Tuesday, May 10, 2016


[originally published 5/10/16]

[An ensemble in which I used to sing] requires quadrennial re-auditions for each of its members, and this spring, all Soprano Is and Tenor Is will have to re-audition in order to maintain membership. I had my audition last night. I’ve been in the [ensemble] for ten years, and have re-auditioned twice, so this was my third go-round. The process is fine, and gives everyone – singers and leadership – an opportunity to reassess membership.

Though in years past auditioners (both new and renewing) were expected to prepare a solo (or two?), several years ago a new system was established, one that makes much more sense. Auditioners are asked to prepare three of five specific choral excerpts, so that we can be heard singing actual choral music instead of an aria, art song, etc. This helps the director evaluate the singer’s ability to sing an independent part, enter correctly after periods of rest, sing in canon or fugue and maintain a part correctly, etc. etc.

As it happened, this year all five of the excerpts from which we could choose were very familiar and solidly in my repertoire:

1. Haydn, Kleine Orgelmesse, “Sanctus”
2. Schubert, Mass in G, “Osanna”
3. Mozart, Requiem, “Lacrimosa”
4. Händel, Messiah, “Great Was the Company of the Preachers”
5. Rorem, Lay Up for yourselves (motet)

Some weeks ago, I was thinking that I didn’t need to really prepare for this audition, as I can practically sing these in my sleep, especially the Rorem. But that’s a terrible attitude to take in to an audition! So I did spend some time with the scores, and that turned out to be a good decision. Why? Because singing a choral excerpt as a solo is not the same as singing it as a member of a choral section. I had to think differently about breathing, as there were not 30 or 40 other sopranos to cover the line should I need a breath, or to carry a crescendo or place the final consonants should I experience a momentary catch or otherwise falter. My investment of time was worth it; I felt confident about my presentation, and the music director commented particularly on my good preparation.

Vocally, I was at only about 90% of my best voice, as I’m still recovering from a terrible head cold and a significant GI illness, both within the past week. And that’s why the musical and intellectual preparation is all the more important; my high A was not stellar, but I was pleased with my musical presentation, particularly in the Mozart, where the dynamic contours are so important.

The music director asked me to repeat only one passage, the ascending line in the Mozart that floats up to the high A. It wasn’t the notes he was interested in, it was the diction. He’s right that my diction sort of evaporated as I went up. He hates hearing any sort of explanations or excuses for vocal shortcomings [an example of his humanity and empathy], so I didn’t tell him the reason for my persistently soft diction—I have a deviated nasal septum, the result of which is that one side of my nose is always partially blocked. This makes it very difficult to project voiced consonants that require total or partial closure of lips, teeth, or mouth (M, B, N, V), as these all require some passage of air through, or vibration in, the nose. They’ve always been a challenge for me, especially in higher registers.  Try voicing any of these consonants while pinching your nose closed – that’s what it’s like for me all the time.

All in all, though, it was a good audition and I expect to continue in the ensemble for the next four years.

Post script: I forgot to add that my selections were the Haydn, Schubert, and Mozart, in that order. The Haydn starts on a high F (plunk in the middle of the best part of my range) that begins an extended passage that lies really well in my voice. This allowed me to start singing with confidence, with full voice, in the best part of my range. It was a good strategy and made a difference to a successful audition.

More of my essays on the life of a chorister, and more about choral rehearsals and choral music, may be found here: http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/search/label/Chorister

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