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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Rhythm. Speak it, clap it, tap it – whatever helps you to feel it accurately in your brain and body.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.