Nobody likes auditions.
I don’t think that’s too controversial a statement! Necessary evil? An important part of creating the best possible choir? Deliberate torture? All of the above?
Bill Eddins, conductor of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, wrote on his blog about the auditioning process for a new principal trumpet for the orchestra. He took a fair amount of heat for this (and answered it well here), but it raises interesting questions.
And this is on my mind since I’m just finishing auditions for Pro Coro Canada, so . . . some thoughts about auditions and auditioning.
There are, of course, many un-auditioned choirs, and good reasons for having such choirs. I have to say, though, that with the exception of my church choirs (and it’s been some time since I was a church musician, essentially between 1970 and 1980), I’ve usually worked with auditioned choirs. Auditioning—evaluating both new and returning singers—is for me a necessary part in attaining (and keeping) a high-level choir.
I also understand auditioning isn’t an enjoyable process for either the auditioner (or the auditionee, especially when difficult choices have to be made).
However, we want our choirs to improve and need a way to evaluate singers, and the audition is one way to do that.
A more difficult question (and process) is whether a returning singer’s position in the choir is at risk in an audition?
For some time now—with the Choir of the West at Pacific Lutheran University, with Choral Arts, with the Seattle Symphony Chorale, and with Pro Coro Canada—I’ve had policies that a returning singer has to earn his or her spot at each re-audition. And I know I’ve occasionally had singers who simply wouldn’t audition because of that, even though they could certainly make it into the choir, a loss for both of us.
I understand the discomfort this engenders (in me, too), but without this possibility, choir membership can become stagnant (particularly in adult choirs—less of a problem in student choirs). And one also has to recognize that an individual singer’s skills, both vocally and musically, don’t stay the same. They can improve or decline. And in the case of a choir like Pro Coro, which is a professional choir of 24 voices (and we can’t increase the number of core singers for budgetary reasons even if, let’s say, I hear several outstanding new singers audition for a particular section), I’m responsible for the artistic quality of what we do—and must make decisions accordingly. Not easy!
Pro Coro has long had a policy of re-auditioning every year. With Choral Arts and the Seattle Symphony Chorale we did every other year (sops and tenors one year, altos and basses the next). I believe the Swedish Radio Choir does every third year (although every year after age 55, I believe), but that's unusual for a European professional choir, since most are unionized and once a singer gains tenure, it's very difficult to remove them.
More about the process in the next post.