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Article submitted January 10, 2011

Musings on How We AUDITION Our Children’s Choir Singers

Marcia Patton, Casper, Wyoming
Northwest R & S for Children’s and Community Youth Choirs

Ipattonn January of 2010 I was fortunate to attend the ACDA Inaugural Children’s and Community Youth Conductor’s Retreat in Cincinnati, Ohio. (The next retreat will be in Denver, 2012,—don’t miss it!).

One of the Cincinnati presentations was by Emily Ellsworth, Central Division R & S, entitled “Taking a Fresh Look at Auditions….Placement Hearings….Ensemble Placements….for Children and Youth Choirs”.

Emily’s presentation argued the why and how of auditions. I found her premise “singing is a learned activity, not something students can or cannot do….you can’t yet know what you haven’t been taught” to be the exact rationale I used with school
administration and parents over the years to argue “that’s why there are music teachers, because we can TEACH your child to sing…..even if you “never could”!

Rather than centering on individual testing then choosing only the best singers, Emily uses “hearings” to gain information about each child, give a mini‐lesson demonstrating her instructional techniques, and sharing information with parents. If a child isn’t successful, and most of them do find a place in one of the many choirs in “Anima—Younger Singers of Greater Chicago”, Emily gives them ways to improve so that they can prepare to try again. She does this in small group rather than individual setting.

At the 2009 National ACDA Convention, James F. Daugherty presented a session entitled “Horace, Morris, Dolores and Chorus: Implementing Group Audition Procedures”. He researched that “data obtained from exclusively solo choir auditions may be neither valid nor reliable for making decisions about choral singing ability”.

Session participants learned how to do choir auditions in a group setting that “may take less time
and yield more reliable data”.

I have been a children’s choir director for 35 years, and although my mantra is NOT “we never did it that way before”, it can still be tough to look within and actually address those problems that need to be fixed!

However, I decided it was time to consider a change. A quick search found that children’s choirs seem equally split between group and solo auditions (or screenings, or hearings, or placement auditions). Many include parent informational sessions, and some require a music teacher recommendation.

Desired musical abilities and those attributes measured in these auditions include:

  • love of singing
  • an outgoing personality
  • pitch matching
  • well behaved
  • students genuine love of learning
  • music reading skills
  • strong voices that sing in tune
  • solo performance
  • vocal range
  • singing with clear words
  • voice timbre
  • rhythmic ability
  • ability to hold one’s voice part against others
  • basic movement

Wow, that’s quite a wish list!

One of the Casper Children’s Chorale rehearsal assistants gave me a coffee mug for Christmas last year. This is what was imprinted on it (apologies to IPA):

AUDITION (o-dish’-en) n. The act of putting yourself under extreme stress while satisfying the sadistic intentions of others.

So, regarding auditions, here’s where I’ve been for the past 35 years, followed by where I am now in my “current state of ignorance.”


• High school concert choir auditions were basically solo try‐outs, although they were
scheduled in groups of four singers.
• Potential jazz choir singers participated in a group audition, including solo
improvisation and mixed quartet singing of prepared a cappella octavos.
• Men’s “show choir” auditions could be done in solos or small groups, with their own
choice of literature (yes, that was always cutting edge, and VERY entertaining….).
The Casper Children’s Chorale scheduled five‐minute individual auditions. Three
directors listened to each singer. During the audition, parents could visit with a member
of the Board of Directors in the lobby, but parents were not allowed in the actual
audition. Individual children auditioned, performing the following sequence:
• Echo‐clapping (to “relax” the child while they demonstrated their rhythmic abilities. (RELAX?!)
• Solo, with piano accompaniment in the key of F, “My Country ‘tis of Thee”
• Sing it again, a cappella, while I sing along and harmonize. (Yup, ages 9‐13…..)
• Echo sing five melodic patterns, 2 measures long, increasing in complexity.
• Vocalize descending scales on DU (Joy to the world, the Lord is come…) for range.

“Thank you very much. You will get a letter in the next two weeks”.
Honestly, I only remember a few criers, one girl who rolled her skirt up over her
head as she sang, one boy who threw up, and about one child each year who just turned
and left. I thought I was making the audition fun…..I know I smiled a lot!

NOW (this past May)

We advertised “screenings” for groups of 4‐5 singers. I think everyone still called them auditions….”The Glee Effect”….but I know they were much more user friendly and productive.

I devised the screenings to reflect things that I value about Children’s Chorale—singing, movement, enthusiasm, and encouragement to grow and excel.

Screenings were grouped according to approximate age and background (“new” Chorale singers were not in the same groups as “old” singers). There were three directors in the room: one accompanied at the piano, one listened to the side, and I “taught” each group. Each session took 20 minutes—essentially the same time commitment as before.

  • I introduced myself to the singers and asked each of them a question or two about their interest and background in music. I tried to keep this light, while assessing how to "line up" singers based upon confidence, etc.
  • "Do what I do." (Lots of follow the leader rhythmic movement and patschen).
  • "Let's all sing 'My Country 'tis of Thee' together." "Who wants to sing it alone?" How about if two of you sing it together while I harmonize? One on one harmonization?"
  • The words to "Are You Sleeping, Brother John" were on a big whiteboard. We all sing together (amazing how many didn't know the song), then a canon in groups of two, an individual canon in four parts, etc. [whatever seems a possibility sans terror].
  • Everyone vocalizes on "du" together. ("Joy to the world, the Lord is come")

Did you have fun? "YES!" (No one had ever said that before...yet this year almost every child bounced back out into the hall and their parents with a smile!)

No, I don’t yet have the parent thing covered, and still rely upon my Board of Directors to man the information table. The biggest problem with these group screenings was that I was so busy leading that I didn’t write down as much anecdotal information as I should have, and my assistants needed to record more to help me out. I need to fix that.

The scoring sheet is a five level rubric (novice, developing, competent, very good,
outstanding) rating the following four qualities:

• Vocal Potential
• Performance Potential
• Independent Singing
• Musicality

There is space to recommend the singer for either the Chorale or our primer choir, Bel Canto, and space to record vocal range and harmonic part potential. Also, at the bottom of each judging form is the cryptic line that just prompts “Remember….”

We “screened” about 250 voices last May, but only had the ability to place 50 in Bel Canto and 80 in Children’s Chorale. I regretfully had to tell many children (as young as six‐‐ ‐OUCH!) to try again, in a letter that did not individualize preparation strategies .

But it was a very NICE letter…..I liked it…..
Don’t JUDGE…..I’m not finished yet! I’m still searching, but feel I am heading in the
right direction! And, I have improved my “current state of ignorance”.

How about you?!

  Article submitted to NW ACDA website February 9, 2008


Marcia Patton, NW Women’s R & S Chair                       

For the REHEARSAL ... As well as the CONCERT … This is your CURRICULUM!      

In 2007 I presented “The Venus Factor” at National ACDA in Miami.  After 35 years of teaching women’s voices, I set out to find how I could better inspire and empower my singers based upon research being done by neuropsychiatrists, such as Dr. LouAnn Brizendine, on the female brain. My resulting presentation began with the symbolism of Venus (in mythology, astrology, astronomy), moved on to include intriguing new research on the female brain, activities based upon those findings, and music and programming to encourage self esteem, cultivate creativity, and promote community in women’s choirs.

This long, and growing, list of repertoire is grouped to encourage our thinking about choral literature that might be especially appealing to women. All of these pieces will work with high school age singers.  I welcome your comments and suggestions!

Music of the Masters (historical music encouraging vocal artistry)
“Agnus Dei” (Coronation Mass) W.A. Mozart/Jerry Wesley Harris, SSA, Alfred, 51305
“An Die Musik”, Schubert, ed. Stultz, SS, Morning Star, MSM-50-9917
“Art Thou Troubled?”,  Handel, unison, Novello, 16-0066
“Beau Soir”, Debussy/Spevacek, SSA, Hal Leonard, 08756903
“Duet from Cantata No. 78”, Bach ed. Talmadge, SA, Schirmer, 2506
#“Dixit Dominus”, Galuppi, SSAA, Roger Dean, HCMC-108
“Dome Epais”, Delibes/Nunez, SA, Boosey & Hawkes, M-051-472260
“Domine Deus, Agnus Dei”, unison, Vivaldi, ed. Galvan, Roger Dean #15/1857R
“Fire Fire My Heart”, Morley/Greyson, SSA, Bourne, ES 65A
“Lift Thine Eyes”, Mendelssohn, SSA a cappella, Carl Fischer, CM 618
“Ombra Mai Fu”, Handel, arr. Sieving, SSA, Shawnee Press, YS0422
“Pergolesi Suite”, Pergolesi, ed. Rao, SA, Boosey Hawkes, OCTB6703  
“Prepare Thyself, Zion”, Bach arr. Bisbee, unison, Boosey Hawkes  48018853
“Pueri Hebraeorum”, Randall Thompson, SSAA, EC Schirmer, #492
#“Vesperae pro Festo”, Michael Haydn, SSAA, Roger Dean, 45/1074R

Music Celebrating Beauty in Nature

“And Nature Smiled”, Allen Koepke, SSA, Santa Barbara, SBMP 36
“Away From The Roll Of The Sea”, MacGillivray arr. Loomer, SSAA, Intrada, CP1001
“Barter”, Rene Clausen, SSA, Santa Barbara, SBMP527
*“Come In From The Firefly Darkness”, Amy Bernon, SSA, Heritage, 15/1689H
“For The Beauty Of The Earth”, Rutter, SA, Hinshaw, HMC-469
*“I Lift My Eyes”, Joan Szymko, SSAA, Santa Barbara, SBMP 658
*“I Thank You God”, Gwyneth Walker, SSA, ECS, 5331
*“Look To This Day”, Judith Herrington, SSAA a cappella, Colla Voce, 20-96210
“The Snow”, Edward Elgar, SSA, National Music Publishers, CMS128
“Song For The Mira”, MacGillivray, arr. Calvert, SSA, Oxford, G-326
*“Torna A Surriento”, Curtis/Valerie Shields, SSA, Boosey, M-051-47390-8
*“West Of My Heart”, Vicki Nurre, SSA, Colla Voce, 20-96490
“Wood River”, Kaldor/Zwozdesky, SSAA, Rhythmic Trident, RTCP-004

Music of Life and Death (inspiration, making connections)

*“The Angels Will Guide You Home”, Eleanor Daley, SSA, Alliance, 0581
“Ani Ma’Amin”, Caldwell/Ivory, unison, earthsongs,
*“I Dream A World”,  Joan Szymko, SSAA, Santa Barbara, SBMP 613
“The Poet Sings”, A. Randall Stroope, SSA, Heritage, 15/1375H
“Silver Creek Lullaby”, Riley/Collins, SSA, Walton, HL08501560
“Sing Me To Heaven”, Gawthrop/Carey, SSAA, Dunston House, DH0319
“Weep No More”, David Childs, SSAA, Santa Barbara, SBMP 249
*“When I Am Silent”, Joan Varner, SA, Alliance, AMP 0210

Music that Transports Us to Another Place and Time (choral settings of great poetry)

*“Dark Brown Is The River”, Audrey Snyder, SSA, Hal Leonard, 45004013
*“My Heart’s In The Highlands”, Donna Garman Schultz, SSA, Boosey, M-051-47393-9
*”The Night Shall Be Filled With Music”, Laura Farnell, SSA, Heritage, 15/2276H
“She Walks In Beauty”, David Childs, SSAA, Santa Barbara, SBMP 435
“There Is Sweet Music Here”, John Clements, SSA, Mills, 60383
*“What Do The Stars Do?”, Sherri Porterfield, SSA, Alfred, 11602

Music of Romantic Love

“Dance On My Heart”, Allen Koepke, SSA, Santa Barbara, SBMP 34
*“Love Is A Rain of Diamonds”, Gwyneth Walker, SSAA, EC Schirmer
“My Romance”,Rodgers/Hart, arr.Shaw, SSAA a cappella Hal Leonard 08742832
“A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square”, Sherwin/Neaum, SSA, HL, ECS 321
“O Pastorelle, Addio”, Giordano/Serposs, SSA, G. Schirmer, 11602
“Someone To Watch Over Me”, Gershwin, arr. Althouse, SSA, Alfred, 25080

Music that Motivates Movement (sign language, choreography, procession)

“Adiemus” (Songs of Sanctuary) Karl Jenkins, SA, Boosey Hawkes, 10374
“Al Shlosha D’Varim”, Allan Naplan, SA, Boosey Hawkes, OCTB6783
“Amani”, Jim Papoulis, ed. Nunez, SSA, Boosey Hawkes, M051475025
*“Dormi, Dormi”, Mary Goetze, unison, Boosey & Hawkes, 6128
“Living In A Holy City”, Hatfield, 5 part treble, Boosey Hawkes M051472765
“Musica, Dei Donum Optimi”, Cory Johnson, SSA, Kensington, #1014
“Oye”, Jim Papoulis, SSA, Boosey Hawkes, M-051-47500-1
“Stand Together”, Jim Papoulis, SSA, Boosey Hawkes, 48019165

Music Celebrating Spirituality

“Angels’ Carol”, John Rutter, SA, Hinshaw, HMC-986
*“Ave Maria”, Ellen Keating, SSA a cappella, Mark Foste, MF922
#“Ceremony of Carols, Benjamin Britten, SSA, Boosey,& Hawkes, 16832
“Dies Irae”, Z. Randall Stroope, SSA, Alliance, AMP 0575
“Esto Les Digo”, Kinley Lange, SSAA a cappella, Alliance, AMP 0568
“Go Where I Send Thee”, Caldwell/Ivory, SSA, earthsongs
“Jesu, Dulcis Memoria”, Cleveland, SSAA, Treble Celf, TC-148
*“How Excellent Is Thy Name”, Audrey Snyder, SSAA, Studio PR, SV8556
*“Lullaby Carol”, Eleanor Daley, SSA, Alliance, AMP 0599
“Magnificat”, Z. Randall Stroope, SSAA,Alliance, AMP 0400
#“Mass No. 6”, Gyorgy Orban, SA, Hinshaw,  HMB-223
*“Pie Jesu”, Mary Lynn Lightfoot, SA, Heritage, 15/1227H
“O Gloriosa Domina”, Byrd, ed. Marvin, SSA a cappella, Mark Foster MF3101
*“O Nata Lux”, Deborah Lutz, SSA, Colla Voce, 40-96720
“Ride On King Jesus”, Moses Hogan, SSAA, Hal Leonard, 08703296
“Tching-Tchinga-Ryah”, David Maddux, SSAA, Alliance, AMP 0585
*“Thou My Everlasting Portion”, Vails/Baker, SSA, Alliance, AMP 0465
“Tota Pulchra Es” from “Quatre Motets”, Durufle, SSA, Presser, 312-41672
“Ubi Caritas”, Rupert Lang, SSAA, Boosey Hawkes, OCTB7143
*“What Sweeter Music”, Eleanor Daley, SSA, Alliance, AMP 0443
“Zion’s Walls”, Copland/Koponen, SSAA, Boosey Hawkes, M-0151-46071-7

Music in Delectable Foreign Languages

“A La Ru”, Paul Stuart, SA, Santa Barbara, SBMP 283
“Benedicamus Domino”, Brad Printz, SSAA, Heritage, 15/1510H
“Hotaru Koi”, Ogura, SSA, Theodore Presser, 312-41520
“Kalinka”, arr. Gregoryk, SSA, Boosy Hawkes, )CTB6785
*“L’Amicizia”, Faustina Hass Hodges, SS, Treble Clef, TC-199
“Metsa Telegramm”, Uno Naissoo, SSA, Mark Foster, YS 602
“Vois Sur Ton Chemin”, Bruno Coulais, SA, Hal Leonard, 08744850

Music that is Textless and Promotes Singing With Abandon!

“La Lluvia”, Stephen Hatfield, SSA, Boosey Hawkes, OCTB6941
“Mouth Music”, Keane/Faulkner, SSAA, earthsongs,
“Overture To Marriage of Figaro”, W.A. Mozart/ed. Bartle, SSA a cap, Hinshaw HMC-1328
“Reel A’Bouche”, Dalglish/Leck, SSA, Plymouth, HL-205
*“Sarasponda”, Ruth Boshkoff, SA, Santa Barbara, SBMP 303
“Snowforms”, R. Murray Schaeffer, SA, Arcana, Grouse, GR-101-C
“Three Ways To Vacuum Your House”, Hatfield, SSA, Boosey, OCTB6909

Music that is Light-Hearted (encouraging humor and playfulness, building community)

“Dance On My Heart”, Allen Koepke, SSA, Santa Barbara, SBMP 34
“Hello Girls”, Lloyd Pfautsch, SSA, Alfred, 52453
“The Log Driver’s Waltz”, Hemsworth, SSA, Intrada, CP 1030
“Ma, He’s Makin’ Eyes At Me”, Conrad/Spevacek, SSAA, Heritage, 15/2038H
“The Next Room”, Stephen Hatfield, SSA, Lorenz, 15/1739R
“Oh, Dear, What Can The Matter Be?”, Peter Shaw, SSA, Presser, 392-41983
“Reuben, Reuben”, Vijay Singh, SSA, National, NMP282
“Three Little Maids”, Gilbert Sullivan/Leavitt, SSA, Shawnee Press, B0596

Music to Encourage Self-Esteem and Empowerment (strong women, moral affirmation)

*“Fair Warning”, Shirley McRae, SSA, Plymouth, HL-206
“Get On Board”, Caldwell/Ivory, SSA, earthsongs
*“How Can I Keep From Singing?”, Gwyneth Walker, SSA, EC Schirmer, 5655
*“Still I Rise”, Rosephanye Powell, SSAA, Gentry HL, JG2346
“Victor, Catarina!”, Bruce Rockwell, SSA, Bruce
“Will You Teach Me”, Eric Unruh, SSA, Pavane HL, P1263
“When It Was Yet Dark”, Stephen Hatfield, SSA, Boosey Hawkes, OCTB6872
*“Women On The Plains”, Alice Parker, SSAA, Treble Clef, TC 117, 118, 119

*Music written BY women 
#Large Works                                                                                                            




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