By Eric Dundon
Following a performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ demanding choral symphony, A Sea Symphony, KDHX noted, “The St. Louis Symphony Chorus has always been impressive, but they truly outdid themselves this time.” And following a 2018 performance of G.F. Handel’s well-known Messiah, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote the chorus “…sang with a fine blend, accuracy and scrupulously clean runs, unfazed by occasionally breakneck tempos.”
Time after time, the Chorus, one of two choruses that are part of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra family, elicits admiration and praise for powerful performances alongside the orchestra. This 100+-voice chorus, founded in the mid 1970s, performs several times each season with the SLSO on a variety of repertoire, from well-known Baroque standards to contemporary pieces and works sung in languages from English to Russian to Latin.
Chorus members have a variety of vocal experience and come from all walks of life, uniting for thrilling performances on Powell Hall’s stage. Each season, the choruses hold auditions for new singers. This season, auditions for the St. Louis Symphony Chorus take place on August 23. The IN UNISON Chorus hosts auditions on August 22 and 29.
While the thought of an audition can be intimidating, Chorus members and SLSO staff assure prospective singers that auditions are encouraging and constructive. The 10-minute auditions include a solo performance (with provided accompanist) and a sight reading and vocalization exercise.
The sight singing portion of the auditions can be particularly nerve-wracking for first-time auditioners, but the Chorus has provided examples of the short excerpts usually selected.
We asked several current singers about their experience in the Chorus and their top tip for singers who are auditioning.
Years in St. Louis Symphony Chorus: Eight years in the 2022/2023 season
Occupation: Adjunct Associate Professor of Voice at Webster University
Favorite piece performed by the Chorus: John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary
One reason you love the Chorus: The music making is at the highest level—as is the camaraderie!
Your top tip for auditioning for the Chorus: This may sound obvious, but practice your audition piece with a real live pianist beforehand! Singing is most often a collaborative art form, and a lot can change when you add the pianist as your performance partner. It can feel very different from what you have practiced alone in your living room. Even if the pianist with whom you practice isn't the audition pianist, it will give you a good idea of what to expect and where you might need to be flexible in your audition.
Years in the St. Louis Symphony Chorus: Three years in the 22/23 season
Occupation: Grants Manager and freelance singer
Favorite piece performed by the Chorus: The last piece of the 21/22 season, Ralph Vaughan Williams' A Sea Symphony
One reason you love the Chorus: I was born and raised in St. Louis and my father and aunt have been in the SLSO’s IN UNISON Chorus since the late ‘90s. Going to Powell Hall for their performances, rehearsals, or any of the SLSO performances throughout the years was commonplace for my family. When I was in Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ Artist-in-training program in high school, my first professional solo was with the SLSO (during David Robertson’s tenure as Music Director). When I moved to New York City for school, I was a recipient of scholarships made possible by members of both choruses. On top of the impressive and world-class musicianship of the chorus, I just feel at home here. It's hard not to love that.
Your top tip for auditioning for the Chorus: Prep your scores accordingly and be clear with your accompanying pianist. If your music contains challenging accompaniment across multiple pages, print single-sided sheets and tape them (not staple) into a single panoramic score; this will help keep the music full and uninterrupted with quick page turns or stiff bindings. If you or the accompaniment starts at a particular tempo, take a few moments to softly sing the first measure or two of your lines with your pianist so they get a feel for your tempo. If you're taking a rubato or fermata in a place not written in the score or if there are imperative shifts in dynamics that help show off your vocal assets, mark these things into the score and point them out in the few moments you have with your accompanist. Auditions, like any other performance, are collaborative and your pianist is there to help "paint the scene" alongside your voice; make sure they “see what you see.”
Years in St. Louis Symphony Chorus: 37 years in the 22/23 season
Occupation: Retired attorney
Favorite piece performed by the Chorus: I can’t list just one! Top five would include Johannes Brahms’ German Requiem, Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem, Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, and G.F. Handel’s Messiah.
One reason you love the Chorus: I love the chorus because performing with the fabulous musicians of the orchestra, singers in the chorus, and amazing conductors is just the best.
Your top tip for auditioning for the Chorus: Sing something you really know well that shows off the best aspects of your voice.
Years in St. Louis Symphony Chorus: Two years in the 22/23 season
Occupation: Supervisor, Post-Closing and Shipping
Favorite piece performed by the Chorus: Ralph Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphony to close the 21/22 season
One reason you love the Chorus: I love the mix of informal fun and friendliness behind the scenes, yet also the respect and professionalism when it matters. It’s nice to perform with such a professional caliber of reputation.
Your top tip for auditioning for the Chorus: On your prepared piece, be intentional with dynamics and use a full tone; show your voice! The sight-reading excerpt is a great opportunity to show you can count bars/beats as well as good diction with your cutoffs. Be mindful of the space in which chorus performances will take place and how you should articulate/fill the space.
Eric Dundon is the SLSO’s Public Relations Manager.