Auditions in the Secondary School Music Programs

By Joseph  Kim & Steve Barnett

Keywords: Audition, Competition, Goals, Capability, Improvement, Interaction                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
Auditions take place in most school music programs. Teachers use them to form advanced ensembles with enormous capabilities. It is apparent that the majority of school music programs have select ensembles, geared towards the more experienced students. But is this the most beneficial set up for a music program? Is it impossible for us to build an excellent music program without selecting students? Not entirely. However, auditions are crucial for music educators to create a focused learning environment for students.

 The Negative Side to Auditioning Ensembles

Article Source:

Auditioning groups takes away opportunities for the inexperienced students to be exposed to high levels of musicianship. In non-select ensembles, there are generally fewer opportunities to learn challenging repertoire, to perform in professional settings, and to improve in musicianship. Less trained students will continue to be taught with lower expectations, limiting their potential music growth. This may cause lack of enjoyment of music as well as lack of pursuing music as a career. Dan Laitsch, co-editor of the International Journal for Education Policy and Leadership, says following:

“…above-average students might be motivated by a competitive grading model that ranks students, whereas below-average students might be discouraged by such a system.”

Start By Setting Goals

Article Source:

One of the main responsibilities of a teacher is to set goals for their groups prior to the selection process. Teachers should focus on the students’ growth and development. A crucial factor in fulfilling this goal is the enjoyment of the students. If choir is not an enjoyable experience, students will not feel inspired to learn and grow as musicians. Students coming from schools “where chorus participation was part of a process of developing their musical potential will be more likely to participate in and enjoy the arts, even when they don’t have the talent to be a star.” Thus, music educators should be careful when holding auditions. Secondary school is a place where students who are “willing and curious” should be given the opportunity to participate in musical learning experiences. It is our privilege, as teachers to have any students willing to join our groups, regardless of level of talent.

 Story of Jason McElwain

The story of Jason, an autistic twenty-four year old, is a fantastic, real life example of how educators should treat their students. Jason is well known for his accomplishments during a particular high school basketball game, at Greece Athena High School, in 2006. Having been recently appointed team manager by Coach Jim Johnson, he joined the team to help out with the basic needs of the members. He would bring them water and towels during practices and get them rallied for all the big games. For the final game of the season in 2006 the coach allowed Jason to suit. He was unexpectedly put in to the final minutes of the game, with cheers from his teammates and classmates. After a rocky start, Jason’s ended up scoring several three-point shots, including one at the final buzzer, creating “mayhem.” Although Jason’s story deals with physical education, similar principles can be applied to music educators in the classroom. Teachers should never assume that a particular student has limitations that keep him or her from contributing to the group. All students are capable of growing as musicians and individuals, and their contributions to the learning environment are necessary for the development of their classmates.

So Why Audition Our Students?

Traditionally, music educators hold auditions to group students based on their levels of ability. It also allows teachers to see the individual talent of their new students. Grouping students with similar levels of experience allows for a focused music making process. For select ensembles as well as non-select ensembles, having students grouped by their level of talent helps teachers direct their lessons to a specific intellectual and musical playing field. This enables an efficient learning process within the classroom. As well, students in these groups have their own goals. Students in a select ensemble may be more open to challenges that will help develop their musicianship skills. On the contrary, students in non-select ensembles may be more focused on enjoyment. Many of them hope to experience music in a relaxed setting. Challenging students can be difficult in this instance because what may seem very difficult to the less trained student may seem elementary to the more advanced student. At the same time, advanced students may want to be challenged in ways that the other students are not interested in pursuing. Therefore, placing those two groups together may cause conflict in the learning environment.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Les Choristes Auditions

Mr. Clément Mathieu uses auditions to asses the level of talent amongst his students.  His audition process brings out those who the most talented, versus those, like Pepinot, who have very little experience.

The Positive Side to Auditioning Ensembles

There are positive effects of having both select and non-select ensembles in schools. The select ensemble will set a higher standard among students that will encourage them to work harder. Through impressive advanced performances, they can inspire and attract students who previously have not experienced the outstanding musicianship of their school music program.

Survey of Palm Beach County Elementary Music Educators

Article Source:
In a recent survey given to some forty-seven Elementary music teachers of Palm Beach County, Florida, 62% responded as having a select choir in their school, and 28% responded as having only a non-select ensemble in their school (10% said they had neither, or did not respond to the question). The participants who indicated that they had select ensembles agreed that the main goal for their groups was “choral development of the members.” Another main purpose of having these select ensembles was for showcasing the excellence of the music program. For those teachers who had non-select ensembles, the main purposes of their groups were primarily to teach the basics of musicianship, with some emphasis on having fun. To accomplish this goal, they created an environment where any student who showed interest would be able to join an ensemble.

The Effects of Competition in School

Article Sources:  and

Competition often motivates students to push themselves to be the best they can be. Dan Laitsch, co-editor of the International Journal for Education Policy and Leadership, remarks:

Competition is used as a behavioral tool for motivating students and can have strong positive outcomes.”

The letter grade system and reward system are a few of the catalysts often used to increase students’ motivation to be the best they can be. Zoweil, the co-founder and President of the institute for Human Education, says in his article:

“We humans are competitive, that’s certain… will it [competition] perhaps inspire greater cooperation, critical and creative thinking, and commitment the next time? Will it prepare these students for a world in which competition – like it or not – exists side by side with cooperation, the great ideas and innovations becoming the de facto “winners” in both the world of ideas and of the marketplace? It may.”

Although we, as music teachers, may be able create competition free environments in our programs, this may not be the best for our students. Auditions allow students to experience the inevitable competition that they will face in the real world.

 A Survey For Musicians: Dr. Stuart Edward Dunkel

Article Source:

“People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them.” 

Epictetus, 2nd c. Greek philosopher

Often times musicians find auditions more stressful than actual performances.

“In live performances, such as opera, musical theater, and recitals the audience has, in effect, been “invited” to attend to enjoy the musical experience with the performer. In auditions and competitions, the “audience” is an audition or judging panel who has invited the performer to come and prove that he or she is worthy of the part, the position, or of winning.”

Drummer, Mike Mangini of dream theater, takes us through the struggles of audition as a professional.

Recently Dr. Stuart Edward Dunkel, oboist and composer, took a survey of professional musicians. 70% indicated that they have higher anxiety during auditions, rather than performances. But really, the stress or fear of competition is generated in our minds.

In the motion picture, Billy Elliot, Billy faces a new kind of anxiety he has not faced before. He goes to audition for the Royal Ballet Academy in London. When he gets asked to dance by judges, he panics and strays from his planned choreography. 

Through auditions in early stages of schooling, students will be mentally trained to face the tougher competitions later in their lives.


Auditions are essential to the framework of school music programs. They are beneficial for both select and non-select ensembles. Before forming the ensembles, music educators should set specific goals for each of them. The goal should be reflected in lesson plans, classroom environment, the choice of repertoire, and the level of intensity. Music educators should treat select ensembles and non-select ensembles as equally capable ensembles. The goals may be different, but an equal amount of time and attention need to be invested for both groups. We should let students learn in an environment where they can interact with peers with similar interests. This will further their appreciation of music. Students in non-select and select ensembles should also be given the opportunity to interact with each other. For instance, teachers can add a repertoire that will be sung as a combined ensemble, made up of our select and non-select ensembles. We can also group or partner students from different ensembles to help each other. But first and foremost, teachers should see the potential in our their students that they may not even see in themselves. Like our parents, teachers, mentors, etc. who saw and fostered our own potential, we must do the same for future generations of students.

Teamwork By

Joseph C Kim & Steve Barnett




About secretsformusiceducators

We are the future of music education.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s