Joining a Choir – How to deal with the audition

A lot of people are interested in joining a choir, but often get put off by the perceived challenge and trauma of going through an audition.  In this article I hope to address some of the issues I have heard potential choir members raise and help those of you who are perhaps preparing for an audition of your own.

An audition is often likened to a job interview, and for many just as intimidating.  But it needn’t be that way.  Below I have set out a few tips to help you with an auditions you might be going to.

1. Preparation

A lot of choir auditions will involve you singing a piece of your choice, either to a backing track, unaccompanied or with an accompanist.  If you don’t have a backing track or an accompanist then you might also be able to ask the choirmaster to accompany you – most will happily do this although if you are unsure then sometimes its best to sing unaccompanied.    Whatever you choose, then preparation is the key to success.  Also, do try to find out as much as you can about the audition, what’s involved and what’s expected of you.  Whilst you may not be able to prepare for sight-reading exercises it’s still worth knowing and giving some thought as to how you might approach it!

Most importantly is the preparation you give to the song you have chosen to sing.  Depending on the type of choir you are auditioning for, you will generally have free choice, so choose something which suits your voice well – i.e feels comfortable to sing but at the same time shows off your voice to best effect.  Once you have decided on the piece, it’s worth learning it by heart.  This is actually easier than it sounds and in fact you are more likely to give a better and more natural performance without the music.

On the day of the audition itself, and particularly as your turn approaches make sure you find some time to warm up your voice. A few short excercises will help and also make sure you have a bottle of water with you so your throat doesn’t get dry.

2. Vocal Range

The choirmaster, or person auditioning you, will be keen to know your vocal range in order to help you find your place in the choir.  Most choirs are divided into 4 parts. Soprano – Upper Ladies voices, Alto – Lower ladies voices, Tenor – Upper Mens voices and Bass – Lower mens voices.  It’s not always as straightforward as that. There are plenty of male altos, and quite a few female tenors, but that should serve as a guide.  You can also divide each part into upper and lower – a ladies choir for example might have 2 soprano parts and 2 alto parts.

In order to establish your vocal range you will be asked to sing a few scales to work out the lowest and highest notes you are comfortable singing.   Again, there is not right or wrong answer to this. What matters is finding the right place for you to sing in the choir.   Remember voices can change over time.  Before the audition you might want to try a few scales. Broadly speaking if you can sing up to around a D4 (8 notes above middle C) then you are probably an alto or bass and if you can easily sing to a G4 then you are more than likely a tenor or soprano.   Obviously there are other factors and this should only be taken as an approximate guide!

3. Sight Reading

For many people, this is the scary bit.  Earlier I was talking about how to prepare and yet here is one aspect of the audition which is largely unknown!  You may not be able to rehearse exactly what you could be asked to sing in audition (otherwise it wouldn’t be a test of sight reading) but you can practice singing at sight. Just pick up a hymn book or any music which happens to be to hand that you don’t’ know.  Obviously this assumes you can read music.  If you can’t read music, that shouldn’t be an issue – most choirs will let potential members know whether or not reading music is a pre requisite for joining.  If you are not required to read music, then logically you should generally be excused any sight reading element of the audition.

What will usually happen instead, is you will be asked to sing back a short phrase played on the piano by the choirmaster.   This is essentially a test of your musical ear.  If you can’t read music then going forward you will be expected to learn your part either from a backing track or from listening to it during rehearsal and singing it back.  Like sight reading, this is something you can practice – if you have someone who can help you then great, but if not  just trying to sing back short excerpts from songs on the radio will help.

4. Relax and enjoy the audition

I know it’s easy for me to say this – I’m usually the one doing the auditioning.  But based on my experience and certainly from my perspective, most choirmasters will be on your side.  After all, they are auditioning you because they want people to join their choir.  And if you really didn’t think you could sing, then you probably wouldn’t audition!  By and large most of the people I have auditioned over the years are a lot better than they think.

When I audition people, I always let them sing their chosen song first – and always all the way through no matter what happens. This is very important because, let’s face it, we all get nervous and sometimes it’s not until about half way through the song that you really hear people singing to their full potential.

Generally after you have sung the song and got some, hopefully positive, feedback, this should put you at ease for the rest of the audition.  Always try to keep in mind that the choirmaster isn’t trying to catch you out, they just want to know what you can do and assess how you will fit in with their choir.  So rather than seeing it as some sort of exam or test, try considering an audition as a fact finding mission.

I hope this helps and if anyone has any further suggestions or wants to share their experiences of an audition, good or bad, then please feel free to comment below and let me know.  I will try to answer any questions and if appropriate may address some comments in a future post.