What should I sing for my choral audition?
August 18, 2011 4:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm auditioning for a spot in a 'master chorale' next week. The audition calls for two 'contrasting songs'. What to choose?

I've been singing in choirs for well over forty years, starting in fourth grade, running the gamut from high school/college to madrigals to barbershop to pretty heavy classical. It's been a while since I've had to prepare tow complete songs for an audition like this. This group seems to have a pretty broad range of repertoire, and I want to pick a couple of songs that will serve me well in highlighting my stylistic flexibility, range (tenor), and ability to sing the occasional solo.

I've got one song picked out - 'This Nearly Was Mine' from South Pacific, which is pretty intense emotionally, slow, legato, dynamic, and will show off the sweet spot of my range pretty well. But what to do for the other? Should I go more classical? More 'pop'? Faster tempo? Funny?

posted by DandyRandy to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I sing with the chorus for a symphony orchestra, so that's my perspective. For me, I would go classical for your second piece, maybe Every Valley or one of the other arias from Messiah -- something that would show flexibility, technique, and pitch accuracy. With that and a show tune, you'll have demonstrated everything you're looking for.

I know from talking to the people that hear our auditions that they get really sick of two things: long pieces, and showboating. Let's face it, you don't need to listen to someone sing for eight and a half minutes to know that they can sing. My two best audition pieces have been "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix" from Samson et Dalila, and an unmetered art song by Barber. The aria has a big chromatic descending section that is tricky to keep in tune, plus it covers two octaves, and the Barber piece has a LOT of opportunities to demonstrate artistic phrasing. So think about what aspects of your instrument and craft you really want to demonstrate that aren't exposed by the SP piece, and try to pick something shortish that highlights those.
posted by KathrynT at 4:46 PM on August 18, 2011

It depends on the group, obviously, so take the advice below with a grain of salt.

When I ask for that in an audition (I work with a bunch of student groups), I want...well, contrasting songs (at least a two of the following: different keys/modes, different tempi, different styles, different required techniques etc.). I expect that the auditionees will pick pieces that highlight their range, emotional/dynamic range and technical abilities as well.

If you are singing something slower from a musical as one piece, definitely go with something more moderate, in a different style. If the group does any significant amount of classical music, you should probably go with that to show that you can do something other than poppy/musical stuff- something with a moderate or fast tempo that is technically more demanding. If you are capable of singing in a language other than English and the group ever performs pieces in other languages, I'd make sure to do that at the audition.
posted by charmedimsure at 4:48 PM on August 18, 2011

Another symphony chorister chiming in with some specific suggestions. But first - how long do you have? Is this something you have to throw together this weekend or can you take some time? And can you convincingly sing in a language that isn't English?

Auditioning is as much about strategy as it is about performance. I might skip anything from Messiah because I think those pieces might be done to death. Do you own The First Book of tenor solos? You should! It has some great options! I love Quilter's "Go Lovely Rose" but you're already doing a legato piece so unless you want to scrap that in favor of this one, don't get too attached.

If you are comfortable in Italian perhaps "Una furtiva lagrima" from The Elixir of Love.

If you aren't comfortable in another language, then maybe look at Ned Rorem's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening." Or Purcell's "I attempt from love's sickness to fly.

No matter what language you choose make sure you're showing another musical style, and I'd say that means something classical, and something that shows some movement.
posted by jph at 6:15 PM on August 18, 2011

(Oh gosh, hello reading comprehension. It is happening next week. Okay. Unless you already know something in another language - I would avoid that route. The pitfalls are too great.)
posted by jph at 6:17 PM on August 18, 2011

Aaron Copland, "I Bought Me a Cat." It's more animated than the South Pacific piece and the kind of song that works well either as solo or choral arrangement and is often a favorite with directors. You want something that demonstrates that you are a good chorister and not a primadonna--I'd stay away from the technical fireworks.

If that doesn't float your boat, Gerald Finzi composed some nice art songs for tenors.
posted by tully_monster at 7:08 PM on August 18, 2011

Do two art songs. Two languages, two tempi, two moods.

Musical theatre skills aren't what they are probably looking for.
posted by those are my balloons at 8:00 PM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Look at the choir's repertoire from the past few seasons, and what they're doing this year. What did they do -- lots of Palestrina/madrigals/motets/that sort of thing, or more Brahmsy, or modern stuff? Spirituals? Take your lead from that.

Definitely two languages if you can, one being English. I would go with something in German or Latin for the second, as they're probably the most common ones you'll have for choirs.

Try some Schumann/Brahms/Schubert lieder, or possibly a Bach cantata/oratorio aria or similar. Again, this isn't for the fireworks, but you will definitely need to show that you can do quick passages.

You might also show that you can do straight(er) tone singing as well as more impassioned vibrato-y stuff.

A spiritual might not be a bad idea -- something like "Deep River," perhaps. Regardless of what ethnic background you come from, your choir will likely be majority-white; those choirs doing spirituals can ride a pretty fine line, but they do them all the time anyway. If you can show them how well you can balance the feeling of the piece with the fact that you are not a gospel singer (and you know it), that's a big plus.
posted by Madamina at 3:11 PM on August 19, 2011

If you are a bass or baritone, like me, I often choose a song that shows off my lower bassy range and one that shows off my upper range. This idea might narrow down your options.

I also recommend "I Attempt from love's sickness to fly" by ( I think) Purcell, if you can find it in a comfortable key.
posted by wittgenstein at 5:12 AM on August 20, 2011

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