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Audition for High School Choir - What to include?

 I am a second year teacher who is part time middle school (a section of 7th & 8th Grade) and part time high school (9th grade choirs).
I will be auditioning current eighth graders for a select ensemble for the high school during the 2010-2011 school year. My current list of what will be evaluated in the audition: Vocal Range, Voice Quality, Sight Reading (Rhythm & Melody), Pitch, Confidence, and Tonal Memory. 
Should I be including anything else in the audition process?
What kind of sight reading and tonal memory is appropriate for these current eighth graders?
Any other thoughts?
on April 8, 2010 9:56am
Perhaps consider the following:
  • If this is a select group, it might help to get a sense of their dedication and availability. To that end, you could put together the rehearsal and performance schedule (as you know it at the time), include other possibilities or times ("Would you be available for weekend performances in April and May?"), and ask them and their parents to indicate availability and sign the form. You could also have them declare all their currently scheduled activities for the year (dates and times), and ask which they'd be willing to forego for a rehearsal or performance.
  • As far as sight-reading and tonal memory tests go, you might just have them sing a line of a challenging piece they already know -- if they can sing tenor while you sing (or play) alto, they're probably going to be fine. (Future success being measured by past success rather than some sort of skill assessment....). But if you really want to check their sight-singing, give them something fairly simple with logical intervals and rhythms. Regardless, I'd add "Can Hold Part?" to your list.
  • OR, save it for the callbacks, when you teach them all a four to eight measure sequence from a simple song, then break them into quartets and have them sing while you take notes.
  • Give yourself the ability to choose singers based on personality. If the singer is notoriously disruptive or unsupportive -- even though they have a great voice -- the behavior will likely affect the group's overall experience negatively.
  • If by "confidence" you mean Commitment (willingness to "go for it" big-time, regardless of how scary it might feel), you might do a warm-up or two that gives you that information about the individuals. Check the "Movement" and "Safety First" pages of my website for lots of possibilities (that I've used for musical/theatre auditions). Folks who are shy or inhibited during the warm-ups are ones to think thrice about before allowing them into the group.
  • If you teach "stage presence" or "authentic expression," I'd make sure that was on your audition master list.
  • You don't have volume on your master list, or anything related to healthy versus unhealthy vocal technique, but you might watch for both of those things.
All my best,
on April 9, 2010 2:17pm
You might consider testing the singer's "mind's ear."  This is not an original idea but I can't remember to whom credit is due.  I have found that having the student sing "Happy Birthday" in the following way reveals much.  Most people know this song very well but feel free to choose something else that they know.  Something from the repretoire on which they have been working could easily work.
Happy Birthday has four phrases.  Ask student to sing the first 2 phrases out loud.  Have them sing the 3rd phrase silently (i.e. mouth the words or whatever) but keep the melody going in their head.   They should then sing the 4th phrase out loud again. 
I usually give them the opening dominant 7 chord for the key of F.  But certainly choose whatever key works for the singer.
Sincerely, Paul
on April 9, 2010 6:54pm
Tom's comments are well worth taking to heart, especially the part about guaging the commitment of both the student and the family. 
For my college show ensemble, I had a much more elaborate Audition Form, and one that the students did NOT see (although I was always happy to interpret it for them individually) because certain key words that I and my choreogrpher used might have been misinterpreted.  It had three large areas:  Vocal; Dance; and General.  (I later adapted it for Musical Theater auditions and added a section on Reading for cold reading from a script.)
In the Vocal section I had the following sections:  Voice Quality; Vibrato (important for judging blend, but also for identifying potential soloists); Rhythm; Style & Musicality; Reading/Musicianship/Harmony; Pitch; and a staff segment for Range.  All those were judged through their prepared song except range, for which I vocalized them.  Under Dance I included Performance Quality/Showmanship.  Under General I included Stage Presence, Personality, and Attitude (the latter two very hard to judge in an audition situation, but infinitely important!).  (Style is how someone sells a song.  Stage Presence is how someone sells him- or herself.  Both are important.)  I was auditioning for BOTH potential soloists AND good choral singers; all my singers danced, and all my dancers sang, if not as soloists.
But what I would like to call to your attention is testing for "Sight Reading."  Most such tests are not good predictors, and most do NOT allow judgement of the student's capabilities.  That was brought home to me in my first summer directing a College show for Disney.  Everyone in my cast had passed a "sightreading" test in auditions.  But half of them could not read, and one young man COULD NOT sing a harmony part, just the melody!!!  So the following year, when I was asked to handle the vocal part of the audition tour, I tried to figure out what I REALLY wanted to judge.  And my decision might surprise you.
First, asking someone to read a melody--let alone a known melody--is no test at all.  What I wanted to know was whether they could learn a harmony part in rehearsal, retain it, and sing it as part of the group, so that's exactly what I tested them for.  I didn't care whether they sighread, learned by ear, or by prayer and fasting, just whether they could actually DO it.   And it WORKED!  (And it worked so well that I continued to use the same test and the same tapes for 14 years for my college ensemble!)  The ones who failed were often those with lots of musical theater experience, but little choir experience.  Great soloists, some of them, but lousy at learning and singing harmony.  And our rehearsals that summer went VERY quickly because they had been selected for that ability.  (And the couple we picked as "Swings" easily learned all the parts and all the solos so they could go in to replace anyone on stage.)
So I recommend thinking about what you REALLY want to know about reading ability, and then structure a test that actually measures it.
If anyone's interested in more details of what I (and my wife) came up with, please feel free to contact me off-list.
All the best,
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