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Changing a non-auditioned group into an auditioned one

Hello colleagues
Here is a compilation of answers received so far. Thanks to all who
responded with their experiences. There were numerous requests for the
compilation, so your answers will be useful to many.
Here is the original request, followed by the answers (a couple are edited
for brevity and anonymity)

My 10 year old community choir has improved much over the last several
years, and we are thinking about auditioning singers instead of the
interview screening which we have used over the last few years.
Has anyone made such a transition?
How did you introduce the process?
How did you deal with current singers that are weak - did you "grandfather"
them or start a re-audition system for existing singers.

My Community Chorus is a bit over a year old. The first "batch" was come
one, come all. While I required that people to read music, several were
shaky in that department. Then, as people came and went, it became apparent
to everyone, that we wanted to notch things up. I suggested auditions and
everyone agreed. We grandfathered in current members, but after we obtained
a few good new members, those two or three who were having trouble keeping
up, found some reason to leave the group. Frankly, I was sorry they did,
because the stronger singers are really helping everyone.

The most important thing is to have the support of your choristers in taking
the step. They h ave to want things to keep improving. I designed an
information form and an audition form and used 8 choristers in the process.
Four as an "interview team" and to get to know people while they waited
their appointed time for an audition, (I used the section leaders for this
function, since they are the most responsible but not necessarily the
strongest singers) and selected 4 of the strongest singers, one from each
section) to join me as the audition team. In addition to listening to and
evaluating the auditioner, three of the 4 also sang a simple 4 part phrase
with the auditioner to hear blend and to get a sense of what it was like to
sing with them. So, almost half the group was involved in the process. It
has been great and we've decided to stick with this approach and have
auditions for selected parts as we need them. We've settled on how large we
want to be, so that has helped.

We introduced auditions about 3 years ago. It was a big step for many
people, so we did have everyone sing for me, but I grandfathered most the
ones who had sung for years with the group because of the huge social
problem surrounding it. Some weak people dropped out because they were
afraid of auditions, but not everyone. We have now attracted many more
fine singers and we have about a dozen people who are not of the quality
that we want, many because of age. We have not yet decided what to do
about it, but we are contemplating having another round of auditions. Best
of luck. It is a touchy situation.

I started re-auditioning my existing singers a few years ago. You
definitely need the support of the Board (or the leadership of the
group if there is no Board) to make this change, as it does change
the character of the group somewhat.

I told them (and made it true) that the primary purpose wasn't to
eliminate singers but rather to have a chance to give them individual
feedback on their vocal production, sight-reading, etc. I give them
an individual piece of paper (based on a form I prepared ahead of
time with checkboxes and such) telling them what I hear. I will
occasionally tell someone I think the group has moved beyond their
abilities, but in general if you move fast enough to challenge the
good singers, the poor ones find they aren't having any fun and drop
out on their own.

You won't be able to weed out all the losers in one fell swoop; it
has to be a gradual process. I tell people that I'm seeing weaknesses
A,B, and C, and in order to "assure their future with the group" they
need to address those areas. Then they know they're on probation and
it won't come as a shock if I boot them later (and sometimes they get
miffed and leave on their own) -- and in a few cases they buckled
down and fixed the problems, taking voice lessons or musicianship
classes on their own.

My 10-year-old community chorus, which previously welcomed everyone who had
any affiliation to the ** profession without regard to musical background or
ability, began requiring auditions for new members 2 years ago in response
to a happy problem: our growth had become so explosive that it endangered
our ability to fit everyone into our rehearsal room and our outreach
performance venues. We made the switch hesitantly, given my egalitarian
approach to the group, but I'm now happy we did it because we can now learn
harder and more complex material better and more quickly.

In screening new members, we still don't require sight-reading or even
music-reading ability; our auditions assess pitch, choral "blendability,"
and part-learning ability (either by ear or by reading). We now typically
accept no more than half of those who audition each season (still needing to
keep the group from overflowing our venues).

Since our audition requirement applied only to new members, the introduction
was easy. We did not go back and reaudition current singers. For me, I
assessed the price we might pay in member anxiety about re-auditioning
(often considerable) and a potential decline in group morale (if people's
friends were asked to leave) to be much greater than the benefit of
screening existing members. Each director needs to weigh the pros and cons
taking into account the difficulty of your repertoire, the expectations of
your audiences, your group's morale, and your personal quality standards.

From a board member: Be very careful and open about how the audition
process is to occur, i.e. what it will involve and how people will be
evaluated. You very likely will lose some members simply because no matter
how you handle it, "audition" spells "elimination", and others will hate to
sing alone in front of anyone. If you wish to use audition as a process
for selecting a small chorus or soloists, state this at the very beginning
and explain how the audition will be rated.
Do you intend to seek new membership at the same time? Auditions may
attract better new members who seek a more select group, but this can be
treacherous. You don't want old(er) loyal members to feel they are being
pushed out of the group. Take special pains to grandfather the older
members, esp. if they have been active in efforts such as fund-raising, or
other volunteer activities. The retired members of our chorus are
invaluable for such things; they have the time and institutional memory for
how things have been done.

You can incorporate the audition process into a larger process of chorus
improvement, such as trying more challenging material or a faster pace of
learning, without eliminating people. Concentrate on the things everyone
can do, but insist that they be done, rather than raising the bar so high
that a lot of people fall out because they simply can't handle the pace. Be
realistic about what the group can strive for.
We have just finished two years under a conductor who auditioned everyone in
his first year, which was understandable and acceptable, and AGAIN in the
second year, which many found offensive. The first year's audition process
was simple, requiring no heroic sight-reading or unreasonable interval
repetition, but the singers didn't know they were being graded and that a
small chorus was being chosen from the high scoring singers. The
conductor's assessments were blunt and generated many complaints. Numerous
people dropped out.

The second year some people refused to audition again. but capitulated when
the conductor threatened to kick them out if they didn't. The complaints
raged for the entire year. Those who weren't in the small chorus were angry
that "small" meant "half the chorus." The board fended off complaints, but
it just got worse and worse. We are NOT a professional group. We are and
always have been a community chorus. My feeling is that a small chorus
could be exciting and give people something to strive for, but unfortunately
the way it was handled in our group precluded that possibility. Not everyone
objected to the small chorus, and were glad to see the bar being raised for
chorus performance. However, they were in the minority.

The upshot of all this is that in the conductor's contract for the next
year, the board decreed (1) no auditions of any kind for returning members
and (2) no use of small chorus for at least one year, to let things cool
off. The conductor was angry that we were, essentially, compromising his
artistic goals. It was a difficult year for us, and I hope things improve.
I don't think this choir can survive another season of rancor.

Good luck to you all with the new season
Ieva Wool

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Ieva Wool
conductor and singing teacher
Singing warms the soul, energizes the body and refreshes the mind.
Singing is play, blessing and healing.
Singing touches our deepest yearning to give voice to the spirit within.
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on April 18, 2004 10:00pm
Hi I recently transfred from a school with a Great Choral program to one with a not so good at all choral program . Here is my delima I have a great teacher and director ( he driects band also ) he will form tryout thigns for the band and they sound half way decent but not for the chorus and we sound so bad!! many of us members have complained and he mas done nothing to change it .. I will be a senior next yera and i'm not used to being in a group that sounds horrible ( like I have been in for the past year)

Help what do I do ?? should I hope for the best or take matters into my own hands ??
on January 21, 2007 10:00pm
As someone who would very much like our group to begin auditioning members, I wonder how all of you would respond to this idea.

Audition everyone, new and existing members. For potential new members, the director can select only those who meet his requirements and abilities. For existing members who do not meet the standards, give them an evaluation and set up a "musicianship" class to take place each week before rehearsal. They can then be given the option to stay in the group and attend the extra session or they will not be able to continue with the group.

Does this sound reasonable?