Because I have recently adjudicated several competitions in succession, this subject is heavy on my mind. There are so many different aspects, of being comfortable and prepared for each and every audition, that most singers don’t even seem to be aware of.
Of course there is the obvious. You have to gather the information about the auditions first, one has to make decisions about which ones are appropriate for your personal level of performance to apply to; you have to get your information together, send in the application plus the fee then wait for the call or letter of acceptance or rejection into the audition. If you have been accepted you are given instructions as to where and when they will take place with a specific time for your audition. If you are using your own accompanist, you need to secure their services right away for that particular date.
So, what am I talking about? What else could you possibly need to prepare for any audition?
“It is what we think we know already that often prevents us from learning.”
~ Claude Bernard
Believe it or not, number one on my list is Vocal Technique – This of course is the foundation on which a singing career is built. I can’t say this strongly enough. It doesn’t matter what the genre is or what you are auditioning for, you have to at least have some level of proficiency with your vocal technique so you can continue to grow from each experience. I have heard singers with good, raw vocal potential, but in most cases, that is not enough. When you audition you need to present your whole package with good vocal technique as the solid foundation. Raw talent will only get you so far. Those that adjudicate or are auditioning singers for roles want to know where you are right now and if they hear you again in the future, what you have done with the suggestions they have made. Have you grown and progressed?
Here are some suggestions for checking your own vocal progress:
- Every 3-6 months work with a really great, probably expensive coach. Not a vocal coach, but a coach that helps you understand the character and music you are working on, the interpretation. If they start working on vocal technique, suggest that you are more interested in working on interpretation and will take their vocal suggestions back to your own voice teacher. At the end of the session, ask them for an honest evaluation of your talent. Be prepared for whatever they have to say. If it is not good news, don’t let what they say and more importantly how they say it take you off track. Rather, use this information by working on their suggestions as feedback. Then in another 3-6 months after having worked on their suggestions, go back to them and ask the question again.
- If you have been studying with the same voice teacher for some time, it might be useful to ask one of your singer friends whose technique you respect, if you could sit in on a lesson and perhaps sing for that teacher. Ask for the teacher’s honest opinion about your potential, and what you need to be working on technically. Take this back to your teacher.
- Sing for other singers whose work you respect and ask for their feedback.
- If you truly want a professional singing career, you need to hear the truth about your potential and technique. I know from experience that often others are reticent to give their honest opinions because of our litigation process these days. It’s a shame because that is how any of us gets better at whatever we choose to do. This is not about failure but about feedback. It is always up to you to choose how you deal with what is said to you.
And, it may be that your talent is not suited for a professional operatic career. If that is the case, be thankful you know now and are not going to waste your time, energy and monies on pursuing something that will never happen. That doesn’t mean you can’t continue to sing or perform; it will simply become an avocation rather than a career. Just because it has been a dream of yours, doesn’t mean that you can make it can come true, so look at your other loves and talents and find another dream to pursue with the same passion.
“Wisdom is knowing what path to take next… Integrity is taking it.”
~ Robyn Elpruhzlein
Singing opera is not unlike ballet. For anyone who is an avid ballet fan, they know that the beauty of a ballerina comes from the shape of the arch when on point. I found that out from a friend who was a professional dancer years ago. I watched ballet differently after that point on and noticed that when a ballerina had a beautiful foot, they actually could dance more artistically and beautifully. Singing opera is about letting the characters personality, story and emotion come through the sound of the voice that then helps shape the music. This can only happen when you have a solid vocal technique. Because we have a mind body connection, the body happily falls into character.
Here are some suggestions for how to make the music your own:
- Do your own homework first. Start by translating with a dictionary, your arias, songs, roles. This does two things. First it helps you memorize more quickly, second helps you become familiar with a different language and as you do more of this, you will not have to look up so many words because you will find you already know them. You start learning a new language. Then, and only then, use something like Nico Castels’ volumes of translations to check what you have done.
- Don’t just learn a piece by listening to a CD. Plunk out the notes yourself and get it in your ear first. Then you can listen to a CD only as perhaps a guide. There can be mistakes or particular cuts on recordings that are not correct. Also, some singers transpose their arias down into a lower key and you will have it in your voice in that key and have difficulty when it comes to working on it with a coach in the correct key. It will feel all wrong. Often, even if you have a good technique, one starts imitating the sound of the voice on the recording. Wrong idea. You want to sound like you.
- Find a really great interpretive coach who doesn’t mess with the voice, but sticks to helping you understand the tradition of opera, opening up your view point about the character you are portraying, keeps you honest about singing the correct notes, dynamics, and correct diction of whatever language you are singing in.
- Often there are at the higher level of coaches, those that specialize in operas of a particular language or style. Yes, they are expensive, but well worth working with say once every month or so.
- There are also language coaches. That is important because you will better understand not only what you are saying, but how that relates to the music you are singing. A good language coach helps you interpret the character.
- If you feel awkward about moving or feeling stuck in your body find a good dramatic coach. They will also help you with interpretation by doing some staging of your arias. Again, don’t forget that throwing yourself around the room with acting isn’t the answer. You have to embody the character so you can portray them form the inside out.
- If you are working by yourself, think of different people you know, can be singers, actors, movie stars, etc, and imagine them portraying and singing the aria and/or role you are working on. Can you model what you are experiencing in your imagination as you sing through the piece? How does that feel? Are you experiencing something new and different?
- Check it out in the mirror and tape it to see if you sound different. It’s an interesting experiment. You might find what you are looking for.
“If the career you have chosen has some unexpected inconvenience, console yourself by reflecting that no career is without them.”
~ Jane Fonda
Practice, practice, practice! If you want to move forward on your career path, one has to make a commitment to a work ethic. This goes above and beyond what often seems humanly possible. But it can be done if you focus only on what is at hand right this minute that needs to be done.
Suggestions for using your time wisely for working on all these aspects of preparation:
- It’s important to spend time practicing putting all of this together. Of course you have to devote time for each aspect, but I think you already know that. How often do you just work with an inexpensive accompanist running your audition arias? This should happen once a week. Set up a time to make this happen and be religious about it. Record the session so you can analyze it later. Go in with an agenda each time. Once it might be, pay attention only to breath, or language or interpretation. Run your audition arias without stopping no matter what happens. If you forget words, music, blow your technique, whatever, just run them. Over time you will realize that they are becoming easier and everything is falling into place by habit. That’s where these arias need to be before you audition with them. All the pieces need to fit together on auto pilot.
- When this is in place, get a few singing friends together, invite your teacher or others so you have an audience. Put your audition outfit on and sing through your arias for them. Do this on a regular basis choosing a different audience each time so there is some nervous excitement for you to experience. As them to take notes and make comments at the end. Remember this is only feedback, the most important element in getting better at what you do. By creating this kind of repetitive practice, you will become a polished auditioner.
“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”
~ Johann von Goethe
Dressing for success works. If you want to taken seriously, one has to look the part. There have been scientific studies that tell us that when we dress up our behavior is more elegant, dignified and proper then when dress down. How do you want to be remembered?
Suggestions for choosing audition outfits and other information:
- For both men and women, make sure your hair is back and out of your face. That is the most expressive part of the human body. I noticed that often hair is back, but sometimes the short parts toward the face come undone and start falling over the brow and eye area. The singer is distracted and tries repeatedly to push it out of the way, loosing focus on telling the story.
- Even if it is an audition for something that is not especially important, wear your audition outfit so you can become comfortable in it. I know from my own experience that whenever I put my audition outfit on I started feeling that nervous excitement just from putting these cloths on. You want to eventually feel like it is putting on a costume to perform a role in an opera. Practicing this will help you get over your nerves. You will still feel the excitement but be able to control your nerves. It allows you to actually enjoy the experience instead of feeling scared and letting your thinking brain, “the Brat” take over.
- If you don’t know what to wear go to Macy’s or another big department store and set up a time to work with a clothing consultant. They do have them. Ask them if there is a fee. Often there is not. Tell them what colors you look good in and what it’s for. You can wear colors you know, even men with shirts and ties. Women should not wear dangling earrings, it’s distracting and they should always wear heels, even if they are only 2 heels. This outfit can be used as a write off if you keep it only for performance or audition. Keep your outfit pressed, cleaned, polished and ready so you don’t have to added stress of trying to get that together at the last minute when it is time to audition. Men, your shoes and belt should match and be polished. Make sure you get your suit tailored to fit properly. It’s worth the extra expense and it is deductible.
- Women, if you don’t know how to apply the proper amount or type of make-up that simply enhances your own natural beauty, again, go to a large department or makeup store and ask for help. Do it until you find what really works for you. Then make sure you can apply it yourself.
- Practice, practice, practice!! That is what it is all about. Yes, there are many sacrifices to be made as an aspiring artist or young professional. But if having a singing career is what you want, then doing the work to get there is essential. You have to make a commitment to not only doing the work, but understanding what the work is that needs to be done.
- Soon after a major audition would be a good time to not only ask for feedback, but you can be specific with your request. We are the people in our industry that do this often and hear and see hundreds of singers every year. Our ears and eyes are well tuned. Really evaluate the comments and when you have figured out just what they are saying, try some of their suggestions. Don’t just feel angry about them not appreciating your talent. This will get you nowhere. It’s true, you could have just had a bad day for some reason, it happens to all of us, but we the judges don’t know that. We make our evaluations on what is presented at that moment. Commit, practice and keep your focus on the goal.
Avanti, till next time, Carol