Running Efficient Auditions

Running Efficient Auditions

For many educators, auditions are simply a part of life. Just as in every other aspect of teaching, with more experience comes more refinement. Along the way I picked up tips from other educators to refine my audition process, and today I’d like to share some of them with you.

How I First Ran Auditions

When I was first teaching orchestra, I ran placement auditions at the end of the school year in order to determine who would be in each of the ensembles the following year. I did not have any assistants, and was trying to efficiently run the auditions while simultaneously providing classroom instruction. The first time through the process, auditions were blind and in person, but also recorded. I would remain in the classroom teaching the ensembles, while one student monitor called other students out to play their auditions. The auditioning student would go into my office and record, while another student would write down the ID number and the track number for the recording.

The process took about two weeks to get everyone through and unmeasurable hours of listening to those recordings afterward. All in all, the process was not particularly fair as some students had more time to prepare than others, and the whole thing took too much time.

In contrast, the band program had four directors and they ran auditions very differently: one year they listened to their students individually, and the next year they hired the private teachers to run blind auditions. When listening to students individually, they knocked the whole process out much faster because they had more manpower. When outsourcing the blind auditions to the private teachers, all it took was one afternoon!

Auditions with SmartMusic

I was already using SmartMusic to send assignments to my students. So with a goal of completing all auditions in one afternoon, the following year I started using SmartMusic for that purpose too. Doing so reduced the “data collection” part of the audition to one day and the listening process to perhaps two or three days. Even better, it made the process more equitable by setting the same deadline for every student. The audition had an objective part (percentages based on the red and green notes awarded by SmartMusic), and the more human part based on a rubric evaluation. That was a big improvement. Additionally, I had proof of how students had performed, and crises of the type “Why didn’t I make X ensemble?” where averted.

Audition Advice: Before the Audition

Before you ever hold an audition, you need to decide why you’re doing it. Will the audition determine chair or ensemble placement, entrance into a program, or scholarship recipients? Or is the purpose simply to make each student accountable?

Next you will need to determine your procedure. Consider whether to hold live or recorded auditions, or a combination. You will need to choose the repertoire. In doing so, consider the types of skills you want to see in your students when choosing the audition material.

You’ll have to decide whether to make the auditions blind, how many evaluators will be listening to the students, and what instrument they will be using to evaluate the performances.

As mentioned above, I found using rubrics to be very beneficial. If you choose to use them, you’ll need to determine the specifics. To help, here is an example, compiled largely from sources I found on the internet.

At the Audition

Consider the space where you will hold the audition. Will each student audition individually in an office, or will there be multiple students in the room, each waiting for their turn?

Set up chairs, stands, a curtain (if the audition is blind), and recording equipment (if applicable). If you have live judges, provide them with space, water, and snacks. Be sure to let everyone know where the bathrooms are. Share the procedures and rules, and schedule any breaks as necessary for the auditioning students and the judges.

After the Audition

Once the audition is over, the first thing is always to thank the judges and participants. Recognize their time and the effort they put into the process and help them feel that it was worth it. Then tabulate the results. With all the data collected, you should be able to rank the students. Share the results with the students and any other stakeholders. Last but not least, assess how the process went and make any adjustments necessary for the next round of auditions.

Download the Audition Checklist

I hope you’ve found these audition tips useful. If so, I’ve created a checklist you can use to check off the various audition tasks as you prepare. To download it, simply enter your email address below:

Additional Resources

Giovanna Cruz is a cellist and music educator with experience as an orchestral and chamber musician, college and private studio teacher, and public school teacher. As orchestra director at James Bowie HS in Austin, TX from 2007 to 2014, she taught more than 120 students annually in four orchestras. Her varsity group earned sweepstakes at UIL Concert and Sight-Reading contest in 5 of 6 years, while her other groups earned excellent ratings. She holds the degrees of Bachelor of Education from the Universidad Metropolitana in Caracas, and Master and Doctor of Musical Arts in cello performance from the University of Iowa. Today she's an education services manager at MakeMusic, presenting SmartMusic at clinics and workshops across the U.S.

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