Lessons from MMEA Auditions Part 2

On March 20th, our school was a host site for one of the Minnesota All-State audition program. The executive director of MMEA was on site that evening, and I had a wonderful chance to discuss a number of topics with her.

The first part of this series focused on the MMEA’s use of Zoom H1 recorders for Jazz auditions. I was impressed by this use of technology, particularly the use of two such devices so there was a redundant recording to fall back on.

This second part will focus on a conversation I had with the executive director regarding All-State auditions. Specifically, we discussed the potential for a move to recorded auditions, versus the live auditions we currently have. I don’t have the specific numbers, but the executive director mentioned that if you look at who makes it into All-State, and place it on a map, the majority of selected students come from locations around the hosting sites. The correlation is quite high. The problem is that the majority of the hosting sites are in the metro area of the Twin Cities (although, admittedly, so is a large portion of the population of Minnesota), and there are few off-site audition locations. One student was known to have to drive four hours (one way) to audition. The belief is that All-State really isn’t representative of All-State, and that is probably true.

Beyond the philosophical concept, the executive director mentioned that the cost of holding auditions exceeds the income from auditions. In the state, student are asked to pay $25 to audition, $28 with a late registration. This doesn’t cover the costs of the schedulers (with tons of late requests for changes) and judges.

So the potential answer is recorded auditions, which is a major change for the All-State process. There is some precedent…several organizations have gone to recording auditions, including our state chapter of ACDA for its honor choirs. But the current audition process (at least in vocal music) puts an emphasis on sight reading. That’s a little odd, as students are sent their music months in advance and are asked to know the music when they arrive (i.e. there should be no sight-reading in those All-State experiences). So if the MMEA moves to recorded auditions, they will need to change the criteria on which participants are selected.

I’m not sure that is a bad thing.

No decisions have been made, but the idea is in strong consideration. Recorded, digital auditions would make the audition process fair across the state, allow more students to consider auditioning, and save money for students and the MMEA. There is some concern about quality recording equipment, but I suggested that the MMEA could list suggested equipment for recording (for schools needing equipment) as well as a YouTube video of how to record an audition with that equipment. I also suggested that the MMEA have the student agree to let their audition be used as a sample. I would love to have my students hear a recording of a “top notch” audition…in some cases, this would spur some students to audition, in others, it would keep some students from wasting their time and money*.

The lesson I learned from MMEA Auditions Part 2? Digital, recorded auditions for MMEA are potentially right around the corner.

*Don’t get me wrong…I believe that there is a place in choir for every student who wants to sing. But that doesn’t mean that every student will be in All-State, be in a professional choir, or win American Idol.


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