Ask the Right Questions

Simply A Cappella

Over the years, the audition process for collegiate a cappella has evolved wildly. There was a time when the norm was for hopefuls to just walk into a room and sing a minute of a solo; maybe do a couple tuning and range exercises, then leave and hope for a callback. Nowadays, it’s not unusual for groups to use questionnaires and interviews; to have mixers where they try potential members on for size; to have hopefuls sing with segments of the group to test blend.

On the whole, it’s good that groups are more careful and more selective, and it’s good that groups are looking beyond a few tests of vocal prowess and considering how a new member will affect group dynamics. There is also, however, merit in boiling the process back down to what a group most values.

Outside of a basic evaluation of musical ability, if a group seeks to gauge someone’s personality fit, it should consider what one or two questions really matter. Some groups will ask hopefuls to tell them their favorite pizza toppings or what super hero they most identify with, and these aren’t necessarily bad questions, but let’s focus in.

Consider the case of Southwest—an airline known for the fact that the staff regularly has fun with the customers, for example singing songs and telling knock-knock jokes over the intercom. Reportedly, one of their core interview questions for new applicants is, “Describe a time when you used humor to defuse a tense situation.” Sure, this question might seem a bit loopy at first, but when you think about both corporate culture and practical expertise, what better question could you ask if you hire for a light-hearted company that deals in a fast-paced, high stakes business?

How do you use music to serve your local community? How do you maintain perfect intonation when something threatens to distract you? What dance move will you bring to the a cappella stage? All of these questions are potentially valid depending on the culture of your group, and the type of group you’re planning to build.

Think about what matters most to you, identify the right questions, and figure what sort of answers you’re looking for.