Do’s and Don’ts
As I regularly work with young singers going out on their first auditions, I get the recurring question on how to collaborate with the variable and unknown entity: the pianist. In an audition situation, many things are out of your control, like the acoustics, the travel mishaps, the quality of the pianist who is playing for your audition, or your health. Some things are entirely in your control like, your preparation, being organized, and how you treat the pianist who is playing your audition. In this post, I have assembled a list of a few Do’s and Don’ts to help your pianist to help you!
First, in this day and age, it is a terrific idea to have scanned copies of your arias in your computer, ready to go at any moment. Sometimes, the pianist will receive from the organization the list of repertoire in advance of your audition (sometimes not). If they have, they may look at the repertoire and see what they will be required to play at the audition. Some pianists are so busy that they just simply don’t have time to look at the music, but many pianists like to prepare when they have the opportunity to do so. Even if they know the arias, they sometimes like to get their fingers to remember them the night before. So, if the organization contacts you about providing them with certain music on your repertoire list (especially if it is non-standard), and you already have all of your repertoire scanned into your computer and ready to be sent off to them, then you will be ahead of the game and save yourself some stress.
Some pianists have very distinct preferences when it comes to sheet music. Here are some of my own personal Do’s and Don’ts:
- Do tape your music into a big accordion-like document or four-ring binder (Europe): My experience here in Europe is that people arrive with these long “accordion-like” document, the pages are taped (in order) along the seams to fold out. The pianist opens it like a book and can turn the pages, or spread out the pages if this is their preference. When I first arrived in Europe, this method was so strange to me, but I am now used to it. I have also seen, although less frequently, music put into a 4 ring binder.
- Do use a three-ring binder (North America): Place your pages, back to back in this binder. If you are unsure how to do any of this adequately, ask your coach, they will be happy to show you!
- Don’t use loose pages. They are, in my opinion, very risky. I played an audition once in which the singer presented me with loose pages. He was singing a contemporary aria in Swedish, which is one of the languages I do not speak or read. The pages were not numbered. Halfway through his audition, we were suddenly no longer together musically and we had to stop. The pages were inverted. How was I to know? In another instance, the singer placed a stack of loose leaf pages on my piano, and when we got to the end of the aria, at least 4 pages were missing-they were still in her bag. Additionally, loose pages can fall/blow over if there is a draft in the room. Some countries accept and prefer this “loose page” method, however, I feel it is much too risky. Whatever you can control in an audition situation (like pages staying on the piano), you should take steps to do so!
- Don’t use the two-ring binders that you find in Europe. The pages kind of just hang there and the pianist ends up having to read with a crooked head.
- Don’t use glossy plastic page covers. They may keep your music nice and clean, but they produce a glare that makes the music impossible to read. All the pianists I know really despise these plastic page covers.
- Do mark your music with important markings like breaths, ritenuto, rubato, accelerando, musical cuts, and cadenzas. We are collaborators – not mind readers – so, please give us the information we need to help us help you.
- Do use a copy of your music that is as clean as possible. Other than the above-mentioned markings, We are not particularly interested in whatever analogy your voice teacher used to get you to make the space you needed to sing a particular note. For the audition, we just need to see the music as clearly as possible to best serve you as you audition for your job!
- Don’t conduct or snap your fingers to show tempo to your pianist. The best way to show your tempo is to quietly sing to your pianist the first line of your aria with text – DON’T sing the orchestral introduction to the pianist before you start your audition. In all my years of playing auditions, I have rarely gotten an accurate tempo from someone singing the orchestral introduction. This can and should be rehearsed so that you give the most accurate tempo to your aria.
- Do use a good edition of the reduction. Not sure? Ask your coach what he/she would rather play from. I have also had instances where the singer brought in two different editions and gave me the choice. Nice! Extra points!
- Do use your 10-minute courtesy rehearsal to set tempi and not to run through entire arias. There is simply no time, and also, please save your voice for when it counts. If the pianist wants to run through arias, make sure you can mark, or simply ask if you can do spot-checks.
- Don’t spring a transposition on the pianist. If you are singing an aria that is written in 440 and you want to sing it in 415, don’t expect that the provided pianist will be able to transpose at sight. Some of us can and some of us can’t. Ask the company about this way in advance of your audition, or you can plan to provide the pianist with a transposed score. Please be aware that your provided pianist has probably been playing rehearsals and auditions all day long, with very few breaks, and that this may be the second, third, or fourth day in a row of auditions. If this is the case, he/she will likely be tired and less alert. Put all possible advantages on your side: provide your pianist with as much help/information as you can, because we are there to support you! When we are playing, we are thinking 100% about the singer – we don’t want to split my attention between the singer and trying to read a score that is not clear or struggling with last minute transposition.
- Do mark clearly where the introduction should start if it is very long. You can simply do this by writing “Start here” with an arrow or a star.
- Do check to see that all piano notes are visible on the bottom, top, and sides of the pages as well as everything else (time signature, key signature, etc).
- Do remember to be courteous, professional, and friendly because you never know what position that pianist plays in the grand scheme of things. They may just have a say in the house’s choice of which singers get hired! Whatever happens, remember to be gracious.