Auditions 2021: Reconciling quality and inclusiveness

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Join us and Sing Out!

As an inclusive group, we would of course like to welcome anyone who wants to join us. But that’s unfortunately not possible!

In 2020-2021, Sing Out Brussels! had 60 members… and 65 people joined our waiting list during the season. We could have doubled the number of members, or created a second choir.

From the start, we decided that Sing Out would limit the audition period to the beginning of each season. This is because it takes time to create cohesion (vocal and human) within the group. So we need stability. With very few exceptions (if a section becomes empty during the season, for example), we do not welcome new members during the season.

From the beginning, we have asked ourselves how we can balance our concern for inclusiveness with our desire for musical quality. We want to give everyone an equal opportunity to join us. At the beginning of our history, everyone who signed up on our waiting list was invited to audition. In season 1, our choirmaster saw more than 70 applicants. This model soon reached its limits. Since we only needed about ten new members per season, auditioning so many people no longer made much sense. In addition, there was a feeling of wasting time, as many candidates did not show up for the audition, and their motives were not always clear to us.

In the end, it was the pandemic that forced us to adapt. Since it was impossible to receive so many people in person in the summer of 2020, we tested a remote audition method. First, we adapted our online form so that each applicant could tell us why they wanted to join the choir. We then sent each person on our waiting list the sheet music for two of our songs and the recordings per voice. In order to audition in front of our choir director, the candidates have to send us a recording of a predefined excerpt. This allows us to test their motivation because they have to do some work at home beforehand. Over a third of the candidates sent us files. After the files were reviewed by our choirmaster, about two thirds of the candidates went on to audition in person. The audition process is divided in three parts: first a presentation of our welcome brochure by several of our members and a question-and-answer session on the choir’s project and its functioning, then an audition with our choir director who evaluates the tessitura of each person. Finally, the candidates, accompanied by members of Sing Out, sing in chorus the two songs they prepared for the audition.

This very formal framework leaves room for flexibility: In the e-mail sent to the candidates, we explain that if this method does not suit them, they can talk to us if they need any accomodation to make the audition process accessible to them. They can also come accompanied to the in-person audition.

This year, out of 65 candidates on the waiting list, 25 sent in files, 18 were invited to audition and 15 were finally selected (three people did not show up or were placed on the waiting list).

This method has several advantages:

  • We select people who are really committed and ready to work on their pieces.
  • The chosen people feel privileged because they have successfully passed several tests.
  • Strong bonds are created between people who meet at auditions, which facilitates their integration into the choir.

But it also drawbacks:

  • People who have never sung in a choir are at a disadvantage because they are left to their own devices when faced with the exercise to be carried out from a distance.
  • Candidates need to have the tools and competence to send their files in (recording with a smartphone for example).
  • People who are not very confident may not dare to record a file, especially since it can be difficult to be confronted with one’s own voice. Few dare to contact us to ask for a different way.
  • This system may lead to discrimination.Our choir remains predominantly white, gay and lesbian, and of a high socio-economic level. Trans people, racialized people, people with lower incomes, do not participate in auditions. Many people wait until September to register for auditions and therefore arrive too late. Few react when contacted again ten months later to audition.

This seems to be the best method of recruitment at the moment given the large number of applications we receive. We regularly evaluate the process and try to make it better.

What about you? How are auditions done in your choir? If you have any suggestions or good practice to share, please let us know!