Essay on Auditions

Are you interested in the idea of singing with the Houston Symphony Chorus? Let me tell you a little about why I auditioned, what it was like, and what the chorus has meant to me since then.

I decided that I wanted to join the chorus when I heard them perform the Haydn "Creation". It was WONDERFUL! I said to myself, "These people are GOOD! I want to do that!"

This was not entirely unreasonable, since I had sung before with a number of choirs, but I don't want to tell you how many years ago it was. I had let my singing go while I pursued matters like education, career and family. But I heard them sing, and I knew that I wanted to sing with them. So I called and made an appointment to audition. I understand now that I was not auditioning at the usual time; the normal auditions have an accompanist and a schedule. But for some reason (perhaps because they were really low at the moment on my voice range) they told me to come into Jones Hall before a rehearsal. I grimly practiced my scales and intervals, and tried to work up a solo that was worthy of the event -- and I determined that I would not tell them how long it had been since I had sung. I went fearfully, but determined, to the audition, which was conducted by Charles Hausmann, the director, himself. He took me through some vocalization exercises (to get me warmed up and to find my range), played the piano to accompany my solo, and walked me through the sight-reading that is a part of the audition. I must admit that I missed a couple notes (pretty badly, actually -- I hadn't read any music for a long time), but I admitted it (actually I made a face when I sang a clinker note). Charles put the best face on my mistakes -- he said, "Well, after all you KNEW that you sang a wrong note".

Now this is my introduction to something that I would really like you to understand: the people that conduct these auditions are really nice about it. That sounds kind of weak to describe what they are like. Look at if from their point of view for a moment. They want to find out how well you are capable of singing, not how well you react to pressure. They know, as I now know, that if you are in the Houston Symphony Chorus you will, in fact, sing as well as you are capable of singing. And that will be because it is so much fun, and so challenging, that you will just naturally give the best that you can give. Actually, Charles will get more out of you than you thought you were capable of, and every time you sing for him you will learn something about the craft. Maybe that's why Robert Shaw said to us, "You are the best prepared choir I have ever done this work with", and perhaps why he has been reported as saying, "the Houston Symphony Chorus is the best volunteer chorus in the country". But I am digressing. I have now auditioned a number of times for these folks that you will see if you propose to join us. We do it every year -- no big deal -- we just sing parts of the last work that we performed with the symphony. But that means that I really know what they are like during auditions. And that is, to use just two words, "friendly" and "supportive". They want to hear you sing your best, and they want to help you to do it. They know that you are nervous, and they do their very best to put you at ease and to encourage you. Of course, at the same time, they try to challenge you: they find out how high and low you can sing, they hear how you sing something you have practiced, and they find out how tricky the sight-reading has to be before you crater. (Everybody craters eventually, you know, if it's hard enough). And, if it happens that they do not select you for admission, don't think that it is because they think that you can't sing. I myself have not been chosen to sing in concerts, and I know that it is not that I can't sing -- it's because I didn't have the voice that they needed for that particular ensemble.

Well, so what is it like singing with the symphony? It is, for me, like a dream come true. I mean that literally. If I were a baseball player, I guess I could play in the sandlots, or maybe even the minor leagues. If I were a violin player, I suppose I could play with a community orchestra. But I am a singer -- an OK singer, but certainly not a major league soloist -- and yet here I am singing in the major leagues. I'm not kidding you, that's exactly the feeling that I get after every concert we do (especially those that our maestro, Cristoff Eschenbach, conducts). I walk away thinking, "By God, I've just played in the major leagues -- maybe even with Lou Gehrig or Babe Ruth". And during the concerts -- perhaps I feel just a little closer to my God.

Well, that's the best I can do to tell you what you might expect and what it means to me. All I can say is, "Come sing with us!" -- and you can't do that, come to our concerts and let us sing to you!


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