Ethan Skelton

Botching the Audition: One Door Closes and Another Opens

I might have to begin by saying that if it hadn't been for my music teacher in 4th grade I might be playing the trumpet today. I will always be thankful for his foresight. That was my launch into the world of drums, but more importantly, the world of music.

Fast forward to my first week of college at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. I had my hopes set high to be in both the top tier Jazz Combo and Jazz Ensemble. My audition was a Thursday and I've always felt that Thursday was my lucky day. This may stem from my love for second recess Thursdays back in elementary school, but nonetheless.

I had all the required styles at the ready and a brief solo at my disposal. I was gonna nail this thing. Well, it turns out nerves got the best of me and I couldn't free up. I was tense even playing medium swing and by the end of the audition there was sweat everywhere. Confused, I screamed inside my head. Why did I have such a pressure reaction? It was unlike me. I learned that day to always be prepared for sudden pressure, no matter how I might feel at that time.

So the professors thanked me for my interest and let me know to check the bulletin boards the next Monday for results. I was gracious and saw myself to the door, but before I made it through one of the professors had a suggestion.

"If you aren't taking lessons already, you should stop by Charles Brooks' office." Basically, it was the most constructive way to say, "Better luck next semester," but I understood and took the advice to heart. The next day I knocked on his door.

A smooth southern voice called me in. I didn't expect to find the percussion professor to be reclined with his feet on the desk and a fountain drink in his hand. Following the usual meet and greet, it was easy to tell one thing about this guy. He was hip! Super friendly and knowledgable, patient and great with words. Months went by and the lessons continued to enrich me with conversation, questions, answers, licks, grooves, and Louisiana culture.

In the spring of 2007, Charles recommended me to Tina, one of the vocal professors at the university. She was looking for a replacement drummer to fill in for a play she was directing. The play was "Carousel" and I saw to it that my name was put on the program. Later, I was told the old drummer had fallen down the stairs while waving to a friend and broke his foot. Can't make this stuff up.

Why Charles recommended me, I may never know. He had many students and I'm sure some were better than me. I should really pay him a phone call. Tina Thielen-Gaffey, or TTG as she preferred, set up a quick exchange with me after the last performance. I had impressed her and she wanted me to play drums for her vocal jazz group. Now, I had little idea as to what vocal jazz was. Eighteen or more singers all blending together within a swing, funk, or latin number? Add a rhythm section? And some scatting? Ok.

By taking this opportunity, I slowly began to see the big picture. I was framing a future with each day. Through joining vocal jazz, I experienced a group of people I had so much in common with, on a level unlike I ever experienced in high school. Bonds were made and lifelong friendships established. In 2010, that same vocal jazz group, Lake Effect, was selected along with only one other school to represent America at the International Symposium of Music Education in Beijing, China. And that was just the beginning. We were invited to Ireland the next month.

That international exposure is something I'll always cherish. Back in the states, I jumped on tour with Silverline, a nationally acclaimed rock band. I got the gig from a friend of someone I knew in vocal jazz. Over time I've played with many bands and it's not much of a stretch to link someone back to where it all began. Where did I meet my four current bandmates? Vocal jazz. I'm playing my sixth straight Cabaret show at the university this April, three years out of school. Why am I still asked back? My relationship with TTG. It's all traced back to that moment when I knocked on her door. And I did so because one day I knocked on Charles Brooks' door. Because I botched an audition.

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