Emma is 11, a guitar student, and pretty good. Mom said over the summer she wanted to try out for jazz band. Her teacher is a great teacher (Carrie, on Mondays) but not a jazz guitarist. We’re waiting for the audition piece.
On Friday Emma’s mom schedules a makeup with me to go over her jazz audition piece, which she had just received from the band director. She shows up, hands me music, and it’s hard. It’s in Bb (literally the worst key for guitar) and has a mix of melodic riffs well outside of 1st position and crazy tricky jazz chords that require insane hand acrobatics. I asked when the audition would be. “Next Friday.”
My heart sinks, but I hide it on my face. I do manage to suggest they should schedule as many makeups as possible between now and then. I take a photo of the music, and we spend the lesson learning what feels like a ton but is only a tiny percentage of the piece. On their way out, mom schedules another makeup with me for next Wednesday. (Carrie only teaches on Mondays.)
On Saturday, Walt (another jazz guitar teacher, but Emma’s schedule didn’t work) has a gap because his student called out. I bombard him, shove music in his face and say, I need chord fingerings for an 11-year-old, easy versions, as simple as possible. Go. He spends 18 of his 20 min gap writing chord voicings furiously while muttering things like, we can leave out the root, need the 3rd and 6th, she can play three strings here… then in the last two min I record his hands while he plays the fingerings he wrote. After, I texted the photo of the audition piece, the photo of Walt’s chord fingerings, and a link to the video of Walt’s hands that I’d uploaded to Drive all to Carrie, Emma’s regular teacher. We text back and forth for awhile because she’s panicking a little, too. We both spend our weekends playing the piece and figuring out what to show Emma.
On Monday, Emma has her regular weekly guitar lesson with Carrie, who also shares Walt’s fingerings and video w/Emma and mom. They get through most of the song, in rough-draft-ish format.
Wednesday, Emma has another makeup with me. Mom comments that she told her friends we have a “whole army of grownups helping my kid get into jazz band.” Emma is young but very mature and articulates well what she’s struggling with. I’d continued to play the song myself Monday and Tuesday and had determined a few ways to simplify even more than Walt had, so I show her. Overall, I’m amazed at how much she’s accomplished in four or five days, but I’m still nervous.
I changed a few things and she needs to practice them, so I want to circle back before the audition. I ask what time the audition would be on Friday. Mom says they have to turn in a video, and she’ll check with the director to see if they could submit it Friday evening (and therefore have one last lesson with me… and RECORD the video at the lesson.) The plan is approved by jazz band director, and mom schedules one last lesson with me.
Friday, Audition Day. Mom says Emma is considering not participating even if she makes it because it’s so hard. I tell Emma, “Don’t you dare!” and give her a huge pep talk about how she has more grit than most adults I know, and that she deserves to be in jazz band, and if she doesn’t make it, it’s not because she’s not old enough (most of the other kids are 12 and 13) or not good enough, it’s just that we could have used more time. I don’t know if the teacher handed them music one week before the audition because she was behind schedule or was testing the kids to see how quickly they could learn the piece, but if the quick turnaround was part of the test, Emma did the best she could and worked harder than any 11-year-old I’ve ever seen. I tell her if she doesn’t make it, we’ll try again next year. She rubs her sore, aching fingertips on the rough, bumpy surface of her chair and smiles.
We run the new stuff and she nails it. We start recording, but she makes a mistake and we scrap the take. The second take is pretty much as perfect as it was going to get in the time we’d had, and mom submits it.
Thursday: Mom just emailed to inform me that Emma was selected for jazz band, and I could dance, scream and cry all at the same time to express how happy I am for her.
Emma is officially the youngest kid in jazz band.