Ahhhh, the fall year is upon us. The birds are chirping, the air is cooler, and Miley Cyrus is twerking. All is normal.
This is probably the time when most a cappella groups are auditioning new members or have already finished auditioning new members.
There are a lot of articles online about how to audition for an a cappella ensemble. The CASAcademy has a lesson, The A cappella Blog has it’s own post, and you can probably find something on Acatribe, Acageeks, or any of the major a cappella production sites.
But there is one group that has a major part of the audition process, who has not been addressed by the blog-o-shpere…The auditioner.
Now I have been rejected by several a cappella groups in the past. When I think about those times, the rejection isn’t what hurt the most…it was being so close. (Catch that reference did you?)
My memories of rejection came from either thinking that my audition went really well and getting the shock of a lifetime, or feeling so out of place that I basically humiliated myself in front of a group of unknowns. So for the a cappella groups out there holding auditions, please…give us, the fragile, shattered, confidence-lacking a cappella geeks, a break and follow these simple steps to a better audition:
1) No Inside Jokes…Please
Inside jokes are great for building rapport, but they don’t belong in front of complete strangers who only want in on the fun. Make the audition all about them, and not all about you. Don’t throw an obscure movie quote at an auditionee, and then get mad when he or she has no idea you just referenced the out-of-print 1989 movie “Assault of the Party Nerds.” (Starring the Doppelganger Marc Silverberg) Don’t snicker when someone uses a phrase that reminds you of the time your bass singer spilled chicken noodle soup on his pants, and a stray dog came up off the street and started licking it.
2) Have A Plan
Here’s an all too common scenario…
An auditionee walks into the room and all of you are talking at once and giving directions and reminding each other of what they forgot to say and suddenly the singer is totally lost and has no idea what the first lyric to the song he’s been practicing for a week straight is and then his audition doesn’t go exactly as planned which throws off the sight reading section which isn’t really a sight reading section so he’s even more confused because sight reading implies that you have a score to look at but really you just want him to follow along with his ear and copy what you sing so he starts looking around for a score and everyone is staring at him like he’s mentally unstable and they’ve already dismissed him as a bad fit. [takes a deep breath]
Have a plan. Know who is going to give directions. Don’t call an exercise sight reading when it is actually ear training. Put yourself in the auditionee’s shoes and make sure the directions are clear.
3) Don’t Be Overly Bubbly
Being nice is awesome. Being friendly is great. Being way too friendly, laughing at all of their jokes, and then rejecting them when they thought they nailed the audition, thus giving them the proverbial kick in the groin is not good.
Find a good balance between friendly and business-like. Try to run every audition the same way, and don’t give anyone a false sense of hope.
4) Don’t Waste Their Time
Don’t make the audition overly long and complicated, when all you really needed to know is if they can do vocal percussion. The professional world, especially Broadway, doesn’t ask the same thing of every auditionee to be fair. They get what they need done and they move on.
I find that the number one cause of running late in auditions is that the group wants to ask everyone the same thing, and then gives extra time to people who ask for it.
You need to have a clear idea of how many times they can re-start their solo. How many listenings do they get before they have to sing their part? How much time do they get to look at the music before they sight read? Know what you are going to do and stick with it for everyone.
5) The “Range Exercise” Sucks.
Here is my biggest pet peeve of a cappella auditions. Someone will go to a piano and ask the auditionee to sing up and down in half steps, and then use that basis as the classification of their range and voice part.
I’m a tenor who can sing down to an E-flat below the bass clef. Using this exercise in the audition is not the problem…using this audition as the be-all-end-all of classifying someone as a particular voice part is what drives me crazy.
Really, if someone wants to be in a cappella group that badly, they should know what voice part they are, or at least their most comfortable range, so you don’t even need to do this exercise.
Most likely, you will ask the auditionee to sing a solo, a cappella. This solo should give you a good indication of their range, because they are the ones choosing to start in a particular range, a good indication of their timbre (resonant and chesty, breathy, dark and spacious, etc.), and a good indication of their comfort level, depending on how high and low the melody goes.
Don’t be fooled. Someone who sounds like a fantastic singer might sound fantastic in a three note range. Pay special attention to anyone who chooses a song with a large range, because they are giving you a lot more information than you think.
And don’t use a piano during an a cappella audition. You don’t need one. Period.
6) Be Kind. Rewind.
My main point is this: Auditioning for an a cappella ensemble, especially today when a cappella has exploded into the mainstream, is stressful and challenging. Think back to when you had to audition…treat them like you would want to be treated when you were in the same position.