“We don’t want nobody that nobody sent.” Timothy O’Sullivan, Chicago Ward Committeeman, 1948
It’s that time of year; we are finishing the academic year or our concert cycles and by rights, we should be able to relax. You and I know that isn’t the case at all. If we are in an academic setting, we hold auditions for the fall semester’s elite groups or screening auditions for incoming students before the end of the semester. If we conduct in the professional realm or conduct a community group, after our last concerts of the year we hold auditions in the late spring or summer before rehearsals begin again in the fall. A professional symphony chorus in my area holds auditions and re-auditions every May. While our singers, administrators, parents and the community think we are getting ready for that hiking trip through the Smokies, we are hearing “O Caro Mio Ben” for the umpteenth time and trying not to twitch.
I have talked about auditions in general ways in previous installments of this series but have not spoken of singer auditions specifically. Even non-auditioned community choruses have a sign-up period. And we usually have them once or twice or three times a year so we should know what we’re doing by now, right? So how are your auditions going?
One of the biggest problems with auditions in regards to Choral Ethics is the lack of an audition plan, or the perception of the lack of plan by those auditioning. If singers who audition for you don’t understand your plan, they will believe you are not being fair when you are just sticking to your plan. And if they believe you are not fair, all sorts of misunderstandings occur. Taking time to be clear about expectations can make a world of difference in auditionees’ perception of you, your ensemble and organization.
Another Choral Ethics issue is how you, the auditioner, behave during the audition. Do you act bored, or interested? If you are forced to hold auditions no matter what, how do you present yourself? Do your auditionees feel they have a chance of making it by your behavior? You may not need extra sopranos now, but you may down the line. If you have ticked off enough singers in previous auditions by your attitude, you may be sure they have told everyone. Let’s talk about what happens when they do.
Twenty years ago, Judy*, was re-locating to a new community because of her spouse’s job transfer. She thought she’d audition for a highly regarded and highly auditioned community chorus, Hotspur Chorale*, while she applied for school music jobs in the area. Her neighbors gushed over the Hotspur Chorale; they sang with the local professional symphony on a regular basis, had interesting and unusual repertoire and singers were a mixture of local music professionals and highly skilled amateurs. She was very excited to be able to do something of this caliber while she was waiting for her new job to begin.
Judy had an exquisite mezzo voice. She had sung in professional choruses while in music school and her previous singing experiences were nothing to sneeze at. She had several degrees in music and was an accomplished Kolday specialist. Any community choral director would be thrilled to have someone like her audition. Not the director of the Hotspur Chorale! He looked at her audition form, rolled his eyes, and asked her to vocalize for him but didn’t tell her what he wanted. She sang her standard warm ups, he sighed and seemed disappointed. He asked her to sing a prepared piece but hadn’t told her before she would need to, or that she would need to bring her own accompanist. She sang her favorite Cherabino aria without accompaniment from memory. He acted bored and she left.
Never in Judy’s professional life had she been so ticked off after an audition. When she heard back from Hotspurs Chorale; they were delighted to welcome her to their organization. Only problem was she wasn’t so delighted to join their organization. In fact, she was so not delighted, she still tells anyone who will listen—her music students and their parents, neighbors and those new to the area—not to bother auditioning with that director. She tells folks no one needs to be treated that way. Oh, and they need mezzos this year!
*Name Withheld by request