I scheduled my auditions throughout April. My dad was only able to come with me to one of them, which was on a Saturday at what I was pretty sure was my first choice for the music school. I had arranged visits with the history department while I was at the schools too, which I was looking forward to.
I practiced a lot in preparation, and when the time came to drive to the first school alone, I was feeling a little confident. Not only had I recorded myself singing and playing piano and listened to the recordings over and over to figure out what I could do better, I had practiced my handshake with Dad and Uncle Don, and Uncle Don had given me a mock interview. Even though I wasn’t actually interviewing at any of the schools, I thought it was good to practice being professional and polite.
When I got to the school, I had to pull up a map online to figure out where I could park. I finally figured it out and got my car parked, and then I nearly forgot my sheet music before I walked to the music building.
The campus for this school was quite big, which scared me a little bit. After my audition and before I met with the head of the history department, I was supposed to take a tour of campus with a couple other visiting students, so I hoped that that would help me feel less scared.
The inside of the music building seemed pretty new. There were lots of people coming in and out and sitting at tables throughout the building. From my understanding, it was a building where the theater department and sometimes the English department also had classes. I felt out of place in my nice clothes with my hair combed neatly because nearly everyone was dressed casually, drinking coffee and talking too loud to their friends. I finally found my way to the staff offices, where I was supposed to meet the vocal professor and have a lesson with him before I auditioned for him and the voice professor. [I should have Cam get his name and gender legally changed before this!]
I found the individual office with the nameplate Dr. Lyle Cordray and knocked. A short man with a round, clean-shaven face answered the door and shook my hand. “Cameron Alexander?”
“Yes sir,” I said.
“No need to call me sir,” he said, smiling. “I know it’s polite, but it makes me feel old.”
“My uncle told me to say it,” I admitted. “I didn’t really grow up saying it.”
“Me neither. Sit, make yourself comfortable so we can chat before we sing.”
I sat down in a chair near his desk, where he sat back in his rolling chair. “Are you nervous?”
“A little,” I admitted.
“It’s good to be nervous,” he said. “It means you care.”
“Yeah, I’ve never thought of it that way.”
He smiled. “So what high school did you go to?”
“I was homeschooled.”
“Oh, okay. But you have sang in a community choir or something?”
“Um, no, I haven’t,” I admitted.
“Then what is your vocal experience?” Dr. Cordray asked, shifting in his chair.
“Well, I started getting into singing at a pretty young age. My, uh, mom heard that I could carry a tune and taught me a bunch of songs she liked by ear. Then I learned to harmonize by ear. When I started playing piano, I started learning to see notes on the page and associate them with the songs I knew by ear.”
“So your mother is the only vocal teacher you’ve ever had?”
“Yeah,” I said, wanting to crumble away. I was so dumb to think that I could come into a college and compete with people who had way more experience.
“So do you want to be a vocal major?” he asked.
“Well, I was thinking that, depending on how my auditions went, I might start out as a vocal major and a piano major. And I’m visiting with the history department too…”
“Sounds like you’ll be busy, then,” Dr. Cordray said, seeming amused.
“I think so,” I said sheepishly.
“Let’s do some singing, shall we?” he asked.
He had me stand on the other side of the room. We did some call and response with vocal warm-ups, some of which I had never done before. Then he had me listen to him sing some simple melodies and intervals and repeat them back. That was the part of the audition I had been the most afraid of because it was the hardest to prepare for, but I was pretty sure that I did all right. We moved onto scales, which I had practiced so many times. I still managed to mess up one of the minor scales, which I was kind of mad about.
Finally, he called the pianist and the other professors in. The pianist was going to play the accompaniment for my solo while I sang. I had never played with a pianist who wasn’t me or Mrs. Parker, and most of the time when we did that, the songs were popular music, not anything like what music majors worked on.
“Whenever you’re ready,” Dr. Cordray said. The other vocal professors looked at me expectantly. The pianist smiled up at me. My heart was pounding out of my chest, but I nodded at the pianist, and she began the introduction.
My first note was a little shaky, but I immersed myself in the music and nearly forgot that I was in an audition. Even though I got closer to running out of breath in some phrases and breathed in a few more spots than usual, the piece went pretty well. When it was over, the pianist smiled at me again, but no one said anything.
“Thank you, Lisa,” Dr. Cordray finally said, and the pianist gathered her music, which I had emailed a copy of, and left.
“Thank you for coming and auditioning with us,” Dr. Cordray said to me. I panicked, thinking it was the beginning of a rejection, and forgot to say anything. “Your phrasing is quite remarkable.”
“And the emotion you put into the music is something that many of my students struggle with,” the woman said.
I smiled, my heart still hammering.
“You have some bad habits,” Dr. Cordray said, “but we could fix those in no time. I think you have a promising future here.”
“Thank you,” I managed to say.
The other professors smiled, and then they left. Dr. Cordray made small talk with me about the rest of my day as I gathered my music.
“I hope your piano audition goes well,” he said.
“Thank you,” I said.
“You’ll be hearing from us about the scholarship in the next week, okay?”
“Sounds good, thank you,” I said.
I looked at my phone when I left his office. I had half an hour before my piano audition, so I took my time going to the bathroom and getting some water before I tried to find a practice room, which the email said I would be able to use to warm up.
I found one, and even though the piano was out of tune, I got my fingers warmed up. I practiced my scales, hoping that I wouldn’t mess them up like I had in my voice audition. I tried not to worry about the sight reading coming up, but I thought that I was better at sight reading on piano than I was singing, anyway.
Five minutes before I was supposed to meet with the piano professor, I headed back to the offices. I got some water on my way there. My hands were sweating and wrinkling my vocal music, so I was glad that I had my piano pieces memorized and wouldn’t actually have to use my wrinkled music in an audition.
When I got to the correct office, the piano professor, Dr. Hutchinson, let me in. We had a similar conversation to the one that Dr. Cordray and I had had, and then we looked at the pieces I was going to play in the audition. Dr. Hutchinson had me play some excerpts from the first one. She kept grunting while I was playing, and when she finally started instructing me, I discovered that if I didn’t play something exactly how she liked it, that was when she grunted. I disagreed with some of her choices in tempo and dynamics, but because I wanted to make a good impression, I played it the way she asked.
After a while, she decided it was time for me to do the sight reading part of my audition.
“Am I going to play both pieces for you?”
“After sight reading,” she said, seeming slightly annoyed by the question.
I tried to concentrate and do the sight reading to the best of my ability, but I kind of messed up parts of both of the excerpts. Before I could really start beating myself up, she took the music off the stand and asked me to play my pieces.
I started with Clair de Lune, which I decided to audition with because it held a special place in my heart. I got so immersed in it that when I got to one of the parts that I had worked on with her, I heard her grunt, and I realized that I had played it my way.
I was annoyed at her for grunting and ruining the moment, and then I messed up the next measure, which threw me off. The second half of the piece wasn’t nearly as good as it usually was, and I almost started crying before she said. “Next piece.”
When the audition was over, she said that she would let me know her decision over email in the coming week. I gathered my music and got out of there as fast as I could.
I wished Dad was with me so I could tell him everything that had happened, but it would have to wait. I sent him a text to let him know that I had finished both auditions, and I responded to Jed’s text asking how it was going. I told him that it was okay.
It was lunch time and my campus tour wasn’t until 1 o’clock, so I headed out to my car. I sat at the wheel and took some deep breaths before I looked on my phone to find somewhere to eat. I ended up going to McDonald’s and scarfing down a burger and some fries. I hadn’t realized how hungry I had been until I smelled the food.
I drove back to campus the long way, looking at the town. It was bigger than Maryville and maybe bigger than where the Parkers lived, and I wasn’t so sure that I liked it. Back at campus, I walked to the student union building, where I met a nice looking girl in a bright yellow tour guide shirt. I talked to her and another family who had a daughter with them. She looked much younger than me and I didn’t know if she would actually be attending college next year, or if she was just touring so that she knew what her options were. When the other family showed up with their son, who seemed to be in a bad mood, the tour began.
I felt like we walked forever, looking at a bunch of dorms that all smelled like ramen and something I couldn’t identify. Many of the bathrooms in the dorm were community style, which meant they were shared with the entire hall. I tried not to imagine someone pulling aside the curtain that blocked each shower stall as a joke and finding out that I, well, didn’t have what they had.
At the end of the tour, my head spun. The campus just seemed so big. I had no idea how I was supposed to get from one class to another on time. I hurried to my appointment with the history professor and ended up arriving at his office, slightly out of breath, just in time.
The meeting went well. He seemed like a very nice guy and all of the opportunities he told me about felt exciting. I found myself wishing that the campus and town were smaller, and that the piano professor was nicer, so that I could come to this school.
A week later, my next experience at what was probably my last choice of school was not much better. I felt like the vocal professors didn’t have their department very organized, but I did like the piano professor better. [don’t forget to mention FAFSA sometime earlier] The history department didn’t seem to offer as many opportunities as the first school I had toured, and I found myself leaving disappointed.
I talked to Terin the day after. He and Mrs. Parker had just arrived in New York after hours of driving to visit Terin’s first choice school and do an interview. He was very nervous and I helped him feel better about it, and his excitement helped me look forward to my next audition and college visit, which was to what I was pretty sure was my number one choice of school.
On the day of my visit, my dad drove. We had to leave pretty early, because it was about a 3 hour drive and my vocal lesson was at 9:30. I fell asleep in the car. When I woke up, my dad made me eat a granola bar and drink some water, which I was thankful for.
At the school, we found the parking lot easily. The music building was very close to the lot, which eased some of my anxiety. We walked into the big brick building. Inside, I got the same vibe from the other fine arts buildings I had been in. I was beginning to like the vibe, except that the theater kids really were quite loud.
We found the vocal professor’s office very easily. My dad wished me luck and went to wait while I knocked on the door. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a little rainbow sticker that said “LGBT+ safe space.”
The door in front of me whooshed open. “Hello, hello!” the professor, a man my height with longish blond hair said. He shook my hand and let me in. “I’m Dr. Krebs, if you didn’t already know.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said. “I’m Cameron.”
“Yes, I heard some very nice things about you from my friend Dr. Cordray.”
“Really?” I asked.
Dr. Krebs smiled. “It’s true.”
We talked about my interests and about the music department in general, which I enjoyed getting to hear about. Dr. Krebs even walked with me out to the performance hall, of which there was another in a different building. When we went back to his office, we did some warm up exercises and call and response, just as I had with Dr. Cordray.
“This one is my favorite,” Dr. Krebs said. “It’s like normal sirens, but with motions.”
He did the exercise, throwing his arms about, up and down and to the sides, as if he were on a roller coaster. “It helps me stretch out my muscles and my vocal cords.” he said, smiling. “You give it a try.”
I bit my lip, panicking. I wasn’t far enough post-operation from my top surgery to be throwing my arms around like that. I wasn’t even supposed to lift them above my head yet.
“Don’t be embarrassed,” he said, seeing my face. “We do lots of things like this in vocal studio. We make all sorts of weird noises and motions. We just have a good time with no judgement involved.”
“I…” I said, feeling like I was going to throw up. “I’m sorry, I can’t do the arms.”
“Sure you can!” he said, grinning. “Just let go, forget I’m here.”
“I mean that I, um, I physically can’t.”
He dropped his smile.
“I’m recovering from a surgery and I’m not allowed to lift my arms above my head.”
Understanding flooded his face. “Oh, Cameron, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. We don’t have to do these exercises right now, we can move on.”
“Thanks,” I said, blushing. “I just don’t want to make my scars bigger or something.”
“Of course, of course,” he said. “I’ve had another student like you, don’t you worry. This isn’t my first rodeo.”
I smiled a little.
“Can I ask a personal question?”
I shrugged. “Okay.”
“Are you taking testosterone, or do you plan on it?” “I plan on it,” I said. “But I’m not right now. Honestly, we just don’t have the money.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said. “I was merely asking because when your voice starts going through changes, singing is going to be affected.”
“Of course,” I said. I had thought about it before, and it was probably the thing about testosterone that scared me the most. I wanted to keep singing for my entire life, and I hoped transitioning wouldn’t get into the way of that.
“I’ve helped another student through those changes, so I just want you to know that, if you end up coming here, I am more than willing to work with you.”
“Thank you,” I said, relieved that I wouldn’t have to work around the changes on my own when they came.
We continued with my lesson. I really liked how Dr. Krebs taught, and his presence was sort of calming, especially because I had the whole “I’m transgender” thing off my chest.
My audition ended up going really well. It was definitely my best audition yet. It was made all the better by the fact that my dad was there waiting when I came out, so I got to tell him all about it before my piano audition. He also gave me another granola bar, which I really needed.
I liked the piano professors, and my audition went pretty well, even though the sight reading was somewhat challenging and I didn’t do super well. After I was done, my dad and I went out for lunch. We got to talk about both of my auditions, and he was relieved to hear how easily Dr. Krebs had accepted me.
“This seems like a very nice school,” he said.
“I like it so far,” I agreed.
The campus tour went well, and I was relieved to discover that, in addition to the town being quite small, the campus was also quite small. There was only one building that was kind of far away, and the tour guide said that, with my majors, I probably wouldn’t go there much anyway.
The meeting with the history professor was fun. Even though this school didn’t seem to have as many opportunities as the first one history wise, it was definitely better than the second one. And overall, this school was much better than the other two I had visited.
“I think this is the one,” I told my dad as we got in the car to go home.
“Really?” Dad said.
“I liked it too. And it’s the cheapest of the three.” He grinned at me, and we both laughed.