Sunday, November 3

My Audition for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Phase I

Each year the Mormon Tabernacle Choir holds auditions for hopeful singers in the Church. There are approximately 400 members in the choir, and with a maximum tenure of 20 years, at least 20 people (on average) retire each year. In reality, the number of open spots is a bit higher, since not everyone stays that long.

This year there are at least 33 spots available (at least that's what I could deduce from the vague remarks given during the music theory test). But I'm getting ahead of myself.

On July 1st, the audition packet became available and people could begin the 10-month process of getting a seat in the choir.

The requirements to begin the process are:
  1. Be between 25 and 55 (on the day you would become a member of the choir - April 30 following the year you apply)
  2. Be a temple-worthy member of the Church
  3. Live within 100 miles of Temple Square (currently)
  4. Be physically able to perform in the choir (they sometimes stand for literally hours)
  5. Be able to meet family/work responsibilities while spending 10-20 hours each week (minimum) on the choir.
If you feel like you match up (and I felt like I did), you go on to Phase I, which was due by mail about a month and a half after the auditions opened.

Phase I includes three parts:
  • A bishop's recommendation
  • An audition packet
  • An audition CD/tape (I was sort of shocked that they accept audio cassettes. I don't think I even have a way of listening to one anymore. But, then again, the average age trying out is a generation older than mine)

The bishop's recommendation asks your bishop to interview you to determine if you're temple-worthy and to certify that you currently live within 100 miles of Temple Square. He also states that he thinks you will be able to balance the demands of the choir along with your profession, family responsibilities, and other important demands.

The audition form essentially asks for your history in music and the Church. You put down information about past choirs, music teachers, degrees or classes in music, performances, past callings, and a signature asserting that you realize how much of a time commitment the choir is... and that you are willing and able to meet that requirement.

The audition CD (or tape) is the time-consuming part. I'd assume that it's pretty similar from year to year. I have a friend who has a recording studio; together we created different tracks for each requirement for the CD. These are the requirements as I remember them:

  1. Sing the first verse of a hymn (they gave us three choices)
    1. Play the starting note on a piano and announce the note ("the starting note is A")
    2. Sing the hymn without accompaniment, as you would normally sing it
    3. Play the ending note on a piano and announce the note ("the ending note is A")
  2. Sing part of the hymn loud
  3. Sing part of the hymn soft
  4. Sing part of the hymn straight tone (without vibrato)
  5. Sing a vocal exercise going upward to show your range (they gave us the exercise)
  6. Sing a vocal exercise going downward to show your range (they gave us the exercise)
  7. Sing a vocal exercise to show your vocal agility (ability to change notes quickly) in a key (they gave us the exercise)
  8. Sing the agility exercise in a second key
  9. Sing the agility exercise in a third key
The entire CD is done without accompaniment, including the vocal exercises. I was really glad to have a friend who knew what he was doing. It was a cool experience, but being in a recording studio made me feel incredibly vulnerable. It was just my voice and a microphone... and I could hear everything. Every tiny wobble, every breath. Performing with music is a thousand times easier.

We finished the CD, recorded each requirement to its own track, and I stuck the bishop recommendation / audition application / CD together in a padded envelope in the mail.


Audition packets needed to be postmarked by August 15th.

After a few weeks, since I knew Phase II was approaching and I was getting ready for a week-long trip to Washington DC, I called the choir office to see when the results would go out. I've learned since that you're not supposed to call. Either way, they were really nice, and actually told me the results had gone out the day before in the mail before I could even ask.

I checked the mail when it came an hour later, and a letter was there from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The letter was dated September 13; I received it on the 17th.

The letter said that almost 250 people tried out this round, and that I had been invited to come to Phase II (the music theory/listening skills test), on October 12. There wasn't anything personal in the letter - just an invitation to move on to the next round. It also said I could call the choir office and pick up a copy of the textbook required to prepare for the music theory test.

I called the choir office about ten seconds later, mixed in somewhere with texting my family and posting a status update on Facebook and Twitter.

The receptionist was a bit startled when I mentioned that I needed a copy of the textbook. "We just sent the letters out yesterday. Did you receive your letter?" Yes, I did... so could I pick up a textbook later that day? Yes.

What the letter, and the receptionist, did not say was that there was a dress code expected throughout the audition process. That hadn't been included anywhere in the materials up to that point, and I expected the choir office to be somewhere public where just anyone could walk in from the street. So when I showed up to the choir office while I was up in Salt Lake City and had a few spare moments between projects... and had a few days of scruff, slightly rumpled T-shirt and jeans, and mussed hair... I instantly realized that I was somewhat out of place. After buzzing the doorbell, the door opened and I walked down the stairs to a hallway with lots of people walking by. Everyone was in suits.

Then again, I'm pretty used to feeling out of place in social situations. Autism does that. You just keep going. But I definitely felt like I should have been dressed better.

I picked up a copy of the textbook to study for the music theory test from the choir office, a copy of "Basic Materials in Music Theory" (the eighth edition), and over the next few weeks read the whole thing cover to cover. There was a study guide, and that was all I really needed to know for the test, but I had never taken a music theory course before... and had always wanted to. So I was happy to read it.

About a week before the Phase II test, I got an email from the choir office (yes, they do use email... I had been wondering after getting a letter in the mail) that detailed the dress code (now they tell me) for the entire audition process, parking details, and exactly what to expect for Phase II.

3 comments:

Gigiss said...

I would say that from now on, knowing how visible the Choir and its members are, it would be a Good Policy for you to Dress Up for every interaction.

I can't tell you how pleasing it would be to catch a glimpse of your face in the Choir during General Conference sometime! We're rooting for you...!

Brandon and Shannyn Palmer said...

I don't know you, but I'm going through the same audition process! My audition is on Tuesday and I'm nervous, but I trust that things will work out the way Heavenly Father wants them to.

I wish you the best of luck at auditions and hope that we're both called as musical missionaries! My family and I are cheering for you! :)

Anonymous said...

Never met ya, but I'm rooting for anyone that tries to get in to the MTC! I've had some friends audition and the audition CD stops me cold in my tracks. Good for you! Good luck with Phase II!