Audition Stories: Ibanda Ruhumbika

-Lily Kaiser

Below is the first edition of a new series of “Audition Stories”, a fistful of firsthand reports on what it takes to get on From the Top. We’ll cover details from the toughest application question to the fateful phone call and everything in between. Of course, the best way to find out what auditioning is like is to do it yourself – download the application here.

Ibanda Ruhumbika leading a From the Top education program in Hawaii.

Ibanda Ruhumbika leading a From the Top education program in Hawaii.

19-year-old tuba player Ibanda Ruhumbika has mastered the art of being on From the Top. He’s appeared on the show three times, once with the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra, and twice as a soloist. Ibanda can take anything we throw at him, whether we hide him behind the 120 members of his youth orchestra, set him up to talk about music with a group of admiring students at an all-girls school, or let him shine in front of a camera while the New York Philharmonic brass section strolls in as his surprise collaborators.

But Ibanda wasn’t always a From the Top poster child. In fact, he wouldn’t have played on the show at all if it weren’t for his persistence.

“I made it the third time I auditioned,” Ibanda told me. “I’ve listened to the show since I was in eighth grade. I’m a big fan, so… when I was in tenth grade, I sent in a tape, and some time before the Atlanta taping I sent in another tape, and finally, I had a live audition when I was studying for the summer at Interlochen.”

Was he nervous to do a live audition for people he’d listened to on the radio for years? Not really.

“It was pretty comfortable,” he said. “Tom [Vignieri, From the Top’s Music Producer] was really casual about it. I pretty much played and he said, ‘So, there’s a show next week, do you want to be on it?’ and I did.”

He made it sound easy, but for Ibanda, there was more to getting on the show than just saying “yes.” After two years of auditioning, he had snagged a spot at last – only to lose it again.

“I got pneumonia,” he said. “After I got back from Interlochen, I had a little cough, and the cough was dry and it just kept getting worse and worse… I was supposed to fly up to Chicago on Friday, but on Thursday I went to the pulminologist and he was like, ’You have pneumonia.’ I felt bad canceling on From the Top because I was calling the day before I was supposed to get there, but I couldn’t even talk.”

Ibanda has gone down in From the Top history as the only kid who has had to call in sick. In fact, some staff members suspect he did it on purpose. A week after he missed the Chicago show, Ibanda called From the Top to tell them he was feeling better. Lucky for him, the next show we were taping was in Hawaii!

“I said I felt pretty ready to play again, and they told me there were two shows coming up, one in Hawaii and one in Columbus, and I could pick which one I wanted to be on. I decided to go with Hawaii. I just like the beach more than going to Ohio.”

Ibanda finally performed on From the Top after three auditions and one false start, but he picked up a valuable lesson on his long journey to the Hawaii show.

“I was learning so much, focusing on one thing all day and getting it perfect,” he said. “I think you go through the most growth when you’re preparing for something.”

Lily Kaiser, Ravishingly Beautiful From the Top Intern

Lily Kaiser, Ravishingly Beautiful From the Top Intern

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hi everybody! I’m Lily Kaiser, an intern at From the Top this summer and a rising sophomore at Georgetown University. I love music, but I don’t play an instrument, so I’m cultivating my music appreciation skills. I practice them for hours a day until my ears bleed, dreaming of the day when I can appreciate in Carnegie Hall. I’ll be writing a couple posts a week. Keep an eye out!