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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Auditions 3

With my PLU choirs I always had a group audition, by section, after the individual auditions. This allowed me to find a bit more about musicianship, how quickly the singer could apply musical ideas, and to see how voices might work together.

If, for example, I were considering 16 sopranos for 12 spots available in the Choir of the West, I’d have an hour to work with them. In the last ten years or so of these auditions I did them “blind.” When the singers came in they’d pick a number (1 through 16) out of a box (they’d write their names on the piece of paper and hand it back at the end, so I’d have my “key” to who I was listening to). After introducing the process, I’d turn my back to the singers and call out numbers for particular singers. Of course, I could identify some singers’ voices right away, but I didn’t focus on guessing—simply on listening to the voice. I think new singers liked this “anonymity,” and later was sometimes genuinely surprised by the results as I ranked the singers.

I’d usually begin with a vocal exercise, and hear all singers one after another. Then we’d work on a passage from a work I’d chosen (usually something from upcoming repertoire). This helped me find out how quick singers were in learning something new and how musically they might sing. I’d then begin to combine different voices to see how they worked together.

At PLU this was easy to do, since we let sections know when recall auditions would be in advance (and they were held during regular choir rehearsal times, so we knew it wouldn’t conflict with another class). I did this a couple times with Choral Arts, but only if I couldn’t make a decision in a particular section with just the individual auditions. And with Pro Coro I only did it once when the choices were very close in the soprano section. I’d love to do this more often, but finding a time when all potential members of a section can do it is difficult, particularly since I have limited time available, too.

Other thoughts about the auditioning process? What works for you?


Clarice Swanson said...

As a former Choir of the West member back in the 80's, I remember those group auditions well. What I found facinating about them was the great effect that could be had (preemptively) on blend when pairing voice number one and two together and then voices two and four together etc. until finally a certian set of voices began to work naturally in concert with respect to tone, virbrato, musicality etc. to create an overall sound that Sparks was in effect, painting. The result, for me, at least, was that the whole challenge of blending chorally, as a singing, was made that much easier when I already produced a comfortable or similiar sound to the voice of the person who would eventually sit to the left and right of me in the choir. Thanks for the memories, Sparks! Clarice Swanson

Jayne said...

At first the blind auditions intimidated me. I didn't understand, had no idea what to expect. Not only was I in a room of historically agressive sopranos, you then turned your back on us and left the rookies in essence alone to the glares of the returning members! However, once the singing started, all of that went away and I felt as if I was alone in the room which made me much more comfortable. I could get through the audition without the typical jitters knowing you were truly listening to each of us. And I agree with Clarice, it never ceased to amaze me the combination of voices you put together until it was just right. I think auditioning blind took the bias out; you heard only the voice and didn't necessarily associate everything you knew about the person with that particular voice. (I will admit, as years passed I pulled stunts to see if you knew who it was and you always caught me.)

Richard said...

Hey, is that Jayne McNutt (or the former Jayne McNutt)? Great to hear from you! (and if it is, send an email or look me up on Facebook)

Yes, the blind audition was certainly interesting, for me as well as singers, I'm sure!

I really did focus on listening to the voices and not the individual (or better said, trying to guess the individual). That was an important part of the process for me. I felt that one purpose was to let the singers have a part of the process where I wasn't judging them with whatever my history was (or wasn't) with them--good or bad--but just listening to the voice and how it worked with others. The other was to disengage me from my preconceptions about singers--and there always were surprises about both new and returning singers. A fun process!

Jayne said...

In the flesh! I just sent you an e-mail; so glad to find this blog!