Giving a college try Burke hosts 6th annual band scholarship auditions

Woodland High School senior Jon-Trevor Berry prepares for his auditions at Burke High School’s sixth annual band scholarship event.

Imagine shopping at the mall, but instead of looking for clothes, you’re shopping for a college scholarship.

That’s how Burke High School Band Director Linard McCloud described the sixth annual scholarship audition fair.

High school juniors and seniors from across the state had the chance to audition for bands at several historically black colleges and universities, including Benedict College, S.C. State University, and Florida’s Edward Waters College and Bethune-Cookman University.

Students stopped in between 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. April 30 to audition for as many schools as they wanted. Some schools, like Bethune-Cookman, were able to give students offers right after their auditions.

Donovan Wells, Bethune-Cookman band director of 16 years, said when looking for prospective students he wants someone who has a mastery of the instrument and is a good student. “I would tell any student not to wait until senior year to master your skills. Music and band can be a vehicle to your degree,” Wells said.

Many students, like Burke senior percussionists Raheem Shakir and Eric Davis, have been waiting for this day for years. Raheem said preparing for an audition is no different from practicing a sport. They both had been rehearsing their audition pieces four times a week since last spring.

Eric wants to go to college to study graphic design or music production. He said he auditioned for several schools so he could “weigh his options.”

“That was her dream — for me to go to college,” Eric said of his late mother.

Jon-Trevor Berry, a senior baritone player from Woodland High School in Dorchester, said he started preparing in August for his audition. He’s been involved in band since the sixth grade. “I’ve been looking up to these bands since I was a kid. It’s my dream to become a band member. I like the way they march and their show style,” he said.

Berry’s band director, Desmond Williams, is an alumnus of the South Carolina State band, and this is the first year Woodland High has participated in the event.

“It’s a good opportunity for the students. It’s a chance for them to meet college directors face to face. They probably wouldn’t get the opportunity to audition for out-of-state schools otherwise,” Williams said.

Dillon and Manning high schools also sent students to the auditions. McCloud said that many students in rural areas like these do not get the opportunity to audition for major schools.

And for many students, being in the band is about more than just getting a scholarship.

“I wouldn’t be going to college if it wasn’t for band. I wouldn’t be the person I am today,” Raheem said.

For him, being in the band since freshman year has kept him focused on school. He said McCloud “encourages (him) to be the best.”

Wells said the development of band members also is something they focus on at Bethune-Cookman. “Our goal is to make sure that through band we’re developing young people to be good citizens. ... That’s how we measure the success of our program,” Wells said.

South Carolina State Band Director Eddie Ellis has been recruiting students from Burke for nine years.

“South Carolina seems like a small state, but there are so many schools I have to cover. I just can’t do them all. It’s convenient,” Ellis said of the Burke event.

Like Wells, he is looking for well-rounded students.

“We’re not looking for students who just want to be in band because they’re not going to want to go to class. We’re looking for students who can be in band, juggle academics and graduate,” Ellis said.

Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or