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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Auditions V - What do you prioritize?

After the long audition process you've gone through (well, long enough, anyway!), you have to make decisions as to who's in your choir(s). Difficult choices will always be a part of this if you have an auditioned choir. What do you prioritize? How do you make these choices?
The comments here are for those who have relatively advanced singers, so this (as with much of this series) might not speak to as large a number of conductors. But I hope it's still helpful and of interest.
First, how do you treat returning members of the ensemble? Are they automatically in? Do they have any "skin in the game" during auditions? I've almost always required re-auditions, but it's been incredibly rare for me not to take a previous member of the choir. Loyalty (assuming they've been a responsible member of the choir) goes both ways!
However, I've known of a few conductors who rate their singers on a scale and take the top rated singers, without regard to previous membership. A legitimate choice--but what do you think? Do you do this? Could you do this?
Second, one can prioritize (this is broadly stated!) either vocal sound or musicianship/ear. What's most important to you? The very best voices? The best sightreaders?
Obviously, this is a vast oversimplification, but there is an element here that is important--your choices will have consequences. If you find yourself frustrated with the speed with which your choir can work, did you prioritze quality of voice too highly? Or, if you're unhappy with the sound of your choir, did you leave some really fine singers with great instruments out of your choir because their reading was poor?
If we all had the perfect situation, we'd have fantastic voices connected with unbelievable musicianship and experience--but then we probably wouldn't be a good enough conductor to work with them!
In reality, choices are a balance--one looks for the combination of voice/musicianship which will create the best choir. The real choices are at the margins--with the majority of the singers it'll be pretty clear whether they belong in the choir or not. But decisions for the last few singers in each section can be difficult (even agonizing) and here's where the needs of the ensemble can help with the decision. Do you need a particular voice type (a high soprano? soprano with a warm lower voice?)? Have you already chosen some beautiful voices for the section, but some whose reading is poor? In that case, you might choose a fantastic reader (without a great voice) who can help that section learn more quickly and give musical leadership. On the other hand, you might need a voice that other voices can use as a model of the kind of sound you need--even if their musicianship isn't of the highest level.
And what about the intangibles (perhaps not so intangible!)--personality, leadership qualities--those things we might put into the overall term, "character." Is the singer committed, enthusiastic, energetic, a good leader? These are elements we also should consider.
If you have thoughts about how you make your final choices, please share them!
All the best with your choirs this year--may your audition choices turn out to be wonderful ones.

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