Eight schools over three years. Flights, drives, and zoom calls. 2 am practice sessions. Emails, audition deposits, admissions seminars. Forgetting to turn the snares off, missed notes on Porgy, whiffed ruffs on Kijé. Welcome to my search for a master’s program.

The logs that follow are from my creatively named “Performance Journal.” After I have an important audition or performance, I write about it. Sometimes short impressions, sometimes longer reflections. I may think for minutes, hours, or days before I write. It may be philosophical, it may be unpublishable. It is essential that I do write about it, and it is imperative that I then snap the book shut, cleansing the palette and moving on to what comes next.

I’ve decided to unveil the entries about my graduate auditions in order to shed a different sort of light on the process. I’m not sure if this will be riveting, terribly boring, or somewhere in between—although those are probably the three main options.



 The first round of graduate auditions comes right at the end of my senior year, which would prove to be a dark time for me. The plan was to quickly crush my graduate auditions, put on a senior recital, and jump on a European cruise with the World Percussion Group literally the next day. Come back, travel to Cincinnati for a major gig, and…take my final classes I guess. Get married, move across the country, become the world’s greatest marimbist. Easy. With those grandiose aspirations I was unsurprisingly being absolutely crushed by pressure, and my stress was driving me to become a menace to all those around me. It’s complicated to look back on that year, because I was quite successful and productive, most of that stuff did happen. My positive achievements and negative mental state both shaped who I am today, so thank you to all who allowed me to painfully grow during that time.





Two things went wrong.

  1. I did not prepare enough, I need to elevate my preparation to a higher tier, and get over the mental struggles I am having. I wasn’t ever in the right head-space for this audition, and it showed in both my preparation and performance. I need to establish the right frame of mind and act on it.
  2. I didn’t play hardly anything, only 1 excerpt on each instrument in [the] office, no glock, which put me off kilter. FIX IT WILLIAM!

Grade: F

Result: Rejected


SO MUCH BETTER THAN [SCHOOL A]. My increased preparation had big results, I felt confident and happy. My mental attitude was better both because of my preparation level and what I chose to focus on. There is still a lot to work on before [SCHOOL D]

  • Snare feels uncomfortable still, but it’s getting there.
  • I’m not happy with my Bach phrasing and there are still trippy spots.
  • I really need to polish and be beyond comfortable with FMLI (From My Little Island)
  • Need to manipulate my timpani sound how I want it.

Grade: B

Result: Accepted, No scholarship.


I don’t have many thoughts about this, pretty much the same as SCHOOL B. But I was so unenthused because of the [withheld], I think I was lacking some energy. Was more conscious of my bad snare.

Grade: C

Result: Accepted, partial scholarship.


Pretty short audition, expectedly, since I’ve played for them before. Weaknesses:

  • Timpani tuning
  • Snare everything
  • Marimba interval jumps

(exotic birds was really good)

Grade B-

Result: Accepted, partial scholarship.


I turned down all of the offers because none of them were enough. None of them gave me the financial confidence I needed to move my new wife across the country and know that we’d be secure. In essence, I failed all of the auditions. I didn’t prepare well enough so I didn’t play well enough, and it all comes back to me not handling stress well enough. I got completely flattened by the pressure. All I focused on were my own negatives and how to hide my flaws in the audition. And so I failed.

I do think there was grace in my defeat. I did not force myself into a financially dangerous situation; I admitted defeat, decided to build a life in the meantime, and vowed to try again.

A strange foreshadowing: In October of 2018 I had this odd/intrusive/nonsensical thought, fleeting but frequent. I thought “I would rather go on tour with the World Percussion Group than go to graduate school.” So was it an intrusive thought or a guiding light? At the very least it was prophetic.





November 2020. I had been married a year and a half, I’d gigged for a year and been unemployed for a year. I hadn’t thought about graduate school since coronavirus hit. Bob McCormick gave me a call and told me there was a Teaching Assistant-ship open with a professor I like. It suddenly hit me like a thunderclap: Now, in the wake of the pandemic’s upheaval, is the time to embrace change and go after what I want. I quickly put in calls to three professors at my top schools and submitted pre-screening tapes before December 1st, I then began to prepare for the next round.


Mindfulness and confidence. Taking the time to mentally steady myself before each piece/etude/excerpt is essential. Keeping the mind working and having the confidence to take the time to mentally center myself. Thinking through audio transitions, preparing smoothly for each thing. I should have confidence in my drumset playing, my mind panicked instead of confidently taking the time to think through each step of what they wanted and deciding on a course of action. I think I spoke and played marimba well, although my thoughts ran wild during the fuga.

Grade: B-

Result: Accepted, Full Scholarship


[No journal entry recorded due to brevity]

Grade. A+

Result: Accepted, Scholarship waiting list


Overall felt great about the audition, but a few things need to be addressed. A mental slip during the Bach. Could likely be addressed in 2 ways:

  1. More extensive memory preparation.
  2. More importantly, a hardier mental focus. I need to retrain the mind for longer periods of focus.

On that topic, be mentally ready for ANYTHING. [I was] asked for some of all 3 marimba pieces, which really surprised me, and I definitely wasn’t mentally ready for Notturno, although got it together for FMLI. I just make more mistakes than other players, and that’s frustrating.

Grade: A-

Result: Accepted, Full Scholarship.


Victory, success, vindication!

Two offers that pay me to go get my degree rather than the other way around, what a change of result from 2019. I certainly didn’t achieve it on my own, but something changed in my preparation. I didn’t practice that much more than I did in 2019; I’m not that much better than I was then. In the past two years I’ve decided to focus on the positives in my playing and what I do better than everyone else. Then I presented that in these auditions, boldly displaying my strengths and honestly laying out my weaknesses.

I get the offer from school E first. I’m thrilled, overjoyed. I say, “I’m so flattered, honestly school G would have to give me a Ferrari for me to turn down your offer” (what a stupid thing to say). School G offers me a Ferrari. I decide to attend…



Let’s emphasize four lessons from this messy narrative.


1. It’s a mess


What a disaster these journal impressions are, yet I welcome it. Better that these tangled intuitions be trapped in paper than left to fester in my subconscious. Locking one’s thoughts up in a diary is a powerful solution to a pessimistic mind.


2. Forced positivity


My goal is to write down my honest thoughts in this journal. That does not mean write down whatever I’m thinking because what I’m thinking is that I should hide in a cave and never hold a drumstick again. I must recognize that intense negativity as intellectual dishonesty and force myself to record positive reflections in order to paint a realistic picture of what happened. Positivity must often be forced. The biggest change in my psyche from 2019 to 2021 was a decision to show audition panels my strengths rather than try to hide all my weaknesses. I forced the auditions into a positive frame of reference in my psyche, and the results reflected that positivity.


3. The killing of all possible futures [sonder 005]


Hidden in the “Did Not Attend” column of these graphs is me throwing away more opportunities than I like to think about. I said no to six schools, and a few of those really hurt. Why? In 2019 I decided that I had to go to grad school without accumulating debt. I had a wedding in the summer, I had to protect my family’s financial future. $25,000 in scholarship to the conservatory of your dreams sounds great until it still leaves you paying another $25,000 a year in tuition, not to mention housing in a northeastern city. I had to say no to that offer and five others in order to be able to embrace the offer, the future, that would serve me. 2021 brought vindication; my improved skills and changed mind gave a financial opportunity that I consider a great blessing and success.


4. Patience


Getting what I needed out of a graduate audition took much longer than I wanted it to. I could have a master’s degree right now if I’d accepted a 2019 offer, and for the last two years I’ve watched on social media while my friends achieved so much, while I seemed to waste away. But I now have a result I’m proud of, and arriving at it took every second of the last three years. A gradual process of growth that has pushed me out of the dark.


But I now have a result I’m proud of, and arriving at it took every second of the last three years. A gradual process of growth that has pushed me out of the dark

Graphs created with SankeyMATIC (BETA)