Why Choir Directors Should Hold Auditions

This week, I am holding auditions for both my Branch United Youth Choir and my Battle Creek Boychoir and Girls Chorus. This got me thinking about the why’s and the wherefore’s. Why have auditions? What do they accomplish?

At the beginning of my first year as a high school choir director, I announced we would have auditions. I wanted to know what level of voices and training I had. Unfortunately, that announcement went over like a lead balloon. You would have thought that I had said we were going to have root canals. There was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Singers were talking of quitting because I mentioned that hateful word.

I was shocked. My choral director methods class back in undergrad never mentioned this possibility. Auditions never scared me. Why would it frighten anyone else? I just couldn’t feature why it was a problem.

I soon discovered the reason. Auditions had never been held before. Apparently, previous directors chose singers for special ensembles and competitions without any tryouts. I can understand why it was done. Not having auditions is less frightening to young singers.

My solution at the time was to call for “voice placement.” This term meant the same thing as auditions, but it did not have the scary connotation. The auditioners would not fear that they would be rejected from choir.  I wasn’t going to cut anyone.

It was my job as a choir teacher to give the training necessary to make them good singers. I still believe that is the point of youth choirs anyway.  Youth choirs are primarily educational. To reject someone is to refuse to give them the training they need to become better.

Gradually, I reintroduced the word “audition.” Why? Because I believe auditions are important as a concept for several reasons:

  • To neglect auditions is to neglect merit.
  • Auditions prepare singers for the real world.
  • Auditions confront the director’s preconceptions.

To neglect auditions is to neglect merit

I am a firm believer in a meritocracy. Consequently, I never liked it when people were given parts without any tryouts. Giving someone a part without a tryout always felt shady to me. It can look like nepotism, favoritism, or some other ism. It is important to appear fair.

Equality shouldn’t always mean everyone gets the same thing, but it should at least mean that everyone gets an equal shot. When I audition others, I want them to feel like they are being considered. I don’t play favorites. If they are good singers, musicians, and mature enough to handle it, then I will move them up to a more skilled and “prestigious” ensemble, plain and simple, fair and square.

These are some thoughts on auditions. I will continue my thoughts on this in the coming weeks.

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