“What is drama but life with the dull bits cut out.” Alfred Hitchcock
Last week’s blog got responses on ChoralNet and off. Several ChoralNetters have contacted me with interesting opinions and situations about auditions (which will become future blogs) but one thing is clear; auditions strike a chord with everyone!
This is the beginning week of my own chamber choir’s summer auditions. My chamber choir is a semi-professional group which means most of my singers have degrees in music, or make their living somehow in music, but don’t get paid for singing with me. The elementary school music teachers sing with me to “feed their souls” and the church choir directors do too. Everything I do, or don’t do, with my auditions has been directly influenced by my own experiences in auditions, whether good or bad.
We do private appointments for auditions and I have very specific expectations which I clearly explain to any auditioneer. I do the usual vocalizing, some sight-reading, give them a choice between two well-known songs to show me they are able to control their vibrato, then comes the most important part; the interview. With a chamber choir, this may be the most important part of the audition. I also tell them approximately when, and by what means, I will notify them if they’ve made it or not, and then I do it. It’s usually by email, sometimes by phone call and often as the audition ends. If they don’t make it, I kindly tell them why if they ask me.
The folks who audition for me usually know what kind of group we are, but occasionally, they don’t seem to understand. The soprano who asked if she could have all the solos during her audition didn’t have a clue because she just knew she had a better voice than my other sopranos. I explained (that concert cycle) we would have two firsts and two seconds so everyone really had a kind of a solo; it didn’t seem that way to her since she said unless I gave her the solos, she wouldn’t sing with us. Too bad. Or the tenor who told me at the beginning of his audition he was a cantor at one of the local Roman Catholic churches and had his own fan club; he couldn’t stay in tune, it pained me not to accept him. The bass who tried to bully me into allowing him to sing a prepared piece when I told him I didn’t want a prepared piece was surprised when I told him he didn’t make it. When asked why, I told him his attitude was the reason.
Jessica* wrote to me last week about her audition experience. She began her present position five years ago as the chorus director of a highly auditioned community chorus. She was given a clear mission by the chorus board to clean out the “dead wood.” Sound familiar? With a group of long-time, devoted singers, some of whom haven’t auditioned since they joined in the 1980s? Ring any bells?
Jessica’s chorus is not to the level of the chorus we discussed last week BUT they were pretty good. And they are even better since she’s worked with them for the past five years.
What did she do? She listened. When the board gave her the mandate to clean up the roster, they also told her they would give her two years to finish the process. She asked if she could spend the first year listening to the singers, listening to their singing and to their concerns. The board agreed.
This is a very social chorus, with potluck dinners at the beginning of every concert rehearsal cycle and a holiday party in December. She got to know the singers, their families and their devotion to the chorus. In the end, she still cut whom she believed she had to because that’s what she agreed to do.
How did she do it? Gradually. She started auditioning the second summer she was there; with a chorus of 100, it was going to take some time. She asked people to sign up for private appointments during two weeks in July and two weeks in August. It seemed to her, those who realized they would probably not be invited to sing with them again signed up in July. There were a few who told her, personally, they would not audition because they didn’t believe they would do well, and with no animosity. Anyone who was not going to be invited back got a personal letter, with another handwritten personal note from her and the executive director. Only one person made a to-do about not being asked back.
More audition stories next week!