Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Big Audition

Going to a big audition is ranks right up there being at an airport in England - hours and hours of sitting or standing around waiting. In this case, it was over 4 hours of waiting for about 5 minutes of singing. At least I didn't have to lug around any heavy baggage, only the score for Beethoven's 9th. (Of course, anyone boarding a plane to or from the British Isles doesn't have to carry around much else these days, either.)

The day of the big audition for the Sapporo Symphony Chorus arrived. I spent all morning getting my body into good physical shape, first doing half an hour of yoga. Then I warmed up with a CD by Claude Stein, whose workshop on The Natural Singer I had taken at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Finally, I listened to a hypnosis tape by my sister entitled "Standing Ovation for Actors".

When I arrived at the site at noon, I was delighted to see 5 other women from my chorus, 1 alto and 4 sopranos, also in the classroom filled with one-arm desks where we had to wait. There were 2 basses as well, with number of women, perhaps around 60, far outnumbering the men. In some ways, it relieved the tension to be with people I knew because we were all in the same boat and had a chance to compare notes [pun intended].

At 12:30, we were ushered up to another room with long tables. It got much quieter, many of the applicants intent on studying their scores or listening to music through headphones.
As each person's number was called, we had to proceed to the outside of one of the two audition rooms. There were 5 chairs lined up, and, after sitting in the farthest one from the door, we did a kind of musical chairs each time one of the singers came out of the audition.

When we got to the chair closest to the door, we were handed a one-page score which we had exactly one minute to examine, without making any sound. The one I got was in the key of C, not too challenging, with only one sharp and one flat thrown in for flavor. It would have been a lot easier, though, had I been able to hum through it and had there not been a young man standing in front of me with a stop watch.

It came time to enter the audition room, and I was surprised to find only one judge. I introduced myself, as instructed, by number (#89), name, and part (I emphasized that I was a Mezzo). The accompanist played a chord on the piano and the first note. I started sight reading the piece, which we were to do unaccompanied. In a couple places, I got a little lost, but the pianist was extremely kind in playing just a note or two in order to help me out. Under any other conditions, and with accompaniment, I'm sure I could have done it perfectly. As it was, I stayed pretty much on key.

Then came the bars I was to sing from Beethoven's 9th, a section of the quartet done by the soloists. That I got through with only one flub. In fact, I was surprised at my own confidence and lack of nervousness. Of course, I had sung the piece more times than I can count, although not that particular solo section. What's more, I knew that my pronunciation was superb, in that I had asked a German friend to help me out the week before.

Everyone in my chorus seemed relatively at ease as we went back to the first classroom to wait. We put our chairs in a circle, and some people had brought food to share (such a Japanese thing to do). I felt a bit sorry for those who had come alone, although I also had my computer with me to do some work while waiting. When the last bass to audition joined us, we thought the wait wouldn't be much longer, but we were wrong. An hour passed, and then another half hour. Our conversation died down. I got out my computer, and another soprano got out a book to read.

Finally someone came in to put up the numbers of those who had made the first cut. People rushed over, so I just took my time packing up my computer. After about 2 hours of waiting, 2 more minutes were not going to make much of a difference. The other women came back saying, "CA, what's your number?" "89," I told them. "Are you sure?" "Yes." I looked over, and the numbers were large enough that I could see the 89 on the board. Everyone in my chorus had made the first cut!

Again, we went up to the room with the long tables, this time fewer people, but still a considerable number of women, most of them sopranos. This time we were to audition in a quartet, so people were called out in fours. Since there were so many more women than men, they sometimes called only one or two numbers, always one of a soprano and sometimes an alto, whereas most of the men had to sing the section over and over again.

As each person in our group returned, we peppered her with questions, such as how fast the conductor was having them sing, and if they took a "cunning breath" on "welt," which goes for several measures. By the time my number was called, much more quickly than for the first round, the same tenor had been singing nearly the whole time, and the poor guy's shirt was soaked with sweat.

The alto and bass that I auditioned with had also sung with others before me, and their voices were all very strong. Mine, on the other hand, seemed weak, by contrast, since a high A is near the top of my range. (I keep saying that Beethoven never would have had the Sopranos sustaining those high notes had he been able to hear at the time when he wrote the Symphony.)

To my chagrin, I botched my entrance. In the section used for the audition, the alto starts, and then the soprano comes in. I didn't have the timing right because it was so sudden to start in the middle of the piece. We started again and, this time, I kept my eyes glued on the conductor.

My self-assessment, which I gave to the other sopranos, as that my notes were fine (I have a good ear and no problem staying on key), my timing was good, except for the initial entrance, and my pronunciation was great. However, my voice was so weak in comparison to the other three that it was then that I knew I probably didn't pass the audition. The others weren't as forthcoming about how they had done, but I knew at least one of them was a bit discouraged. We walked back to the subway station together, wondering how long we'd have to wait before we'd find out the results.

[Thursday, 4 days later]

I was teaching my intermediate English conversation class and telling them all about the audition. It was one of the women in that class who had first found the information about the formation of the Sapporo Symphony Chorus on the Internet and printed it out for me. I told them I'd let them know.

I went back to my apartment, across the hall from my office/classroom, and a letter from the chorus had arrived. I opened it, rather hesitantly, but couldn't understand it completely, so took it back to my classroom to ask my students what it meant. "You passed!" they exclaimed.

I really thought I hadn't made it, so I was stunned. Then I began jumping up and down, shouting, "I'm in! I'm in!" We all hugged each other, and I was so glad I had the chance to share the good news with them.

Later I learned that two of the four other sopranos in Sapporo Academy Chorus had also gotten in, one of whom has studied in England for a year, so I'll already have some acquaintances. The only sad part is that it means quitting my dance class, which I've been taking for over two years now. I'll keep taking private lessons from time to time, but I'll miss the other three women in the class.

I can still hardly believe it.
I'm a member of the Sapporo Symphony Chorus!!

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