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Advice on Auditions and Singers Retention

By: Jeff Buhrman, Artistic Director
VOICES of Kentuckiana

Auditions can be a touchy subject. Here is what we do.

1. Since we have a larger chorus we make sure that our auditions coordinator responds to every e-mail regarding auditioning with special attention to each auditionee. If you have auditions and a coordinator the selection of this person can be organized and very friendly or can drop the ball.

2. I handle auditions one on one with auditionees. I joined this chorus as a singer many years ago and I had to sing to 4 people sitting behind a table. I was scared to death. I try to turn the 10-15 minutes audition into a mini-voice lesson. If I accept the person I like to give them something to work on.

3. I personally accept singers or explain to them why they aren’t vocally ready to be in the chorus…that takes longer but I usually recommend getting voice lessons if they are really interested.

4. The audition coordinator sends each person an acceptance e-mail and info about the new member orientation.

5. We have a strong buddy system so that the new singers are taken care of from the new member orientation into the first few rehearsals. Our auditions coordinator and chorus president attempt to match up buddies who will be good for the specific singer based on age, personality, and just plain gut feelings.

6. We take photos of all singers at new member auditions. I take the time to study their faces so that I can greet them by name at the new member orientation and subsequent rehearsals.

7. I send new members a "how are you doing?" e-mail after two rehearsals. It is a simple check in. I remind them that they can contact their buddy, section leaders, chorus president or me with any issues or concerns.

8. We have strong section leaders and I bug them constantly to keep tabs on every singer in their section. It is a lot of work for them…especially for the B1 section leaders who typically have 70 baritones (we have 2 section leaders for each section – they are social/organizational section leaders, not musical section leaders.

9. If a singer drops out the section leader finds out the reason. New members sometimes don’t understand the level of commitment that is necessary.

10. The section leaders send me an attrition report after every concert and I am keeping track of attrition – this is something new.

11. We are also working on data regarding singers who leave the chorus – we are keeping records of why. Some stay with us for years and then decide it’s time to move on. Sometimes a singer has dated someone in the chorus, it has not worked out and they can’t stand being in the same room!

12. I always remember that our auditions coordinator, section leaders, and chorus officers are volunteers so I thank them a lot for what they do. We’ve worked a bit harder this year on all of these things and it has paid off. We had 25 of 27 new members sing in the holiday show and 17 of 17 new members sing in the February concert. We made a big deal of the February new members since they all stayed with us. We have a tradition of calling the new members down from the risers as a group as the last thing we do after the pre-concert warm-ups and announcements. We call them chorus virgins and they get huge applause and hugs from a lot of people.

13. Singers are not prone to like all of the music in a concert. When I was a singer I hated lots of things. Creating an atmosphere where they stay with the concert despite not being a great fan of the music is worth the work.

14. I also try to give them an idea of what the entire concert/show will look like. They don’t have the vision in their minds. I can’t say that I’m terribly successful with that.

15. I think that personal attention to new members goes a long way.

All the best,

Jeff