Saturday, November 20, 2004

The audition 

It's been a week characterised by continual tension, the week’s events linked by a thematic thread that never goes slack. Not a dramatic, nerve-snapping tension, but a continuous undercurrent of taught-ness, slowly rising, falling, rising again, but never diminishing sufficiently for it's effect to be ignored, even for a moment. I can tell the week has taken it's toll - I'll be needing new glasses before very long, and when my eyes get tired they give up the struggle of compensating for the imperfect correction of the spectacle lenses; squint as I might, tilting my head this way and that to view the world through different portions of the varifocal lenses, the world takes on a vaguely remote indistinctness.

But if I felt the apprehension so keenly, and all I had to do at its height was sit and wait, I wonder how my daughter L. felt? For her, this has been a long, slow, unremitting build to this point. First the flurry of activity nearly three months ago to complete the conservatoire applications, marking the point of stepping onto the conveyor that would take her inexorably to this moment. Then the weeks of intensive flute practice - three hours a day typically - every day feeling the corrosive force of that niggling "Am I good enough?" question eating away at confidence and self-belief. "What if I don't get in? Is it worth it?" Facing those questions, feeling the unavoidable uncertainty, but putting them on one side, unanswered, and carrying on nonetheless. High days; low days; just getting on with it days.

Then as the first of the auditions draw closer, the pace accelerates, the tension rises, yet events conspire to build it still further. This first audition is in Wales – an early morning start at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, so we’re staying overnight with an old friend of mine who lives several miles further on. It takes us seven hours to do what should be a four-hour journey, the additional three hours being in near-stationary traffic. A diesel tanker overturned the previous day and the motorway is reduced to a crawl for eight miles, as three lanes of fast-moving traffic funnel down to a single lane crawl to pass the roadworks where the motorway has to be entirely resurfaced. I should have checked the travel news… We have time, but the delay and the uncertainty feed that nervous tension. Then a late arrival at my friend's house, leaving me a mere three hours to do six years worth of catching up. L. goes to bed but we stay up, until the urge to talk is eventually overpowered by the urge to sleep. But still talk wont give in, and we continue up the stairs and in hushed whispers on the landing.

And in the morning, another motorway accident and another crawl through grey drizzle and slow traffic to the audition, detouring through unfamiliar streets, a road atlas resting on my knees. All the while, the gnawing background feeling of I-think-we're-going-to-make-it-in-time-but-I-can't-be-sure-until-we-get-there. Outward calm hides an inner anxiety held almost unbearably just below simmering point. But thankfully we arrive in perfect time - early enough not to be rushed, but not so early for her to suffer waiting-room-syndrome.

So I sit, waiting. Nearly an hour, as the audition follows straight on from the warm-up session. Any small part I have played is over for now. I fret a little; I know that preparation and practice is only part of the story – self-belief counts for so much too. Have I said and done enough to help her? Or have I inadvertently transferred some of my own lack of self-belief onto her?

Then the first hurdle, the audition itself, is over. Returning, she gives a smile – it couldn’t have been a complete disaster then. I can sense that the tension has passed its peak now; little by little, just as it grew, so it relaxes.

Auditions and interviews proceed throughout the day; gradually the atmosphere relaxes – strangers chat, first in twos and threes, then in groups which wax and wane as student hopefuls come and go. Voices that had been speaking in whispers sound across the room - experiences shared, stories retold, laughter heard. The room’s appearance takes on a decidedly informal character as bags, coats and instruments lie strewn across chairs, in corners, on the floor, and the neat arrangement of chairs gives way to sprawling groups or haphazard isolation.

And finally, after the interview and the aural tests, it’s all over – for now, at any rate. Two more auditions at other conservatoires to come, but the worst – the complete unknown – has now passed. It was bearable; the other students didn’t seem to find it any easier – and that factor alone is enough to give her confidence a sizeable boost.

The following day, perhaps in reaction to that tension, is a day of minor disasters for me, inducing their own edginess - a wrong set of keys picked up, necessitating a flying visit back home to collect the right ones, the incident’s aggravation compounded by a lost train ticket, resulting in a late appointment, which itself is not helped by a double-booked interview room and consequent last-minute rearrangement...

But thankfully the week is over and the sources of tension have mostly dissipated, leaving an empty lethargy in their wake. The world outside is quiet and almost still; a fine near-freezing mist falls softly from a leaden sky - there's little temptation to be outside right now. Would that I could do what the cat lying next to me is doing - curl up in a ball and go to sleep...

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