What are your methods of audition?
  • I am curious to see what methods of audition others are employing in selecting new choir members or instrumentalists?

    Do you have them take a piece of music, study it, come back and audition it? Run through scales evaluating their voices or specific instrument/s? If you audition for membership to your choir or ensemble, what standards are you looking for in acceptance of a new member? Do you have them just participate in a few rehearsals to start, and see if they can blend or work well with others?

    I have personally done both auditions in the past, but at more complicated churches in their reluctance to join or commit to any ministry, have just had them show up to see if they could blend, and evaluate their voices when paired with the ensemble.

    Thanks in advance for your advice!
  • francis
    Posts: 10,707
    No hard fast rules. Influencing factors:

    1. Population of town (parish) +
    2. Percentage of members willing to make minimum committment of weekly rehearsal/liturgy +
    3. Divided by Number of ensembles
    4. Divided by Number of weekly liturgies
    = less or more formal musical demands in audition

    When I directed a cathedral choir I expected excellent pitch recognition and musicality. As director of little town choir, not so much as getting an acceptable unison line for chant melody and not much more.
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  • Liam
    Posts: 5,003
    Well, if you have part singing, you at least have to evaluate their vocal placement, because predominant (in terms of bell curve distribution) male voice is baritone and female is mezzo, and singing SATB involves making an informed judgment about how best to place voices. Far too often one sees non-vocalists placing baritones as tenors who on their best days can only sing second tenor, for example (yes, I cast a gimlet eye on the baritones-are-just-lazy-tenors school of choral placement).
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,955
    As a baritone, I know that we really don't sing tenor or bass.

  • dad29
    Posts: 2,225
    I've asked them to match a pitch from the organ, then sing do-re-mi-fa-sol on "ahh" or "ooh", raising the pitch of "do" a few times. If they can't match a pitch, I don't bother with the second part, which gives me a good idea of their vocal timbre/range.
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  • @dad29, when you have them match pitch, and notice they aren't making a match, do you continue attempting to work with them vocally, perhaps one on one training, or do you direct them to perhaps another ministry for their talents?

    If you do admit them to the choir, how have you gone about letting them know they didn't quite fit the expectations?
  • PaixGioiaAmorPaixGioiaAmor
    Posts: 1,473
    We send them to a doctor who examines them and certifies that they are breathing, that he sees signs of life, and that he sees at least some signs of a minimum amount of intelligence consistent with human thought.
  • I wish I could audition, but that would raise a lot of eyebrows in my parish. Unfortunately, I have what I have and do the best I can. I use talented cantors as lead singers to compensate. But, I have to admit, I like Paix's "method".....might work for me!
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  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,501
    I audition in a similar way to dad29. I have told people that matching a pitch is essential to choral singing as we don't "just sing the melody." That being said, I ask them to go and get some singing lessons (four months worth or so) and come back at the beginning of the next season. So if they audition in September, I ask them to get training until January and reaudition. No one has taken me up on my offer.

    I used to not audition. This failed miserably. One time my best tenor (and you know how hard THEY are to find) threatened to quit if I did not oust a newbie who could not sing tenor. I feel it is much easier to do it this way, and I'm not saying "no, never," but go out and get some skills that I cannot teach you in a group setting. There is a capable teacher in the choir, so I direct them to her.
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  • I used to not audition. This failed miserably. One time my best tenor (and you know how hard THEY are to find) threatened to quit if I did not oust a newbie who could not sing tenor.

    I have been in this situation too, which has provoked my curiosity to see what others are doing.

    When you do audition new perspective members, do you do it privately at perhaps another allocated time away from the choir, or other members (cantors, instrumentalists), or do you hold auditions before or after rehearsals?

  • Andrew Motyka
    Posts: 946
    yes, I cast a gimlet eye on the baritones-are-just-lazy-tenors school of choral placement

    Vindication! Free the baritones!
  • PaixGioiaAmorPaixGioiaAmor
    Posts: 1,473
    I was mostly kidding.

    We don't have a lot of volunteer singers clamoring to join, so on the rare occasion that it happens, I go with it unless they prove to be unable to handle it. In that circumstance, I'd have to intervene and discourage them from continuing.

    We just got the first new volunteer singer in a long time, and he seems to be doing well.
    Thanked by 1Jes
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,501
    I audition the person in private, usually after our regular Mass on Sunday. I can often tell if they will be decent just from a minute's worth of conversation.

    Case #1
    Me: "What part do you sing?"
    Newbie: "Part? What do you mean, part?"
    - In this case, my sights are not set very high.

    Case #2
    Me: "What part do you sing?"
    Newbie: "I'm a baritone. I prefer to sing bass, but sometimes I can't reach the low E's or F's."
    -In this case, my heart starts beating furiously and I believe that God has answered my every choral prayer!
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,955
    I have lost about 1/3 of my choir to St. Newbie by the Creek Church, Spa and Deli in the suburbs. They have Fr. Oprah who tickles their ears, a discouraging word is never heard, and where a good time is had by all. I really can't afford to turn people away, so if I need to make silk purses out of sow's ears, then silk purses I try to make.
  • Liam
    Posts: 5,003
    Choral directors who forthrightly validate that the baritones and mezzos who dominate the ranks of their choirs are not actually sopranos, altos, tenors and basses (and choose repertoire with that understanding in mind) earn major credibility points with them. The problem is the denial is so widespread: obviously, if composers write for SATB, then the world must be filled 25% sopranos, 25% altos, 25% tenors, and 25% basses (as opposed to something more like, arguendo, 10-15% sopranos, 20-30% mezzos, 10-15% altos, 10-15% tenors (on very very good days), 30% baritones, 10-15% basses).
  • Liam
    Posts: 5,003

    Yes, but I would call that SABar. 4-part would be SABarB.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,955
    I have more like 40% tenors - a very strong section - 40 % sopranos - also strong - and the remainder divided between alto and bass. Bass and alto are my weak sections.
  • NB- a mezzo is NOT the same range as a choral alto.
    Mezzo-sopranos are sopranos with a slightly lower range, usually about a M3 lower. Mezzos can often be excellent choral sopranos, if your range doesn't get above high g.

    Mezzos are often better chanters, and possess a richness in their midrange than untrained sopranos rarely demonstrate. I say this as a lyric coloratura soprano, fighting envy, as I am always working on that midrange where mezzos naturally have more color.

    Choral altos, depending on the repertoire, often have the same ranges as contraltos. How I love them.

    Baritones with lower and wider ranges are often best situated as basses in choral groups. Baritones with a small range can be excellent chanters, but may not be able to contribute much to the bulk of SATB rep.

    It is cruel to everyone involved to shove baris into the tenor section. Ouch to their voices and others' ears.

    Just some thoughts. Methinks I have too much time lately.
  • Regarding audition parameters, I test for
    - pitch matching
    - short melodic phrase matching
    - range testing (15' of warmups)
    - tonal evaluation (strengths/ weaknesses/ bad habits I need to know)
    - harmony skills (they try to sing a line independently in a two part texture)
    - Choral Scholar candidates have two auditions, and must prepare 3 things for the second (simple chant, polyphonic line, hymn part)

    I interview them about
    - musical background, choral, instrumental, any solo training
    - head/neck injuries
    - allergies/asthma/ Health concerns I should be on guard about (esp for minors)
    - goals for singing in a team setting

    If all goes well
    - I hand them a document articulating choir benefits and volunteer expectations. I go over it with them and save time for their questions.
    - There is a probationary period for everyone (that's new) of several months to make sure it's a good fit on both sides.
    - I strongly recommend that candidates (volunteer and especially choral scholars) audition me and the choir by attending a rehearsal and mass. I want them to be excited and know how intense (and fun!) it is beforehand. Open door policy, though I expect questions after rehearsal, and not during.
  • I wish I had the pool of talent to be able to audition like MaryAnn. God bless you. I also have one talented tenor who rolls his eyes at the gentlemen sitting in his section (although saying "section" is stretching it a bit with this group). But I have to do what I have to do. Like Charles, I will continue, please God, to make those silk purses with whatever material is given me, even if that means a lot of sow's ears.
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  • I feel I too, am in the same situation as MT56 and Charles. Though my reasons for the audition questions really comes from the idea as Canadash stated, once you get someone in, and if they are not good, you end up losing the good members, and once that happens, the choir usually appears very unattractive to potential serious or good members. In some recent studies of this subject to other friends, colleagues and choir members, I posed this very question to perspective members, and have gotten a mix of answers, but most seemed to focus on the idea that it just seems like an ad hoc group, doing nothing challenging, along with members that really can't sing or don't sing well. Often stated that no one wants to join a struggling choir.

    I am hoping that by listening to what other do in regards to auditions, whether choral or instrumental, this will help with perhaps bringing about a solution. I have enjoyed following the recruitment post, and many brought up some very good ideas. One in particular that I recall was possibly MatthewJ's, if I am not mistaken, and that is being a very likeable and outgoing personality, inviting members on a specific bases. I have had other friends do this in past, and it seemed to work for them.

    Thanks to all who have posted, very good advice, please keep the wisdom rolling, it is appreciated.
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  • I keep praying that the Holy Spirit will continue to enlighten the hearts of the faithful who have some musical aptitude. I'm not looking for music majors, but I would like at least one or two people who can tell the difference between a quarter note and a half note and/or have the dedication to go home and review the music sometime before the next mass.
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  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,501
    I must admit, I RARELY tell someone they cannot join and need to take lessons. It has happened twice over the last ten years (oh and the fellow I had to let go). I do not have the luxury of choosing my singers. Mine is a big parish, but people are not inclined to participate in it beyond attending Mass.

    I strongly believe if the singer cannot match a pitch or sing a few simple intervals, he and the others in the choir will regret his joining. If someone really wants to join, taking a few lessons will not impede them. And those who are good singers will not be deterred from your choir.

    What deters many people from my choir is the time at which we sing at Mass. People do not like Mass to take up their whole Sunday. This is what I have been told. They do not enjoy attending Mass at 11:30.
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  • I am in the same boat as both of you ladies. I work for a very, very large parish. We have 9 weekend masses, not to include the funerals and weddings. Everyone is eager to come to listen to the music, but not participate. Nor do they have enthusiasm to participate in other ministries either. They just want to come to Mass, and leave, as fast as possible. Usually the Catholic Christian ends at the door as they scramble to the car, and nearly run you over in the parking lot, or just ignore that you are trying to back up, and speed as quickly as possible to block that attempt. I suppose the hardest part about the audition process is telling someone that they really don't fit, as they can't match pitch. I have started to try to work with them on and individual bases to try to cure it. It worked for a short time, and then returned to the same old poor entonation. I am worried about letting in the same caliber of members in the future.
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  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,501
    Don't do it Contra... be strong. Better smaller... I assure you.
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  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,181
    Even if your pool of talent is smaller, it might not hurt to go through the motions of the vetting which Mary Ann describes: it can have some educational value.
  • TCJ
    Posts: 977
    I have them try karaoke of On Eagle's Wings. If they can't do it, they're in!
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    I sort of agree with Chonak. The core of my principal choir is 20 years together. They were handpicked along with some auditions. Over the years, former high school singers have joined in then moved on in their lives, now kids I taught in parochial come along who've done well in our amazing high school programs.
    I really treat any "unknown" talent with a progressive series of audition tasks so as to nudge them up or have the self-realize they ought to consider the "Y'all Come Sing Choir" option, which doesn't even require any rehearsals. If members of that group ever show great progress, then I reconsider a promotion.
  • dad29
    Posts: 2,225
    do you continue attempting to work with them vocally, perhaps one on one training, or do you direct them to perhaps another ministry for their talents?

    No to both. I tell them to plug one ear and then match the pitch (it's a desperation move) and if that doesn't work, I tell them that perhaps they should take lessons. My task is part-time; I don't give lessons.

    If you do admit them to the choir, how have you gone about letting them know they didn't quite fit the expectations?

    They get the Evil Eye. I have a bunch of chilluns and lots of practice on Evil Eye Techniques. For the particularly dense, I simply tell them that their spirit is willing but their flesh is not cutting it.
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  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    That's funny, Dad, because I reserve the "stink eye" for my existing choir members, which apparently is noticed or transmitted in the ether and explains, I'd wager, why those who come up to me directly about schola membership are "the few, the proud or the Marines."
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,473
    I have what I call a voice check to hear all of the students at my seminary, nearly
    80. It has to be limited to 10 min.
    1. I do some vocalization and warm ups, I have specific ones I like.
    2. I have them sing the top line of a hymn
    3. I explore their range to determine what voice type they are ( often
    they have no idea)
    4. When I have an idea of what voice type they are, I have them sing that
    part in a hymn. If they have difficulty with this, I work on their part for awhile
    to see if they can learn and hold their part when the other voices are
    singing something different.
    For me, this last point is the most important. Tone, vowels, rhythm, reading can
    all be taught. But the ability to hold relative pitch is usually a given or
    not. I would be interested to see if other directors have this same
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  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,473
    Also, in a parish setting, don't call it an "audition" that word has too many
    Connotations. Don't call it anything, just suggest that you would like to
    Meet with the candidate and chat with
    them about the choir, then.... well as long as we're here, lets sing a
    couple of hymns....what's your favorite hymn...
  • Theo
    Posts: 50
    I think it depends on the choir setting. Is it an all-volunteer group, or are there a few professional singers to help out? If it's the former, some ability to match pitch should suffice. Though in some small churches, you may have no choice but to accept anyone who wants to be in the choir regardless of their vocal ability. If it's the latter, a good ability to match pitch is a must. You might ask a prospective choir member to sing a hymn to check his/her sense of pitch and rhythm. You might ask him/her to sing some warmup exercises to find out his/her vocal range. More often than not, a choir is short of volunteers. Unless a person cannot pitch at all, I would be as inclusive as possible. Someone who has minimal reading skills may catch on with the help of the professional singers.
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  • jpal
    Posts: 365
    Here is my procedure:

    1. First, I check to see if the one inquiring has a pulse.
    2. Next, I see if they can phonate.
    3. If they pass both tests, I usually invite them to rehearsal.

    Joking aside, the real "audition" I guess happens after they have decided to join. I will work with anyone who is willing to work hard. Some, after a couple weeks, decide it is not what they expected or they aren't really cut out for it, and so they quit.

    My choir is small, but everyone is very dedicated, listens, and is willing to work hard to get better. I can't really do the rep I would like to do (yet), but I can be patient.
  • mrcoppermrcopper
    Posts: 653
    All the previous comments, or at least most, seemed valid, but having auditioned children for a children's chorus it seems to me that if a singer can match a simple melody (and maybe 25% CAN NOT) then they are good for a choir. Auditions thus can be about one minute long. A pretty large group of humans get rhythm but do not get changes of pitch. It's possible that music lessons might help a few of these.
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  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,460
    if a singer can match a simple melody then they are good for a choir

    obviously, it depends on what kind of choir it is, but- for general-purpose church choirs...

    very much this.
  • It's possible that music lessons might help a few of these.

    Especially with children it's worth seeing if they can hold the melody when hearing it sung as well as played on the piano - sometimes they may not do so well when the melody played but are much better when they hear it sung by another treble voice.
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  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,912
    Baritones with lower and wider ranges are often best situated as basses in choral groups. Baritones with a small range can be excellent chanters, but may not be able to contribute much to the bulk of SATB rep.

    It is cruel to everyone involved to shove baris into the tenor section. Ouch to their voices and others' ears.

    Was searching old threads and found this one interesting, so that's why it has come back around this time.

    I agree with MACW on this one, but timbre plays a role as well. Baritones with a lower range and darker tone function well as basses. It's not too bad to but a bari with a lighter voice and higher range in the tenor section, but it would be wise to allow them (and in some cases advise them to do this) to use falsetto if the part goes too high. It's worth mentioning as well that some untrained men call themselves baritones just because someone has told him they are, or because they can't hit the "true tenor" high notes. Emphasis on untrained. I've learned from my study, but someone please correct me if I'm wrong, that untrained men can rarely hit the "true tenor" notes, i.e. A4 (sometimes even G4) up to C5, and that you have to learn how to sing up there. I also read that "tenors aren't born, they're made." Again, someone please correct me if I'm wrong but this is what I'm finding in my studies and reading.

    I think this also contributes to the reason why most men are baritones: the category includes untrained tenors, as the range matches closely to that of the trained baritone category: B2, or Bb2 to G4, possibly Ab4, with a tessitura generally from C3 to E4, possibly F4.
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,912
    Really? All the people on this forum with degrees in voice, and nobody has anything to say about this? I was sure this would elicit a correction or two from some of the eminent voice pedagogues here.
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  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    1. Subject repeats sample words in normal volume speaking voice.
    2. Warmup larynx etc. with some glissando hums from falsetto to bottom of fach.
    3. Simple vocalise exercises on voiced consonants (n, m, l, z) chromatically raised/lowered, switch to phonemes (mi me ma mo mu).
    4. Tonal recognition. Play or sing short phrases (using one vowel, I like "oo.") Have subject repeat a capella after two iterations. Increase difficulty if progressively successful.
    5. A capella solo using "My country 'tis....Silent night....Amazing grace....whatever."
    6. (If desirable) Change key register of solo song according to tessitura ideal.
    7. Have written examples of a few musically notated melodic excerpts. Have subject determine whether it was played correctly, incorrectly, not sure.
    8. Provide music of simple and short melodic fragments, some familiar (Happy Birthday/Three blind mice etc.) and have subject sight sing on vowel only.
    9. Have subject sight sing a hymn of choice.
    10. Provided 7-9 go well, have subject sing voice part of monophony/polyphony against another voice part(s) played on piano.

    There you go, CK
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  • MarkS
    Posts: 282
    Agreed with melofluent's technical requirements—
    But I'm equally or especially looking for singers who will buy into a philosophy whereby their role is to support the amateur singers in the choir, and who sing and model in such a way that draws my volunteers in, rather than be the 'soloistic' leader of the section. If that makes sense. So vocal quality (which doesn't require much time or effort to discern) and the 'interview' (what is your idea of your role and why exactly do you want to do this?) are for me as important as the technical qualifications—which are a given.
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  • MarkS
    Posts: 282
    But then it occurs to me that some of you may have all-auditioned choirs. Oh well!
  • Two meetings:

    Meeting #1: "Hey! You want to join us to sing Vespers sometime?"
    Meeting #2: if they're good, "Hey! Wanna do polyphony with us sometime?"
    if they're not so good, "Hey! You ever thought about becoming an altar server (if they're a dude)/teaching catechism (if they're a chick)?"
    Thanked by 2CCooze Jes
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,912
    There you go, CK

    I was referring to the placement of baritones in the choir, which is, as you probably already know, one of the difficult aspects of choral direction: where do the medium voices go? SATB doesn't really have a neat and tidy place for them.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Oh, pardon moi.
    Alrighty then, use Weston Noble's famous method. Assuming that you would have targeted piece in hand or using "My country 'tis..." start pairing your baritone with others with similar tessituras listening for all aspects of success, ie. blend, balance, pitch etc., as well as overall comfort. Switch positions left right and check again. Enlist other choristers' input. Add a third person, scramble the mix again and again until the "section" demonstrates ease and confidence.
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  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,697
    Throw them over the ledge of the loft. If they survive then MAYBE they're tough enough to survive one of your rehearsals.

    Purple Bold. OR IS IT?
    Thanked by 2melofluent PaxTecum
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    If your rehearsal is on Wednesdays, legislate that they are compelled to observe "White Suit Wednesday" in perpetuity.<
    Thanked by 1PaxTecum
  • Have them identify, on hearing it played at the organ, the cantus firmus of a random selection from the Buxheimer Orgelbuch. If they succeed in this, ask them, then, to sing (or, at least, vocalise) it both in its original form and in the ornamented form as in the orgelbuch treatment.

    ( ? )
  • JesJes
    Posts: 576
    So many people do Happy Birthday purely because of the 8ve leap for choristers.

    I don't tend to audition choristers, I tend to test them to see what I can do with them. I figure everybody should be welcome.

    I can tell you my audition as organist in one place was to sight read thirty pages, some of the sight reading was along these lines:
    1. Sight read this piece
    2. Sight read the next piece and then play it in the style of ______
    3. Sight read the next piece and then play an interlude which transposes the piece and then sight transpose the piece.
    4. Make up an accompaniment to this chant.
    5. Sight read this hymn using alternative harmony to suit this sight read descant.
    6. Sight read this hymn and sing the melody.
    7. Sight read this hymn and sing one of the harmony voices.

    It was actually the scariest audition of my life. I think I won brownie points when a note got stuck and I pulled apart the organ and fixed the fault and then continued to play the rest of the audition.