Shoot Your Shot - It's Not Too Late to Audition
Updated: Apr 16
Drum Corps audition season is in full swing, and now is the time to sign up, work hard, and send in an audition video or sign up for a camp. Here's my story.
I have been asked me many, many people about why I decided to audition for Carolina Crown, and what my audition experience was like. I think I have a unique late-bloomer story into my journey of DCI, and I'm here to to tell you as someone who would have never thought of marching: it is never too late. Go for it.
“Lauren, have you ever thought about Drum Corps?"
It was the right before Thanksgiving break in Boston, one of the busiest times in my life with my last semester of class at Boston University, with an upcoming senior recital, and on top of this, trying to plan Student Teaching for the spring semester. It was really a terribly busy time. But, on Nov 12th, I went into a lesson with my private teacher, Mike Roylance, thinking I would just go in to play through a piece for my upcoming recital.
Out of nowhere, he asks “Have you ever thought about marching Drum Corps?”
I am quick to answer yes, but hesitate to think of the reasons that had prevented me before. The money? Loads of time? Fear of the DCI culture? The overwhelming prospect of flying out to camps? The negative attitude of many BU students? Not wanting to march an Open Class Corps, but thinking I would not make it in a World Class Corps?
Those had always been my reasons, I tell him. He nods understandably, and then asks “This is your last year, isn’t it? That you could do it?”
"Yes, it would be" I ponder. I had actually thought about it recently. I realized I would get a bonus year. I was already 21 but my birthday wasn't until June. Regardless, I had always just pushed the idea aside. I had never even come close to getting the ball rolling.
Next, he asks,
“Who would you march with?”
I answer this without hesitation, "Carolina Crown."
"Because?" Mike asks.
"I just love the sound of that brass line." I say, with a smirk across my face.
Mike nodded and explained how beneficial this would be for my career. he explained how it would really help me in getting teaching jobs. How it would provide me with countless connections in networking, and how it would give me priceless performance experience, performing almost every day for an entire summer.
"I mean," he went on, "I think it's a wonderful activity. I Marched with Suncoast Sound for two summers, and it was an experience of a lifetime. There is really nothing like the bond that is created between Drum Corps members. Nothing. And I've played in a lot of different groups" (as he humbly says, currently playing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra).
He had convinced me before I even walked out of the lesson. I don’t think he knew that I had actually taken his advice, until I broke the news a few weeks later that I had sent in a video audition, and I would be going to South Carolina for a Camp. After that lesson at Symphony Hall, I felt so invigorated about the prospect of marching, that I ran all the way back to the BU music school, across Back Bay and through the Fens, with my mind grinding out how to make this happen.
I went straight to the BU library and researched the different Drum Corps, made a spreadsheet of all the camps, fees, audition requirements, and information. I had Crown in my mind, but I also looked up others as possibilities. I wanted to march in one of the best Corps if I was really going to invest the time in this, but I also considered that with my lack of experience, I had to be realistic. Heck, I had never even been to any drum corps camp or audition before. I was a complete noob to this activity.
Thanksgiving break came along, and I let the idea of marching meddle in my mind. I continued to practice for my senior recital, had to find a marching horn (which luckily the BU Athletics department had), and reminded myself of how to march again. I had not really marched since my Junior year of high school, 5 years prior (I just waved my hands around as drum major my senior year) and I knew I would need to get my land legs back again.
The only thing I had going for me athletically was my post-race marathon body from a race I had completed in August, and slightly rounder shoulders from the rock climbing wall at BU. I made use of the dance studios inside the music school to practice marching, since this time of year in Boston felt like Antarctica, and looked about as grim as Russia probably looked during the cold war.
In early December, when I felt like I was getting the hang of marching and playing on the Yamaha marching horn, I finally bit the bullet and paid $150 to download the Crown packet. Ouch. After that lofty purchase, there was really no going back. I felt completely invested in making the best possible video audition. I spent the next week practicing the packet very slowly, trying to achieve my best concert sound on this dinky, awkward, marching horn. I would practice late at night, since that was the only time I had free, and I would practice in the closet-sized tuba/euphonium studio, where nobody could see me playing this strange non-orchestral instrument. I knew I had to work smarter to play catch up to people that had been preparing for years. Time was ticking.
As it turned out, I was god awful at marching. My heels were so high off the ground, I looked like a flamingo. My attempt to get straight legs was so wrong that I might have well been auditioning for the Cavaliers. But nevertheless, when I noticed something I didn't like, I tried to fix it immediately. I knew that there was truly no time to waste doubting my abilities, or sulking in how much work I had to put in. I needed to record before December Camp, and every practice session was valuable.
When I felt like I was getting close to recording, I would make videos on my phone, to diagnose anything I could not hear or see. I did this process for about a week until I felt like I was maxed out and ready to record. I recorded the audition swiftly and smoothly one morning in the dance studio, watched it, felt happy about it, and sent my video in that day to Matt Harloff.
I got a response that same evening.
"Thank you so much for the video. We would like to invite you to the December Camp."
I ran around the city of Boston again after I got this email (I'm not really crazy, I just like to run), as my body was filled with an unexplainable excitement. The first hurdle was jumped. After a day of glorious celebration, it crossed my mind that I would definitely not be able to attend December Camp, which was that upcoming weekend. I crossed my fingers when I emailed the staff I would only be able to attend January Camp.
Luckily, the staff were understanding, and apparently did not give contracts until January anyways. I was hesitant to break the news to any friends at first, because I am the kind of person that likes to have all my cards in hand before breaking news. I also got some really discouraging comments about Drum Corps from colleagues and friends. "Drum corps is stupid. Everyone who does it sounds like garbage. Why would you waste that money?"
I tried my best to ignore their ignorant input, and just thought "Well, I'll see for myself."
Preparing the Live Audition
The work that Crown members have to put in between camps is no joke. I joined these facebook groups with all the prospective members, where people were constantly sharing videos of themselves marching and playing. Frankly, I had no clue that this was part of the process, but it actually turned out to be very helpful.
We had a list of video assignments due every week between camps. Lots of show music, exercises, and these things called OTM's. (It took me until January camp to realize that OTM stood for playing On The Move.. ha.) My actual audition would be the OTM for that week, which was part of the show music, played while doing some demanding choreography. I still had to practice the marching horn every day to keep up with these assignments and work up the OTM. I would work on the OTM by breaking it down into very simple steps.
I first worked on the music alone. I learned and memorize the notes off the horn, singing through many times, so that time spent on the horn was figuring out how to make it sound good. On the horn, I would start practicing at half speed tempo, and bumped the tempo up 5 clicks for every 3 times I played correctly.
Secondly, I practiced the choreography and marching separately. I also did this slowly, so I could have body awareness during every movement. I recorded videos as often as possible to get quick feedback that I could apply, and would always check that every move looked precise and smooth.
Then, I would put the music and choreography together using air & fingers. *This was very helpful for me. Isolating air, valves, and movement was always the hardest and most telling step.* This would be the first time the mind has to multitask, and I found it was the the most difficult. Lots of patience.
Lastly, once I successfully rehearsed the OTM with air & fingers at full tempo, then I played it and marched, but would bring the tempo back down to give my brain time to process this new step. Then bumped up the tempo back up 5 clicks when I was sure the music and movement were clean and comfortable. I tried to be really honest with myself and not rush this process.
This process could easily take a couple of hours, but I do remember a few times I could start learning an OTM from scratch at 10pm, and could walk out at 11pm having learned how to do it completely because I diligently broke down the steps into achievable parts. This process also provided comfort, in knowing that I had played through the exercise in so many different ways, and through all different tempos with success.
After a few weeks, I really felt confident in my preparation. My main concerns going into January camp were whether or not I was going to like the experience, and how my arms would feel holding up the horn for 2 days straight with my noodle-like arms.
The last thing I wanted was to be cut from a lack of physical strength. So, I hit the gym daily. I used lots of weights, and also had horn-holding parties with the other female baritone auditioning, Maria. We would push each other to just simply hold up the horn for 10 minutes, which was always surprisingly difficult, and we had the chance to get to know each other.
I am grateful for her because I asked about a billion questions about how drum corps works, what to expect, what the camp was like, about all the staff.. literally anything I could think of. And I was grateful to at least know one person when I ventured down South.
A couple weeks before January Camp, I started doing mock auditions for people, just like I was taught to do for any audition. I would first ask friends, people I was comfortable with, to listen and provide feedback. Then I would ask colleagues and get more honest feedback. Then I played for a couple professors, who had never seen a marching audition before, so I had the honor of enlightening them with the wonderful sound of a marching baritone.
I wanted to scaffold this mock audition process so that I set myself up for success, just like I had done with practicing. Every time I performed well, I felt more confident. When I did not play well, I isolated exactly what happened, and worked on the measure or body movement that needed more attention. Sometimes, I would not perform well because my internal negative dialogue would narrate my performance while it was happening. In those instances, I told it to go away, kindly, and I just told myself I need to be more compelled with the message I was giving, and less with how I was doing.
All the Stuff you Don't Think About
Okay, Crown vets know this, but any outside person cannot possibly understand how strict Crown is about having the right stuff at the right time. It's a big part of their philosophy. The packet lists all the things you need to bring, and I practically went around the whole city of Boston to find everything.
Did you know you NEED to bring a red-one-gallon-Coleman-water-jug to Camp, or you will get a "you're going to get cut" face?
Or you need to have the right size black towel to put your horn and materials on?
Oh, and you need to have your breathing tube, pencil, and tuner ordered on your towel a certain way when you set up in brass arc?
(It may sound like I'm being cynical, but I completely understand now why Crown does all of this.)
So I learned quickly, a big part of the audition is just having all your ducks in line.
Audition Weekend - January Camp
I rushed out of Boston after a lovely (really pretty stressful) day of student teaching, and landed in South Carolina around 8pm. I had never laid foot in these strange lands before, but the South had a familiar, warm, comforting feeling. Probably because I wasn't stuck in the Boston snowpocalypse.
I arrived at the camp late that evening, around 9pm, and felt a giddiness I had not felt since band in high school. I just felt a little ridiculous. I had gone all the way down to South Carolina to audition for.. marching band, and I had not been to band camp in years. I also felt a wave of concern when I walked into the school, the first thing I noticed was how young most people looked. I remember thinking, "Was this band camp?"
To be fair, there were a decent amount of high schoolers there that looked like they had been going to camps since November, and then there were vets who had gone to many, many camps during their career, and then there was me. It felt like I was completely out of the loop. A senior in college, finishing up student teaching, and getting ready to graduate, at my very first Drum Corps Camp. I just hope I didn't look as clueless as I felt.
Most memorably, the first night of sleep was incredibly horrible. I had brought a sleeping bag, but I had not even thought about bringing a sleeping pad. The girls had to sleep on the concrete stage of the auditorium, while the boys had the luxury of sleeping on the carpeted ground around the auditorium seats.
I barely got any sleep that first night. I swear the ground felt harder than a rock. But that night, I spent the hours visualizing myself doing the audition. I visualized myself walking out on the stage, presenting myself confidently, and playing exactly how I had prepared. I envisioned showing them my best character and work ethic no matter what happened. I had one shot to make a good impression, and I was full-throttle motivated to make it count.
The whole day really blends together, since we spent about 8 hours standing in Brass arcs playing, or doing sectionals with one of the baritone techs, Dylan Toombs. I do remember that the audition happened sometime in the afternoon, and it took me off guard. Harloff called all the baritones at once to come in to the auditorium, and we stood grouped by our three teams.
I was on Cream team (which was apparently where you want to be), grouped with many of the vets. The listening committee was the majority of the brass staff, especially the big names - Harloff, Klesh, Dylan and Taylor, as I remember. They had us play our OTM auditions down the line, one after another, watching and listening to each other.
I went close to last in my group, and while people ahead of me auditioned, I tried to keep a clear head and focused on blocking out any doubts about how their performance would affect mine. I kept constantly reminding myself of how prepared I was and how much work I had put in.
Harloff called my name, so I walked up, centered my body and my mind, and played my OTM.
For all the hype of this audition, it probably only lasted a mere 10 seconds. I walked to the center of the stage, got in position, clocked the tempo inside my head, breathed in time, and let my body go on autopilot. The last note released, and I felt a soft sight of relief. I was pleased with my performance. I had played how I had prepared, and that's all I could've asked for.
After I played, the staff nodded and bombarded me with a bunch of questions.
"Why did you decide to audition here? Why did you wait until your age-out? What's your major at BU? Did you fly out from Boston?
Most notably, Michael Klesh asked out of the blue "Do you play mellophone? and I firmly said "No" out of slight fear that they were implying I should be a mellophone player. which in retrospect, probably wasn't the best thing to say.
I answered all these questions honestly, and as it turned out, I did have to try playing mellophone just to test an idea for all-female brass ensemble. I think I was bad enough that Klesh quickly retracted that idea.
If I am being completely honest, I did have mixed feelings about the whole camp experience. I was not used to functioning as a herd of students, being surrounded by younger people, or just experiencing the intense culture of Drum Corps. I had never witnessed an activity in which everyone is totally one unit, in which everyone needs to sound exactly the same, has to act as one mind, and has to put the organization above everything else. It was so humbling.
Michael Klesh even told me later at the end of the season "You know, I really didn't think you would come back to march after that first camp. You looked like we scared the daylights out of you." And he was right to an extent; I was unsure about the environment. But I also knew those worries seemed irrelevant to how educational this experience would be.
I learned a lot about pedagogy in that one camp. We went over the details of exactly what happens with articulation, practiced new ways to work on breathing, learned how to practice more efficiently, and we worked with some of the most inspiring, passionate, energetic educators. I also had one moment on Sunday that flipped a switch.
The hornline was reading through our opener, Bruckner 8, for the first time with battery. Our drum major, Lane, gave us 8 beats of prep, and the entire hornline and drum line dropped a bomb of incredible, powerful sound. We completely annihilated that auditorium with sounds of Bruckner. It was unlike anything I had ever heard of, and it was glorious. I certainly felt the blood pumping through my veins. I wanted to be a part of this hornline to experience this feeling for an entire summer, and really wanted to work with these incredible educators.
The audition results came out Sunday afternoon while a brass block was going on. Dylan pulled the whole section out and split us up into three different groups. One group was cut, one was a callback, and one was contracted.
I got put in a group with lots of the veteran players. Immediately when I was put in that group, I knew what was up. Harloff called our group in to the room, with him and Dylan sitting there looking like we were going to be interrogated. Blank expressions. However, Matt Harloff broke the news to us:
"You made it. You have been offered a contract."
And that was it. Those were the magic words, and I was so incredibly happy. Somehow I had shown them that I could work smart, work hard, play well, and had the potential to march. I had worked up the audition in 8 short weeks since that lesson in Boston, and the rest is now history.
I signed my contract a week later, paid some fees, and broke the news to my friends. I was officially a member of Carolina Crown. Despite some mixed responses from peers, I was thrilled to be a part of Crown and march in the 2018 production of Beast.
Writing this post has brought back the rollercoaster of feelings I went through during through this process. A year later, I am in disbelief that I was able to get my audition together and fly down to that January camp.
I am so thankful that my teacher, Mike Roylance, encouraged me to audition and believing in me. Without that push, there is no way I would have gotten the ball rolling.
I am forever grateful to the Crown staff for taking a chance, believing in me, and letting me march in 2018. That summer marching exposed me to some of the most incredible educators, which in hand, really sparked my passion for teaching, That summer changed my direction in life. It opened many doors that have stayed with me to this day, and made me a much better performer and musician.
I ended up marching in a lead baritone spot, and I was fortune to march in a show that featured all the female brass members. The brass staff were absolutely phenomenal educators, and the members were all hard working, friendly and great musicians. My chops are more efficient and flexible than they have ever been. I have developed confidence in the process, and the ability to achieve anything once you put your mind to it. And of course, I have a plethora of memories and moments I'll never forget.
Thank you, Carolina Crown.
To anyone reading: I hope you take your shot if you are even remotely interested in marching. I hope you at least consider showing up to a camp and seeing what it's all about. There are so many reasons not to march that will come up every single year. There are probably more reasons to not march than there are to march, until you try it. As someone who made this mistake: don't let those excuses prevent you from having an experience of a lifetime.
There are only so many summers you can march, and after just one summer, I wish I had many more.
Go, shoot your shot.