Rising Stars Auditions: A How-to Guide

Get excited, everyone – Rising Stars audition season is here!  Whether you’re auditioning this weekend for our Beverly program, or next month for our Gardner or North Reading programs, you can rest assured that this post will tell you everything you need to know about our unique, thorough Rising Stars audition process!

Auditions of any kind can be nerve-wracking, even for the most experienced singers.  So, our goal is to make your audition experience as enjoyable for you as it is for us.  What’s a Rising Stars audition all about?  Read on to find out!

The Format

First of all, it is important to remember that your Rising Stars audition is non-competitive.  Meaning, you don’t have to worry about “getting in.”  We take everyone.  The auditions are simply a chance for us to meet and hear you.  Since our camp program is a musical revue instead of a single show with a fixed cast, we choose the musical selections based on the talent we see in the auditions.  So, you get to participate in a program that is tailored specifically to your strengths, and the strengths of your peers – how cool is that?!

The auditions are one-on-one appointments.  You will not be singing in front of your peers (you’re welcome).  You will be singing for me and Kim Lamoureux, our artistic director.

What to Prepare

For your Rising Stars audition, you must prepare some kind of solo selection.  It does not have to be long – one verse and chorus is enough – but it does have to be memorized.  Let me repeat that.  THE SONG MUST BE MEMORIZED.  

Acceptable genres for an audition song include musical theater, Disney, church songs, folk songs, or classical art songs.  You should choose a song that will highlight what you believe are the strongest parts of your voice.  The song should show us your comfortable range, and have a character that is suitable to your age and acting abilities.

Please please please, do not sing a pop or rock song.  We have very good reasons for this stipulation:

1. Pop songs usually have a very small, low range.  A song with a five-note range that sits in your vocal basement is not going to tell us very much about your voice.

2. Young singers usually just end up imitating the artist who sings the song, even if they are trying not to.  We want to hear YOU, not an imitation of the pop star du jour.

3. Singing a pop or rock song with good technique is much harder than you think, and can put quite a strain on a young, inexperienced voice.

4. Our camp is musical theater, and while the lines these days between pop and musical theater styles are becoming increasingly blurred, we’d ideally like you to choose something squarely in the musical theater category to give us an accurate baseline of how you sing in that style.

You should come to the audition with the sheet music for your song three-hole-punched into a hardcover binder.  This is for the pianist who will be playing for your audition.  Yes, a real live pianist!  No karaoke tracks please.

During the Audition

First, we will do some simple stretching and breathing exercises with you.  This warms your body up for singing, and also helps you to relax a bit.

Next, we will do some vocal exercises with you, which will give us an idea of your vocal range and comfort zone.  If you’ve never done vocal warm ups before, you might feel very ridiculous at first, but don’t worry.  We singers do these weird warm ups every day, so we will not think you are ridiculous.

After the exercises, we’ll have you sing the song that you’ve prepared.  After you’re done, we may ask you to sing all or part of it again and change something about the way you sang it before.  Don’t worry – it will be something simple, like stand up straighter, or smile more, or stop wiggling your fingers.

We may also ask you questions based on the info you provided on your audition form.  Usually we’ll ask about your dance experience, or ask you to tell us about your experience playing other instruments if you’ve listed them.

What Are We Looking/Listening For?

1. Your voice.  This means overall range, tone quality, and where you are most comfortable singing (high or low).

2. How well you respond to direction.  For example, if we ask you to adjust your posture, or sing something slightly differently, are you able to adapt quickly?

3. If you adhered to the audition requirements.  Was your song memorized?  Did you pick the right kind of song?  Did you three-hole-punch your sheet music?  We’re more apt to bestow responsibility on you at camp (read: assign you a solo) if we see that you followed directions for the auditions.

4. Your personality!  We want to get to know you!  Believe it or not, aside from vocal quality, this is probably the biggest deciding factor for us as directors when we are choosing the camp repertoire.  We want to choose pieces that you will have fun singing!

So there you have it.  Haven’t scheduled your audition time yet?  Be sure to get your registration in ASAP!  Our registration deadlines are Wednesday, May 9 (tomorrow!) for Beverly; Friday, June 1 for Gardner; and Friday, June 15 for North Reading.

See you all at camp!

audition tips

The Last-Minute Audition


Consider the following scenario: you decide to try out for your school musical.  They announce that the auditions are just days away.  They either give you a few excerpts from the show that they’d like everyone to prepare, or they tell you you can sing whatever you want.

You’ve never had a voice lesson before, or been in a show, and you feel you need some help preparing for this audition.  So you go online, Google “voice lessons in [town x],” and contact the first teacher who comes up.  You set up a lesson with him or her, and are hoping the teacher can work some magic to help you land the role you want.

Or, consider this alternate scenario:

You auditioned for last year’s school musical, and didn’t get in.  This year, you’ve begun working with a voice teacher ahead of time in order to prepare.  You schedule extra lessons and coachings leading up to the audition, work your behind off, and… you still don’t get in.  Your teacher tells you that you should be proud regardless of the outcome, because you’ve made tons of great progress in the past weeks/months, but you’re still frustrated, and feel that you spent a lot of time and money on lessons for nothing.  You decide to “take a break” from lessons.

If you can relate to either or both of these situations, you’re not alone.  They are incredibly common.

Voice teachers are usually happy to help their students with upcoming audition materials, even if it is somewhat last-minute.  They understand that schools don’t always allow students a lot of time to prepare, and also understand how much it means to their students to land a role in their school’s show.

The Problem, However…

In scenario #1, the student is at an immediate disadvantage because of the school’s short notice.  I applaud the student’s instinct to seek the help of a voice teacher; however, the student must realize that working with a voice teacher is not a guarantee that you will land the role you want – especially if it is just a single lesson, right before the audition.  Many students come to these one-time lessons or coachings thinking that the teacher can work some magic, or give the student a “silver bullet” solution to landing the desired role.  And they are disappointed when the audition results come out.

In scenario #2, the student has made the decision to work consistently with a voice teacher toward a concrete goal – a decision which I also applaud.  It’s likely that, in addition to working toward the audition, the teacher has also helped the student to progress in other ways.  However, upon receiving the disappointing audition results, it’s clear that the student has fallen into two common traps: the first is that she became so goal-centered as to be blind to the other benefits – and the real purpose – of voice lessons; and the second is that she expected her work with a voice teacher to guarantee her a role in the musical.

The student in scenario #1 doesn’t realize that developing technique takes time and consistent lessons with a good teacher in order to take hold; the student in scenario #2 doesn’t understand what the purpose of voice lessons and a voice teacher actually are.  Both students also need to realize that there’s a heck of a lot more that goes into casting decisions than just how well you sing – you need have the voice type, body type, acting abilities, and/or dance/movement skills the directors are looking for.  There are also issues of personality dynamics, reputation, work ethic, and – sadly – school/organizational politics.

Our Advice: Remember…

  1. Your teacher is not a magician.  Even a highly experienced, qualified voice teacher cannot work miracles.
  2. You need to practice.  That means practice now, last week, last month, tomorrow, next week, and in the weeks and months to come.  Building technique takes time, and giving a strong audition is a skill that does not come overnight.

Additional Advice:

  • If you are interested in music/theater and know you will want to take auditions, consider finding a voice teacher now, rather than waiting until an audition opportunity presents itself.
  • If you find yourself in a last-minute audition situation, go for it, if you wish, and do the best you can.  Schedule a lesson beforehand, if possible, and synthesize as much of your teacher’s advice as you can.  Practice, practice, practice in the little time you have.
  • Remember that neither working with a teacher nor hours of practicing guarantees or entitles you to anything.  Casting is a highly multi-faceted process.  If you don’t get cast, it doesn’t necessarily mean you were terrible – it just means that you weren’t the right fit for this particular opportunity.
  • If the audition results do not come out in your favor, use the whole thing as a learning experience.  Assess what went well, what could have gone better, and what you can improve upon for the next time.  Having a positive attitude makes a world of difference.

If you want to find a qualified teacher but don’t know where to start other than Google, you can search the teacher databases at nats.org or learningmusician.com.  Or, contact Kim or Ellen here at Rising Stars to get your lessons started!


How To Ace a Choral Audition

Congratulations – one month of school year down!  Only… 8.5 more to go?  But who’s counting.  

In addition to being a time of new routines and new beginnings, fall is also when many school music programs hold auditions for their various choral ensembles.  This post will provide some tips and advice for your next choral audition, whether it’s a school group, Districts/All-State, or a community group. 

What’s a Choral Audition Like?

A choral audition can be a tricky thing to prepare for.  This is mainly because: 1) choral auditions come in all shapes and sizes and 2) at the non-professional level, they are usually different from solo auditions.

A choral audition will typically consist of the following things:

  1. A warm-up/vocalization period with the director.  This is to test the student’s range and vocal comfort zone.  This may not occur in every audition, but it is something to expect nonetheless.
  2. Singing a prepared piece.  This is either a choral piece that has been assigned by the director, or a solo piece that the student has chosen.
  3. Sight-reading – that scary process where you get 30 seconds to silently look over a few measures of music, and then sing it cold, preferably without stopping.  Check out this post for sight-reading advice!

Choosing Your Own Piece

If you have the benefit of choosing your own piece, do so well ahead of time.  Choose something that highlights your vocal strengths and minimizes your weaknesses.  You should be able to sing it musically accurately, and connect to it emotionally.  Additionally, it should reflect the voice part you’re auditioning for (soprano, alto, tenor, or bass).  For example, don’t sing a belt piece if you are auditioning as a soprano, no matter how strong your belt is.  This will give the director zero idea of how you sound singing in your head voice, which is the primary vocal mechanism for female choral singers.*

*Unless you are auditioning for an a capella group.  In that case, the director probably wants to hear all the different sounds your voice is capable of producing, and what musical style(s) you sing best.  In this case, a contemporary selection usually is the way to go.

How To Practice

If you’ve been assigned a piece to prepare, set to work right away.  Use every resource available to you – the practice track (if one is provided), your teacher, your friends (it can be helpful to practice with others!).  Sing it every day, several times a day, to ensure that you become confident.

I would approach the different elements of the piece in this order:

  1. Rhythm.  Speak it, clap it, tap it – whatever helps you to feel it accurately in your brain and body.
  2. Pitches.  It’s often helpful to sing the pitches on a neutral syllable of your choice (like da or doo) first, especially if the piece is in a foreign language.
  3. Text.  Speak the text first, even if it is in English – this will ensure that you pronounce everything properly, and can find and express meaning in the text.  If the piece is in a foreign language, look up a translation and write it in your music.  The director wants to see that you know what you’re singing about.
  4. Musical terms and symbols: dynamics, articulation, breathing/phrasing markings, tempo markings, etc.

What Is the Director Looking For?

During auditions, choral directors look/listen for the following main things:

  1. Vocal tone. Choral directors look for voices that will blend and balance with the other members of the group. This does not mean that you should completely change the way you sing to make it sound bland.  Rather, it means that you should be aware of your own vocal tone.  Directors won’t accept someone if they think he or she will “stick out.”  
  2. Your ability to learn music accurately.  In a choral audition, musicianship is key.  You must sing with accurate pitches, rhythms, and text, with good intonation and at an appropriate tempo.  You must follow all other musical markings in your score and any and all other directives you were given.  
  3. Your teachability – i.e., your ability and willingness to take instruction and make instant corrections. If the director asks you in the audition to change something about the way you are singing, do your best to comply. If you don’t understand what’s he’s talking about, then ask.
  4. Your attitude. Choral directors are looking for open-minded team players who will follow instructions reliably. They do NOT appreciate divas. Diva mentality works against the musical, vocal, and social aims of a choir. Granted, your attitude will have no bearing on your score at Districts or All-State, and it may not even be a deal-breaker for your school’s choir if you’re really talented, but that doesn’t excuse a poor attitude.  You will make everyone’s lives easier – including your own – if you check the diva stuff at the door.

If you are auditioning for something like Districts or All-State that uses a scoring rubric, try to get a hold of the scoring sheet ahead of time (your school choral director can probably help with this). As you get closer to the audition, do a “trial run” of sorts with your teacher or director. Have them score you with the rubric sheet so you know what to improve on before the real thing.

So, to sum up: be as prepared as you can, find out as much as possible about the audition before going into it, and have a good attitude. Pretty basic rules of thumb for any singing situation, really.