The motto for most scouting organizations worldwide is some variant of “Be Prepared.” Boy scouts were never my thing, but that’s not a bad lesson to keep in mind.
I was offered my current position at South Texas College less than a month before I needed to be on campus for my first day. In that time, I had innumerable tasks to wrap up loose ends in Ohio and start a life in Texas. It was (and honestly, continues to be) frantic. Between preparing for new lectures in my music appreciation classes, creating parts for the odd instrumentation in my brass choir, and generally trying to set up a new life, my available practice time has been minimal at best.
The fact is, we all go through periods where practice time is tight. Most musicians have day jobs; I’m lucky that my day job is now in music, but performance still isn’t my primary occupation, and sometimes practice has to take a back seat to what brings in the paycheck. Only a few short weeks ago, when my day job was in computer programming, there were weeks that I had deadlines to meet, and the horn simply had to stay in its case.
My new home city has a professional orchestra, and while doing my basic research, I found that they were holding sub list auditions. Despite my abbreviated practice schedule, I still had to find a way to represent myself passably. There was no way I was going to be truly polished on the list; that takes months of full-time dedication. But, with just one 45-minute practice session per day — with some exceptions, I was able to keep my fundamentals working. I was certainly lacking some finesse and endurance, but I could keep my lip slurs controlled.
Because I wasn’t going to be able to carefully sculpt phrasing, I needed to at least be able to rely on my chops being able to respond to any direction I gave them. I practiced mostly long tones and articulation drills. With long tones, I worked on dynamic stability and tone color. In the articulation drills, I worked on facility and response. When I got into the audition room, I did not really know what I was going to do with each excerpt; I did not have a well-crafted product ready. But, I was able to perform with the confidence that when I put air through the horn, I would get what I expected out of the bell.
I don’t think the scouts expect everyone to be specifically prepared for every individual scenario; but rather prepared in a more general sense. I chose to keep my basic trombone playing functional at the expense of extensively reviewing the requested excerpt list. That way, I was prepared to walk into the audition room and play whatever I needed to. That’s significantly better than learning a particular set of notes but not feeling sure about my ability to play them accurately.