The Choral Journal archives dates back to May 1959 and contains many wonderful articles, some of which, yes, are out of date; but there are others that still hold importance for choral conductors in the twenty-first century.
In 1974-1976, Carole Glenn published a fascinating series of interviews with seventeen choral conductors on various questions of concern to choral musicians. Over the next couple of weeks, this weekly ChoralNet blog will highlight several of these installments and share some of the answers given. Following is a list of the conductors who were interviewed:
Elaine Brown, Harold Decker, Robert Fountain, Jane Hardester, Iva Dee Hiatt, Robert Holliday, Joseph Huszti, Kenneth Jennings, Allen Lannom, Daniel Moe, Weston Noble, Paul Salamunovich, Leland Sateren, Howard Swan, Roger Wagner, Dale Warland, and Lois Wells.
Installment 4 deals with choral tone and was published in the Choral Journal in February 1975.
A conductor usually has an idealized concept as to what he wishes to accomplish during a performance year. Choosing choir personnel will have a decided effect on his ultimate goals. What then, is his primary concern in the selection of singers? Is he totally interested in tone quality or blend? Does he want singers who are, first of all, adept at sight reading? Does he consider the singer’s personality and intelligence? Where do intonation, color, dynamic control, vibrato, phrasing, rhythmic sense, flexibility, dedication, cooperation, attractiveness, and leadership fit in? With the ideal profile in mind, how does he then audition his singers effectively? Does he have procedures which will successfully test those qualities in which he is most interested? Does he allot enough time in each area? Does he make allowances for nervousness on the part of the singer? Are attitude and appearance important? The following questions were asked of our conductors:
(a) What personal and musical qualities do you look for when you choose choir members?
(b) How do you audition your singers?
Harold Decker – University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois
(a) The singer should have the type of voice and personality which will lend themselves to a group. A person who is too egocentric or too self-concerned often is a detriment to the group. You must have people with vitality and self con- fidence or else they don’t contribute. Of course we are interested in tone quality, ear, and sight reading.
(b) We have two standard audition forms. One is a sight-reading exam which starts with something easy and goes to something difficult. We rate from one to ten with ten different examples. The other exam is for tonal memory also with ten graded examples. For the select groups I ask the singers to sing some- thing which is familiar to them, such as Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes, so that their lyric quality, rhythmic sense, tone quality, and intonation can be ascertained. I always put down the best octave that I hear. From that I determine first and second parts. Often the range of the two parts will be the same, but the best quality octave will be different. The larger the group, the less refined the auditions. In the summer we audition 300 to 400 Incoming students. They come in for private conferences with their counselors, and if they are interested in singing in a choral group they come over and audition at that time. A conductor must develop E.S.P.!
Iva Dee Hiatt – Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts
(a) I’m interested, first of all, in intonation, voice quality, and reading ability. Actually, all three are tremendously important. We seldom find someone who has an absolutely gorgeous voice, who can read like a flash, and who has perfect intonation. Our choruses are composed of those who have at least one and preferably two of those characteristics, and then we work with the third.
(b) I have individual auditions for my particular group which is the Smith College Glee Club composed completely of juniors, seniors, and graduate students. Lawrence Doebler, who is a Fountain- trained musician from Oberlin, conducts three choirs – the two freshman and the sophomore choirs. In the spring I hear each girl in the sophomore class who is interested in going on to the Glee Club. I give her a reading tryout and I have her match some atonal pitches, and then sing a few scales for me. I give her an individual voice tryout on material she has prepared.
ACDA members can read this issue of the Choral Journal online by clicking here (http://acda.org/ccj.asp?ID=1565). Non members can review the benefits and membership categories here. (There is an associate membership option for only $45 a year!)