Laura Eckhardt 

Tue, 01/23/2007 - 4:09pm
By: The Citizen

Age 14
Peachtree City

Laura Eckhardt

“Just do your best. That’s all you can do.”

My mother’s voice sounded far away as she tried to comfort me. I was standing in the bleak, white hallways of Perry Middle School, with nothing on my mind but the audition that was drawing closer.

When I gave no reply, she said no more. For the past five minutes she had been standing in my place in the line outside the room while I paced the halls restlessly. It was part of my pre-audition ritual that I had started last year, when I was in sixth grade. Last year had been my first year here auditioning, so I was not new to this pressure, but it still affected me. I had been a young, inexperienced player then, and I had had no chance of making All-State band, the honor that I had been and now was striving for. Of course, I was still inexperienced compared to the eighth graders with whom I competed. When thinking about it realistically, I had no chance of making it. But I was not much of a realist. I was more of a dreamer. Maybe that was how I had even the slightest bit of hope that maybe I could be good enough for All-State.

I toyed with my saxophone nervously as I waited for the other player to come out of the room, signifying the beginning of my audition. My mother could tell how I was feeling, and muttered another word of comfort that I did not catch. I was too absorbed in my own world, but I did wonder what she thought. I’m sure that she felt the same as me, knowing I could never do it, yet still having the tiniest bit of hope. Or maybe she thought I was hopeless. I would never know. She would never tell me, and I’m not sure that I would ever ask.

Finally, after what seemed hours but was indeed only a few minutes, a short, rather pudgy kid with a sharp-looking black alto saxophone opened the chestnut-colored door and exited the audition room. He shot a quick look at me and sized me up, as I was doing with him, then cooly walked over to his father. As he put away his beautiful saxophone, I admired it longingly as I subconsciously touched my own plain student-model horn. “I bet he sounds better playing that than I will playing this,” I thought sadly.

“Laura,” whispered my mom, snapping me out of my reverie. I looked for a moment at the middle-aged room attendant who was smiling and holding the door open for me, and then walked into the room.

It was a typical schoolroom. Boring, white walls, just like the hallway, covered with brightly colored posters with fake, annoying phrases like “Quitters are never winners” and “You can be anything you want to be.” Empty desks for the students lined up in rows. The teachers’ desk sat full of objects promoting school and learning, no doubt half of them had been gifts from students. And a large, black, cloth screen. It did not belong there, like the chair and music stand that were waiting for me in the middle of the dirt-specked, tile floor, but I knew what it was there for. Behind it were the judges who would be deciding if I made it into the best middle school band in the state of Georgia. They could not see me, and I could not see them, so they had no prejudices that could be taken out on me. It was fair.

I shuffled nervously over to the chair and sat down, placing my music upon the stand. The room attendant smiled at me disarmingly, and I returned it slightly. “Okay,” he said. “There’re two pieces of paper on your stand, turned over. Don’t flip them over until I tell you to. They’re your sight-reading. But for now, you can go ahead and play your etude.”

“Okay,” I thought. “Here goes.” I took in a deep breath, and plunged into my etude. For weeks and even months, I had prepared this piece. My band director, Mr. Tyndall, and my private lesson teacher, Mr. Cardo, had both listened in on me playing it and had given me suggestions. If I had to practice this piece for another week, I was almost sure I would be sick. I had played it that much.

As I played, the realization hit me that I could make a mistake if I wanted to and change everything. No one could do anything about it, but my nerves were so bad that I did not even know if I had to try to make a mistake. Of course I did not want to mess up, but I was nervous, and my mind thinking irrationally and starting to wander. “Come back!” I yelled in my head. I could not daydream now, not when I had worked so hard for this and so many people had helped me. My mom, driving me here and comforting me, Mr. Tyndall and Mr. Cardo, listening to me practice, and who knows how many other people for even getting me to play the saxophone.

The piece was over. I had done quite well, for somehow I had been wandering in my thoughts and listening to myself play at the same time. Okay, good start. I just need to do well on the sight-reading.

Sight-reading was probably the most difficult aspect of these auditions. You were given only 30 seconds to study a piece and then you had to play it. I knew from last year how hard the pieces they could give you, too. I was sure that this year, they would be just as hard. I turned over the first paper, studied it, and played it without many straying thoughts at all, and the result was an okay performance. But after I turned over the next piece, I knew it was going to be a disaster. The time signature was so weird, and the rhythms looked impossible. But I had no choice, so I played it. Plowed through it, actually. I missed many of the rhythms, and I was sure most of the notes as well, even the easy ones. Great, now I know that I didn’t make All-State. I should have known I couldn’t do any better than last year. What had made me think I could make it?

“Good job,” said the room attendant, though I was pretty sure that he had said that to everyone that day. I picked up my music dejectedly and shuffled out of the room into the expectant faces of everyone waiting outside, including my mom. She looked at me and asked, “So how’d it go?” I shrugged and said, “Let’s just go.” She did not ask any questions, and we left to go back to the school cafeteria where my case was.

As we walked, she repeated, “So how did it go?”

“I did okay on the etude, but I messed up on the sight-reading badly. If I make it, All-State’s a pretty stinky band.”

“Don’t say that. One of the moms who was standing outside the room with me was listening too, and she thought you sounded wonderful.”

“I bet she was just saying that,” I replied in my head. But I did not say anything aloud, and tried to brighten up as I saw a group of my friends from the band I played in, the Rising Starr Middle School band. I was sure I looked horrible, my face in a depressing frown, and I did not want them to see.

“How did you do?” asked Mr. Tyndall expectantly.

“I did fine on the etude, but I completely crashed on the sight-reading. If I make All-State, I worry about the future of the band,” I said jokingly, trying to laugh about it.

“Don’t say that,” He repeated my mother’s exact words. “I’m sure you did great. You’re always a lot harder on yourself.” Maybe he was right. I was the best alto saxophone player at our school, so I guess I was quite good. Not good enough for All-State, though, I told myself for the thousandth time.

He handed me a clipboard with a sheet of notebook paper on it, “Here, if you write down your email on this sheet, I can email you the results before school on Monday.”

I took the clipboard, said “Thanks,” and looked at the list of email addresses. Just by looking at some of them, I realized how many other people had their own email addresses. I did not have my own, so I jotted down my parents’ and handed the list back. After I did, I joined the conversation that had begun among those of us from my school. There was an exchange of thoughts on the auditions, including the difficulty of the sight-reading, how well we thought we did, and the people we had heard before us. I participated, but kept repeating my famous line, “If I make it, I worry about the future of the band.” We soon ran out of topics to discuss, and my mom and I finally bid farewell to everyone and drove home in our bright red van. I constantly thought back on the audition and occasionally would make a comment, but otherwise it was quiet except for the soft music of the Christian radio station in the background.

All day I could think of nothing else. The audition absorbed my thoughts. I thought about what would happen if I made All-State, if I happened to be one of the top six middle school saxophone players in the state. I also thought about what would happen if I did not make it, which seemed more likely to me now than ever. At least once an hour, I was on the computer checking the inbox of my parents’ email account, waiting for a message from Steve Tyndall. I had to be the first one to find out the results. I was not going to have my parents tell me. I wanted to tell them. So I kept checking the rest of the day.

As the day came to a close, I started wondering how I was even going to be able to sleep. It was about 11 o’clock, and we had to go to church in the morning. In a last attempt to find out the results, I logged onto my parents’ account, and there it was: the message from Steve Tyndall with a subject of “All-State.” My heartbeat sped up, and I dragged the mouse over and double-clicked on the message to open it up. But, right as it was appearing on the screen, I placed my hand over it. For some reason, I wanted to drag out the suspense, but I could not do it for long. I slowly peeled my hand off the screen, expecting heartbreak, when…

“Mom? Dad? Come here!” My voice was filled with excitement that I could not try to conceal even if I had wanted to. Both of my parents rushed from their room down the hall and came to stand beside me. They followed my eyes down as I read the list for a second time, and when they saw my name on the list, they were as overjoyed as I was. I leaped from the office chair, and for several minutes we all hugged and talked animatedly. I received many congratulations from them, and the realization of it all hit me. In March, I was going to Savannah to participate in this. I was one of the top six middle school saxophone players. What was even better was that I was the third best. Instead of being the worst in the band and having to play the worst parts, I was one of the best. I was going to play the better parts. Wow, I thought excitedly. All-State, here I come…

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