The audition: finding a choir in Wellington

When I came to Wellington, one of the first things I wanted to do was find somewhere to sing.

I’ve sung in a choir in London for the last couple of years, a choir that lets anyone join — the motto is literally: There Are No Wrong Notes. There’s no audition, you can just turn up and sing. Sing all the wrong notes you want.

I set about researching a few choirs in Wellington — ruling them out one by one: too old, too young, too Cathedral-y.

And then I found one, looked almost perfect: for ‘yopros’ in their 20s and 30s, singing a bit of classical stuff, but also Fleetwood Mac and David Bowie, sell-out choir tours… but you have to audition.

“So what?” you might think, “just sing a song.”

Yeah, sure. Except the audition also included:

  1. Singing the middle, bottom or top note of various three-note chords
  2. A short sight-singing exercise
  3. Singing the Happy Birthday song without the third phrase
  4. Singing Mary Had A Little Lamb against a harmony.

Don’t worry, the website said, you’re in a private room and noone can hear you.

So, I decided to go for it. What. An. Idiot.

Mike dropped me off on a chilly, windy summer’s evening outside a huge quayside shed. It was 8.45, it was quiet and dark.

Inside the shed were six people sitting around a table. I ambled over a bit unsure if I’d accidentally walked in on someone else’s audition.

“Here for the audition?” one of them asked.

“Yes.” I said, wishing I wasn’t.

“We’re running a bit behind, just take a seat and you’ll get seen as soon as possible.”

There were three people in front of me waiting to be auditioned.

Above us, in a glass-fronted room, were three other people, one at a computer, one at a keyboard, and one facing them, singing her heart out.

I know she was singing her heart out because I could hear her through the glass walls. She was very good. Like operatic good.

I looked around and nobody else really seemed that bothered. Maybe they were all that good. [Spoiler alert: they were all that good].

I asked one of the members there what kind of stuff they usually sang.

“Oh, lots of choral stuff. We do a lot of Latin masses.”

I blinked at her a bit.

“Have you sung a lot of choral stuff before?” she asked us all.

Everyone nodded enthusiastically.

“Erm, no.” I said.

“Oh don’t worry,” she said. “This term we’re also doing a whole Queen medley!”

My heart sank. I almost got up and left. Queen makes me want to throw things.

Trying to lighten the mood I asked how many places there were available — given that they were holding three evenings of auditions.

“Well, I don’t think we want to get any bigger than about 56 people.” She replied.

“How many have you got now?” I asked.

“Oh, 54 or 55.” she said, without batting an eyelid.

I looked at her.

Finally, it was my turn to audition. The room contained the director and the pianist, and now me.

After a very small amount of small talk, I sang my song. It’s a folk song, and I know it well so it wasn’t that hard.

They said they liked it.

“That’s good.” I thought. And then I thought about Queen and groaned inwardly and wondered what I was doing there.

Then, they asked me to sing the top, middle or bottom note of a chord played on the piano.

Top note, fine. Bottom note, fine. Middle note? Not so fine. Turns out, I can’t really do that.

“Sorry, it seems I can’t really do that.” I said, after trying to do it for quite a number of minutes.

“No.” They agreed.

Next, I had to sing Mary Had a Little Lamb, and then Happy Birthday without the third line, which was fine, but weird.

Then I had to sight-sing three bits of music. I can kind of sight-read music for the piano. The one that looked like this was fine:

The one that looked like this was not fine:

I struggled to get past the first notes.

“Try again.” he said.

I tried again.

“No.” he said. “Try again.”

I tried again.

“Hm. No.” he said. “Try again.”

This continued for a few minutes.

After he was quite, quite certain that I couldn’t do it, he asked me to sing the British national anthem.

Three times.

I had to sing the British national anthem three times. That is too many times.

He began to say goodbye and I made to leave.

“Hang on,” said the pianist. “Don’t you want to do a range check?”

“Oh,” said the director, clearly not wanting to. “Oh, erm. Might as well, I suppose.”

A vote of confidence if ever I heard one.

I sang as low as I could and as high as I could.

“Thanks,” he said, “You can go now.”

I went.

Downstairs, there was another person waiting to be auditioned.

“How did it go?” he asked.

I shook my head.

“It was awful.” I said.

He looked terrified.

I went outside and tried not to cry.

Then I remembered about singing masses in Latin and the Queen medley, and I laughed.

A few days later, I received an email.

“Unfortunately,” it read, “your audition has not been successful.”

Well, they can take their Bohemian Rhapsody and shove it up their mass.