At this time of year, if you are really quiet, you may hear the feeble and exhausted cheers of choir directors who have completed their annual crucible: UIL Concert and Sight Reading Contest.
After several weeks or months of concentrated practice for this competition, when it is over, we all breathe a collective sigh of relief as we finally see a glistening light at the end of the tunnel….SUMMER!!!
Most choir programs have only a few things left to do in these last few weeks: Spring Trip, a fun pop-or musical theater- themed concert, TSSEC, and auditions for placement in next year’s ensembles. No biggie, right?
Many of you are yearning to move up in the world, perhaps from a non-varsity to a Varsity ensemble. Or you may have your eyes set on a coveted spot in the madrigal, chamber, or show choir which is the pinnacle of achievement in your school’s program. So we voice teachers still have quite a lot to help you with in your lessons, namely: that upcoming audition.
What’s on the audition? Obviously that varies school to school. Here’s a list of some possibilities:
- Singing of a familiar song, often “My Country ’tis of Thee” or “America the Beautiful”
- Pitch-recall or ear training assessment, ie: director plays a few notes on the piano and you sing them back
- Showing off certain scales, solfege, hand signs, etc.
- Sight Reading
How do I prepare?
A voice teacher who is embedded in the choir program and communicates well with the director should be able to help you prepare for all of these items. Perhaps you will do some practice as a class. But if you feel insecure about any of these items, I highly recommend you ask your director for clarification or even do a pre-audition for them so that you can be comfortable with the process and possibly get some feedback on what to improve on before the big day. And you should certainly strive to use down time during choir class (there tends to be a little of that in the spring) to snag a practice room and do some practicing with friends and resist the temptation to socialize or even perhaps take a break from studying for exams.
You may feel that, after those intense UIL rehearsals, you are a rock star sight reader and it’s fine to focus on the other components of the audition instead. Here’s why we think that’s a bad idea….
The Post-UIL Sight Reading Slump
Without fail, I have this conversation with students in the weeks after UIL.
“Alright let’s do some sight reading to prepare for your varsity audition”
“Aw, we don’t need to do that. I’m super great a sight reading now. We just did it every day in class.”
“Ok great, so we’ll just do one then and if you’re awesome at it, we’ll move on.”
*Student opens 90 Days sight reading book*
*Teacher plays triad*
*Student freezes, stares at Teacher with wide eyes and blinks*
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Again, every choir program is different, but I’m betting that if your director is hearing you sight read, they’re going to do it “All State Style” and not “UIL Style”. What’s the difference? Well, in UIL sight reading you’re sight reading as a choir, not a soloist. Also, you are encouraged to practice and work through issues out loud!
Just like any standardized test, UIL Concert and Sight Reading files down the edges of individuality and focuses, hard, on rules, limits, data, and time. It would be difficult to assess choral sight reading fairly in any other way, so I get why. But when UIL is over and we regain our individuality as solo singers, sometimes we often have a moment where we forget how to operate.
Students are unaware of just how much they lean on their fellow choristers during the sight reading contest. Even the best sight reader in the room may be leading her section but is also constantly listening to make sure that she is in line with her section. Duh, it’s choir. She wouldn’t be a very good leader if she barreled ahead without any consideration.
So, dear singers, I encourage you to swallow your pride and continue to practice sight reading. If it doesn’t help you on your end of year audition or assessment, it certainly won’t hurt when you get back in to the swing of All State in just a few short weeks.
Start by reminding yourself of the rules and differences from UIL:
- You are ALONE! You must take initiative and set a quick pace
- You are allowed and encouraged to sing out loud
- Keep using your hand signs
- The first pass is about identifying pitches and intervals, no rhythm
So I encourage you to use this time to your advantage so that you can have a stellar assessment and set yourself for a really fun and challenging year ahead!
Go out there and practice!