Auditioning for the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

Auditioning for the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

So, I did this thing. It’s been a pipe dream for years, but not something I ever thought would happen. Just kind of like living in Paris for a year- I mean, many are called but few are chosen, amiright? Of course I want to live in Paris for a year, but naturally I don’t expect it’ll ever happen. But this thing, well, here’s what went down…

I was planning to audition sometime for the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, not necessarily to get in because I didn’t really think I could actually do that, but just because I’ve loved it for so long that however could I live with myself if I didn’t at least try? But they only open for auditions twice a year and all the announcements said that you have to be a member to join, and the next membership class wasn’t till September, so I figured I couldn’t audition till at least January or whenever they next opened for new applications. But one night at church they announced that if you were planning to become a member, you could audition now, and so I knew I was in for it.

I signed up for one of the next slots available- let’s just get this over with- and the day approached as I did vocal warmups and sang in the shower. I am under no illusions as to the quality of my voice; I’m stronger on keyboard than vocals, and I’ve certainly never sang in such a vigorous choir as this before. But hey, what was there to lose?

My time came, and I nervously rode the elevator to the fifth floor, and nervously filled out my name card, and nervously sat in a line with the other applicants. Praise be, I was in the first group to audition, or who knows, I might have lost my (nonexistent) breakfast. I stood in a line with four other women and we entered the room in a row. I had a basic idea what to expect because an insider had told me it’s a group audition first then an individual one, using “Amazing Grace”, but many details were blurry and I was just as nervous as could be. I entered the room to find myself face to face with the exceedingly accomplished assistant director of the choir, the very kind of person you hope you never ever have to sing a solo to. And before my brain could really compute, we began to sing and when my turn came, I sang my quavery little solo lines- voice shaking with nerves- and the audition was over before I even really had a chance to make a good impression. We were sent back out to wait in the hall, where one lady confided to me that this was her fourth or fifth time auditioning. Yikes! I literally had no idea how I did. Who knew how strict the criteria was, or how badly my voice had shaken, or what kind of impression I had made? As we sat there in solidarity, three names were called, and I anxiously listened for mine, but no. The ladies walked off, leaving just one other girl and I. Were we the rejects?

Fortunately, the kindly staff ended our misery quickly, and approached with a smile, congratulating us on passing to the next level. !!! We signed up for the next round, which is an interview with Mrs Carol Cymbala, the founder and lead director of the choir.

About three years later, the date for my second audition finally came. I sat in the sanctuary a bit to kill time and prayed that God would take the reins. I had made the mistake of listening to a session from a music conference outlining the specifics of the auditioning process, and was much more nervous than I had been before. (Find it here if you’re interested.) It seems they do a numerical rating of the voices and usually only the top rated ones are even considered for the choir, and have I mentioned my voice is not amazing and that it shook in the audition?

The time came, and again I rode the elevator to the fifth floor and was greeted by name with smiles and cookies. They do know how to make you feel welcome, that’s what. I settled onto the cushy couch to wait and make a little conversation with the assistant director, and to nervously twist my fingers together. After a while I was escorted into The Room where Carol waited, and we dove right into it. She had me sing Amazing Grace again, and then repeat back to her the notes she played on piano. Ya know, just warbling a shaky li’l solo to the woman, the myth, the legend. Not nerve-wracking at all. You all haven’t picked up on the fact that this was outside my comfort zone yet, have you? We then settled into our chairs for a lovely little chat in which I answered questions about my background and faith and lifestyle, and Carol was just as warm and friendly as could be. She told me I would hear back within a few days, and if I made it, I could come to a final audition on Sunday with Pastor Cymbala. Then as we were finishing up, she says, “You know, I don’t usually say this, but I’m going to recommend that you get in, because I think the community would be just great for you.” After I scraped my jaw off the floor, I thanked and thanked her. A personal recommendation!! I am sure it wasn’t my voice, but community of that sort was exactly what I was craving and God must have showed her my lonely little spots a little more than I expected him to.

And so, hardly able to contain my excitement, I sat through the prayer meeting and sang with a dorky grin plastered to my face. After it ended it was time for dinner at last, so I betook myself to the Five Guys up the road for a little treat. Now, the rest of this story isn’t very “Don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing,” but it amuses me so much that I’m afraid I have to risk knocking a few stars off my crown to share it. Outside the door was a homeless guy asking for a meal. Feeling generous and jolly, I said, “Sure, why not!” and bought him a meal and one for myself. I delivered his food and settled at my table to happily face my juicy burger and fries and ketchup and vinegar, but as I ate the first couple fries I saw another homeless guy approaching various people asking for food. I didn’t want to be bothered so I quickly inserted my earbuds, but nevertheless, he persisted. “Would you please buy me a strawberry milkshake?” he asked. I looked at my big fat meal in front of me, and knew I couldn’t very well deny him in this state, now could I? So I left my food safely on my little table and went to the register to buy him a meal as well. As I was paying for it, I realized that suddenly my table was completely empty, even down to the ketchup. NOOOOO. I thought the janitor may have been a bit over-ambitious, but after inquiring, it turned out that somebody else had niftily swiped my meal when my back was turned. I couldn’t help but laugh. And so, with three meals paid for, I decided that was probably enough for one night, and hungrily made the hour trip home and dove into a bowl of cereal upon arrival.

The week passed at last and Sunday came- the day of my final audition. From everything I had heard, the last interview with Pastor Cymbala was more of a call to taking this seriously than anything, him trying to dissuade the applicants from joining if they weren’t ready to do it right. After the final service of the day, all of the applicants congregated in the pastor’s lovely office, filled with plush leather chairs and many shelves of books. We introduced ourselves to each other and made small talk as we waited for the pastor’s arrival. Soon enough he came and greeted us all with fist bumps. Then he told us about the kind of commitment we would be making, both time-wise and regarding ministry. The choir has to be ready and willing to be called on at any moment to pray for someone in need, or to pray for the offering, or to sing any number of new songs we may or may not have practiced the previous week. No attitudes allowed, no opinions on what songs we’d rather sing, absolutely no gossip, that kind of thing. We nodded along, and at the end he turns to his wife and says, “Carol, I like these folks.” And just like that, we were in. The assistant gave us the time and date we needed to show up for our first practice, and we filed out amid a happy daze of smiles and hugs and relief. And I went and ate cheesecake to celebrate. 🙂

And that, folks, has been my life for the last few weeks. If you ever want to join the choir yourself, now you know how it goes down. And please come visit the church if you like! You won’t be able to hear my tiny little voice in the back dark corner, but you might be able to see my shining face if you squint, and you’ll enjoy the service immensely. The Brooklyn Tabernacle is truly one of the most peaceful and joyful places I’ve ever been, and I feel so honored to get to be a part of spreading the joy. Also, somebody please pinch me, because I’m pretty sure I’m dreaming!


A Year Ago:

The Effortless French Look


Two Years Ago:

How to Use Hair Henna

13 thoughts on “Auditioning for the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

  1. Do you have to be a Christian to join the choir? What is the age requirement? I was not born a Christian, but Gospel/Church choir music has been such a huge part of my life since I was a child. As a kid and teenager I had the lifetime opportunity to perform in venues like Lincoln Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Ireland, and the Sydney Opera House. Singing church and gospel music brings me absolute joy. Whenever I hear the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir they bring tears to my eyes, and I’ve always thought that this emotional connection has to be some sort of faith that there is a something/someone greater than myself and my desires. Right now I am a 21-year-old college student in Boston. I’m a bass/baritone and one of my dreams is to join the choir if I ever live in New York after school. Thank you for sharing your story!

    1. You certainly don’t have to be a professional, although of course they check pitch and vocal quality, and most importantly character. 🙂

  2. Congratulations!
    I’m from the Philippines and will soon move to New York. I’m hoping to audition, so thank you for sharing your experience.
    My only question is that, how often do you practice and perform in a week?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Hope, and welcome to New York! So right now, the choir isn’t back yet, since the pandemic. Just the singers (a smaller group within the choir) have been singing. But once the choir is back they usually announce auditions at church twice a year, so stay tuned! We sing every Sunday service, and have rehearsals once a week, more or less.

  3. Hi Rachel,

    Thanks for sharing. The session from the music conference was not available. I have been searching for it for weeks now. I will be very glad if you could make it available to me.

    1. Hi Eugenia, thank you for your comment. I’m so sorry, I don’t have access to the older files from music conferences.I believe some of them may have been removed with the church website update. But I hope it becomes available again for you! All the best.

  4. I knew your sunbeaming face would come in useful some day: we’ll use it to spot you in this choir.

    And congratulations. I hope this provides you with a wonderful community and lifelong friends.

  5. Oh, I get this! I’m so glad you were brave enough to do the scary audition and so happy that you have that ‘community’. Beautiful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.