Sunday, November 10

My Audition for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Phase II

October 12th arrived, and early in the morning I drove to Salt Lake City (dressed up this time), parked beneath the Conference Center, and joined a tiny group of people rubbing their hands together outside the Tabernacle.

We were 15 minutes early, but they let us inside. We went downstairs under the Tabernacle into a large room filled with long tables. I took a front row seat after returning my book and calling out my name (twice) to people checking attendance on opposite sides of the room.

The room filled quickly, with names being called out again and again, until all but one person was accounted for. She arrived, all 108 of us were there.

We had been asked to bring nothing but a water bottle to the test. On the table at each seat was a sharpened #2 pencil and a two-sided multiple-choice testing form. The woman to my right said she was a piano teacher, and the one on her right taught voice. I mentioned that I had never taken a theory class... but none of us really knew what to expect.

One of the choir staff (he said his usual duty is herding cats) introduced us to the process and spent about 20 minutes emphasizing the time / energy commitment required to perform with the choir.

The test itself is divided into multiple different sections, but follows the letter that they had sent almost exactly. Most of the time for the test was spent on aural skills - they put in a CD, pressed play, and we followed the instructions. I learned early on that it was good to be in the front row; the voice-over style of the CD's was probably from decades ago... and they could only turn it up so loud.

When one CD or testing sheet was done, they handed out another... and another... and maybe even a fourth. I felt pretty confident in all the sections but one - feeling for the tonal center - and in that section I was pretty sure I'd rack up most of my errors.

These are the sections that were covered in the listening test (taken directly from the letter they sent out - the test covered exactly these sections):
  • Tonal Memory (aural): 
    • Listen to a solid chord and an arpeggiated chord. Decide if the first (1st), second (2nd), third (3rd), or fourth (4th) note of the arpeggiated chord is changed from the notes in the solid chord. 
  • Melody Recognition (aural): 
    • Listen to a melody played alone, then harmonized. In the harmonized version, decide if the melody is in the highest, middle, or lowest part. 
  • Pitch Recognition (aural): 
    • Listen to the key tone (first note shown) and determine the pitch of the second note. Decide if the first, second, third, or none of the pitches following the key tone is the pitch shown. 
  • Major-Minor Mode Discrimination (aural):
    • Listen to the two chords in question. Decide if they are major or minor. 
    • Listen to a phrase. Decide if it is in major or minor or if it changes mode. 
  • Feeling for Tonal Center (key tone, key center) (aural):
    • Listen to four chords of the key. Then listen to three tones played separately and decide which is the key tone.
    • Listen to a phrase. Decide which of the notes is the key tone. 
  • Auditory-Visual Discrimination (aural and visual):
    • Listen to four measures. Identify which measures are played differently in pitch from the notation. 
    • Listen to four measures. Identify which measures are played differently in rhythm from the notation. 
  • Musical Aptitude (aural): 
    • Your natural aptitude for musical activity is tested by a series of short musical statements followed by musical answers. You are asked to determine whether they are alike or different either tonally or rhythmically.
After some sections there were audible sighs of relief from the crowd of people. But after a few hours the listening part was over. Then we had a short break and they passed out an 8-10? 18? (I don't remember really how long it was) written music theory test. This was the test that built from the textbook, and was significantly shorter than I expected. We were given a piece of paper with a piano keyboard on it (for reference) and could write on the test, which was multiple choice. It followed the study guide they had sent exactly.

I finished the test, turned it in, and walked out into the cold late morning, watching hopeful family members standing outside the Tabernacle door. I think seeing me probably made them hopeful that they could go home soon. One asked me how it had gone. "Some sections were totally different from what I had expected... but I feel like it went really well." And I did feel confident. Confident enough that I told my friends and family, "If I didn't pass... then I probably don't belong in the choir... since I felt pretty sure in my answers."

The people helping us with the test gave us a little bit of information on what to expect for the future. Specifically, they told us to expect written results by mail, and that it would take about two weeks since the tests were hand-graded - they hoped to get them out by the 24th (12 days later). And he told us, three times in a row, "Do not call the choir office."

When someone asked how many spots were available in the choir, the person up front said he couldn't tell us that. He did say that spots are filled from both retirees (who retire in April of each year) and people who resign (who can do that at any point, without giving prior notice). About 27(?) are retiring next April, and he mentioned 5 people who had retired in the two weeks prior to our test. So that means there are at least 32 spots (number of retiree + people who have resigned)... though, in all probability, there are more (because assuming all the resignations happened in a two-week period doesn't make sense). Someone asked how that was broken up between men & women, and we all learned something really cool: the Mormon Tabernacle Choir doesn't have equal numbers of men & women. They don't take equal numbers. The directors listen to the choir and add voices as they feel are needed for their goals.

It took a bit longer than 2 weeks for the letter to arrive - I got mine on the 29th of October; the letter was dated October 24. I found myself wondering if I could weigh it (like some people do with mission calls) to determine if it was a yes or no answer. That takes way longer than opening it.

The letter this time had some specific information in it. Along with the "we are pleased to advance you to Phase III," it had my personal audition time (this Wednesday, Nov 13, at 3:40pm), and an attached sheet of paper with my scores from the music skills assessment.

The score sheet is interesting. Each part of the test is divided into sections, with 12 total scored sections. It shows the possible maximum score (between 8 and 99, depending on scoring), and then has three categories - strong, average, and weak. An example: in the section on intervals, the maximum possible is 8. Strong is 8-7, Average is 6-5, Weak is 4-0. It didn't have exact scores written in on the sheet - just which of the categories you placed in, circled. So the 8-7 was circled on my score sheet - I scored "Strong" in intervals.

I scored "Strong" in all of the sections but one - Feeling for Tonal Center. There I scored "Average." And since that was the section that I had thought I had bombed, I was happy. :)

I'm not really sure what "Strong, "Average," and "Weak" really mean. Is average a comparative to the general population at large? The required level needed for the choir? A comparison among the people who took the test that day? Could I have moved on with a "Weak" score? Maybe having ranges, instead of exact scores, makes it easier for the choir administration to look at people's entire profile (their CD, background, etc) instead of having a firm cutoff for who moves on and who doesn't.

Phase III is coming up in 3 days. This is what I'm expecting (from the letter they sent):

  • Arrive early, warmed up and ready to sing (and fill out paperwork)
  • Have a short interview with the Choir President (Ron Jarrett - he's one of the choir's champions for social media and appealing to a younger audience... so he might actually read this post)
  • Meet with Mack Wilberg, Ryan Murphy, and a choir accompanist
  • Perform the hymn I prepared
    • Each person prepares to sing the melody line of a hymn of his choice, in the key of his choice. I'll be singing "I'll Go Where You Want Me to Go" in the key of F (its original key).
    • Side note: This hymn is really symbolic for me. If God wants me in the choir, I'll go. If not, then He will have other plans for me. It's become one of my favorite hymns. The awesome thing about life with God at the reins is that I don't really need to worry. I do my best, and He will put me in the best place to serve. If I'm supposed to be in the choir, it will happen, even if I croak during the audition. If not, it doesn't matter how well I sing. So I can focus on doing my best, and let God take care of everything else.
  • Perform rhythm, musical memory, and sight-reading exercises
  • Anything else they ask to better hear my voice
And then I should hear back, by mail, two or three weeks later.

Crazy exciting. Wednesday at 3:40. Pray for me?

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

You do great David! Proud of you!
~Wrylon

Rick Graham said...

If I can add a few more thioughts:

1. Get over rather quickly that you're in the same room as Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy - two of the greatest music geniuses I know. Both who possess perfect pitch and can tell if you're off even by a cent. :)

2. Make sure you tell the accompanist what key you are going to sing the hymn in very clearly. Long story short, my 1st time at Phase III, there was a communication error and she started plying my hymn 4 steps higher. I soldiered on failed miserably. The rest of the audition and my confidence was shot. (I made it the second auction process).

3. Believe Mack and Ryan when they tell you that you have been prayed over by name and you are meant to be there.

Good luck. I'll be thinking of you.

Rick

Julie said...

Congratulations on making it this far, and good luck in the rest of the audition! We're all pulling for you!

Michelle said...

You have just the right attitude about it. I know you'll do great! Praying for you even though I've never met you irl. :)

Hilary said...

I randomly found your post on Facebook but I am really interested in how they work the audition process. Very interesting! And HARD!
Good luck!