Choir reverses controversial blind auditions; seniors spared tryouts

By Katie Havranek

A controversy over the initial refusal of positions to three returning seniors on the Macalester concert choir has been resolved, and the director has now developed a new system to approve choir applicants.The seniors, who had been on the choir as juniors, were eliminated in a blind audition process, which has not been used for eight years.

“This is not a new system. [The blind callback] was used for 20 years between 1968 and 1992” under the direction of Dale Warland and continued under Kathy Romaz. However, after Romaz’s departure, those students who are selected after one audition were then guaranteed a position in the choir during their tenure at Macalester.

Rogers was hired in 2008 and reinstated the program. The blind callback audition is a two part process involving an initial audition that assesses the singers’ basic sound, experience with choral music and sight reading.

Those who meet the basic criteria to be in concert choir are asked to do a callback that is meant to judge singers on their intonation, vocal technique, and blend.

Rogers emphasized his commitment to objectivity during this process. He brought in composers and singers Linda Kachelmeier and J. David Moore (both are personal friends of Rogers) to assist in the auditions. During callbacks, prospective choir members received a number that was unknown to Rogers or his colleagues and groups of students were asked to perform in different groups.

“We sit with our backs turned and choose based on those numbers that work best together,” Rogers explained, “I don’t find out who each number is until after the auditions are over.”

During his tenure as a choir director at other institutions and locations, Rogers has varied his audition style to suit the intent of the choir whether it is based on community or musicianship, he said.

The concert choir, the most selective ensemble on campus, is the only choir with such a rigorous audition process. Rogers, as a singer himself, has undergone the process of blind auditions.

The “uproar”, as Rogers called it, occurred when three upperclassmen who had previously been in the choir were not selected for the choir this year. “I am a man of principle,” Rogers said, “you can’t change it because it didn’t turn out the way you wanted-I didn’t want them cut.”

After meeting with students individually and the choir, Rogers decided to invite the three upperclassmen into the concert choir.

“When there is ambiguity, you must, as a professor, err on the side of the student,” Rogers said, “Students were not clear they could really be cut.”

Rogers said that after further reflection, he realized that the system did not take into account “community and hard work.”

After discussions with students, Rogers has created a new system that would require students to pass full auditions for two years and will then be “grandfathered” into the choir.

“I am wedding both the best musicianship possible with the sense of community so valued at Macalester,” Rogers said.

“I think that this year’s auditions and the resulting conversations have done quite a bit to help us begin to create a balance, and I am sure it is something we will all continue to discuss,” said Choir member Meg LaFarge ’11, “The Mac choir is like a family.”

Rogers outlined that the Macalester Choral music program is intended to train the best musicians, prepare music majors and minors for graduate school work, and to build community.

“That section will have to work harder to compensate for things that didn’t go well in call backs,” he said, “I believe they’re up to the challenge and so am I.”

Rogers echoed LaFarge’s comments, “I have never felt closer to college students,” he said, “Now, partly because we have weathered this, we will be one of the strongest choirs to come out of Mac.