Audition piece for a high alto?
October 1, 2012 6:44 PM   Subscribe

I need an a capella audition piece for an alto on short notice.

Really short notice, but I learned tonight I have an audition in two days for an small, eclectic choral group, where I would ostensibly be joining as an Alto I. I don't have an audition piece ready -- help me find something I can learn quickly, like an a capella madrigal. Thanks.
posted by mirepoix to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What kind of music does the choral group preform?
posted by ocherdraco at 7:17 PM on October 1, 2012

I sang in high school and college and both choral groups did Randall Thompson's Frostiana series (Robert Frost poems turned into choral arrangements). In college we did them a capella. I remember "A Girl's Garden," in particular, having a rockin' alto part (I was an alto and vividly remember pieces that didn't have suckass alto parts).

In high school, we sang a madrigal called "Jack and Joan" that seems to be available online. It was easy enough for a non-audition high school choir but peppy enough that I remember it 15 years later.

Good luck on your audition!
posted by Aquifer at 7:30 PM on October 1, 2012

If you're not fixed on using a choral part as your piece, I'd suggest a solo selection instead. Most of the time auditioners mainly just want to hear what your voice sounds like, which I think is better expressed in a solo piece.

Off the top of my head here are two easy, reliable pieces for the alto/mezzo range, available free at (and if you don't like these, try browsing the "solo alto" category):
Mendelssohn—O Rest in the Lord
Beethoven—Ich Liebe Dich (also a whole step lower)
posted by zadermatermorts at 7:34 PM on October 1, 2012

Also, if you're near a large public library or a music store, see if they have this book or something similar. Most of the songs in here are simple enough to learn in a couple of days.
posted by zadermatermorts at 7:51 PM on October 1, 2012

Recovering alto here.

Definitely try to figure out if you can sing something similar to what they sing in general. If they do a lot of American stuff and/or spirituals, do something like that. If they do a ton of sacred stuff in Latin, do that. Look on the group's website (if they have one) and figure out what they've done in past seasons. Nothing fancy, just don't sing "Du bist die Ruh" if they sing "Ching-a-Ring Chaw" every year :P

The other thing about altos, if you haven't caught on yet, is that they are often very versatile, or at least can read very well/follow harmony well. So if you pick a piece that gets a little wonky but brings you back to where you started, maybe that can help demonstrate.

The Crucifixion by Samuel Barber -- or maybe some other Barber, like Sure on This Shining Night. Or Vaughan Williams -- The Call or Bright is the Ring of Words

Something from the 24 Italian Arias book -- that evvvverybody has -- would probably be good. Tu lo sai (it's available in a lower version) is a nice one. Note that most choirs rarely sing in Italian, but it's a nice one anyway so they can hear your vowels.

Paging KathrynT -- she's my co-alto here. Also altopower (duh).
posted by Madamina at 7:53 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am currently an alto in an a cappella group, and have been in several groups encompassing various genres over the years, so I'll try to give you my thoughts on the matter.

Auditioning with a piece that is similar to the music the group is singing is a very good idea. When we audition singers we want to know that they will be able to sing the kind of music that we perform. We also have the auditionee sing some pieces with us, to ensure we can blend with their voice, so it would help for you to listen to any available recordings of their performances.

As for an audition piece, when I auditioned for my current group, I used "Bulky Rhythm," by The Bobs, because it fit my voice and, more importantly, it seemed like the kind of thing this group would like. If you know any songs that fit those two criteria, even if the song isn't an a cappella song, it would probably work for you. A song that you feel good singing is usually a better bet than a song that you picked up just for this audition.

Some other songs that have been used for alto auditions over the past few years have been Paul Simon's "American Tune," "Simple Joys" from Pippin, and a traditional piece called "The Tinkerman's Daughter (Red Headed Ann)." I was particularly impressed with the woman who sang Tinkerman's Daughter, because it has a nasty key change and she was rock solid on it. Knowing that someone has a solid sense of pitch is a good sign in an audition, especially when the singer is nervous. ;)

Let us know what you choose to sing and how the audition goes!

Break a leg!
posted by blurker at 9:15 PM on October 1, 2012

I attempt from Love's Sickness, by Henry Purcell. (score, from random google-ing)

Not too hard, not too high, nice song.

(used as an audition piece for some choir, with sound files!)
posted by leahwrenn at 10:01 PM on October 1, 2012

Is it a capella like Sweelinck / Whitacre, or is it a capella like college a capella groups? I sing in classical ensembles now, and I typically do an art song, aria, or both when I audition for those. But when I auditioned for my college a capella group, I auditioned on "How High The Moon," sung without accompaniment.
posted by KathrynT at 11:30 PM on October 1, 2012

I always thought this would be an amazing audition piece. It's slow, beautiful, and sexy.

Old Souls

I'm an alto too (although I can do soprano if pressed) and I love singing this song, it's like honey.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:52 AM on October 2, 2012

You know what would be nice, and very easy?

Pie Jesu from Faure's Requiem. I have a version that is scored for an alto/baritone with a very simple piano accompaniment. Will you have an accompanist?

Have they asked you to sing the alto line from a madrigal? I mean, most auditioners tell you exactly what they'll expect you to do, because it is a waste of their time for you to show up unprepared. They're going to be concerned with whether you can/will blend. The biggest enemy of a good blend (especially if you're doing madrigals) is a wobbly vibrato. So going in and performing something operatic is really not a great plan. Don't do this.

Anyway, if you're doing a madrigal, and you must do a madrigal, I would highly suggest you do "Weep O Mine Eyes" by Bennet (score here).

If you're feeling a little less sedate, then perhaps Morley's "Sing We and Chant It." Super catchy.

Maybe if you're feeling really wild, check out Whitacre's "Sleep." It is very simple, and his music is pretty easy to sing if you're only responsible for your line.
posted by jph at 7:58 AM on October 2, 2012

When I was in high school chorus, trying out for area all state as an alto (I made it), I learned "Down By The Salley Gardens" in about two days. It's very easy to learn, and the words are not complicated, so they don't get in the way much of learning the music. Also easily done without accompaniment. Here's a version sung by Orla Fallon.
posted by katyggls at 8:36 AM on October 2, 2012

Response by poster: They just asked me to come prepared with an a capella piece, not necessarily a madrigal. I have been going through the excellent suggestions provided here and I quite like "Bright is the Ring of Words." I will look into the ones posted since I last checked in here last night. Thanks!
posted by mirepoix at 11:28 AM on October 2, 2012

Okay, so this changes things a bit.

They want an a capella piece. So you wont have an accompanist.

I'm going to second the recommendation of "I attempt from love's sickness to fly" for a couple reasons.

No accompanist means you need to be concerned about pitch. If you lose your pitch that's going to reflect really negatively on you for your audition. So you want to choose a piece that doesn't require that you pluck your note from nowhere (or get it from the accompaniment or another voice part). The Purcell is good for this because it is composed of long lines which are not entirely dependent on getting your note from elsewhere. It is straightforward, and the text isn't difficult.

It is also a baroque selection which doesn't call for heavy vibrato. You want a very light (leggiero) sound for this piece, because it needs to dance. That plays in your favor because as noted above, a heavy vibrato can disqualify you even if you are just fine on pitch.

Best of luck!
posted by jph at 12:02 PM on October 2, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks again for all the great suggestions. I went with "Down By the Salley Gardens" -- nice and simple, I practiced with the Orla Fallon version -- and it worked, I got into the choir.
posted by mirepoix at 10:32 PM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sweet! Nice job!
posted by Madamina at 11:06 PM on October 3, 2012

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