Blind auditions vastly benefit musicians

Every year about 100 students audition to be in Berkeley High School’s prestigious Jazz Band. The BHS Jazz Band was founded in 1960 and has evolved into a full program of 5 bands each year ranging from Jazz 1 to the most experienced Jazz Ensemble. The band plays in festivals, at school events, and the students are even hired to play at local events. The program uses blind auditions each year to create the bands, and though this type of audition is hard on students applying, it overall benefits the program. 

Auditioning for the jazz band can be nerve-wracking. Students must audition every year in front of judges who sit behind a curtain. The curtain is put in place so that the judges can’t see who is playing. Jazz auditions have been this way since Sarah Cline, the current Jazz Program director, joined the program 13 years ago. Cline shared that before she began running BHS’ Jazz Program, the previous directors would bring in music professionals to audition the kids themselves and then report back who performed best. “When I came in I sort of felt like if all my students were going to play auditions, I wanted to listen to them play those auditions. And I didn’t know why I would take myself out of the room,” Cline stated. She felt that there was no longer a need for professionals, but also didn’t want to do a standard audition. “All kinds of research show that even people with the best intentions have biases. And if I see someone walk into a room to take an audition, instantly, all of the things I know about the way that they play are gonna come up in my brain,” Cline explained. 

The blind auditions aren’t very long. “(Auditioning students) play scales and then they play a piece they prepared that everyone plays the same piece. And then they do a little sight reading excerpt that they can’t really prepare for because they don’t know what it’s gonna be ahead of time. And then they play something along with a backing track,” Cline shared, outlining the audition process. Many students find themselves extremely nervous before the auditions due to the uncertainty with the sight reading and the fact they will be playing in front of a curtain.  

Although there are many benefits to blind auditions, there are also some downsides. “I would have preferred to see Ms. Cline’s and Mr. Figueroa’s (the other Jazz teacher) reactions to it. Ms. Cline’s reactions are like a textual reaction for every single person, but you can’t really control your facial expressions. So I feel like it would tell you more about how you actually did,” Katelyn Burmester, a junior who plays alto saxophone and flute in Jazz Lab 2, shared. While this policy is great at preventing bias and has been working for BHS’s jazz program, it makes the students’ jobs harder in some ways. 

Blind auditions have a lot of upsides as Cline said, like keeping auditions as unbiased as possible, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t nerve-racking to students. Overall, the blind method is better than a traditional audition, but it is more stressful for the students auditioning. This audition policy has been working for BHS for over a decade, producing exceptional bands that let their music speak for themselves.