Auditions – Part Three

by vernsanders on February 12, 2010

In the first part of this series, we talked about the types of auditions for ensembles.

In our second installment, we talked about the general qualifications that a director might be looking for in a new ensemble member.

This time, let’s focus on what an audition might be like, particularly for an amateur group. Typically there are three kinds of auditions. A particular group (or director) may use one or more of these in  combination, but essentially this is what you might expect.


This is a non-singing conversation between the applicant and the director.During the interview, the director is trying to find out more about the applicant as a person. It should not be viewed as an interrogation. For some directors, this is all that is needed to join an ensemble. Some of the things that a director will be attempting to discover and/or discuss are:

  • personality/background of the applicant and whether that will be a good fit with the ensemble
  • general musical background and/or training, or lack thereof
  • why the applicant wants to join and/or what they believe they will contribute to the group
  • any special skills or intangibles that the applicant has
  • ground rules of how the group does business, including chain of command for information, if any
  • level of commitment needed to be a part of the group and whether the applicant is willing to put in the time and effort to contribute to the ensemble

Skill Check

This is the part of the audition process that scares the most number of people. As a director, I can’t count the times someone has said to me “I normally do better, but I’m nervous.”

Remember that the director is not trying to “trick” you, or trip you up. The object of a skill check is to see how you can best contribute to the ensemble.

You can expect the director to ask you to do a solo: an assigned excerpt, and/or something of your own choosing. It can be as simple as playing or singing the melody line of your favorite hymn. Be sure to ask if you need to bring your own accompanist. Don’t be alarmed if the director stops you part of the way through your prepared piece. It just means that the director has enough information to move on, and doesn’t want to waste time – often a good sign. The director may be hearing 100 or more applicants. Time saved helps everyone.

You will also be asked to do some scales or other technical musical excerpts. This is particularly true if you are a singer, because it allows a director to assess your natural tone color, and help decide which is the best section for you, but it also helps an instrumental director decide what chair you might be best suited for in a section.

Finally, at the very least you will be asked to do some sight reading and/or ear training exercise. It might be as simple as singing back a series of pitches played on the piano, or playing your part from a particular symphony. Don’t be worried if you don’t feel you can sight read well. If you have a good ear, and can pick things up quickly, and you can demonstrate that to the director, it is often qualification enough to join an amateur ensemble.

There are other things that might be asked of you, but those are the basics. The skill check audition might take as little as 5-10 minutes, or could take 15-30 minutes, but is rarely longer than a half hour.

Sit In/Call Back

You may be asked (or “called back”) to “sit in” on a rehearsal. This can be as simple as “try us out for a week and see if you like it,” or as elaborate as singing or playing your own part with several different configurations of other musicians (i.e. as a soprano, you might find yourself singing with 3 different configurations of ATB singers, or as a violinist, you might find yourself playing with other members of one or more string quartets.

The object here is to find out if you can “carry your own weight” and whether your skill set matches well with those of the current group members. It can be a fun experience, even though it may seem nerve-wracking at times.

The last thing to remember is that as an applicant, you also evaluate the group and the director during this process. If you don’t like what you see or hear, don’t fee that you need to join the ensemble. A bad fit doesn’t help either the individual or the group.

Generally a decision about whether to invite an applicant to join will (and should) be made within a week of the last audition scheduled during that audition period. Good etiquette practices indicate that the applicant should be informed directly, preferably by phone or other personal contact. Good etiquette also includes the applicant responding – favorably or unfavorably – within 24-48 hours of getting an invitation to join.

I’d love to hear about your audition experiences – good and bad. Please leave a comment below.

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