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A Cappella Auditions

Hello Everyone!  I am starting an a cappella choir at my school.  I am very excited, but also a bit nervous.  My first question is about auditions.  Does anyone have suggestions about what I should require my students to perform at their auditions?  I feel like it should be different from a regular choir audition, but I'm not sure how.  How any advice or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!  Thanks!
on February 24, 2014 2:06pm
I think you need really good listening skills when singing a capella in a smaller choir. You have to sound as one voice and to do that you have to listen to yourself and to those around you. Perhaps getting people to audition in small groups, so you can see how they blend together?
Applauded by an audience of 1
on February 25, 2014 5:35am
We are a semi-professional small ensemble that performs world music a cappella. We have two-stage auditions. In the first stage, I meet with the auditionee alone. They sing a solo of their choice that reflects their vocal and artistic range. I teach them a round that they have to learn by ear (to see how quickly they pick up the music and also to make sure they can hold down a part by themselves). We do a call and response song with claps so I can see if they can match what I'm doing and also to check their physicality. Sometimes I have them do scales so I can get a sense of their voice throughout their range. And I might end up by having them do little snippets  of songs from our repertoire (maybe 8 measures) just to see if they can handle mouth music, for example. 
 
I take notes as soon as they leave. But I also record the audition and share it with one other person in Kaia. I just select the promising ones, I don't give her everything. I share my notes with her and she has a listen and gives me her feedback. If we both think the person is promising, we invite them to second-cut auditions.
 
Second-cut auditions take place with the whole group. We introduce ourselves to break the ice. I plan out ahead of time where the auditionees will sit/stand for each exercise so that everyone in the group has an opportunity to sing with them, especially prospective part-mates. We sings scales and chords, both major and minor. We learn a round, sing it in unison a few times, then in parts, then wander around the room at random. This tests blend, how quickly they learn, and eventually whether they can hold their part by themselves with lots of other parts going at the same time. We do Senzenina, a South African piece with great four-part harmonies. I voice that so the auditionee is with their prospective part-mate so we can get a sense of what our new sound would be. We then do an improvised piece -- sometimes it's a free improv and other times I may assign a bass and a mezzo line and then let the other parts fill in where they may. We don't do a lot of improv, but having it in auditions lets us hear the auditionee's voice throughout their range. It also gives us a sense of whether they're willing to take chances and whether they hear chords well. We end by asking if they're still interested in joining -- by then they've got a taste of who we are and how we work. The whole thing takes about an hour.
 
That exact process probably won't work in a school environment, but perhaps pieces of it would. We've found it very effective. We spend a lot of energy on auditions so the people we get are a really good fit.
 
Sing on,
Cairril
Applauded by an audience of 1
on February 25, 2014 6:27pm
Hi Rebecca -
 
I'm currently running an a cappella "project choir"  -- ie a high school choir that has come together to do a single concert of a cappella pop music. 
 
To audition them I did a two-stage process similar to Cairril's: 
 
First audition, single singer at a time: 
1.  sing a short solo of their choice (to hear how they sound on a prepared and rehearsed piece)
2.  I sang phrases that they had to sing back to me (start work on very easy phrases and go slowly to more complex -- gives a very good sense of how they hear and learn)
3.  Check range using a simple pattern (CDE, DEF, EFG, FGA.....etc)  starting in the middle and going up, then same going down. (gives a sense of how developed their full range is -- much better than "sing your highest note".  Interestingly, it also gives you an idea of who the best singers are -- those who don't sing much can have trouble with even a simple pattern like this, and even when you say "breathe whenever and as often as you like", you learn who can support notes in a sequence)
4.  finally, I taught them a simple four bar melody, repeating until they knew it.  Then I asked them to continue while I sang a  harmony line with a few syncopated rhythms over top.  If they were solid, I improvised a bit around them.  If still solid, I taught them the syncopated harmony as a loop, then repeated singing around them starting with their original melody and going to improv.  This allows you to see who is really sollid -- if they can hold a part while you sing different rhythms and harmonies (even the odd dissonance) around them, you know they can hold a part.
 
I ran a video camera through the whole of these auditions. 
 
Second audition -- all singers who made it through the first process:
1.  Warm up the entire group with an emphasis on singing chords (I had them do a I - IV - V sequence)
2. Teach everyone a short, simple piece or excerpt of a piece (8 bars is enough) in as many parts as you will be singing. Pick something that is not extreme in range.  Have the group sing each part in turn, so everyone learns each line with the whole group. 
2.  divide the group and sing the parts together.  I didn't split the group by voices, I just mixed them up and split them into four groups.  Assign each group a line, sing through a few times. 
3. Assign a different line to each group and sing the piece again.  Repeat until each group has sung every part.
4.  Next step is up to you.  I needed singers who could hold a line on their own so I split up the big group into fours and sent them away to practice the piece and prepare it for performance in 20 minutes.  They were told they had to sing the piece twice, each time with different people on the parts.  While they practiced I circulated and listened.  Finally I called everyone in to the audition room and each group sang. 
 
If you weren't concerned about the solo abilities of each singer, you could make your groups 8 and have two voices per part, for instance. 
 
I felt this process sorted kids quickly in the first round and really gave a good idea of their ensemble work in the second.  Hope this helps!
Doug
Applauded by an audience of 2
on February 26, 2014 8:30am
I have them prepare 60-90 seconds of "a song they love".  In most pop songs, this is probably a verse and a chorus.  I do occasionally get kids who sing one time through a jazz tune, which is also fine.  I want to see what they listen to, if they are a confident solist, and if they can belt (hopefully healthily and in ranges that don't cause undue stress, but lots of pop music just doesn't sound right without it).
 
I also do a range check.  I probably also should be doing an 8 or 16 bar excerpt in which they prepare a harmony part in the style of a pop a cappella accompaniment.
 
Dave Piper
Applauded by an audience of 1
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