Choral Audition Tips from 6 Stand-Out Choir Conductors!

What do you really need to do when you’re auditioning for that choir, small ensemble, choral competition or festival? We’ve asked several of our choral director friends at the top of their game to tell us what they look and listen for. They’ve graciously shared their wisdom with us so that we can share it with you.

You’ll notice that some of our experts give similar advice on a few topics. Pay special attention there, and do what they say! Read on, and get ready for your BEST choral audition ever!

Rollo Dilworth

Rollo Dilworth

world-renowned conductor and clinician, prolific composer and arranger, chair of music education and music therapy at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA.

  1. Spend an adequate amount of time preparing your audition piece(s). Know the music like you know your first and last name. Adequate preparation will often lower the level of performance anxiety.
  2. Dress for success and be professional. I was always told that a first impression is a lasting impression. The impression you make must be engaging and memorable (in positive ways). You are more likely to stand out above the rest.
  3. Don’t make excuses. Even if you are tired, nervous, under the weather, etc., simply forge ahead and put your best foot forward.
  4. If you make a mistake, keep going.
  5. Do your best to “deliver” when performing your music. Make eye contact, use facial gestures and emote (when appropriate) as you sing. You must demonstrate your ability to connect with the music on an emotional level.

Paul Langford2Paul Langford

Chicago-based singer, arranger, keyboardist, producer and conductor extraordinaire, with a specialty in creating superb demo recordings for choral-music publishers.

I regard auditioning as a necessary evil.  I don’t know a single person who enjoys it or who looks forward to it.  For most of us it is anxiety producing, and rightfully so:  You enter a room of strangers and attempt to impress them with something about yourself in five minutes or less.  The flip side, is, of course, that for many musical opportunities this is the singular path.  An unavoidable one.

Here are some of my thoughts on the subject, based on some thirty plus years of attending and conducting auditions in every imaginable situation.

  • Whenever possible, always, always pick material that suits you best and shows your strengths best.  Maybe even get a trusted friend to help you choose, since it’s hard to be objective about ourselves.
  • Be prepared.  Know your material inside out, backwards and forwards, such that you can perform well with the added pressure of an audience and nervousness.  Practice in front of a mirror so you can see what you actually look like while performing.
  • Speaking of nervousness, practice being nervous.  Imagine the room you’re going to be in and imagine the pressure you’re going to feel.  Get used to that feeling and gradually it will have less and less control over you.
  • Detach your emotions from the result.  Hard to do, I realize.  Lots of famous people were told NO many, many times along their road to success.  Do not let rejection from auditions define who you are.  Determine only to try again and to do better.  Rejection is an inevitable part of this process, and not unique to you.
  • Be professional:  show up on time, allow time to find parking and the audition spot, dress appropriately, bring all requested paperwork, be kind and courteous to others waiting in the waiting area (including limiting self-disclosure. Keep comments short and sweet and less asked to elaborate.  Talking too much is a sign of nervousness and inexperience).

Lastly: take any comments or evaluations as opportunities to grow, learn and improve, and then get out there and do it again!

Linda Crabtree Powell

Linda Crabtree Powell

Choral director, Trinity High School (River Forest, IL) and author of Compelling Choral Concerts (GIA Publications).

For the singer, being as mentally and vocally prepared as possible for an audition is the first step. Some directors may have specific pre-requirements you can practice (for example: a prepared song to sing). Others may just want you to come and follow their directions. In any situation, the conductor is listening to your “voice.” Before you arrive:

  • Do some vocal warm-ups
  • Be on time for your appointment
  • Dress appropriately

When you sing, think about what the director may be listening for: vocal quality, matching pitch, vocal range, singing independently, attentiveness, and what part you are. There needs to be choral balance within the choir with your vocal placement.

The director will want to know about your musical education or previous choir experience. Review musical terms, rhythm and notation. If possible, sing sight-reading exercises to freshen up. Smile, relax and just do your best. The director is always rooting for you!

Mollie Stone

Mollie Stone

Among other pursuits, director of world music at the Chicago Children’s Choir, assistant director of choral activities at the University of Chicago, and teacher who helps American choral directors learn and teach black South African choral music in the oral tradition.

  1. Dress appropriately. You want the people running the audition to remember you for your musicianship, and not your outfit. At Chicago Children’s Choir, singers have the opportunity to audition for more advanced levels within the program, and they get a lot of practice at auditioning. I will often spend time in a rehearsal going over rehearsal etiquette, and sometimes, the singers ask if they can have a “practice day,” where they dress in outfits that they think are appropriate, and we discuss the choices they’ve made. Then they do mock auditions for each other, and it helps break the tension.

In terms of appropriate dress, we talk about:

  • dressing as though you care, and want to make a good impression (make sure to brush your hair, don’t wear dirty clothes, etc.
  • demonstrate good hygiene (choirs involve lots of people standing close to one another in a tight space—take a shower, don’t wear heavily-scented perfume, etc.)
  • dress semi-professionally (no short short skirts, spaghetti-sleeve tank tops, or low-cut shirts, and no ripped jeans or baseball caps
  • feel free to show your personality in your choice of clothing, but don’t distract from your own musicianship with your outfit (don’t go overboard).  The truth is, a choir is about a group of people who are joining their voices to produce a sound bigger than themselves.  If any one singer looks like he or she will take attention away from the group, he or she might not appeal as much to those running an audition.  You want to show that you know how to be a good team player if you’re going to audition for a choir.
  1. Don’t make excuses
  • So many singers enter their audition, and the first words out of their mouths are “I’m sorry– I have a cold.”  The truth is that the people running the audition can probably tell if you have a cold, and will ask you about it if they hear it in your voice.  It gets tiring to have to listen to a string of excuses before ever getting to hear anyone sing.  Just go in there, and give it your best.

3. Don’t talk too much, and don’t act overly familiar with those running the audition (especially if you’re a kid)

  • Be mindful of that auditions are often a long and arduous process.  People running the auditions often can’t afford to spend too much time with any one singer.  If they ask you questions, try to give clear, concise answers, and only give necessary information.  Also, if you really want to be in the ensemble, don’t give any hint that it’s not one of your top priorities.  Singers often start talking about how busy their lives are and how many other commitments they have, and this makes those running the audition wary of selecting them for an ensemble.
  1. Be on time
  • If you can’t get to an audition on time, how can you be trusted to get to rehearsals on time…?  In general, think of an audition as a practice rehearsal.  Demonstrate all the skills in your audition that you would be expected to demonstrate in a rehearsal. Be on time, be prepared, be a team-player, be cooperative, be pleasant, and show genuine interest in what you’re doing.

Just to end: one of my favorite auditions last year was a freshman at U of C.  We asked her if she had a preference for which ensemble she’d like to join.  She just smiled and said “Put me where you need me.  I just want to sing!”

Sharon Quattrin Campagna

Sharon Quattrin Campagna

Choral director at Hubbard High School in Chicago

FIRST AND FOREMOST…sing with absolute JOY!!!! I love singing, I chose a life of singing and music, so this should be the first thing that shines from the minute you walk through the door until the last second you leave. People want to enjoy working with you and your personality and talent should be enjoyable to work with. It’s why we all do what we do, right?

Secondly, know your rep backwards, forwards, sideways, upside down, in every way, shape and form. The rep you audition with, whether memorized or while using music, should be so ingrained in your muscle memory and every fiber of your being so you don’t have to think too much about it in the audition. Then you have the ability to show who you are as a musician and colleague and not worry about musically thinking too much. You ALWAYS want to show that you know what you are singing about and ALWAYS want to know about the composer, time period, style, and other pertinent info about the music. It’s not just the notes on the page.

Lastly, whether I’m telling myself this or preaching to my students/choirs; you must show total confidence and comfort, whether you feel it or not. So many of my students fear these situations and don’t believe in themselves. I often stand with them right before going in to sing at competition or auditions and help them with this. It can make or break your experience. If you don’t believe it yourself, no one else will!

Jim Hawkins

Jim Hawkins

– British music producer, composer, and arranger based in London, working with choirs, artists, and business, and currently director of the new Eclipse Choir in Wimbledon.

It’s a pleasure to share some tips on auditioning for singers:

Preparation:

  • Know your “dots” by heart.
  • Practice in front of a mirror.
  • Video yourself from different angles.
  • Record yourself and listen back on headphones.
  • See a vocal coach a few times for help with any technical areas of your performance.

The audition:

  • Be on time, know your “dots”, warm up beforehand, take some water, don’t forget to breathe!
  • Make it fun; smile a lot; you will feel the way you look!
  • Remember, it always sounds less energized than you think, so make sure your diction and rounded vowel are on top form!

Tips in general:

  • Always sing with expression – communicate, tell the story, explain the “emotion” intended. People connect to emotion.
  • Don’t be scared to perform, use your body, use facial expression – a vocal coach once asked me: Would you rather look stupid or sound stupid? It’s a good question!

Singing and music is as much a discipline as a fun thing to do! Work hard and play hard!

So there you have it – advice from experts who have been hearing auditions for a long time. Whatever you do, don’t phone it in. A good audition, like a good performance, comes from working at it beforehand. A hidden truth behind all this is that the conductors really do want you to succeed; otherwise they wouldn’t have bothered to tell you how.

Thanks to all of our generous colleagues who contributed their perspectives. Now for all you singers, it’s your turn – get to work and prepare for the best audition of your life!

—Jonathan Miller, Director of Choral Catalog, Musicnotes.com

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