Some shuffled nervously into the audition room, looking as if they might drop their instruments on the stage. Others tiptoed in, as though trying not to alert the judges to their presence.
And others, like Alberto Lovato, took the room by storm.
He was one of several hundred students who came to California State University, Los Angeles, on Saturday to try out for a place in the new Los Angeles County High School for the Arts.
The new school, set to open in September on the Cal State L.A. campus, is to be modeled after the New York High School for the Performing Arts.
Though Los Angeles is the center of the entertainment industry and even produced "Fame," the movie and TV series based on the New York high school, it remains one of the few major cities without a public high school that specializes in music and art.
A week ago, aspiring dancers and actors were at the Cal State campus performing a routine or delivering a few lines for a panel of teachers and professionals.
Saturday, it was time for the artists, singers and musicians. In all, about 500 students, all in the 9th or 10th grades, tried out for the first 200 spaces in the school.
Lovato, 14, who strummed his guitar in the hallway and sang to himself while waiting his turn, didn't waste a moment when he walked before the judges.
"I've chosen music as my career," he told them right off. "It's what I know."
He then demonstrated his point, first playing jazz on the guitar and then on the trumpet, and then finishing with a classical piece on the piano. Between performances, the judges heard about his musical upbringing.
"When I was 8, I played on stage with Dizzy Gillespie," he said. "My dad had sent a note backstage, and I got to talk to Dizzy and he invited me to play a few notes with him."
He also played with Muddy Waters for six months before the blues singer died in 1983. For the last several years, he has "worked semiprofessionally," managing his own band. "And I was just in a Van Halen video, as a drummer," he added.
Born in New Mexico, Lovato said he grew up in San Francisco, where he took music lessons. He now lives with his father in Hollywood.
"My father always had guitars and other instruments around the house. That's how I got started," Lovato said after his audition. "But I haven't been able to practice the trumpet for the past two years. The neighbors complain."
His father, who was waiting outside, said his son is enrolled in a private school for academic studies in the morning and another for music in the afternoon.
"I've tried to tailor his education program for him, but it costs an awful lot," the elder Lovato, also named Alberto, said. "We were looking for something like the New York school, where he could get his academics but it would be in an artistic environment."
Other students said they too were looking for that kind of environment. Travis Leland, who played the trombone during his audition, said he spent three years in a performing arts program in junior high in Central Los Angeles, but he is now in a regular program as a 10th-grader at Franklin High School in the Highland Park neighborhood.
"All we have is a marching band," he said. "I like performing, and I like the atmosphere of a performing arts school."
Bertha Flores, a 16-year-old at Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles, said she is not too interested in her school work, but she is enthusiastic about art.
"I feel I have talent in art, but I need someone to push me. And I need special training if I'm going to make it," she said, after displaying a portfolio of drawings and paintings for the judges.
The students were told they would hear in several weeks whether they would be going to the new school in September.
Meanwhile, about 400 teachers have applied for the school's 12 full-time teaching positions.
"We will be hiring regularly credentialed teachers for the full-time jobs, but we'll also be taking on professionals in the field as part-time instructors," said Betty Tetzke, associate director. The teachers, like the students, will be selected within the next month, she said.
The school itself was the creation of a Music Center education committee, chaired by county Supervisor Mike Antonovich. Coincidentally, the Legislature, as part of the state's Education Reform Act of 1983, created a fund to start specialized high schools in arts and technology.
This year, the school staff has been planning the program with a $325,000 state grant, but next year it must get by on regular public school funding. School officials said 34 of the 49 high school districts in Los Angeles County have agreed to send interested students to the school and to pay the costs for those who attend.