Singing in a professional choir can be satisfying for several reasons: you may find more challenging music than in a lay choir, you may make a little bit of money, and you might find opportunities to sing more solos than in a lay choir.
- Skill level:
Many Episcopal churches are funded and many organists work with professional choirs on the side. Talk to a local organist for suggestions and contact a local director to set an audition date. Be positive, and audition as much as you can. Don’t get discouraged, because there are many professionally trained singers. Oftentimes, choral directors may sound highly critical, but this is sometimes a tactic used to weed out people who are not serious. Just be determined and positive. It may take a while for you to find an exact fit. Often a director will hire a singer if he or she has a voice that he likes, even if he is not as well trained as some of his other singers. Also, true altos are often hard to find, as are tenors. You may have good luck if you have the desire and you sing a sought-after voice part.
Keep attending your volunteer choir, and ask the director what he or she suggests to improve your skills. Attend local choral events, thank the director for the concert, and assert yourself without being aggressive by telling your prospective director—"I would like to sing for you." Try to get a number and a prospective audition date at that time. Be sure to follow up when he or she tells you to do so. Ask your local music librarian to help you to pick out some good audition repertoire for your voice type and skill level. Have two or three songs ready at all times for different auditions and period requirements. A solo Bach piece is a good standard for many choral auditions.
Be willing to transition into being a professional singer. Offer to sing for free with the caveat that when the director needs a stand-in, you will get paid. Tell your professional friends that you are looking for more singing opportunities.
Improve your skills:
Professional choir directors generally require good sight reading skills in order to read through a lot of repertoire quickly. Take sight reading courses offered to the community by local music school or college. Many music students also offer music lessons for less than a class might cost. Check on the notice boards of the local college or music school for music students offering inexpensive lessons, or put up your own ad requesting what you would like to learn. Local music schools also offer voice lessons which can help you improve your technique, as well as help you learn a range of solo material as well. A good voice teacher can help you prepare for an audition, too. Barter a lesson—ask to help the local church’s kids' choir in exchange for a coaching with the director.
Many professional singers also teach lessons in their spare time, and they enjoy doing so by giving back to the community. Ask a singer in your prospective professional choir if they would give you lessons.
Get to know the different modes: Play major and minor scales on the piano in the 12 different keys. This will tune your ear to subtle variations between whole and half steps. You will be better able to hear when you go flat and sharp. Sing scales in major and minor keys every day. Music libraries have beginning scale books that tell you which notes correspond to which keys. Singing scales can improve your flexibility, tone, and range. Ask your local music librarian or music teacher for a good exercise book. Professional singers always sing their scales every day in order to warm their voices up, and to remain limber, vocally. Just as a professional athlete warms up every day, so does a professional singer.
Exercise: If you play eight white keys in a row, starting on middle C, you will be playing a Major scale. Start on the next note up from middle C, and see if you can play a major scale. Which black keys do you have to add to create a Major scale starting on a D? If, however, you play eight white keys in a row, starting on an a, you will be playing a minor scale. Now start a scale on the next white key, a ‘b’. Which black keys do you have to add to play a minor scale on a ‘b’? Use these exercises in order to be able to play Major and minor scales starting on every key.
When you vocalise doing scales, start quietly, and then when you start to feel warmed up, get gradually louder. This can help you from getting hoarse, especially when you haven’t sung in a while. Try practicing ten minutes at a time, doing several short practices throughout the day. This can be easier on your voice and be better for your vocal and musical memory than doing a big practice session all at once. Your local music library has many selections of appropriate exercise books for your vocal part.
Practice hymns on the piano. If you don’t have a piano of your own, ask your local church choir director if you might practice on a piano at the church. Hymns are usually simply composed, and can be a very good way to improve your understanding of written music. Borrow a hymnal from the pew of your local church, and practice your favourites on the piano. Learning the notes in the treble and bass clefs, as well as practicing in different keys can greatly improve sight reading skills, and improve your intuitive understanding of contrapuntal and melodic music. If you attend church and always sing the melody in the hymns, try to sing the harmony. This will help your sight reading as well.
Practice the appropriate repertoire for each audition. Be prepared to sing your audition material from memory, as this will impress your perspective director, and you will be much more capable of taking any vocal suggestion he or she has to offer at that time as well. Be positive and open to suggestion, as you are applying for a job. Generally an audition requires a solo piece from an oratorio or opera. Be sure to work out the appropriate trills and ornamentation with your music teacher.
In professional church choirs, you may be required to audition by sight reading Anglican chant, Gregorian chant, and your voice part in a liturgical piece. Don’t freak out if you miss a note or two, but keep going as best you can. Some directors appreciate it when if you make a mistake you raise your hand. This indicates that you understand where your mistake was. If you are auditioning for a church choir, attending a service where the professional choir is singing can give you a good idea of what might be expected during an audition.
Prepare a resume with pieces performed, dates sung and the choral director with whom you sang. Even if you are in a volunteer choir, it is good for a prospective director to know what kind of repertoire you are comfortable with and what you are capable of. You will find that the choral music community is a small community, and that your current director probably, in all likelihood, knows your prospective director.
Ask local choir members if there is a union for choral singers. Although auditioning for a union director does not supplant the need to audition for each director you are interested in singing for, it can help you get jobs you might not otherwise be aware of.
When you are accepted into a choir, find out the repertoire ahead of time and make sure that you know it. This will help to show your director that you are reliable.
Tips and warnings
- The most important aspects of auditioning are practicing and putting yourself out there. Stick to a schedule, and don't let naysayers deter your mission.