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Music Groups at MIT, Pt. 1 by ARTalk

[by Jessica Noss '14, Guest Blogger] Audition for everything.

[by Jessica Noss ’14, Guest Blogger]

In high school, I sang in the choir, played oboe in band and full orchestra, and participated in every musical, but I assumed that when I came to MIT, music would play a much smaller role in my life. I was very wrong.

When I came to MIT last August, I decided I wanted to be in an instrumental group and a vocal group. I didn’t think I had much chance at getting into the Symphony Orchestra (MITSO) or Wind Ensemble (MITWE), and I didn’t want to bother preparing an audition piece or go through the torture of auditioning. Luckily, the Concert Band advertised that they would accept everyone, even if you’d never played an instrument before but wanted to learn. For singing, there was the Chamber Chorus, the elite group which required a prepared solo for the audition, and there was the Concert Choir, a much larger group which did auditions in groups of 8 with no solos. There were also numerous a capella groups, but they all required prepared solos too. Having had many bad experiences with solo auditions in the past, I decided to just audition for Concert Choir and join Concert Band.

At the Convocation during Orientation, the Chorallaries, MIT’s oldest a capella group, performed MIT’s Alma Mater, then broke into a rousing “Take me back to Tech,” one of their classic nerdy MIT songs (the most famous one being the Engineers’ Drinking Song). I fell in love with them. I knew I didn’t stand a chance of getting in, but I desperately wanted to.


The Chorallaries singing at the MIT Convocation 2010.

I finally decided that if I did enough auditions, I would eventually overcome my nervousness about singing solo. To that end, I went to the Activities Midway (an event where students advertise their groups and ask you to join lots of email lists) and signed up to audition for eight of the nine a capella groups (now, there’s a tenth one, the Ohms). I tried to sign up for the ninth one, the Logarhythms, but one of the members stopped me, apologetically informing me that it was a male-only group. After hearing other a capella groups perform, my desperation to join the Chorallaries had turned into a desperation to be in an a capella group.

Next, I went to the instrumental music table. When they heard that I was joining Concert Band because I didn’t think I was good enough to get into anything by audition, they told me to audition anyway. Despite not having prepared an audition piece, I signed up for MITSO and MITWE auditions. (Later, I had to dig up a piece I’d played years before and relearn it.) I also came across the four theatre groups and signed up to audition for a play, a musical, and a pit orchestra. I figured if I was going to make a fool of myself attempting to sing solo and playing a piece I didn’t really know, I might as well go all out and do it multiple times.

The first day of auditions was the worst. I had scheduled it so that I would have four a capella auditions, all about an hour apart, then the Chorallaries audition. Sure enough, by the time I got to the Chorallaries, I was too tired of auditions to be nervous about singing solo. But my voice also wasn’t too happy about the grueling schedule. All the auditions were very casual; most of them did warm-ups to test my range and some sort of pitch-matching or sight-reading exercise, and then I would sing my solo. Over the next week, I auditioned for all the remaining groups. Some of the auditions were kind of awkward. The Cross Products are the Christian a capella group. They asked me what certain quotes from the bible meant to me and whether I agreed with them. I explained that I wasn’t religious at all, so most of the quotes didn’t mean anything to me, and it didn’t really matter to me whether they were true or not. I just wanted to be in a singing group. I also explained that it wouldn’t bother me if I was in the group and we went around spreading Christianity, but I wasn’t surprised when they didn’t accept me.

Eventually, all the audition results came in. Most of them were rejections: Syncopasian (they sing Asian music), Muses (the female group), Cross Products, Toons, Chorallaries, Resonance, Asymptones (you’ve gotta love these names), and a play. But some groups accepted me. I somehow got into both MITSO and MITWE, and I got into Techiya, the Jewish/Hebrew/Israeli a capella group. Unlike the Cross Products, Techiya isn’t a religious group, although it often sings religious music. I also got into both the cast and the pit orchestra for a musical, as well as Concert Choir (but they’ll accept almost anyone).

Moral of the story? If you really want to be in a music group, or if you tend to get really nervous at auditions, just audition for everything. Chances are you’ll get into at least one group, and even if it wasn’t a group you would normally have considered joining, well, at least you’re in something. And if you decide Jewish music isn’t your thing, you can always leave at the end of the semester. You can also just try it for a week and then decide.

Wonder which music groups I chose and why? Then stay tuned for my next blog!

10 responses to “Music Groups at MIT, Pt. 1”

  1. Dave '14 says:

    I’m a member of the concert band. We’re a fairly laid-back group (it’s not a big deal to miss rehearsal when you need to, all skill levels are welcomed, no auditions, &c). That said, we do play some tricky pieces — right now we’re working on Holst’s Hammersmith, among others. Hope to see all you ’15ers next fall!

  2. Banerjee says:

    MIT has the best names for musical ensembles! “Chorallaries” is absolutely hilarious! And not to mention the “Engineers’ drinking song” … that absolutely made my day! 8) Very nice post!

  3. Anonymous says:

    cant wait to read part 2!!

  4. A prefrosh says:

    Thank you for the entry. I am in the same position as you were a year ago- I am planning to play th flute in conceret band because I don’t think I’m anywhere need good enough to get into MITSO or MITWE. How many years have you played the oboe for? And approximately what grade are you? (I hope my questions aren’t too intrusive!)

  5. ^ Hmm I play the flute too, and I was thinking the same thing too!

    I have a more general question about Concert Band but I’ll save it for now and see if the next entry answers it, because I have a feeling it might. :D

  6. Thanks, everyone! I wasn’t expecting so many people to read this, and even comment! smile

    @ A prefrosh: I started playing oboe in 6th grade, so that would be almost 8 years now. I’m not sure what you mean by “grade”… I didn’t play in any programs outside of school, and I only took private lessons for about a year in middle school.

    Although there are some really amazing players in MITSO and MITWE, you don’t have to be one of them to get in. I got lucky because oboists are currently in high demand, especially in MITWE, but it’s hard to say which instruments they’ll need more of next year.

    I’d say go for it! Audition for both! The auditions are very informal, and both conductors are very considerate and respectful. There’s really nothing to lose by trying. And if you take a little time to prepare a piece and practice your scales over the summer (rather than three days before your audition), you should be fine. smile Good luck!

  7. Nadiah says:

    Hey Jessica, I’m going to be transferring into MIT this fall, and I was interested in playing in MITSO. Would you say that string basses are also in high demand? smile

  8. Nadiah: Definitely. There are only two basses in MITSO right now, and one of them is graduating! They had to hire ringers for a lot of the concerts this year.