opening riff that Christina Aguilera sings on the tune “Ain’t No Other Man.” As I’m standing there, horrified, she’s epically belting out the beginning which I let play all the way to the instrumental, at which point the ring tone would repeat. That’s when I had the presence of mind to turn off my phone.
I don’t know how many people can relate to that sense of all your extremities running cold because that “thing that is so absurd it could never ACTUALLY happen” is happening at that very moment - but that was my life right then. I remember everyone at the table facing me slowly looking up, blank-faced as they started to process the stupidity unfolding before them.
To their credit, I must have looked even more surprised than they were, because one of them (Tony Baker, one of the trombone profs) smiled. No laughter, no reassuring comments of “don’t worry about it, let’s keep going,” but I got one smile. I finished the audition, don’t remember a thing about how the rest of it went, and then drove home. Upon telling my roommate about what happened, his mouth dropped open and he couldn’t think of what to say... At least until he said “Man, you’ll never make it to an A list group I guess. AND you’re only a sophomore.”
The conclusion of the story ended up with me making Symphonic Band conducted by Mr. Fisher. He never mentioned this incident, it’s possible that he was always wary of me or that it was so inconsequential that he didn’t even remember. Either way, my takeaway from the whole experience was that as awful as something may feel to you, it’s impossible to know how others are processing the same experience. Moral of the story is, do your best and trust that the real value you offer as a musician will come through no matter what.