Loosen Up and BE YOU

by Patrick McGuire, M.M. Cello

It’s been five years since I auditioned for the undergraduate program at Juilliard but I still remember the intense excitement and nervousness that I felt that day as if it were yesterday. It was the last of five college auditions I took that year and, having been practicing the repertoire for almost nine months, a climactic moment at the end of many hours of hard work. It was exciting to think that I’d be able to show the fruits of my labor in that audition, but also nerve-wracking to think about everything that might go wrong in my playing. My audition was back-to-back with a good friend of mine from the same high school. What if he got in and I didn’t? And, after preparing for so long, what if I had a memory slip or made a careless mistake?

Looking back now, I realize that I was too concerned with the outcome of the audition in the moment and not concerned enough with having fun and making music. Fortunately, a bizarre and unexpected experience in the audition room helped me to get outside of my head and into a normal mental state to play music.

Three days before I’d played an audition at a different school, and it was BAD. Even though I felt totally fine in the moments leading up to the audition, as soon as I walked into the audition room–a computer lab, strangely enough–I panicked. It felt like my arms were playing the cello and my mind was in a completely different place. One of the panelists starting dozing off, and another got up and sat down at one of the computers. After it was over, I nearly ran out of the room and hoped I wouldn’t see any of the panelists again for awhile. Then I realized that one of them also taught at Juilliard, and that he might be on the Juilliard audition panel.

Three days later I walked into the audition room at Juilliard and, sure enough, he was there. I chose to ignore the situation and hoped that he wouldn’t recognize me. I sat down, adjusted my endpin, and took a deep breath. I was about to start with a Bach allemande when I heard from across the room, “Are you Patrick McGuire?”

Yes. It was really happening. I said yes and hoped for the best. But then he went on to ask, “Are you Irish?” Well, yes, I am, so I said so.  “You don’t look Irish.” I’m also Italian, and I said so. Everyone else seemed content with that answer, but then he said, “You don’t look Italian, either.” I didn’t really know what to make of the situation, but it was pretty funny. I would have never expected to have had that conversation in my Juilliard audition and, for whatever reason, it helped me loosen up and to stop thinking about everything that could have gone wrong. My advice for anyone auditioning at Juilliard and other schools is to get out of your head and just let yourself be you.