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Community Choir audition process - what's yours

We are a community choir that sings mostly pop, rock, broadway, folk, jazz and sacred but typically not classical.  The group has traditionally been auditioned.  The prospective members attend a rehearsal, sing with the choir in the section in which they think they belong and then all auditionees together as a small choir would sing one of the songs rehearsed that night.  A member of the choir from each section stays to provide support and sing along if there is only one person auditioning in the section.  This way no one is left on their own to audition.  The auditionees would then gather around the piano as the director worked them through some vocal excercises to get an idea of range and vocal quality.  Lastly we would sing O Canada with one person starting solo and people taking over as soloist when the director pointed to a new person to see if people could maintain pitch.
We have a new director who doesn't care for this approach and would like to change the process.  It's been changed to simply a voice placement test, however some of us are concerned that this doesn't tell if a person can follow a choral part.   The old process wasn't perfect because when we were desperate for tenors and basses we allowed people in hoping they'd catch on to part singing but often they simply sang the melody in a different octave.
I'd be interested to hear what other community choirs are doing and what process you recommend.
Liz Araujo
Assistant Director
County Town Singers
Replies (6): Threaded | Chronological
on February 3, 2014 6:42am
My format is similar to what your former director did, and we perform the same type of music as you've listed.  We invite new members to "Open Rehearsal" and they sit in their section and rehearse with the whole group.  I point out in rehearsal what section of a song from the repertoire will be used as the audition piece...usually a short segment of about 16 measures or so...and cover it thoroughly.  I select a piece that is mostly unfamiliar where the first sopranos sing high A and there is a well defined second soprano part.  After rehearsal, singers wishing to audition gather around the piano with me.  They are asked to sing their part as I play it with them on the piano.  This way I can hear if they can catch on to their part and have the appropriate range for the section...and although I'm not judging voice quality per se, I do get to hear them sing individually.  All auditionees must leave their music with our librarian on their way out.  The following day we notify them of the outcome.  If accepted, they are assigned the same set of music they used during Open Rehearsal.  If they elect NOT to join for whatever reason or they do not sucussfully pass the audition, we have not lost a set of music. 
We have tried several different approaches over the years, but right now, this is the one that best suits our needs.
Please let me know if you would like to see a copy of our acceptance/rejection letter that we use following the audition.
Eric Brown
on February 4, 2014 6:19am
Hi Liz,
I see nothing wrong with a one-on-one audition with the director. That is my approach for my community choir. The audition consists of a vocal warm-up to determine range, followed by singing 'America' (melody only, unaccompanied) to determine tonal memory (begin and end on same pitch), followed by a sight-singing example I retreived from Don Neuen's choral conducting text. With the latter, I usually walk them through the example, pointing out things to watch for/be aware of...then will play along if I sense they are weak at reading. The last thing you want to do is make the singer feel uncomfortable! I begin by being kind, asking them questions about themselves...something to 'break the ice' and put them at ease with ME! Total audition time: 15 minutes. If I find a singer is marginal in one or more of the above areas, but think they have potential, I then invite them to sing in a rehearsal, placing them next to one of my best singers. At the end of rehearsal, I speak again with the singer about their experience. Later, I email the 'stronger singer' of whom they were seated next find out their opinion of the singer. Keep in mind, this last step rarely happens...only if you have some doubt about their ability to keep up. Most times, they discover how 'weak' they are as a choral participant and make their own decision to not continue.
If I find the singer unacceptable from the start, I simply tell them I will be in touch via email...and send them a (nice) rejection letter. (I would like to see Eric's letter...just for comparison :-)
There are certainly many ways to handle an audition. I settled on this process and have used it for many years with great success.
All Best,
Michael Main~
on February 4, 2014 8:50am
Thank you for attending our “Open Rehearsal” and auditioning for membership in SMFC.  We enjoyed meeting you and hearing you sing.
I have to regrettably inform you that you were not selected for membership this season.  Many factors were considered in our decision including section need and tonal memory, and our decision should not be regarded as a reflection of your vocal talent.
We do value your interest in our group and your name will be retained on our mailing list so that you may be informed of upcoming concerts and future auditions.
Again, thank you for your interest and audition.
Eric Brown
Music Director
Applauded by an audience of 2
on February 4, 2014 5:21pm
Hi Michael
When you have them do the sight-singing example is it a choral part or a melody?  My big concern is ATB voices that can't sing harmony.  We had a gentleman with a beautiful voice who somehow demonstrated ability to follow parts through the audition, likely by singing a fraction of a second behind everyone, but then sang nothing but melody once he was amoung a large group and couldn't be heard.
on February 5, 2014 5:36am
The sight-singing example is a (tricky) melody line. With regard to reverting to the melody, one component I have added when I suspect this could be an issue, is to have them sing 'America' (melody)...then play the four parts while they sing an assigned voice part (ATB). This will immediately determine their ability to follow a given part while hearing all the parts. If you see they are reverting to the melody, definitely have them sit through a rehearsal before accepting them. Usually, if you place the person next to a strong singer in their section, they will catch on. Of course...there are those who will not. That's when you tell them you will 'be in touch' :-)
Eric...thanks for sharing the letter!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on February 5, 2014 5:35pm
Thanks Michael
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