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How to ace your audition for the National Youth Choir of Canada

Pro tips from Jean-Sébastien Vallée, the NYCC's conductor for 2020.

Pro tips from Jean-Sébastien Vallée, the NYCC's conductor for 2020

Jean-Sébastien Vallée will be the conductor of the 2020 National Youth Choir of Canada. (Tam Lan Truong)

Every two years, singers aged 19 to 26 audition for the opportunity to sing in the National Youth Choir of Canada, which comprises members from each province and territory.

Once accepted, the choristers convene in May for an intensive week of rehearsals, followed by a concert tour. It's like a boot camp for Canada's emerging choral singers.

In 2020, the NYCC will be based in Quebec City under the direction of Jean-Sébastien Vallée, director of choral studies at McGill University and conductor of the Choir of the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul in Montreal.

The deadline to submit a video audition for the 2020 NYCC is Oct. 18, so time is running out. Audition videos must include two contrasting classical pieces (one sung in English), an eight-bar virtuoso choral excerpt, and vocalises to show your range. (Full details here.)

Want to improve your chances? Here are conductor Vallée's nine tips on acing your audition.


1. Submit your audition video on time

"In addition to being an exciting, rewarding experience, singing in the NYCC is also hectic, with daily rehearsals and a packed touring schedule. You need to show that you're reliable and can respect deadlines. Don't submit your video late."

2. Plan ahead and read the fine print

"Start working on your audition several weeks before the deadline. Although the application process is simple, it requires careful planning to ensure you have all the required material on time. I suggest you create a simple step-by-step schedule:

  • Day 1: Select your repertoire.
  • Day 2: Ask your teacher for a recommendation letter.
  • Day 3: Learn the prepared except, etc.

"In addition, make sure you read all the details of the audition requirements — even the fine print! You'd be surprised how many good applicants are rejected due to missing material or ignored guidelines. So, make a list, and check it twice."

3. Choose appropriate repertoire

The 2018 edition of the National Youth Choir of Canada was conducted by Jeff Joudrey. (NYCC/Facebook)

"You can submit up to three musical selections as part of your video auditions, so use this opportunity to show us who you really are by judiciously selecting your solo repertoire. The first two selections must be sung in a classical style, so select repertoire that showcases your strengths. If you have a fantastic high C, make sure to show it off. Remember that the repertoire doesn't have to be long nor complicated to wow the jury. A brief art song can show more of your artistry than the Queen of the Night aria.

"The third solo selection is optional and meant to give you the opportunity to show off your secret talents. Are you a fantastic country singer? An expert yodeller or a gospel singer? Take this opportunity to display a different facet of your musical personality."

4. Test your recording equipment

"Since a video audition is required, make sure you test your equipment before making your recording. Expensive gear is not required — a cell phone can do the work as long as you test it before to make sure the audio and video quality are good. Remember that colleges and universities often have equipment you can use to make recordings, so use these resources when available.

"It's worth taking the time to make a high-quality video, and if you're really happy with your recording, you may even be able to use it for other auditions, or to simply become the next YouTube sensation."

5. Learn the prepared excerpt

"This year, the NYCC audition doesn't require sight-singing, but rather a short prepared excerpt. We want to test your ability to learn music on your own, so make sure you take time to perfect the prepared excerpt — not just the notes, but also your musicality and diction (it's auf Deutsch this year!). You can sing it a cappella or ask a pianist to play the other vocal lines as you sing yours."

6. Ask for your reference letter at least a week before the deadline

"Be respectful to your teacher or conductor by requesting your recommendation letter at least a week before the deadline. When it comes to recommendation letters, I always advise my students to provide a list of bullet points with their most important achievements that they wish to see in the letter. This will help you get a thorough letter that fully represents you."

7. Select a quiet room to record your video

"Try to use a rehearsal studio or hall to record your video audition. You may have to reserve the room through your school or organization, so make sure you make arrangements early. If you're doing your video at home, make sure the background isn't too distracting and that your pets or little brother don't run in and interrupt you during the recording. Also, test the light, sound quality and balance with the piano before doing the recording."

8. Don't wear your prom outfit

"In the case of a video audition, what you wear is somewhat important. Don't overdress — no need for gowns or tuxes — but do show your professionalism by avoiding sweat pants and old t-shirts. A comfortable and professional outfit would do just fine, as long as you avoid stripes or tight patterns that usually don't look good on camera."

9. Don't worry if you're not perfect

"With pre-recorded auditions, there's a tendency to want to redo the video over and over until it's perfect. Please, don't! Remember that perfection isn't the goal of any artistic endeavour and this is not the expectation of the NYCC audition. Simply be yourself, show us what you've got, and perform with passion."