Josh wrote in to ask:
As far as an audition goes I was wondering if you had any specific suggestions on the best way to hold an audition. Should it be with the band? A one on one audition? A song that they would like to sing or something you would like them to sing (or play if it’s an instrumentalist)? Just some questions I had about the practical way to do this.
The most important thing to remember about auditions is this: Adding a member to the team is always easier than taking them off. God hasn’t required us to use a specific instrument or vocal part in praising him, so we shouldn’t feel any pressure to add a drummer/guitarist/pianist/alto ASAP to the team.
Auditions will certainly look different depending on the size of the church, the skill of the current musicians, the discernment of the leader, and the makeup of the congregation. Having said that, I’ll address two scenarios: a new/small church and a larger, established church.
For a new church, I’d recommend more casual auditions. You could invite any interested musicians over to your house to play and sing on a regular basis. That way you get to know their gifts, interest, and character without any expectations of inclusion on a Sunday morning. Be sure you’re listening while you’re playing through songs. While the standards will be lower in a new or smaller church, I’d make sure that everyone on the team was skilled enough not to be a distraction. I’d also make sure you knew enough about their personal and/or family life to know that people wouldn’t wonder why they were being used in a leadership position. Finally, I’d look for people who were eager to support your leadership, not people who felt they need to display their gifts. Unchecked pride on the team will only cause problems later, and worse, is a contradiction to our intentions to bring glory to God, not ourselves.
For a more established church, I’d recommend individual auditions. We’ve found it helpful to have more than one person listen to give a broader perspective. I’ve tried to have a skilled instrumentalist and vocalist with me.
We let people know that auditions are coming and they can sign up for a 15 minute slot. They fill out a general information form providing basic information such as their previous musical experience and training, what small group they’re in (a requirement for participation on the team), and where they’d like to serve (we provide a list of possible options). They are responsible to bring their instrument, except a drum set, which we provide. We also have an accompanist available for vocalists. For the audition we let them do whatever they’re comfortable doing – a worship song, a special song, a song they’ve written, etc.
We hold auditions on Saturdays and usually fill up a whole day. During each 15 minute audition we try to gain as much knowledge as we can. For vocalists, we determine their range, if they can read music, and if they can harmonize by ear. For instrumentalists, we find out what instruments they can play, how well they read notes/charts, and how well they pick up changes on the spot. Our goal is to find out what gifts God has given them and form something of a musical “database” for the church. We have a form that is filled out for each person who auditions that gives us all the information we’ll need (range, proficiency, pitch, recommendations, etc.) to make decisions about how to use them. Some people will be asked to serve in the near future, others as we need them, and others will be asked to audition again in the future after they’ve received more training and practice. A few are told (graciously) that music probably isn’t the gift that God has given them. In the long run, people are more grateful that you’ve told them the truth than allowing them to continue in self-deception. If they’re not grateful…well that’s part of what leadership is about. We’re simply applying the Scripture, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6). Ken Boer, who oversees auditions now at Covenant Life, records all the results of the interview in a Word document, and sends each auditionee a letter that informs them where we think they could best serve. He also sends them a pastoral recommendation form that their small group leader signs. This is useful in a large church, but probably not as necessary in a smaller congregation.
We usually hold auditions four times a year, twice in August/September, and then again in late winter or early spring. For a more detailed description and some great insights, I’d recommend the seminar Ken and Jon Payne did called Auditioning and Developing Musicians at this year’s WorshipGod06 conference.
I’d be interested in hearing from others about any practical ideas for music auditions in the church.