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Running placement auditions effectively

Hoping the wise people of Choralnet may be able to help me as you have done so many times in the past.....My SATB community chorus will return from their summer break in 2 weeks' time, and at our first session I will need to voice test each of the singers (all 57 of them!) for section placement. This would probably be easier with a new group, but most of the members have been singing with the ensemble for years and many have strong opinions as to which section they or the person on either side of them ought to be singing with. Soprano and Alto sections are divisi in theory at least, but the current balance isn't right. (I'm told that many singers placed with Soprano 2 under my predecessor opted to 'migrate' to Sop 1 when I took on the the role last year). Any recommendations on an efficient method for hearing each person in one session and placing accordingly whilst keeping the other singers occupied?
on August 19, 2015 7:26am
Dear Cathy,
Since I don't know the culture of your ensemble (other than that the members are strong-willed!), I can share how I chose to handle the audition process when I took over a large community chorus.  Perhaps my positive experience can translate to your situation.
I was chosen by national audition to take over from a longtime music director who had been revered but who had grown tired and the group stale.  The membership was strong (150 members) and opinionated.  They were unsure, even skeptical, of a young conductor coming in " change things."  So, I chose to implement an audition policy that empowered and enlisted the chorus members to the work of making the musicianship and the sound of the group their priorities as well as mine.
First, I announced that I would audition everyone, but no one would be asked to leave for the first season.  Instead, singers would be told what their strengths and weaknesses were on the spot, and those with lower scores on their diagnostic evaluations (I designed a sheet which lists and ranks detailed and specific vocal and musical skills) would be encouraged to participate in voice, ear training, and musicianship classes that I set up during that first season.  A number of the poorest singers opted out of the process immediately.  Those who had weaknesses but wanted to improve took advantage of the classses and the voice work during rehearsals that first season.  The better singers were pleased to be in a group that was working with transparency and commitment on vocal and musical excellence.
With this plan, I ended up having to dismiss very few singers, and the group's morale improved.  As the overall abilities of the group improved from within, more and more good singers chose to join the group, so the improvement in performance in just a few seasons was dramatic .Even now the group continues to improve from season to season, a third of the group takes private voice lessons, and I continue to use the warm-up and subsequent rehearsal work to practice group vocal techniques that improve intonation, ensemble, and expression.
If you are interested, I would be happy to share my diagnostic sheet with you.  The audition takes about 8 minutes total per singer.  When coupled with the basic theory test that we give, the evaluation provides a clear, comprehensive measure of the singer's abilities.  Good luck with your testing!
Richard Hynson
Music Director
Bel Canto Chorus
Applauded by an audience of 1
on August 19, 2015 8:00am
We have a fun process taken from an Harry Potter theme.
Since we seat by voice timbre, we line up an entire section along one side of the room, and then have each person
sing a scale passage.  The rest of the group then moves them up or down their line according to bright or dark sound.
We call it the sorting hat and it provides a good bit of levity as well as giving me information.  I don't always take the full group's
recommendation, but if it is fast moving and fun there are no hard feelings.  It also gives a rationale for moving people to
improve the group dynamic.
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