“My singing voice is somewhere between
a drunken apology and a plumbing problem.” Colin Firth
I am in the midst of my audition cycle. I hold auditions for both my fall and spring concert cycles, so this is the second go-around for me during our concert season. So far, so good. I recently recalled an email conversation I had with a ChoralNetter last fall about auditions. I’d like to share some of it with you today.
Gerard* has been director of choral activities at a small college for about twenty years as well as the director of a local auditioned community chorus. He tells me his audition protocol has changed—and believes it has evolved—through the years.
When he first was hired for these positions, he was of a mind to be as tough as tough could be. He wanted to show everyone he deserved to be where he was. He wanted his singers and audience to have no doubt he knew what he was doing. His auditions were difficult; everyone had to sing one portion of several approved arias for their voice type as well as several sight-reading selections from hell, no excuses. He never cracked a smile in the audition, never made a joke in rehearsal and never seemed human. He believed by being difficult, demanding and stern, he could show students he would not accept less that the best. His community chorus would understand that he wanted them to be professional so he behaved in a way he believed to be “professional;” anything less would not be acceptable.
This behavior was upheld for several years but he felt like a fraud because he wasn’t stern or difficult or demanding in real life. It was draining to always be trying to be what he assumed people thought “professional.” His auditioned college choirs were good and his community chorus excelled BUT auditions dropped off. Instead of auditioning for the elite groups, many of his college students signed up for the non-auditioned large chorus. Truth be told, Gerard felt he could only be himself for that ensemble and could relax.
What finally changed his attitude was this; about five years into his tenure one young soprano cried after her audition. He heard her sobbing outside of his studio. She believed he didn’t WANT her in his ensemble (which was far from the truth) and her friend agreed; he seemed to want everyone to fail.
Gerard started to think about how he handled auditions and auditioners. He had to agree with that young soprano; it often appeared he did not WANT the singer who was auditioning for him in his ensemble. In truth, he wanted singers to make his groups but didn’t want to appear weak. After the incident, he decided to be himself in auditions and in rehearsals. No more stern and difficult, just the real Gerard.
He started by smiling and telling a joke here and there. He gradually realized when singers relaxed, they sang better and he could get a better idea of what they really could do. There were only so many spots for each voice in several of his college ensembles and he had always held that number to be the limit. He decided to expand and have a group of alternates who would rehearse and be able to step in if needed. The alternates have turned into a separate choir and learn their own repertoire in addition to the other ensemble’s.
His community chorus is thriving and is such a happy group of singers. There is much laughter and socializing, which he discouraged before because he thought it distracted from rehearsal. It has, in fact, enhanced the group. Comparing archival recordings from his early years with the group, they sound just as good if not better.
Gerard is just as professional in his auditions and rehearsals as he ever was, but he laughs and shows he is human now. He has learned to let people know you want them to succeed and set them up for success; then everybody succeeds.