Auditions and Expectations

The English countryside has given me some time to really think about the grad school process so far.

After a lot of tedious work on my personal statements and resume, as well as a bit of a frustrating process of dealing with my pre-screen material, grad school apps are done and I have my auditions planned out for February. My solo rep is coming together, my excerpts are tediously being learned, and I am EXCITED about moving away from Wheaton. Seems like it’s all falling into place like it should be, right?





I recently had a lesson with Svet Stoyanov down in Miami in hopes to make a strong connection before the audition came around. Not only was the lesson absolutely wonderful, he went an hour over the time he had set up for us and carved pretty deep into my playing to really help develop the best possible musician I could be. I think I grew in my understanding of the marimba more in this one lesson than I have in an entire semester. This (and the weather, O.M.G.) makes me want to go so, so, so, so bad because I know how much I will absolutely grow in my playing there.

But grad schools are looking for people with more than potential and proficiency: they are looking for the best. The reality after that lesson was that the possibility of my acceptance is slim to none.

Slim unless I can change some of my fundamental approaches and sounds on my instrument.

The reality is I have all the technique, all the fine-tuned muscles, all the abilities to read music, and the experience to be the best and make it into these schools. But the reality is also that I have all of these skills and still don’t sounds good.

And that’s a hard pill to swallow.

It’s a pill that really makes me want to stop, withdraw my applications, and find something else to do with my life. If I’ve spent four years of my life trying to sound good and still can’t, why do I deserve the next step? If I can’t hurdle this wall that has been holding me back for so long, I will not be able to keep moving forward.

I could stay in that mindset, but I have at the potential to CHANGE this reality. While Svet really nailed me for some pretty big problems (which I needed him too, and am really glad he did), he also encouraged me in that I have a good enough ear to listen for these changes that I need to make. In fact, I picked up on them fast. I don’t know if it will be fast enough to make a favorable impression in February, but at least it is a start.

Sylvia told me recently that she doesn’t think I’ve ever actually failed. Yes, I’ve had some not hot auditions, I’ve had some clunky performances, I haven’t won every competition I’ve ever entered; but I have never been turned completely away by something. And maybe this part of the process is where I learn to fail. Honestly, I’ve set myself up pretty well to not fail, which I don’t think is necessarily a good thing — and that’s why I believe this: If you aren’t failing, you are either perfect, or you are not pushing yourself enough. I cannot grow unless I fail.

I just have to be ready to stand through it and try harder next time through. The grad school process might take longer than just this year: I may have to reapply, I may have to travel and take lessons multiple times a year, I may have to find a way to make money, I may have to live from home, I may have to just accept that I’m not ready even when I WANT to be.

And these things are ok — There’s no shame in failing and trying again, no shame in living at home for a bit, no shame in not being ready — It’s a part of the process isn’t it?

So next step — audition.

Then, accept that the outcome will be what it needs to be and that I don’t have to ready just yet. Here’s to a new year of new opportunities wherever I end up.


The Process


     I am pretty sure that the only stories I read about competitions are from the winners. Those who are ‘so blessed,’ ‘overjoyed,’ ‘in shock,’ ’thankful for all the support to be here,’ ‘etc. etc. etc. etc.’ Those are great — and important to understanding what it is like to be on top of things and handling that — but no one gets to that point without losing first.

So here is a blog post about losing

It is not fun

It is not glamorous

I don’t like it

And it’s been the most helpful thing in my musical career.

     I competed recently in our school’s concerto competition and poured in more work to this piece than probably any other piece I’ve ever worked on — and lost. While I received runner up, it still felt pretty bad to have financially and emotionally invested in the music and spent time on it over my audition music for grad school to not be able to take it anywhere. I would be kidding myself if I said I didn’t care about representing the percussion studio and what I stand for musically as well as proving to myself and to others that I had ‘what it takes’ by winning.

But those are the wrong motives and they will not get me — or any other musician — anywhere.

     No, I didn’t win the competition: and that’s ok because the process leading up to it was far more important to me. The process is where I grew musically; the process is where I learned to be patient; the process is where I learned to play passages I knew over and over again until they sounded exactly how I wanted them to be. I tend to learn notes and memorize them fast — but not hit them right. I tend to hear musical ideas in my head —and not have them translate onto my keyboard. And here with this piece, I found the opposite happening. Sixteenth note runs were becoming more accurate, choral passages were starting to sing, and the piece was a taking shape.

     All because of the process — one that I was hesitant to step into, but one that I am now in. Dr. Kastner, Noel, and Sylvia have been pushing me harder than ever to lay aside my ego and do that hard work — and without having my butt kicked I could not have even begun to put myself into this mind set.

     So I didn’t win the competition, but the process and the result showed me how far I’ve come as well as how much farther I need to go. With auditions and a recital as well as trying to learn jazz vibes and some fairly hard repertoire for percussion ensemble, I can easily feel overwhelmed with everything I have to do. But I have time and the patience now to let the process do its work. I find joy in the four to six hours I can drill away at the details now and am looking forward to applying it to everything I have this year. And I would not have such a readiness to work his hard if it were not for the process leading up to that competition.

     As for competitions, I felt a I played as best as I could in this scenario. Am I fully satisfied with my performance? Not at all — but it’s the most satisfied I’ve ever been.

     But there are competitions where we don’t feel that way —  What do we do about those? We can be sad — that’s allowed — but we also can use those opportunities where we simply bomb our pieces to better ourselves.

What made us nervous?

What made us miss notes?

What didn’t sound good?

     It’s never fun to mess up in any setting, but we tend to grow far more as musicians from losing than we do from winning. So why do we shun losing so much in our musical culture? No matter how we feel as musicians who bomb a performance or lose a competition, we have to understand that it HAPPENS and that is a part of THE PROCESS to becoming the best musicians we can be. We tend to single ourselves out as if we are the only ones who suck but I am 100% certain that any professional musician out there has countless horror stories of bombed performances.

So embrace the suck – embrace the process. It makes us who we are.

Congratulations to Ryan Dailey who killed it at the comp as well: the process paid off for you. Love you bro — Here’s to a year of learning and becoming the best musicians we can be. 

‘Making it’ as a musician is not all about winning, it’s about the failures as well. I am sure the rest of this year will be filled with an abundance of the both.

Change: Part I

hey friends, Nathan here

Change — generally, it’s something I’ve welcomed — getting out of high school or starting a job; incorporating new habits, new friends, and new classes; passing through big place markers such as a junior recital, turning twenty one, being a leader, or getting a raise at work. I had wrapped change up in this blanket of goodness and happiness. For musicians, and for myself, that was dangerous.

Fun fact: while all change is given to strengthen us, change can hurt as much as it comforts. And apparently I’m really good at ignoring that aspect. When my grandmother, who lived with our family for ten years suddenly died, that change hurt. So I blocked it out — this change is not what I’m used to, I don’t want to process this, I want to hide it.

And this is why junior year felt so hard. It was like I was tied to a wall, being held back — because of a constant and ever growing amount of change that was given to me to carry.

I started the year a bitter person instead of my usual cheerful self, hurt from the relationships of the previous year. My niche of friends who I had given two years of my life to had crumbled, leaving me lonely. The gym that changed my life closed, showing me how hard it is to motivate and keep myself healthy without any coaching or accountability. The conservatory moved buildings, and while the new building is amazing and beyond anything we could’ve asked for, I left behind 20 some years of memories from the previous. Work went from becoming a place of escape to a place of labour and frustration, with a difficult turn of coworkers. School took the absolute forefront of my life, loading me with more assignments than ever, making it particularly difficult to be the person I wanted to be for my friends. Financially, my bank account really started to suffer, as I had far less time to work, far less motivation, and was burying a lot of my emotions in late night burritos…

Hard change.

Hard enough to make me forget or miss all the positives that accompany each negative. Suddenly, change ONLY hurt — and I forgot to look at the positive. The pain of a constant year of change felt like a burden, and I failed to see it as a preparation for my future.

Scary story time: I’m applying to SIX (omg help me) GRAD SCHOOLS, and possibly a seventh in England (prayers accepted, please and thank you). One is in Chicago, the rest are out in Rochester, Michigan, Indiana, Boston, and Connecticut. Growing up in the Wheaten area my whole life has given me room to grow, but maybe not enough room to be prepared for a complete move away from my entire life thus far. Unless I go to DePaul, I will be leaving behind twenty two years of memories and people.

That’s a lot of years

That’s a lot of memories

That’s a lot of change

Will I be able to find a place to live? Will I find work? Will I be able to maintain my relationships from college? Will I find new friendships? Will I be able to stand firm in my faith in the face of those who oppose it? Will I be lonely? What will I eat? How will I eat? How will I afford to eat? Will I finally cave into PBRs? Will I be able to hold my own against other graduate students? Will I teach? How am I going to use music to better someone else?


So as I move forward through my last year in college, I need to be preparing for imminent change by trusting in God, not by worrying about the fears and anxieties that will come with it. I tend to trust people more than I trust God, and that reallllly won’t get me anywhere. Change for music majors needs to be a part of life we are used to. You make an auditioned spot in professional ensemble causing you to move suddenly for better work, students come and go, times change and so do musical interests, ensemble dynamics vary, whoever or not you with work in music could even change. Maybe you have tenure and or a full-time job and you can ride that boat for a while, but what about the vast majority of musicians who compile multiple part time jobs together? Change is always knocking.

After such a season of change, God’s necessity for it in my life has become blazingly clear. God doesn’t give us change to mess with us, He gives it to us because we need it. I’m better at saving money now, work feels sweeter than ever before, and I’m learning to actual settle in people, in a building, and in God.

So I guess I don’t really have a final point to make here. That’s why this post is called Change Part I. As I move forward this upcoming year, things will change everyday; sometimes small, sometimes significant, sometimes hard, sometimes happy. Writing this is my prelude of what will come. 

Let’s see where this goes.

It’s me: the other guy writing this blog

Hey everyone, Joel here.

So now that that music camp is done, I’ve spent a lovely week with my girlfriend in Maine, and I’m back home in Michigan with time to think about the future, it’s starting to sink in: much like my friend Nathan, I have no idea where I’m going….and that’s okay.

College so far has been a journey of discovery, whether that means discovering what kinds of music I like more than I thought I would, or discovering that some friendships are shorter lived than others, or discovering that anthropology is really cool too. It’s easy to look at everything I’ve learned over the last three years and think, “Hey, looks like I’ve got it all figured out. Now I can be a real adult!” (or some such nonsense), but there are a few more questions that need answering; more than I can fit into one more year of undergrad. As a musician, and a performer, what’s my niche? As a composer, why the heck do I keep trying to compose? As a Christian, how am I supposed to fit in the world of the arts? As a Torah keeper, how am I supposed to fit in the Church? Where do these questions intersect, and when do they matter most? On the more practical side of things. should I go to grad school, or try to get a job and pay off these loans I’ve been accumulating? With any luck (or more accurately, a lot of prayer, faith, tears, sweat, and lifting with Nathan hopefully), I’ll find an answer to maybe one of those questions.

If you’re reading this…..thanks, I guess. I can’t say what this is going to be like, never having written a blog and such. Nathan’s a more experienced writer than I am. Anyway, get ready for rants on trumpet technique and ethics and contemporary concert music and Levitical festivals and how my life is going, the good and the bad!

Short start, but there it is.



Soli Deo Gloria

A Quick Intro to Some Scary Music Things and Why We are Writing When We aren’t English Majors.

Hey friends, Nathan here 🙂

Writing a blog is something I’ve always been intimated by — but it’s also something that has always scratched my interest. I’m no trained writer, but I do have my own loud, slang-filled voice to write through.

So here it is, a blog. Wow.

Why start one in the middle of the summer?


Over the entire past week, I’ve spent my time as a counselor with 32 high schoolers at the Wheaton College music camp. I’ve been running on five and half hours of sleep, two or three coffees a day, and sometime pure adrenaline… Needless to say, it has been a total blast. These kids are hilarious, talented, headstrong, and so ready to soak up everything they can with their time here. But as the other counselors and I have spent time with these teens, I’ve found that it isn’t the classes, auditions, college, or performances that scare them the most about their future; it’s what happens AFTER college graduation (seven years down the road for some), that scares them most.

Going to college for music — What can you even do with that? What is that even good for? Are you going to have to find a day job? Will I make money? These are all common questions that every prospective and current music major get asked. And, honestly, they are fair questions.

And this is where I lay my knowledge of how I know exactly what I’m going to do with my life because God has a clear plan for me and blah blah this and I’m so successful and so put together.


No way.

I have no answer to any of those questions. I’m going into my senior year as a percussion performance student with 14 credit hours and a senior recital. I have a part time job off campus, I teach lessons on the side, I love to rock climb and play music. I will apply to graduate schools.

After those applications are done?

who. knows.

Choosing the life of a music major means you are choosing a life of a lot of questions and very few answers. Music is not a degree, such as engineering, where you know you have a 90% chance of landing a solid part to full time job straight out of your undergrad. Most music majors I’ve met have no solid plan of action for post graduate work when they walk the podium.

That’s frightening. No plans.

My ‘plans,’ which are small, tiny, insignificant, sinful, fallible human plans, could change in a single day by the will of God. I just told you my plans for up until December — I can almost 100% guarantee that they will some how change over the course of the rest of the summer and first semester.

And when Joel, one of my roommates, and I were talking about the vague futures of both being performance majors, we decided to start this blog. It’s not meant to be a highlight of all of our successes, but a raw, honest story of our lives as musicians and all the ups and downs that come with trying to ‘make it’ in the real world.

From those I’ve asked who are currently employed as musicians and are living comfortably, there seems to be a fairly consistent 2-3 year ‘period of tribulation’ for each person. Jobs come and go, apartments and roommates change, money is tight, cheap beer starts to taste really good, and you are OVERWHELMED. Then suddenly, BOOM, that one job, audition, or opportunity which you’ve been praying about suddenly falls into place, often out of the blue. Suddenly, you have your own apartment, you’re self sustaining, cheap beer still tastes good (you just have more of it), but you’re comfortable, your name is out there, you’re ‘making it’.

But how does everyone get there? And what happens if you don’t?

For Joel and I, we don’t know. We don’t know where we’ll even be in 3 weeks. So as we pursue what we love, we are giving you a part of our struggles, victories, hardships, laughs, and life to share in, and hopefully, learn something from.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever, Amen.