Choral Studies: High School, Part 3

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Part III of the high school series will focus on the undergraduate audition. I’ve invited three of my esteemed UMass voice colleagues to offer a few pointers: William Hite (tenor and coordinator of voice), Marjorie Melnick (mezzo), and Jamie-Rose Guarrine (soprano). The four of us offer a Voice Area Open House each October at UMass Amherst, where we discuss college auditions (including auditioning for choral ensembles), answer questions about life as a music major, and offer a masterclass to a few singers. If you would like to receive information about the open house and other events, please subscribe.

I’ll provide my thoughts about auditions in part IV. In the meantime, I want to thank my colleagues for guest-starring in this post and for their helpful advice. Enjoy these tips for a successful audition. 

William Hite

  1. Educate yourself regarding the college voice audition experience. Find out as much as you can about what you are going to undertake from as many sources as possible.
  2. Manage your nerves. Practice singing your audition pieces in front of a few small audiences made up of friends and family. Remember that the teachers who hear your actual audition are very experienced and want you to succeed.
  3. Get help choosing and preparing your audition materials. If you don’t have a voice teacher, try your choir director at school or at church. If that isn’t an option, ask around your friend group. They may know someone who can help.
  4. Choose repertoire that will give you a good chance of singing an audition that you will be proud of. In other words, choose repertoire that is well within your capabilities. It is better to sing a relatively simple piece accurately and with a connection to the text than to sing a difficult piece poorly. Match the repertoire to your abilities. 
  5. Have a plan in place for audition day that will help you achieve the results you are seeking. So, know where you are going and how long it takes to get there. Plan accordingly, arriving in plenty of time so that you can be warmed up, happy, and ready to share your best singing.

Marjorie Melnick

  1. Music should be clean, not the copy you or your teacher have marked up. 
  2. Across the board, the people you will sing for, whether in person or through your video, want to hear you succeed. We want to see and hear that you love to sing, no matter your current level. We want to see that you love the music you have chosen, so choose with that in mind. 
  3. Be sure you know what you are singing about, as specifically as possible at this point in your work. It’s hard to be expressive when you don’t know what the song is actually about.
  4. It is important to be engaged with the music and text at all times. 
  5. Greet everyone when you enter and thank the pianist before you leave!

Jamie-Rose Guarrine

  1. Preparation and Research: Check to make sure you have fulfilled the repertoire requirements for your audition and have prepared the appropriate number of pieces for your audition schools. Different institutions may have different requirements, so create a system to keep these requirements straight. 
  2. Musical Selection: In selecting your repertoire for your audition, make sure you pick repertoire you feel completely comfortable with and can sing anytime, anyplace, and under any circumstance. In the case of a live audition, you may have travel, hotel, and unfamiliar surroundings to contend with. Take every opportunity to perform your audition repertoire before your audition. This can be in front of your choral director, church, even in your family’s living room. By picking repertoire you feel completely at home with and confident performing, you set yourself up for the best possible audition experience.
  3. The Audition Binder: Most institutions will provide an accompanist for your live audition. Place your repertoire selections in a binder that can facilitate page turns easily, and mark each selection clearly with a tab. Do NOT use clear plastic covers around your music. This can cause a glare and make it difficult for the pianist to read.
  4. Audition Attire: Consider dressing for your collegiate music audition as you would a job interview. Here in Massachusetts, one may be traveling in winter. A suggestion is to wear your boots and keep a pair of dress shoes in your bag to change outside the audition room prior to walking in. Practice in your audition outfit. If you wear a heel, practice in those shoes, since singing in tennis shoes feels different from heels with regards to your body alignment and breathing technique. If you wear a tie, practice singing with it, so you are accustomed to your dress clothes.
  5. For Virtual Auditions: If you are sending in a video for a prescreening or a recorded audition requirement, make sure you can record in a quiet space. Don’t worry about having fancy recording equipment. Just make sure your recording device is stationary and we can see you and hear you clearly. Experiment with distance from the recording device for the best possible sound quality. If you are performing with recorded piano accompaniment, it is most important for you to hear the accompaniment. This may mean a tablet or laptop as your video recording device, while holding a phone nearby so you can hear the accompaniment. If you have an external speaker, this can be handy to play the accompaniment while you sing. Dress as you would for a live audition.
  6. Editing: Resist the urge to engage in excessive sound editing of your recorded submissions. We can tell if a submission has undergone excessive sound editing and are instead looking for an honest recorded representation of your sound. We also want to get a sense of you as a performer, watch how you express yourself through your singing, and are not looking for perfection! You are just beginning your vocal journey. We are interested in your potential for growth, and not a finished product. 
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