Auditions, NFL "Culture" and Band Culture

Posted by DannyFratina, 11.11.2013 There have been 0 comments

The story involving the Dolphins, the NFL, and locker room bullying has been written about extensively. Some good stuff was put out by Ta-Nehisi Coates, who is always worth reading before anyone else.

I did a clinic for a high school jazz band a week ago. The kids were great and seemed like they really wanted to be there, especially after getting more comfortable with the "pros" in the room. At the end, our big band did a short demonstration that was basically a live action Arranging 101. The kids had a lot of questions for us afterward, and one of them that stuck with me was "How do you get to play in the band." I explained that you basically just ask. Outside of the audition-centric classical world of all-state band and on up the professional chain, in the freelance world (especially jazz, pop, and all their related genres) you just ask. It can be scary, but fear not, we would love to have you!

When the band is in need, you'll eventually get the call. The audition is often on the job. If you play well, you get called again. If you don't play well, it depends on the band. A good ensemble will have someone there who can tell you what you did well and what you didn't do well. Hopefully that person can lead you on the right path so that maybe in a few months or a year or so you can take another shot at it, better than ever. Even now I experience that, as I did when I wrote my first set of percussion parts for a very serious gig. I learned quite a bit and was thankful for the guidance I received from those who have the Pops-style thing down to a science. Unfortunately, too many bands will smile, nod, and send you on your way. Or worse, they'll be passive aggressive and talk shit to the other guys in the band while you are still in the room. I've been in that situation. On both sides, I'm ashamed to say.

In the NFL, the defenders of locker room bullying are cowards, without a doubt. What happened to Martin and what happens to others in his situation are indefensible. It should never happen. Working bands can sometimes have their own version of it, even with similar root causes. I was treated very badly in some of the first bands I played with. Because those players were older, more experienced, and better than me, to my 19-year old self it made perfect sense that this is how things work. I missed some notes, so I'm not good, because the other guys didn't miss any notes. I'm not good so I deserve to be the butt of jokes and never play in this band again. Or if I'm invited back, to be fair I deserve to have the regular player next to me shake his head and roll his eyes at my playing throughout the gig.

This is not the norm, but it happens. And it's not right. Looking back, I now know that these musicians were most likely victims themselves at some point, in or out of music. Combined with them growing up to become frustrated and angry with their staled careers, and often jealous and scared of the up and coming player who could take what few jobs they have left, you can start to understand where these attitudes come from. Before you feel the burden of responsibility - It's not the duty of the young player to help them; it should be the other way. The most that the rest of us can do is treat them and everyone else fairly, with compassion and support. More than anyone, we can treat the new kid that way. If you can offer support and encouragement, you can steer them down the path that leads to a healthy and productive musical career.

In the middle - If you are like me only a few years ago, you are on the verge of settling into a life of anger, frustrating, jealousy and bitterness. You can still change that. You can start right now. You can't erase what you've done so far, but tomorrow you can go to your gig and just be nice. It's understandable if you are in a place of dissatisfaction, but if you can turn that energy into something positive, you are making an emotional investment that can lead to better playing, better social connections, better gigs, and a better future. And you can positively affect a kid that is not going to steal your gig, but be hired by you when you start your next band. We can lift each other up as a community and create something amazing.

To young musicians: don't fear that worst-case scenario. Put yourself out there and do your best. Learn what you can from every experience. And when you get the chance to be a leader, a mentor, if you can take that step you can influence a generation. The bully class in the musician world is on the way out. The oppressor lives inside us all. If we can harness that and give praise and comfort to our brothers and sisters in music, who knows what kind of beautiful sounds we can make.

This post was posted in Notes from the Arranger and was tagged with Careers, Commentary