All in all, I had a delightful (re)audition experience, even if my final performance was not as great as I wanted it to be.
The whole day, I felt like I had swallowed a potion of felix felicis — I was in an inexplicably good mood. But as I traveled over to Symphony Hall, I could feel my heart rate climbing and the back of my neck sweating. Thankfully, I had a good half hour plus to warm up and try to physically calm myself down.
What I learned… is it’s very different to sing under those physical conditions! I could feel some elements of my technique slipping, and I missed a few full breaths that left me scrambling for air at the end of two long phrases. I acquitted myself on my solo selection despite those issues, and I did fine on the slower-than-expected-tempo prepared piece (except for a very unfortunate part where I mangled a word, and that threw me for such a loop that I got ahead by a beat – still not sure how I did either of those, but I reset and soldiered through to the end.) I was pleased with my sight reading: even if my breathing was terrible and I had to stop once in each piece, I thought I got intervals and dynamics and rhythm pretty darn well for reading. And the ear training? A lot harder than what I had been practicing, frankly, but I think my solid music theory and my ear got me through it. It was not my best possible performance — always more you could have done, right? — yet it was one I’m proud of. I know my voice has developed significantly over the past few years, and despite the flaws I believe I showed what I came to show.
I may have fought off physical symptoms, but mentally I felt completely at ease. That was in part because James Burton was more of a host than an adjudicator; he came bearing welcoming smiles and knowing nods, full of the same enthusiasm and energy he brings to rehearsals. (Maybe because I was #2 on day 2; I hope he can sustain his gusto all the way to #8 on the final day of reauditions!) They even arranged for the accompanist to come over to the practice rooms to run through my solo piece and get tempo and markings, rather than winging it within the chorus room — truly a luxury for an audition! It was more than fair. Maybe it was lingering effects of that luck potion, but it felt like everyone on staff wanted all of us to succeed.
I’m still bemused that, despite my confidence, the body still betrayed the mind. Perhaps the next time I do an audition, I’ll heed a suggestion from a conversation with the assistant chorus manager: she’s heard of violinists who run up and down stairs before practicing for an audition, to simulate the shaky hands and pounding chest that often comes with the territory.
In the meantime, it’s a few weeks’ wait until the results are announced. I’m thinking positive and expecting a three year renewal. I would understand a one year renewal. If I’m not renewed, then I think I’d still sing this summer and then plan to audition again. I have too much left to sing.
You have the best outlook in all things. I so admire that quality in you.
Jeff, thanks as always for your insightful thoughts. I also enjoyed reading your reflections after the audition.
Iin general (though in my admittedly limited experience) I am pretty appalled by how singers are auditioned, evaluated and treated in just about every competitive or evaluative venue I’ve experienced or heard about. I have not seen such universally practiced callousness in any other aspect of my life or experience. I actually quit a major organization’s board of overseers after their assistant artistic director at the time attended an overseer reception I attended where he gleefully and in great detail described the most recent trip to NYC where they were holding auditions. He painted a scene where singers were derisively described as part of a cattle call and all of the ways in which they casually disrespected them, using all sorts of acronyms and slights to describe and to denigrate them and their performances. It was appalling and I refused to be a part of it.
And even these re-auditions — which are typical, so this is not a criticism of these in particular. But why are auditions like this, especially when they are RE-auditions with people who are already part of a choral or other singing group, structured as “one and done?” What does that really tell a conductor, especially when you have never performed before with your collaborative pianist? Why, instead of having this be a “gotcha” thing, wouldn’t you structure it instead so that you approach the singer as a committed artist and therefore, for instance, have the singer sing through their piece and then have a bit of a conversation along the lines of, “Thank you. I would like to hear this passage again and have you think about such and such and pay more attention to the dimunendo . . .” Or, how about, “Please sing it again and this time with [this] thought in mind?” Or “Please sing this again at this different tempo with attention to how that might affect your singing line.” Or if there has been a glitch by the accompanist, give the singer another run through that section.
It seems to me that there are many ways that thinking about auditions a little differently and spending just a few more minutes making them a more interactive, exploratory, and respectful experience, could give a conductor a much better picture of a singer’s competencies, including how singer adjusts to a conductor’s direction, whether a pitch issue was a real issue or just a passing technique or nerves issue, etc., etc.
The short of it is that I think that much of the singing community’s normative and evaluative standards and how it treats singers are terribly flawed and are way overdue for a complete overhaul built around the ideas of building community and better respecting the art and the artists.
Here’s hoping for the best. It’s too bad it takes them so long to decide.
It’s actually good that they’re taking so long — they want to notify everyone at once rather than have some sort of rolling notification. (This may also allow for some calibration or grading on a curve…). Many people aren’t re-auditioning until mid-May and I think a few in late May.
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