Auditions As Shibboleths

A shibboleth is a sort of shorthand – a passcode for the ancient Israelites. (I’ll let Jed Bartlet explain.)

As conductors, we don’t have time to really gauge personality, work ethic, musicality, ear, demeanor, and all the other factors that go into making outstanding ensemble members. Certainly not in 5 minutes. So we must create audition shibboleths. We develop audition components that will allow auditionees to reveal a great deal about themselves in a short time.

The components I’ve settled on for my Rockford Aces audition are:

  1. Prepared excerpt (learn your part). Given about a week from posting to audition, can you teach yourself your part, or reach out and get assistance?
  2. Tonal Memory (3 notes) & Middle Note Recognition (sing the middle of three notes). How is your ear? How do you react on your feet? How do you face adversity? I intentionally make them extra challenging.
  3. Sight Reading. I intentionally make this less difficult: it’s less about your ability to sight read difficult music than it is about performing under pressure. What do you forget when you’re nervous? (I will also point out that I consistently say, “Take a minute. I won’t be listening.” Whether the auditionee sings out loud when I’m “not listening” is very telling.)
  4. Short A Cappella Solo (Song of your choice). You learn what kind of music they like. You learn how they sing in a familiar environment. You see how they have prepared when given their own choice (and how that may differ from #1).
  5. Conversation. Having a brief conversation during an audition can tell a lot about that person. How they interact, how they hold themselves, how they deal with stress and nerves.

Of course, all these shibboleths take a lot to unpack. But it’s better to have too much information than not enough.