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ISSUE 117 VOL 1 PUBLISHED 9/19/2003

Behind the scenes at auditions: Students compete for positions in music ensembles

By Lisa Gulya
Contributing Writer

Friday, September 19, 2003

Music is a huge part of life at St. Olaf, and students must audition to be part of many of the musical ensembles.

Audition groups include two bands, two orchestras, and six choirs. The bands are the St. Olaf Band and the Norseman Band, the orchestras are the St. Olaf Orchestra and the St. Olaf Philharmonia, and the choirs are the St. Olaf Choir, the Viking Chorus, the Manitou Singers, the St. Olaf Cantorei, Chapel Choir, and the Early Music Singers. Majoring in music is not required for membership in any of the ensembles.

The number of members in each ensemble is flexible, according to the number and talent level of the musicians.

First-year students are allowed to audition for participation in any of the bands or orchestras, but choir membership for first-years is limited to the Manitou Singers for women and Viking Chorus for men. According to St. Olaf Choir director Anton Armstrong, “The first year is a hard enough adjustment” without the commitment of an upper-level choir.

Each auditioning student must perform a prepared piece and take a sight-reading test. Instrumental auditions also include a scale; vocal auditions include range determination and tonal memory exercises. Ensemble conductors, music faculty, and some students in council or section leadership positions evaluate auditionees.

The most important way students prepare for the auditions is simply through practice. Erin Adler ‘06, who joined the viola section of the St. Olaf Orchestra this year, said, “I played for everybody I knew.”

Not all students make it through the rigorous audition process. Amundson said the audition process “includes dealing with those who are very disappointed.” St. Olaf Band Director Tim Mahr said, “For every dream you help happen, you crush four or five others.”

Since many auditions take place in the fall, summer work is especially crucial. Amundson said, “Some [students] will use their summer really well … some, frankly, won’t.”

Transfer students have the option of taking a four-day retreat before fall term, which means their auditions come after a few days off. Transfer student Saleha Erdmann ’06, a cellist, cut her finger on the retreat, but rescheduled her audition for a later day and made it into the St. Olaf Orchestra.

While musical skill is undeniably important, evaluators are also looking at attitude and personality. Armstrong looks for “nice people.” The purpose of auditions, said St. Olaf Orchestra Conductor Steven Amundson, is not simply to judge musicianship, but “to get to know these new students.” The groups spend hours a week rehearsing together, and touring ensembles travel together for weeks.

Those students who do make it into an ensemble, however, are generally offered a place in the group for the following years. In all of the St. Olaf ensembles, returning members are given preference over equally talented new auditionees in order to keep the ensembles tight-knit.

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