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?