We’ve all experienced it…
That feeling where you wanted a drumline spot really bad and practiced really hard to get it.
You put in the hours, broke down the technique, memorized the exercises, perfected your tone quality, and even got a good night of sleep before your audition.
Yet despite all of that, you got cut.
Everyone talks about how to properly prepare for an audition. Everyone talks about how glorious it was when they made the spot. Everyone talks about how much of an amazing experience it was to march with _________.
But no one talk about when they got cut.
Well, it’s a pretty straight forward answer.
Because getting cut is embarrassing, it’s humiliating, and it’s defeating.
It’s not a proud moment in anyone’s life so we try to brush it under the rug and leave it there to ensure it never surfaces in a conversation. We lock it in a dark closet so it never sees the light of day again.
But here’s the deal…
Life throws you challenges and curve balls. You’re rarely going to get everything you want exactly the way you want it, and nothing is going to be handed to you on a silver platter by a butler wearing pristine white gloves.
Getting cut from a drumline hurts.
But if you’re willing to face the facts, keep an open mind, and come to reality with what happened, the lessons you can take away from the experience can oftentimes be equally if not more valuable than actually making the spot.
Well, let’s get into it – and let’s get personal so you know I’m not bluffing.
I’ve had the opportunity to study and learn from a number of amazing people throughout the years. Within that group, there are three guys in particular who have graciously taken me under their wing and taught me an incredible amount about percussion, rudimental drumming, and life.
Those three guys are Rich Hinshaw, Bret Kuhn, and Paul Rennick.
I’ve marched for all three, studied extensively with all three, and…
Wait for it…
Have been cut by all three.
What’s more is that I’ve been cut by all three after I had already studied with them.
Cruel and unusual punishment?
Some people may see it that way.
For me they were major life lessons that these guys weren’t afraid to teach me. And as each day passes I’m more and more grateful for the decisions they made to teach me those lessons.
I started playing percussion in Jr. High. I enjoyed it but wasn’t all that invested in it. Well, until a guy named Rich Hinshaw came in one day and pulled the percussionists out in the hall during band class. He sat us all down on the ground and said, “All right, here’s a little exercise we call 8 on a Hand.”
Mind Blown. Instantly hooked.
When I got to high school I made the snare line my freshman year and was section leader by my sophomore year. During that time Rich had established a solid independent world WGI group called Momentum Percussion Theater that I desperately wanted to be a part of.
I had been drumming under Rich for a while by that time and was his section leader at Gilbert. I was jammin’ at the high school and knew I had a good shot at making it.
I was cut after the first audition.
When auditions came around I flat out didn’t have the hands I thought I did. But it wasn’t that I didn’t have good hands, it was that I had never experienced being around a large group of people with far superior hands than mine.
You see, there were a number of experienced guys in the room who had marched DCI for Rich previously. They knew a ton, they were fast, and they played with great tone quality. I tried to keep up but I simply couldn’t hang. It was a big eye opener for me since I had never been surrounded by that much talent in one room before that point.
Learned Life Lesson: You can be good in your own bubble, but if you want to be great you need to expose yourself to people far better than you. You’ll get burned and be at the bottom of the totem poll, but you’ll be exposed to a whole new echelon of skills to develop.
Having learned that lesson, I put it to work.
I played with the guys on Momentum’s line as much as I could. I’d get burned and then would go home and practice like crazy so that next time I saw them I’d be able to hang.
After getting burned hundreds upon hundreds of times, I was much more prepared for the next audition I had which happened to be with Rich for the Seattle Cascades Drum and Bugle Corps in 2004. I made that line and marched snare under Rich, David Reeves, and Rob Lewis.
While I was on tour in 2004, my family moved from Arizona to Illinois. Following DCI finals in Denver I flew to Chicago and finished out my high school career with Bret Kuhn at Prospect High School.
Up to that point all I knew was rudimental snare drum. I was on the snare line at Prospect but in my first private lesson with Bret he asked, “Do you have plans for college?” I told him I wanted to go to the University of North Texas and major in music.
I’ll never forget the look on his face – it still makes me laugh looking back and his reaction was totally appropriate.
I played timpani like a set of quads, had no idea how to play marimba (let alone hold four mallets), and was awful at sight reading. Yet here I was telling Bret I wanted to audition at one of the top percussion schools in less than a year.
Bret quickly collected his reaction and calmly said “Well then…we have lots to do. Let’s get started.”
Over the next few months Bret taught me the foundations of orchestral percussion in private lessons and percussion ensemble. I worked tirelessly to get everything going for the UNT audition and then decided that I also wanted to audition for the Cavaliers that summer.
I was so focused on my classical stuff at the time that I wasn’t able to do a whole lot with the Cavaliers audition material. I showed up to the audition completely underprepared and was cut accordingly.
Learned Life Lesson: If you have a lot on your plate – focus. Spreading yourself too thin will cause a lack of attention which leads to a lack of detail which leads to a lack of performance. Look at the big picture of your life and prioritize things accordingly.
This was actually the best thing for me in the long run. Even though I couldn’t see it at the time, Bret did. If I had to juggle Cavaliers camps along with my UNT audition during those months, I doubt either would have gone well.
Having gotten cut from the Cavaliers I was able to shift all of my focus to the North Texas audition and ramp up my learning curve. I flew to Texas a few months later for the audition, was completely intimidated by all of the talent there, but pulled it off and was accepted into the University of North Texas College of Music.
I made the snare line of the UNT PASIC Drumline my freshman year at North Texas.
Drumming with Paul was great and I was once again surrounded but a number of older guys who were way better than me.
As the semester went on I got significantly better and much more comfortable (potentially too comfortable…but more on that in a second).
We went to PASIC, threw down at the show, and had a great time. Life was good!
After PASIC, a number of the guys on the line were going back to Phantom to march that summer and I decided last minute that I was going to jump on board. I didn’t look at the drumline audition packet thinking that I knew all the exercises in it already and booked my flight a day late on accident so I arrived on Saturday morning instead of Friday evening.
I have no idea what I was thinking.
I showed up to the audition late, unprepared, yet comfortable because I had already been on a line with a bunch of the vets and Paul. As the audition went on, I was breaking all over the place, I was having tons of mental glitches, I was dirting things out, and flat out didn’t know the musical excerpts that were supposed to be learned.
I think everyone (including myself) was surprised with my poor performance and wanted to give me another shot to show that’s not normally how I prepare. I was given a generous life line and was invited back to the second audition with about a month to prepare in between.
What I managed to do in that month is still mind boggling to me…
I didn’t do anything.
I brushed the first audition off as a fluke – a “bad weekend” – and thought I’d show up to the second audition in much better shape than before.
I showed up to the second audition and had an equally poor performance. Everyone was confused. I got looks from Paul, the techs, and guys I knew that had “What is going on with you?” written all over their faces.
At the end of the weekend Paul did what he had to do and cut me.
So why did all of that happen? Why did I show up unprepared and why didn’t I fix it the second time around?
The reason all of that happened and the reason I made a complete and utter fool out of myself is because I never committed.
I just jumped on the bandwagon without ever deciding “I WANT to march Phantom Regiment this summer” – I just decided to show up.
I had no drive to learn the parts or prepare like I should have because I wasn’t committed to it – I just went through the motions.
I had no sense of urgency to practice so that I could fight for the spot and win it – I thought I knew it all already.
Learned Life Lessons: If you’re going to do something, you have to be committed to it. Never show up somewhere unprepared because you think you know it all or you think the people you know will cover for you – you’ll make a mockery out of yourself just like I did.
That absolutely awful audition was actually my last DCI experience as a member.
But maybe it was fate that I didn’t march that year and instead went back home to Illinois to stay with my parents for the summer and teach some camps with Bret at Prospect. I ended up having a summer fling with a girl I vaguely knew from high school and that fling turned into a 6 year relationship and eventually a marriage. Crazy!
The summer following that was my last year to march DCI before aging out. However, I had an amazing opportunity to travel to Ghana, Africa and study traditional West African Music, Culture, and Drumming with the Ewe Tribe in the Volta Region. There was no way I could have passed that opportunity up so I decided to not march DCI for my last year and instead inject my body with Yellow Fever, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Rabies, Meningococcal, and Malaria vaccines so that I could study in Ghana for the summer.
I continued to drum on Paul’s lines at UNT and studied with him in private lessons and other ensembles for an additional 3 years after that terrible audition of mine.
Bret gave me the opportunity to get early teaching experience by teaching camps back at Prospect over the summers and is continuously supportive of all that I do.
Whenever Rich and I catch up it’s like I’m back in high school – he’s always pushing me along to do things better than before and with my own voice.
Notice that nothing is weird – nothing is awkward. As a matter of fact, things are great.
It’s important to realize that when you get cut, it’s not personal.
More often than not, the caption head’s decision is based on two things:
1) What’s best for the organization
2) What’s best for you
You see, all three of these guys have had a significant impact on my musicianship, my career, and my life.
They had to do what they had to do at the time to put their organizations in the best possible situation. No matter how well they knew me before the auditions, by showing up unprepared I openly displayed that I was not the prime candidate for a spot in the organization.
All three of them could have taken what I had done with/for them before and turned a blind eye to my auditions. It would have been easy to put me on the lines and have faith in the fact that I would figure it out.
But I’m glad they didn’t because it would have only taught me that it’s okay to slide by and drift along.
I owe a great deal of thanks to each of them for everything that they have taught me and all that they continue to do. Furthermore, I owe a great deal of thanks to them for caring enough about me to teach me the hard lessons so that I could come out as a better person in the end.
To Rich, Bret, and Paul, thank you for everything that you’ve done – including cutting me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the lessons you’ve taught.
Now that you know I’m not bluffing, let’s talk about what to do when you get cut so that you can walk away from the experience as a better person and musician.
Afterall, I don’t know anyone in the activity who has made every single spot they’ve auditioned for so chances are you’re going to get cut from a spot or a line at some point throughout your time with the activity.
When that happens, you can be bitter and try to hide it under the rug to defend your ego.
You can do the following things to make it a valuable experience and make yourself better in the long run.
As we talked about before – if you’re auditioning for a drumline you should be committed to it. You should be preparing for it to the best of your abilities and practicing like crazy to ensure you go in there playing the best that you can. You should be invested to the point that when you get cut – it hurts emotionally.
That’s what we call passion ladies and gentlemen. It’s a good thing to have.
Let it hurt for 48 hours. After that time has expired, move on to step two.
The past is the past. No matter how many times you replay that audition in your head and think about how things could have gone differently you can’t change what happened. It’s a waste of energy and makes you focus on negative events. Drop any type of bitter, negative, and resenting feelings you have about the event and move on to step three.
Don’t make excuses. Take total responsibility of the situation. It doesn’t matter what the other guy did or what the tech said – you can’t control that.
What you can control is you.
Were you unprepared? Did you not have enough chops? Was your tone quality not up to par? Was your timing a little off? This isn’t an exercise in self-detriment. Just be honest with yourself and pinpoint the reasons you didn’t get the spot. No harm – No Foul. Once you have a list, move on to step four.
Now that you’ve taken responsibility for the situation in a neutral manner, look at the larger life lessons to be learned from your experience.
What principles did you learn from this experience that probably apply to other aspects of your life. This could take a few hours or days of reflection so don’t feel like you need to do it all at once. Take your time.
Once you have a few life lessons you can take away from this experience, move on to step five.
When you understand why you didn’t make the spot and you’ve learned from it, take a look at what you can do the next time you have an audition to improve your results. Make a list of musical steps (technique, timing, tone quality, sight reading, etc.), as well as life lesson steps (commit before diving in, be prepared, etc.)
Once you have that list, move on to step six.
You don’t have a spot with the line you auditioned for – end of story.
That probably frees up some time and energy for you to commit to something else in the near future. Is there another line that needs to fill a spot? Is there something else you want to do in your life that you can take advantage of right now?
When one door closes, two open. Find them.
There’s no way around it – you’re going to encounter challenges, difficulties, and adversity throughout your entire life and getting cut from a drumline is just one of those moments.
You can let it eat you up inside and turn you into a bitter person who wants to give up…or… you can learn from the experience and continue to work hard towards your goals and treat others well.
It’s your choice. But if you do those two things (work hard and be nice) day in and day out, theres a good chance the dominos will fall your way next time around.
Getting cut from a drumline is tough.
But what truly matters is what you take away from the experience and what you’re able to learn through the process.
When you get cut from a drumline, follow the steps above to make the most out of it and actually become a better person as a result of it. While it isn’t easy at first, learning from your failures is equally important as learning from your successes.
All in all, stick with it, stay positive, work hard, and as the saying goes: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”