How to Get a Church Gig in New York (and elsewhere)
Greetings! I’m back with the second installment in How to prepare yourself for a magnificently successful audition season!
If you add up all the fees and expenses that it takes to get to just one audition: application and accompanist fees, wardrobe and travel expenses, coachings, and lessons – all the things required for success - you quickly realize the truth of the adage, “it takes money to make money.” Now before you get too discouraged about the reality of building a singing career, realize there is a really great way to offset some of these expenses. I’m not talking about temping, street-team marketing, or some multi-level “get rich quick” scheme. No, this money-making opportunity doesn't put a big dent in your busy calendar but it does pay an excellent hourly salary. And it uses your best asset - your voice! Welcome to the wonderful world of professional church and temple gigs in NYC.
New York City is the home of some of the most diverse and wonderful houses of worship in the world, with equally diverse and wonderful music programs. Take advantage of this unique opportunity to make beautiful music with amazing musicians. And get paid, too!
STEP 1: BE PREPARED
A quick caveat before I begin, something Frank Sinatra understood when he so famously sang, "If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere”: NYC is very competitive in every arena, and church-related singing work is no exception to the rule. Prepare yourself before you share yourself!
Just like with any
other job, before you apply for the
position, prepare an up-to-date resume that highlights
any previous sacred or choral experience you may have had, remembering that your participation in college
choral groups or other church choirs has helped prepare you for this
Additionally, understand what makes you a good candidate for ensemble work. If you understand harmony or enjoy the process of blending your voice with others, or if you enjoy preparing new music with other talented singers in a refined acoustical setting, be prepared to explain your passion to your potential new employer. And, as always, be sure that your resume is free of typos, is well formatted, and includes all of your relevant contact details.
Sight-Singing SkillsMy colleague Charles Perry Sprawls, who is a mainstay in the pro-choral world and creator of the site www.prochoralgigs.net has this wise advice for singers, “…the single most important skill in securing a job in NYC is sight-reading ability... Everything here is perpetually under-rehearsed, so the folks with the amazing sight reading skills will probably get hired over even the prettiest voices.”
Are you the pretty-voiced person who didn’t pay the strictest attention in aural skills? Well, then, it’s never too late to do some remedial sight-reading work. Check out sightreadingfactory.com for assistance (free 7-day trial) and you could be on your way to amazing performance opportunities for great pay.
STEP 2: USE THE TOOLSBefore I launch into the old-timer’s lament of, “When I was your age google translate, ipasource.com, and Onegin65’s youtube channel didn’t exist!”, I will stop myself and say instead, aren’t we all so lucky? Professional singing used to mean trips to the library to rummage through stacks of reference books, costly scores and texts, and a shrouded, complicated game of “who do you know?”. It’s truly amazing that anyone was able to succeed in the profession. We have so many tools that are free and readily available to us now. Here are a few that we know will help you on your quest for church gig nirvana:
Classical Singer Magazine, which has been helping singers since before the widespread use of the Internet, recently updated its audition listings to make them free for all. Their nationwide church job listings are arguably the most comprehensive list anywhere. They don’t stop there, though – they have audition listings in many types of categories. Thank you for making it easy, Auditions Plus!
Another free and easy method to find opportunities at churches and many other types of singing/performing opportunities is to peruse the American Choral Director’s Association (ACDA) online classified ads. Like Auditions Plus, these listings are for opportunities all over America, not just NYC.
You probably all know about YAP Tracker by now. But if by random chance you have not become acquainted, may I say ‘you’re welcome!’ Although not a free service, it is more than worth every penny for the year’s subscription. One year costs $55 (active through September 05, 2013) and two years sets you back $95.
The features available on this site revolutionized the audition process a few years ago, and the site keeps expanding with more features all the time. It is amongst the top tools for singers at any level, but it's especially valuable for unmanaged singers and/or those who are just starting out in their career. YAPTracker seems to contain more opera listings than church jobs, but it is still worth getting the subscription for all of the other benefits you receive.
NYC Choral Freelancers Group
If you are a Facebook user (which you should be - read why here), I suggest conducting regular searches for choral freelancer groups and pages to expand your network. For example, NYC Choral Freelancers is a closed group, but you can send a message to the group’s administrators to apply for membership. It really is an amazing resource for those looking for secular and sacred pro choral work in NYC, and for networking with your fellow singers.
Or, if you prefer a blog format with a Google calendar embedded, you can subscribe to updates directly on www.prochoralgigs.net.
If you consider yourself one of the most technically secure (musically) and advanced sight-singers among us, another option could be to audition for choral contractors such as Martin Doner and Jacquie Pierce. They are two of the best-known choral contractors in the city. They audition singers in tandem once or twice a year. While it is not the most immediate way to gain employment, it is a way to gain access to some of the best church positions in the city as well as freelance gigs with the New York Choral Artists and other world-class choral ensembles. To secure a place on the audition list, email their assistant Yonah Gershator at email@example.com, and you will likely hear from them shortly before one of their upcoming auditions.
Get DirectFinally, if all other methods of becoming chorally employed elude you, why not email the music minister directly? There are so many churches and temples in the city that I encourage you to do a quick google search for your church of interest (whether it be by location, denomination, or musical reputation) and inquire if they are in need of your special talents. You might also consider canvassing churches with a card, cover letter, and resume. Even music ministers with fully staffed choirs need subs from time to time, and you might be surprised at who responds to give you a listen. My dear Earth Angels, I know they won’t be able to resist you!
Good luck, and happy gigging!
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