Notes and nerves: A capella audition week

It’s finally the weekend.

Ordinarily, this would be a time for you to relax and make up for time lost to homework during the previous five days, but this weekend is special. You’ve already braved the claustrophobic lines at the Activities Fair, reaching the tables in the center of the room to sign your name and write your email with as much confidence as you can muster before retreating back into the safety of the anonymous crowd. You’ve already spent hours attempting to quietly hit the notes of your favorite song without incurring the wrath of your fellow hall-mates, or maybe you’ve found your way to a practice room to let them go without inhibition, the melodies flying free only to mix with dozens of others in a strange and beautiful cacophony.

Whatever steps you’ve taken to get here, there’s no denying that it’s go time. As you frantically attempt to come up with something witty to say for each daunting blank space on the sheet you’re given, you gather your senses. Inhale, exhale.

Someone opens the door, and your a capella audition begins.

Each year, hundreds of students flock to the Center for the Arts in the hopes that they will be able to join the ranks of one of Muhlenberg’s seven singing groups: the Chaimonics, InAcchord, the Dynamics, the Acafellas, the Girls Next Door, Noteworthy, and Live in Color.

Every group has its own individual sound and identity; some, like the Girls Next Door and Acafellas, only take members of one gender, while others, like Noteworthy, specialize in a specific types of music. Though the groups creates their own selection processes, the overall pattern of auditions, as described by Girls Next Door member Allie Benbenek ’20, is similar for each.

“A capella auditions consist of students auditioning separately for each group and singing a verse and a chorus of a song that best fits [their] range,” Benbenek said. “After all the auditions are over, each group decides who they like and want to see again, and then those students get called back for another round.  At callbacks, each student usually sings a contrasting song from the one they auditioned with, and then learns a snippet of one of the group’s arrangements to listen for blend-ability and accuracy. When those are done, the groups then decide who they want in the group.”

“The groups are looking for musical ability to be sure, but they’re also looking at personality, and they’re hoping that you’re what they’re looking for.”

This decision, however, is not made lightly – dozens of factors are taken into account, and some groups spend hours agonizing over even the initial callback lists. As Laura Santo ’20 of Noteworthy recounts, the task of narrowing down prospective auditionees casts a slight shadow on the excitement of augmenting the group.

“My favorite part of auditions this year was the anticipation of adding new people into our group, and wondering which one of the students coming in to sing for us it would be. The most challenging part was facing the reality of cutting down the number of those who auditioned to make a callback list,” said Santo. “No one in the audition room who is listening wants you to perform badly. The groups are looking for musical ability to be sure, but they’re also looking at personality, and they’re hoping that you’re what they’re looking for.”

This was a common thread that ran throughout each interview: every group has nothing but the best in mind for their auditionees. The intimidation factor that comes along with the power dynamic of Berg’s Got Talent and the panel-style audition process creates a veil between current and prospective members that can seem almost impossible to reach through. Still, it is helpful to keep in mind, as Girls Next Door member Gwen Wilkie ’20 points out, that each and every group member was once in the position of auditionee.

“[Auditioning last year] made me nervous as every audition does, but it was a very positive experience. The atmosphere was very relaxed and I felt as though it went really well and I enjoyed talking to the group,” Wilkie said. “Don’t be so intimidated or nervous! We are just girls like you who had to go through the same thing. It is not life and death; it’s an opportunity to sing a song, so just have fun.”

Though having fun might be easier said than done, it’s a reminder worth hearing – auditions, while certainly taxing, are fundamentally a chance to put yourself out there and gain new experiences with people you might not have otherwise met. Whether or not that audition results in membership isn’t at the core of its substance.

Auditioning means that you had the courage to show off what you have, to allow other people into an aspect of your life that you likely love and hold dear. That is no simple feat, especially when combined with the laser-focused gaze of people you likely barely know – and accomplishing that feat in and of itself should make you extremely proud.

You are here.

You did it.

You asked to be listened to, and you were heard.

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