The Director’s Response to Auditions

In a post a few weeks, I detailed 3 reasons why I believe choir conductors should hold auditions. They were:

Today, I want to talk about how auditions are a boon to directors. They are helpful in several ways:

  1. They show the talent level that the director is working with.
  2. They show areas of weakness the director needs to improve.
  3. They show the growth of the singers.
  4. They confront the director’s preconceptions.

Auditions show the talent level of the choir.

A director doesn’t know where to start unless he has an accurate assessment of his singers. The director needs to know how capable his singers are at music-reading and singing. Those two elements are key to creating a good choir and a positive experience for all involved. Once a director knows this, he can begin to formulate a workable plan. He can choose what reading and vocal techniques to teach. He can choose repertoire that is appropriate to the choir’s skill level.

Auditions show areas of weakness the director needs to improve.

Directors can gradually become tone-deaf to the weaknesses of their choirs. The tendency is for directors to do the same-old same-old. To combat this, directors should constantly reevaluate the sound they are after, the training they are giving, the rehearsals they running, etc. To neglect reevaluation is to stay in the status quo. “Status quo,” as Ronald Reagan famously once said, “You know, is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in.’”

Over time, this leads to a basic sound that is lacking in some way. I attended a choir concert last year with a fellow choral director. Afterwards, he made the statement that this choir, which he had heard several times, always became screechy in their high range. I don’t think he used the word “screechy,” but that’s the word that came to me today. Don’t create a negatively identifiable sound.

There are several ways to determine your choirs’ weaknesses. 1) Listen to recordings of them. 2) Have someone tell you. 3) Auditions. If many of your individual singers are weak in a certain area, then it means you did not teach them well.

Auditions show the growth of singers.

As an educator, it is thrilling to see my singers become better at what they do. Think of yearly auditions as if you are charting their progress. Then, give yourself a gold star if the singer is getting better! Give yourself a frowny face if the singer is doing worse.

Auditions confront the director’s preconceptions.

Directors have to have an aural image of the sound they want. Beginning directors, however, don’t quite know what they want. Sometimes, their singers are not capable of making the desired sound. A teenage choir will not produce a “big” sound like an adult Russian chorus.

The voices are physiologically smaller and lighter. Hearing voices individually can give you a feel for the sound you will be able to create. This, in turn, informs how you approach voice-building.

A second preconception is about individual singers. A director can get into the habit of only choosing singers they know for solos and select ensembles. This excludes singers they don’t know, which is very frustrating and unfair. This is why I hold tryouts for every solo I can. Everyone gets a shot, and I am-not infrequently-surprised by the talent of a singer I would have never normally considered.

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