Monday, October 17, 2011

The Audition Process

My oldest son is in choir in high school. Well, he's in the ArtQuest program in drama, but he takes choir along with that. He's learning a lot about auditioning by being involved in this program. To begin with, he had to audition just to get into the ArtQuest program. Even if he'd been in the district of the school, he still would have had to audition to get into ArtQuest. That particular audition wasn't a huge deal. Here's the thing: he's a boy (obviously), and they always need more guys in the drama program (the choir program, too), so he was (almost) a shoe in (something like 85% of the boys that auditioned got accepted (I don't know the exact number and am guessing based on the number of boys my son auditioned with vs the number of those same boys that ended up in his drama group)).

Being in the ArtQuest drama program means that my son has to audition for at least two community productions each school year. That's an interesting requirement. Not be in any outside performances, just audition for them. Obviously, they think knowing how to audition is important. I don't think they actually expect that any of the students will actually get cast. Or maybe they do. One of the two productions my son auditioned for last year was The Pirates of Penzance. We were surprised to find out that he was chosen, because, honestly, we just didn't expect it. Other than the (deleted) shows he was in in middle school, he hadn't done anything. Basically, no experience. But he has a lot of charisma. And he got cast.
But I digress... This is about choir, not drama.

My son didn't want to be in choir. However, my wife took high school choir and is gifted musically, and I was involved in church choir, although I wouldn't say I'm gifted musically. In fact, when people find out I can sing at all, they are often very surprised. heh (Remember that stuff about singing on the phone...) At any rate, my wife kept suggesting that he take choir, that it was one of her best memories from high school, and he kept protesting. And I would remind him that both Ewan McGregor and Hugh Jackman can sing and dance, but he maintained a "so what" attitude about it. Until a girl at school started telling him about how great choir is, so he dropped Spanish I and took choir. Like I said, he's a boy.

He figured out pretty quickly that he loves choir. And I don't even think it's mostly due to the high girl to boy ratio. Beginning choir is the, for no apparent reason, ACappella group. I say no apparent reason, because they do not perform a cappella. It's a mystery to me. That was last year, though, so I'm trying to pretend it doesn't exist, now.

This year... well, this year is different. But let me backtrack a moment. His debut concert for the year was last week, and that's what has me going on about all of this. This year is concert choir. They call it their advanced group, but they only have the two options for the boys: beginning and advanced. The intermediate group is girls only. But that's not precisely true. There's another group called Chamber Singers. This is the actual advanced group. The other classes are like any other high school class, you sign up for it. So, no matter how badly you may suck, if you've taken beginning choir, you can sign up for the next level, but that's not true with Chamber Singers. Chamber Singers has to be auditioned for. And it's pretty accepted that it's for juniors and seniors. You have to be serious about the whole choir thing to be in Chamber Singers. You have to be in concert choir and, then, audition for the privilege to get to come to school for 0 period and have an extra class of choir every day of the school week.

What's 0 period, you ask? That's the class that starts at the butt crack of dawn (translated as 7:00am) that they have to be there by 6:45am which causes the students to have to get up at around 5:30AM in order to be there on time. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

School started off this year with my son in concert choir as he should be, and all was well with the world. They announced auditions for Chamber Singers. Just to make this clear, my son is a sophomore this year, and Chamber Singers is almost exclusively juniors and seniors. Not that auditions are restricted to juniors and seniors, because you only need to be in concert choir to audition, but that's how it works out. These are the guys and gals that are serious about their singing (and I just have to say some of these kids are amazing). My son decided to audition. Many of his friends told him he shouldn't bother. He's a sophomore. He'd never make it. (Some of you are seeing where this is going.) He talked it over with us. Basically, our advice to him was that he should not not audition. Sure, he probably wouldn't make it, but it would be a good experience, and it wouldn't cost him anything (not even his dignity). It's one of those things where if you don't do it (ask a girl out), then you don't get to do it (go on a date with the girl), but, if you do it, although you may still not get to do it (because she might (and, in some cases, will probably) say no), it might work (she might surprise you with a yes). So what did he have to lose? If he didn't audition, he would certainly not get to be in Chamber Singers, but, by auditioning, there was the chance, however small it might be.

And he made it in. Not necessarily because he's a great singer (he's still working on that), but they (always) need boys, and he was good enough. I mean, it's not like they took every boy that auditioned, so he made the grade even if he's not as amazing as some of the other boys that have been in Chamber for multiple years.
(Yes, this means I have to get up at 5:30AfreakingM every morning to make his lunch and make sure he gets off to school okay. But it's worth it (I think).)

Which finally brings me to my point. As I was sitting and listening to the choir teacher explain what they have to go through to be in Chamber Singers and how daunting it must have been to audition, and I know he was daunted, because he came home talking about how great some of the other boys' auditions were and how he would surely not make it, because, in comparison, he sucked, I realized that this is what's it should be like to write. The audition process that is. If you want to write, you have to approach it all the same way my son did with his audition to get into Chamber Singers.

You look at it and realize, "Wow, there are a lot of talented writers there trying to get into that group. I certainly don't measure up against them."  Still, "What have I got to lose, though?" Not trying is the same as failing, after all. So you write your book, and, even as you are looking around at the other books out there (like Rowling, Mary Doria Russel, Stephen Lawhead) and feeling completely daunted, you go forward anyway. Because, sometimes, sometimes you make it. Sure, you're not the best, but you're good enough. And, in the end, that's what really matters. Being good enough. (Unless you're my daughter, in which case you do have to be the best, because she has to win at everything (and don't even think about playing board games with her, because she has uncanny luck with  them).) Then, once you're in, you continue to get better until that time someone new comes along and is looking at you the way you used to look at all the other writers there before you.

Unfortunately, the writing world isn't really like auditioning for my son's choir group. You know, a place where things are based on merit and skill. No, the writing world is more like a cattle call. Hundreds of people show up and some bored guy comes out and "randomly" (>snicker<) selects a hand full of people to join him. Sure, they keep going through that process until they have some people they can use, but most people are turned away without a chance because they failed to be wearing a white shirt with red spots on the particular day. Or didn't have a tall enough hat on. Or failed to wear a blinking, neon sign over their head saying "pick me." Or did wear the sign, but everyone else showed up with one, too.

Still... you can't let the reality of the situation keep you from trying. Reduced down, it's still like my son going out to audition for Chamber Singers. You're always going to go into these things without enough experience, skill, and clout, but you have to do it anyway. Even though you may never be the best, you don't have to be the best to be good enough. In  the end, I think "good enough" is all that's really important as long is "good enough" is your best. Because that's what my son did, his best. It wasn't the best, but it was good enough. And "good enough" is a good place to start.

And, because it feels appropriate to repeat:
Jim Butcher (of The Dresden Files) says that being published is like being chased by a grizzly bear. You don't have to be faster than the bear, you just have to be faster than the guy next to you.
I'll leave that to you to puzzle out.
heh heh


  1. I don't know if you know who Lou Anders is, but he's the editor and chief of Pyr books. If you listen to many podcasts you'll find him popping up all over the place. He has a tendency to guest on lots and lots of them that I listen to.

    Anyway, he does make a good point when it comes to making acquisitions. He says that the problem isn't that he gets inundated with crap, it's that almost everything is good - and he can't take it all. He's got to fins something that he falls in love with, and sometimes it's pretty arbitrary. He just likes something more than something else.

    That really doesn't have much to do with anything, except that I've heard that it's really not the job of the author to determine the worth of their story, we just gotta do what we're going to do and let others determine it's worth.

    I'm sure your proud of your son, good job.

  2. Haha, love the Jim Butcher statement! And your comparison is dead on. I used to let it make me not write, because I'd get discouraged and feel like there's no way I was as good as these others. But now I say oh well. I'm going to write anyway. I'm going to go for it.

    And congrats to your son!

  3. Love your advice. I needed to read that. I have to admit that it's a constant struggle for me to be at peace with idea of just being good enough - even if it is my best. The fact that it is "my best" makes it even more frustrating. I think I need to work (a LOT) on being zen about my work. *assumes lotus position* Ohm...ohm...ohm...

  4. '"Good enough" is all that's really important, as long as "good enough" is YOUR best.'
    This is what I need to remember.

    Congratulations to your son, and enjoy the sunrise every morning :-)

  5. I'm with your daughter. "good enough" isn't really "good enough" for me. But then, I also don't generally subscribe to others' standards for my quality and I don't need validation from big publishers. I'd much rather impress regular readers than editors.

    I was obsessively invested in choirs and such in High School as well. Freshman year was "Chorus", Sophomore and on was "Chorale" and then there was the group you could audition for, Jazz Choir. Unfortunately, I didn't get the courage to audition for Jazz Choir or the school musicals until Junior year. Wish I'd been more confident!

    Another great thing we had was NYSSMA (New York Stage School Music Association) which would let you sing solos, duets and as choirs in front of judges who gave you scores. If you did really well as a soloist you would get to go to things like All County, Area All State and All State Chorus. I did that without fail every year and went to All County every year... until in my Senior year I finally got good enough to go to Area All State, which was amazing. Sometimes you just keep trying until you make it.

  6. I change the opinion of my ability based on the latest review. So some days I'm ten feet tall, and others... oh hang on, this is something else that's going to get lost in translation! Btw, a plug is the thing on the end of an electrical appliance that you 'plug in' to the wall socket. What do you call it?

  7. Congrats to your son! This is another great post filled with wise and honest advise. You have become my go to spot for inspiration, advise and motivation! Thanks

  8. Wow. That's some dedication. My daughter is a drama-rat too, and it does take a lot of extra work of driving, and fundraising and such, bot not nearly as much as your situation.

  9. It sounds like you have a talented son.

    The writing comparison/segue is interesting. It reminds me of something I heard Neil Gaiman said and to paraphrase, it went something like "A writer needs to write for himself. There will always be someone better. But no one can tell a story like you can because it is your story. Take ownership of it and individualize it that way."

  10. Congratulations to your son! Thanks for the wonderful advice, as usual. :D

  11. Nice post- I thought this was interesting on the number of hours you need to put in to be an expert at anything. Congrats to your son.

    “In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.”
    ― Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success

  12. Rusty: No, I don't know whom he is. Although I sort of intend to listen to podcasts, I never get around to doing it.
    I understand the arbitrariness of it; I really do. I can see that side of it. You have to make a decision somehow, and, often, there are just too many options. It comes down to what catches your eye.

    It doesn't change the fact that something that should be merit based becomes handled like a lottery.

    At least, there are otehr options these days.

    Shannon: Yep, you can't let how not good you think you are disuade you, because, really, people are generally very poor at judginf themselves.

    Sam: It's a difficult conflict to gain control of... seeing yourself (somewhat) objectively and moving on from there. Learning not to compare yourself to others. You, specifically, have to realize that while you're comparing yourself to others, a lot of people out there are comparing themselves to you :)

    Sarah P: I wish I could enjoy the sunrise, but I'm too busy making lunches.

    Sarah McC: I don't disagree with you about "good enough." After all, my daughter did get her competitiveness somewhere. However, doing your best at any given moment is all we can realistically expect to do. Which shouldn't stop us from striving to become better. Which is why you do what you said and keep trying until you make it.

    Amanda: I think it's really important to find a stable place to view our ability from. The views of other people are too chaotic.

    Jennifer: Well, you're welcome! I'm not sure what else to say except that now I'm feeling all sorts of pressure.

    Michael: Yeah, I saw that quote by Gaiman sometime after I finished writing this, but it's something I've been saying for a while. Somehow, it carries more weight when Gaiman says it, though.

    J: You're quite welcome :)

    Nancy: I wonder at what point we all become experts at sleep?
    But I don't feel like doing the math, right now, to figure that out.

  13. I may need to steal that Jim Butcher quote from you some time. That's a great one.

    Also, congrats to your son. I remember being in choir in school. That was just awkward, because I was one of the few that could sing... that list DIDN'T include the teacher. Yeah, imagine that, the music teacher couldn't sing to save her life. The blind leading the blind...

  14. Beer: Hey, steal away! I mean, it's not like it's my quote.

    As for teachers that don't know their subject, I had a math teacher like that, once. She was actually asked to leave the school at the end of the year of her own accord so that they wouldn't have to fire her. Needless to say, she left.