Singing in French: Linking Words

“Sing everything like you are singing bel canto” is something I repeat frequently. Bel canto means “beautiful singing,” but it also means to sing everything with smooth phrasing and as legato as possible. Legato is the connected and uninterrupted production of sound, and it requires the singer to understand which vowels and consonants they are singing and how these relate to each other. How do you achieve this if you are not singing in Italian? More specifically, how do you accomplish this while singing in French? Without diving into the numerous French liaison rules, here is a quick explanation of three different ways you can link words in your French singing.

Vowels

The word vowel is taken from the Latin word vox, meaning voice. For singers, a proper understanding of all the vowels in every language t is at the top of the list of essential things to know. The unvoiced consonant stops or blocks the vowel completely, while the voiced consonant partially stops the vowel which causes an audible adjustment to the vocalic flow. Unlike English or German, French seems to run together with no clear separation between words, making French, much like Italian, a very singable language. The legato in the French language is the constant vowel flow within words and between words. This word-to-word flow is achieved by linking words to each other, known as “liaison.”

Here are three methods of linking up words in French:

1. Liaison

Liaison occurs when the usually silent final consonant is pronounced because it is followed by a word starting with a vowel or a mute h. Please note, we never pronounce the “h” sounds in French as we do in English (like in the word “hat.”) For more on the h in French, click here as I have dedicated an entire blog post to this letter, which is not pronounced in French, ironically.

Example: Elle est arrivé avec un homme (She arrived with a man) [ɛl‿ɛ ariˈve aˈvɛk‿ œ̃n‿ɔmə]

Notice that the t of est and the n of un are in liaison with the following vowels. Usually, these final consonants would be silent (see example below).

Example: Il est venu avec un cadeau (He came with a gift) [il‿ɛ vəˈny avɛk‿œ̃ kaˈdo]

The t of est is now silent as is the of un because consonants instead of vowels follow them.

The singer, working with liaison, should make the now sounded consonant rapidly and quite late because we don’t want to emphasize the liaison. It should also not alter or shorten the vowel preceding it. The use of liaison is more present in lyric diction rather than in spoken French. In everyday speech too much use of liaison makes someone sound quite stiff and old-fashioned. There are quite a few rules related to liaison; some are optional, some are mandatory, and some are forbidden. In some cases, a wrong liaison (for example, making a sound instead of a t) or choosing not to make a mandatory liaison can demonstrate a lack of taste or education.

When using liaison, be aware that some phonetic changes occur with the consonant affected.

  • The s becomes a z: Les amis (the friends) []
  • The d becomes a t: Le grand arbre (the tall tree) []
  • The x becomes a z: Deux amis (two friends) []
  • The f becomes a v: Neuf heures (nine hours) []

Be sure not to get confused with these phonetic changes as they should not change the word’s meaning.

Example :

Sans amour (without love) [sɑ̃z‿aˈmur]

Sens exatasié (senses in extasy)[sɑ̃s‿ɛkstɑˈzje]

As we can see, in the first example, the liaison from the in the word sans meaning without the s is always silent, but in the second example, we always pronounce the s in the word sens meaning senses; we are just linking the words to each other.

2.Elision

Elision is the omission of a final, unstressed -e in a word followed by a word beginning with a vowel or a mute h.

Example; Elle est assise depuis une heure (She has been sitting for an hour) [ɛl‿ɛt‿aˈsizə dəˈpɥiz‿yn‿œrə]

Here we make elision on the final e of elle because the following word, est ,starts with an e, so the l of elle is sounded right before the word est. Elision is commonly used both in lyric diction and in everyday speech.

  1. LINKING UP or “enchaînement”

Linking up or enchaînement occurs when we pronounce the final consonant, whether a vowel follows it or not. It is neither an elision or liaison, and it happens pretty naturally in singing and speaking.

Example il est ici (he is here) [ilɛt‿iˈsi]

The link between il and est is just that, a link. You do not need to show the link in your IPA translation only from a liaison or an elision.

Optional Liaisons

As you get more familiar with liaison, you will have the knowledge needed to opt-out of some liaisons that seem excessive. To quote Pierre Bernac (see below), who was an authority on “French Mélodie”: “There are a great number of cases when the liaison is optional, and left to the taste of the performer.” However, for a singer to know when they can leave out a liaison, they must have a thorough knowledge of singing in French.

Consulting a French Lyric Diction coach or an excellent French diction manual will be the best course of action rather than asking a friend who speaks French. Everyday French does not necessarily require the knowledge of the relatively large set of rules used for singing in French. There are many things to consider when singing in French, so always make sure you cover all your bases.

Did you know:

An excellent book to start building your library is The Interpretation of French Song by Pierre Bernac. He explores the musical analysis and suggested liaisons in the texts to help you find your way with French Mélodie.

Pierre Bernac (12 January 1899 – 17 October 1979) was a French singer, a baryton-martin, known as an interpreter of the French mélodie. He had a close artistic association with Francis Poulenc, with whom he performed in France and abroad. Poulenc wrote 90 songs for him during their 25-year musical partnership.

Bernac was well known as a teacher; among the singers who studied with him were Elly AmelingGrace BumbryMattiwilda DobbsCarol NeblettJessye Norman, and Gérard Souzay. He gave masterclasses in France, Britain and the US.

 Bernac wrote two highly regarded books about the interpretation of mélodies in general and Poulenc’s in particular.

Pierre Bernac – Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Bernac

Creating Your Social Media Brand as an Emerging Artist

Social media is a big part of our lives. I would not say that I am an expert at navigating social media platforms, but I have been responsible for content for a few organizations and for my own professional use. With everyone – including colleagues and potential employers – now owning some form of social media account, how can you ensure that you effectively build your professional network and engage in exciting discussions while maintaining appropriate professional behavior?

Whatever you put on your social media accounts is a direct reflection of you – so, it is good to know how to use it strategically and responsibly. Technology is impacting the arts in much the same way it is affecting our daily lives. It is in a constant state of flux, and the adoption of multiple platforms is the driving force in marketing trends and opera performance practices. Many cultural fields that may not have traditionally engaged in technology use are now adopting and embracing it to reach, engage, and attract audiences. This fact has never been so evident than during this pandemic when social media is almost the only connection artists, schools and companies have with their audiences. Artists are caught between two worlds: A hundreds-of-years-old art form and technologically advanced platforms.

As a young emerging artist, what should you be putting out into the world? What is appropriate content? You may already have accounts, and a firm grasp of how to put yourself out there, but here are a few suggestions of how you may want to look at building your Social Media presence:

Creating a Digital Persona

Step 1: Develop your “Brand” (“branding” describes the process of creating a recognizable name or image attached to your work)

  1. Who are you? What makes you unique?What do you do?
  2. What do you want to highlight about yourself? What makes you stand out?
  3. Create a digital portfolio of your work. (Start with what you have and build on it.)
  4. A professional headshot you can use for all platfroms including your website
  5. Video(s) of a performance(s): It is important that you only post recordings which show you in the best possible light because everyone is watching. Make sure to regularly replace them with current content.
  6. Photos of yourself in action in opera productions; concerts; etc

Step 2: Research: Look around and draw inspiration from what you see.

  1. How are other performers in the arts utilizing Social Media?
  2. Whose profile is interesting and why? Analyze their techniques and what draws you to their content.
  3. What can you take as inspiration from these accounts without becoming an exact copy?
  4. Which technology platform(s) will give you access to the audience you want to engage?
  5. Watch tutorials on how to use the different platforms. Choose platforms that are interesting to you.
  6. Start with one platform and build your brand.

Step 3: Start Using Social Media

  1. Start small: choose one platform and create your account.
    • Include interesting posts and information: Save photos of your cute pets and your culinary skills for your private account. You will want to look at your professional profile as a business card-what you put out into your professional network.
    • Keep your message/content focused on a clear subject. If you are a singer, you want to be seen as a singer.
    • Numbers will increase in time: Don’t worry about how many followers you have. This takes time, so be patient!
  2. Make sure that your Brand always drives your social media presence.
    • Have an identifiable name. Choose a name that is related to your field (Many singers use their full name and voice type)
    • Each account you use should represent your brand; if possible, use the same name and photos on all your accounts.
  3. Think about the feel and look of your account
    • Use the same banner or profile images (make it easy to tell which performer is attached to your account)
    • Use a similar account name which also builds brand recognition.
    • As your account becomes more advanced, you may wish to create an email address for professional correspondence. It is a good idea to set this up initially – even if you will not be using it right away – as it enables you to create an account that matches your brand name.
    • Link accounts. This way, your audience can find you on multiple platforms. You can also encourage responses on various media platforms and engage with multiple audience groups.
    • Keep information up-to-date on all of your accounts. Refresh clips regularly as your voice grows and you become more professional.

Step 4: Keep Track of New Trends

  1. Don’t get complacent – review your numbers and decide which responses matter most to you overall.
  2. Keep track of new technology and explore new social media trends and concepts. Not every trend fits everyone, but it is good to stay informed.
  3. Regularly post fresh and engaging content but be careful not to over-post as this can make your audience uncomfortable, and eventually, they may end up unfollowing you. Posting for the sake of posting is not how you keep your content fresh.
  4. Be yourself. The things that make you unique are the things that make you stand out from the rest of the “noise” online.

Pitfalls of Social Media

The significant amount of data available via social media platforms makes it very easy for the public to develop a perception (positive and/or negative!) about a singer based solely on their digital content. Therefore, you should decide which aspects of your life you would like to share on social media and which elements to keep private. Filtering your message before posting it is of the utmost importance. Social media can influence your standing with an employer and potentially affect your present and/or future employment status. Professionalism in posted content and online interaction is essential and helps the singer retain and build a positive reputation.

A Simple Rule to Follow: Never post anything online that is damaging or negative regarding a production; performance; director; conductor; administrative staff; faculty; fellow singer; costume worn in a performance; etc. An opera company may not discuss the consequences of a negative post with you. However, posts of this nature can lead to professional disaster(s) for future seasons.

Social Media Platforms Currently in Popular Use

Facebook

It is a good idea to set up a professional page to keep private and professional posts separate. You can still post professional content on your private page, but I would discourage photos of a personal nature on your professional profile.

  • Suggested frequency of use: post content 1-2 times per week or on special occasions (concerts, events, or announcements)
  • Types of posts: Articles, photos, concert announcements
  • Goal: These posts show up on your contact’s newsfeed. Ask yourself: what would you want to see from a performer as you are scrolling through your feed? In other words, what do your followers want to see vs. what you may want to post
  • Profile: Your two photos (profile and cover) should immediately tell followers about you or your story. Ensure that the photos are related to your profession (i.e., a headshot and a photo of a performance) to let followers know what to expect should they decide to “like” your page.

Instagram

  • Suggested frequency: Every 24-48 hours or periodically
  • Types of posts: This is the visual diary of your artistic journey. Keep captions short and hashtags relevant to what is in the photo (people swipe through their feed much faster on Instagram).
  • Goal: Visually represent an emotion or an important moment in your journey. Stay loyal to your brand.
  • Instagram stories and reels: These are a more spontaneous version of your feed. Even though the stories vanish after 24 hours, be responsible and only post things that cannot come back to haunt you. The screenshot function exists, and nobody is safe from it and remember…everyone is watching!
  • Tips: IG takeovers generate more followers and can be fun. Generally, a company or an organization invites you to do a takeover as a form of promotion, so it is good that you become familiar with this medium.

Twitter

  • Suggested frequency: There is no real limit on the frequency of posting on Twitter. The platform was designed for prolific posting.
  • Types of posts: Text-focused, but also great for sharing articles and other links
  • Goal: Quick shoutouts to other artists, articles, or thoughts about your art. Mentions (@) and hashtags (#) are a huge part of building a Twitter audience.

YouTube

  • Suggested frequency: 1-3/month
  • Types of posts: This is your platform to showcase/share your performances. Your presence here is the quickest way for people to get to hear what you do.
  • Goal: High-quality videos that show you in the best possible light.
  • Profile: Create a YouTube channel with a nice photo and good content.
  • Tips: The titles of your videos let people know what they will be viewing. List your name and other vital information, for example, your pianist, your ensemble, the date of the recording.
  • Use extreme care in choosing your material. Regularly delete videos that do not portray you in your most current state or vocal and artistic development.

Be mindful of what you are posting on these platforms. The most important thing is to be true to yourself. You want to show your online professional personality, but you don’t want people to fail to recognize you when they meet you in person. Here are a few of my what-NOT-to-post tips:

  1. Copying others: Be inspired by other accounts-remain true to yourself, and do not copy other accounts. You don’t have to recreate yourself for social media, and it should not feel like a chore to create your content.
  2. Don’t post anything overly calculated: Unnatural poses and setups stick out like a sore thumb and are not your most authentic voice.
  3. Repetitiveness: Captions like “best cast ever!” get old when you use it in each and every post.
  4. Negativity: Refrain from venting about your problems on your professional feed.
  5. Consent: If you post about others or have other people in your photo and/or video, don’t post unless you get consent from the other individuals involved. That is just common courtesy.
  6. Negative or hateful comments: If you are getting these kinds of comments, congratulations, you have arrived! It is a sign of success, and the more visible you are, the more people take it upon themselves to tell you what they think. The best course of action as a young emerging singer is not to engage or separate yourself from them by blocking them if it gets too heavy.

The amount of time and effort devoted to creating a well-executed digital persona also impacts its success level. The most engaging online content consists of genuine observations, photographs of performances, and experiences that provide the audience with a real connection to the artist.

As we embrace and use Social Media and all technological advances in the arts, it is crucial to keep in mind that it will be accessible to everyone and they will all have an opinion. Content that is personalized and genuine stands out from the online “noise” generated by millions of users. Keeping a narrow and focused message format is vital to attracting people to your accounts. There is a fine line between posting content that is genuinely engaging and posting content for content’s sake. The adage of “quality over quantity” will serve you well as you work to develop a strategic and effective professional social media presence!

Vocalic Harmonization in French Singing

What is Vocalic Harmonization?

Maybe you have heard this term before, or perhaps it is new to you. When I coach people for the first time, it always seems like they are familiar with Vocalic Harmonization, but they are not sure how to use it. It is a term used in linguistics when applying the rhyming of closely related vowels in the same or words that follow each other. It is also known as “vowel harmony”. The practice of vocalic harmonization is most often used in the French vocal repertoire for linguistic refinement and ease of vocal production. Most frequently in French singing, we harmonize [ɛ] with [e] and [œ] with [ø]

For example:  “aimer” [ɛˈme] becomes [eˈme] or Heureux [œˈrø] becomes [øˈrø]

As you can see in the examples above, the unstressed, open vowel-sound closes to rhyme with the following stressed, closed vowel, not the opposite. Remember, it is the final syllable that is stressed in French, except when that syllable is a schwa-sound [ə] because a schwa can never be stressed. In this case it is the syllable before the schwa that gets the stress.

les, tes, ses, mes, ces…

the possibility of vocalic harmonization also exists in closing the [ɛ] in short words such as les, tes, ces, etc. (these are articles or possessive adjectives). When a closed vowel immediately follows these, they can be closed to an [e].

For example: les étés [lɛz‿eˈte] would become [lez‿eˈte]

The article “les” is harmonized to the closed [e] in “étés”

These harmonized syllables must never be accented or overly closed, and at times they only are slightly closed on the way to their closed neighboring vowel-sound, and over-closing the harmonized vowel can result in obscuring the text. The idea is that it should feel natural and sound authentic since vocalic harmonization occurs in everyday speech but not deliberately. Many native French speakers do not even realize that they are doing this.

Some French words are almost always harmonized. For example, the following words would have all open vowels in the first syllable if we followed the diction rules, but they are sung and spoken with vocalic harmonization:


aimer (to love) [ɛˈme] becomes [eˈme]
baiser (to kiss) [bɛˈze] becomes [beˈze]
heureux (or heureuse) (happy) [œˈrø] becomes [øˈrø]


Vowel harmonization should not be systematic. It is a completely optional choice left to the singer. In cases where it can help the legato line, it is recommended to harmonize the vowels as sometimes it is easier to get through a phrase with fewer vowel changes.

For example:

Let’s take a look at “Lydia” by Fauré. In this text we find this line: “Laisse tes baisers de colombe”

The “tes baisers” can be sung as all closed [e] but the “laisse”” remains an open [ɛ] because the vowel following it is not a closed vowel.

[lɛsə tɛ bɛˈze] becomes [lɛsə te bɛeze]

Speak it out loud both ways and see the difference for yourself.

I would also go further and say if you have an article or possessive adjective (les, des, mes, tes ses) and the following word begins with a closed [o] or any vowel that has a closed feeling such as [i], [ø] [õ] [y] or [o], you can apply vocalic harmonization.

Again in in “Lydia by Fauré:

“Lydia, sur tes roses joues” you can harmonize the “tes” which would typically be [tɛ] to a closed [te] to match the closed [o] sounds of [rozə]. But, the “mes” in “mes amours” in the same song stays [ɛ] because a closed vowel-sound does not follow it.

Here is the text of Fauré’s Lydia where I will highlight the vocalic harmonizations:

Lydia, sur tes roses joues
Et sur ton col frais et si blanc
Roule étincelant
L’or fluide que tu dénoues;
Le jour qui lui est le meilleur
Oublions l’éternelle tombe
Laisse tes baisers de colombe
Chanter sur ta lèvre en fleur.
Un lys caché répand sans cesse
Une odeur divine en ton sein;
Les délices comme un essaim
Sortent de toi, jeune déesse
Je t’aime et meurs, ô mes amours,
Mon âme en baisers m’est ravie
O Lydia, rends-moi la vie,
Que je puisse mourir toujours!

In this recording of Véronique Gens and Roger Vignoles, you can hear the use of vocalic harmonization as highlightede above.

Véronique Gens and Roger Vignoles

Try not to over-use vocalic harmonization. Remember, it should not obscure the text, and it should be helpful to the singing. If you are not sure if something should be harmonized or not, ask your French diction coach, or listen to several recordings to see what the consensus is. Just know that some coaches don’t apply vowel harmony and there are differing opinions on the matter. Since it happens in everyday speech, and I have seen it help so many singers in their legato and ease of singing, I generally encourage vocalic harmonization when appropriate.

What is Your Definition of Success?

What is success to you? We know what setbacks are, we have all had them. They are a part of being human and an important part of any worthwhile process, but why is it so difficult for us to define, or identify success? As musicians, we strive for perfection even with the full knowledge that perfection is not something realistically attainable in this field. There is no right or wrong, for that kind of absolute result, you have to turn to other disciplines. In music, sometimes the beauty is found or created through imperfection and setbacks.

Is success something that defines your happiness? Of course, we need some form of success as a motivator in life, I believe we are wired this way. What does success in your professional life look like? What does success in your personal life look like? Is being “famous” your idea of success, or is it making a good living doing what you love, feeling fulfilled and leading a meaningful life? There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. It is all about self-reflection.

One of the aspects of succeeding is planning for setbacks and learning to identify them as your path to improvement and eventually achieving your idea of success, whatever that may mean to you.

Pitfalls of Perfectionism:

As I mentioned above, I think musicians have a deep desire to play or sing perfectly, without flaws or imperfections. One of the driving forces pushing us towards perfectionism is listening to studio recordings. They almost always sound flawless. Having been involved in recordings myself, I can tell you that there is so much which can be done digitally to fix even the tiniest imperfection. Even if one note is wrong in one bar, this can be spliced and replaced quite easily. This is normal, and it is part of the recording process. These recordings make for an exciting listening experience, but should not be used as the bar against which you measure yourself. This is when perfectionism becomes harmful to your process. I prefer to listen to live recordings made in front of an audience which show a true representation of what it is like to hear something being done in a performance.

This being said, just going for “good enough” does not lead you to reach the full extent of your potential. Striving for excellence can inspire greater achievements as opposed to perfectionism which is untouchable and never good enough. Seeking perfection and never reaching it can destroy your motivation and have psychological effects on your performance.

The following is a list of things I try to focus on to help me through setbacks or to help me reach my goals.

Realistic Goals:

Setting realistic goals is an integral part of any process. I often talk to my students in terms of the “short game” and “long game” Your short game goal should be achievable within weeks. Let’s say you have a very long phrase to sing. Your short term goal would be to try to do it with a few strategic breaths all the while doing it beautifully. The long game goal, which may happen in 2 months, 6 months, or a year, is to do the phrase in question in one breath. Making smarter goals for yourself will help keep you motivated and when you achieve them, they will give you a reason to be proud, and chances to succeed will grow. Many goals we set for ourselves end up as failures because they are unrealistic and we don’t give ourselves enough time to reach them. So, yes, try to get to the ultimate goal, but do it in stages with challenging and attainable goals in the interim.

Setbacks:

There is no such thing as a straight line to success. Setbacks are a huge part of the process. We learn from them, and we become stronger because of them. As you embark on your journey, accept that you will have setbacks -probably many of them. Permit yourself to fail. The only way forward is to work through these setbacks, and to not let them deter you from your ultimate goals. Maybe you sang an audition and you didn’t get the job or you received negative feedback. All you can do is learn from this, ask yourself what is constructive in the experience and what will help you reach your goals. Brush yourself off and get back to work. If you have chosen to be a singer, you have to be aware that you have chosen a highly competitive field where criticism is a big part of your everyday life. Setbacks are guaranteed. What is in your control is how you choose to react to the setback.

Goals attained?

If you have attained your goals, playing the short or long game, evaluate and ask yourself why did you achieve them, what was the formula? Sometimes this is hard to pinpoint but worth analyzing the results. This type of self-assessment can help you in setting more goals in the future. As you would do when you complete any project, write a list of what was successful, and what could be improved on in other projects. Celebrate the successes and learn from the setbacks.

You are your own success story:

Success is a personal choice and looking at it as such instead of measuring it against other’s successes, or an unrealistic idea of what success should be will help you find your path. Learn what success means to you. Does it mean a Fest contract in an opera house? Does it mean singing in a professional chorus? Giving voice lessons? Working in an academic function? A change in perspective about your idea of success can lead to greater opportunities for you, and more importantly happiness and a meaningful life. Be willing to evolve, adapt, and change your goals and your ideas of success as you go. As we evolve as people, so do our goals and our idea of what makes us happy. You may have a five-year plan set up for yourself, but many things can happen between year one and year five!

As the saying goes: “Success isn’t final and failure isn’t fatal”. It is how you choose to move forward that counts. The important thing in life is to be happy and fulfilled. As a musician, the peer pressure of being “the best” and getting a lot of work and attention can skew our perception of what success means to us. Remember that failure and setbacks are keys to your success.

A Plan To Help You Effectively Learn Music

Your voice teacher just sent you your repertoire list. Is there a better feeling? Who doesn’t love cracking open a new score? You are tempted to just start singing it or digging around YouTube for a million different versions to listen to. But what would happen if you doen’t do that just yet? Try these following steps and see if you learn more effectively!

Step 1: Get a score

There are several places where you can procure a score.

1. If you are a student, you just can go to the library and check out the score. If the library does not have it, they will often order it for you.

2. There are online resources like IMSLP, which is free, but beware, some of the editions there are not the best ones and have many mistakes, or they not legible, or in a completely different language, so if you do download from IMSLP, always check your score with a good edition to make note of any mistakes or differences. However, in a pinch, it is a great resource.

3. If you can afford it, buy your score! Start building your musical library. By buying a score every once in a while, you will see how fast your library will grow and you will have it forever.

Step 2: Translate

So you have your score, the next step is to grab a pencil and your preferred dictionary, this can be an actual book or an online dictionary (When I say “dictionary” I don’t mean that you should find an online translation. There is a lot to be said for looking up each word. It is time-consuming but we tend to connect more to the text this way), and you start making your translation of the text. Remember, the tasks that you take the most time completing are usually the ones that are good for you, so try not to cut too many corners.

There are two types of translations:

  • Word-for-word translation or literal translation: this will be the one you will want to work with. This is a translation of a text done by translating each word separately, without looking at how the words are used together in a phrase or sentence. This way, you know the meaning of the word you are singing in real-time and not the general meaning of the text.
  • Poetic translation: This is a translation that is used to sing in another language other than the original language. It is grammatically accurate and it flows but beware, the words do not align with the words in the original text. For this, only the literal translation works. The translation that you find in opera scores (see below) are poetic translations made to fit the musical phrases.
  • Phonetic transcription: Made with the International Phonetic Alphabet it sifts out the letters which are not sounded and shows you exactly which sounds you need to be singing. You want to be adding both the literal translation and the phonetic transcription into your score, not in a separate document.

This is what your score would look like after doing this:

Step 3:

Once you know your translations, start speaking the text in rhythm. No need to be singing just yet, so resist the urge! When you are singing in foreign languages, it is important to remember that your mouth and tongue are not used to making all the sounds you are asking them to make. By practicing the text in rhythm, you will have a much easier time when you get to the part where you add the melody. You can learn the melody without text, but only when the text and rhythm are flowing should you put it all together. Tip: When speaking the text in rhythm, use your supported speaking voice.

Step 4:

It is time to put it all together, start by doing everything slowly, and don’t try to do too much too quickly. This is where you have to practice patience. It will be tempting to just start singing it. Try to refrain from doing this just yet. Take the difficult passages and work on them first. I often advise my singers to start something from the end and work backward because this will feel like you are working faster. We all tend to start practicing at the beginning of a piece when we open the first page, but what often happens is that we end our practice session before we get to the end.

Try to alternate starting points:

  • Day 1 start at the end of the piece
  • Day 2: start at the beginning
  • Day 3: Start in the middle

This way when you get to the parts you know, it feels like you are learning quite quickly.

Step 5:

Bring it to your voice lesson to work on it technically. You have done all the nitty-gritty work of learning the nuts and bolts of the piece in question, now it is time to get your technique involved. Take it to your voice teacher first and they will go through the piece with you and help you with how to technically work on the problem areas, breath management, and vowel placement. As the weeks go on, keep bringing it back to your voice teacher to add more layers to the work you are doing, colors, phrasing, and interpretation.

Step 6:

Try it with piano by bringing it to your coach. They will also work on the musical phrasing, the diction, the tempo and help you figure out where to breathe as well as discussing the intention of the text and the music. The coach will also help fix any rhythmical problems with which you may be struggling.

Step 7:

Maybe now that you have made your own opinion of the piece you are preparing, you can start listening to different versions of it on recording to get inspiration, to see how others interpret the music. I had not mentioned listening to it first, because it is more likely to be your own if you don’t have a preconceived idea of what the piece should sound like. The words that make me a bit concerned in a coaching session are: “…but on the recording…” It is not uncommon for young singers to come into the studio making the same errors that they have heard so many times on their favorite recording of the piece. If it is not an error, it can be just an interpretive choice of an established, much older artist that the younger singer is just not ready to do yet.

Step 8:

You are ready to memorize. Everyone has different methods of doing this. To some, memorization comes easy, for to others, and effort. Find the way that works best for you.

  1. Memorize the text: You can do this by writing it down without looking. Make it a daily exercise. I also recommend memorizing the spoken text without the music, or the rhythm, work on it as a monologue
  2. Rote repetition: Take a phrase and do it until you can repeat it perfectly three times in a row. If you make a mistake at the end of the third time through, start again for the first time.
  3. Repeat out of context: When you feel that the memorization is working, try to recite the text, or sing the song while doing another task like washing dishes, or making dinner.
  4. Bring it to your coach: Take it to your coaching and close the score. It is a safe place to try. Ask your coach to prompt you when needed, or just to stop if you go blank and let you remember the forgotten word or phrase.

Step 9:

You are ready to perform the piece or bring it to your first staging rehearsal to receive even more information. You have worked all of it out, you know your words, your diction, and the character of the selection. If you have done all of these steps you have done everything you can do to have a solid performance.

Step 10:

Be proud of your accomplishment, even if you have a memory slip, or you make a mistake. These things happen and are forgivable. Your journey is a long one, so try not to focus on the few things that went wrong and look at all the many things that did go right!

You may be thinking that this is a lot to go through to learn an aria, a song, or a role, but in truth, shouldn’t everything you want to do at the highest level possible take this much time? Why rush it? Learning something very well will save you a lot of re-learning in the future. Keep in mind that some steps won’t be as time-consuming as you think, and once you get used to this process, it will go by quicker than you think and the music you learn will stick! The deliberate process always yields the best results.

Stay afloat

Our lives have been turned upsidedown and as we continue trying to find our way through this extraordinary time of social distancing, mask-wearing, and disinfecting, we are faced with some very stressful situations. At this point, it is fair to say that we have all experienced the sting of canceled performances and the stress that accompanies these cancellations. We are dealing with a new way of doing things online, which for artists is the complete opposite of what we normally do. The normal feeling which we once knew seems so far away as we are not capable of being completely submerged in what we are passionate about anymore. We are living for morsels of our art that we get to taste only now and then.

How do we fit into this new shift in the landscape? What are the emotional consequences of the changes in our lives and our careers?

Everyone copes differently and we are all trying to cope in the best way that we can in these unprecedented times. While it is true that we can’t control what is happening around us, or to our lives at the moment, what we can control is how we react to it.

We all have feelings

Anxiety:

I think this is the most common phrase I hear these days: “I feel anxious about the future”. Anxiety lives in the unknown or the uncertainty of what is happening, or what will happen. It seems like we have normalized anxiety, especially in these times. We live with it as part of our daily lives. Studying a new score for an upcoming contract is usually a joyful undertaking, but the anxiety of not knowing if the performances will happen, or how they will happen affects our motivation, our efficiency, and even our artistry.

Depression:

When anxiety gets worse, our mind goes to the worst-case scenarios. This is the way our mind tries to protect us from what will happen. If we expect it, we won’t have the element of shock. Expecting the worst in these times is also something we have grown accustomed to. When anxiety grows, it can lead you into a depressed state.

Panic:

When we start to panic, we can make rash decisions, or just freeze and not know which way to turn. Saying there is no reason to panic is also not helpful since for many performers out there trying to pay their rent and their livelyhood is slipping away while all the contracts get canceled is a reason to feel panicked. We are always waiting for the other shoe to drop! This panic risks becoming a lack of motivation due to a lack of goals and it is not our fault. More importantly, it can harm our overall health.

These feelings, to whatever degree, are normal. If you are feeling them, I am here to tell you that you are not alone. What can we do about it? As a vocal coach, I have to give advice all the time. If a singer is in this state, it is close to impossible to produce sound or to get through music so I find myself often just listening to problems and offering some points to consider. As I write this post, I am also reminding myself that it is OK to feel this way. Focusing on the things we can control can help us figure out how to navigate in this time. We can’t control a global pandemic, or the impact it is having on our daily lives and careers, but we can control how we choose to react to it.

  • Avoid the negative: Ok, this is easier said than done in these times because everyone, even the people who seem like they are coping well, is feeling the negative effects of this pandemic. Try to avoid taking the small problems and magnifying them because we are already just dealing with a lot, and that’s a fact! You can avoid the negative by being more discerning about what you choose to read, how much news you watch, and spending time with people you want to spend time with and who make you happy. These simple choices can help you change your outlook. If something makes you happy, DO IT! Many of my friends decided to just decorate their homes for the holidays on November 1st…if it makes you happy, DO IT!
  • Social media: I know it has been said before, but social media can affect us negatively even in good times, but in these times, it can be especially difficult to scroll through our favorite sites. Yes, we can find a community to share our common woes with, but our community should extend offline as well. Otherwise, it can take-over your outlook, and then we can find ourselves drowning in negativity. When you are scrolling, we try not to beat ourselves up if we see that some people are getting to perform and we are not. Everyone is just posting their highlight reels. Let’s celebrate that they are having a good moment. Our highlight reel will be up and running again soon!
  • Everyone is working on a solution: No matter what our situation is, if we are a working artist or a student, remember that nobody wanted this situation and everyone is doing their best to manage it. The word unprecedented is used a lot because this is a completely new situation. Once you understand that noone is doing this to you and that there are people who are desperately trying to keep things going while trying to keep everyone safe, we may find more rest for ourselves and not feel like we are alone in this.
  • Set a personal schedule and goals for yourself: Making plans and taking steps towards our career goals can be helpful to maintain hope. Everyone has the right at this moment to have some time which is not productive, and I fully encourage you to permit yourself to give your productivity a break from time to time. A bit of planning, making a practice schedule, setting our own goals and deadlines can help us feel more “normal”. I suggest that setting smaller goals that are achievable like tweaking your online presence, learning new skills, learning new repertoire or delving deeper into another language. I took a Dutch course over the course of the summer. I am fluent, but I wanted to understand more about writing in Dutch. The class was challenging and it was great to get out of my bubble fore a while twice a week.
  • Be resilient: We are open to new challenges when they come along. New ventures and a new way of doing things can be very refreshing and envigorating. Try replacing: “I don’t want to be online” or “It is not possible to do what I do online” with “Okay, let’s be creative and give it a try” or ” I want to be flexible”. You never know, you may just be opening a door to new worlds. For instance, I never thought I would or could coach online, but since I have embraced being flexible in this, I am doing a lot of online coaching from my home in The Netherlands with singers in North America and beyond. With an open spirit and some willingness to be flexible, you can always do good work, and it can be fun!
  • Breathe: Finally. I would say, just breathe, this is situation is hard and nobody is saying that it isn’t. We are all in the storm together, even if we are not all in the same boat. Breathing, taking a time-out from the difficult feelings, and the sadness of missing something that seems to be lost is so important. Whatever that means to each of us, we should remember to breathe as often as we can.

Making music and being an artist is a big part of who we are. Making music together is the fulfillment we get by connecting with others and creating a moment together through the wonderful feeling of that energy which flows between us, the performers and the audience.

I keep telling myself: “This is temporary” and I believe it is, I have to. There will be some serious ramifications caused by this pandemic, but on the other hand, I think we are also learning a lot about what possibilities we can discover when we are forced to think outside the box. The energy we long to share is still there, we just need to search for new ways to share it!

I saw this quote a few weeks back: “We are in the same storm, but not the in the same boat” I did some research to find out where the quote came from and it lead me to this poem written in the pandemic by Damien Barr. The poetry speaks of being kind to each other and to ourselves, respecting that every person is dealing with things we don’t even know about, empathy and seeing beyond what we see at first glance. It spoke to me, and I hope it speaks to whoever is reading this post. Damian Barr: We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat

Featured image:

Thoughts on the French “R” in Classical Singing

The French r may be one of the most discussed sounds in the French language. It is also one of the most challenging sounds for a non-native French speaker to produce authentically. There are many ways to go about singing the French r.

Let’s look at the three most commonly used r-sounds in singing French repertoire:

  • The “rolled r“: The “rolled r” is also known by its more technical name “alveolar trill”. This is the r we are most familiar with, we use it in all other languages. It is voiced which means you should be able to sustain a sound while rolling the r. The phonetic symbol for this sound is [r]
  • The “flipped r: The “flipped r” is also known as an “alveolar tap or flap”. Very similar to the “rolled r” the flip requires just one brief flick of the tongue to the alveolar ridge. Think of saying the letter d [d]. The phonetic symbols for this vowel sound are [ɾ] or [r], but the latter is the most commonly used.
  • The “uvular r”: Also known as the “uvular trill” is the r commonly used in the French spoken language, but also singing. The uvular r is articulated with the back of the tongue (what is known technically as the dorsum) to the uvula (the hangy thing in the back). The difference between the rolled/flipped r and the uvular r is that it is the uvula that vibrates, not the tongue. The phonetic symbol for this sound is [ʀ].

So now that we have listed the three most commonly used r-sounds in French singing, which ones should be used?

Although the “rolled r has quite frequently been used in the singing of classical French repertoire, and it feels good to do it (sometimes it may feel expressive to roll an r), my advice is to avoid using it. Whenever I hear someone over-rolling an r in French music be it mélodie or opera, it ends up sounding very close to Italian. Also, any double consonant (except for a few words) should not be observed, so even if you see a double r, you do not need to roll it.

In the following clip, Chanson d’Orkenise from Banalités by Poulenc, Pierre Bernac, who was and still is an authority on singing in French, makes use of the “rolled r” (or one could argue that it is a repeated flipped r). It is still beautiful, but it has a flavor of the past mostly due to the r which is very rolled. This is a good example of how they were singing in French in this period.

Chanson d’Orkenise (Bernac/Poulenc)

The “flipped ris my personal favorite to use in classical French music. This r is a lot like its rolled counterpart. If you use it while speaking, it feels very strange and foreign but it sounds very comfortable while singing. It does not misplace the voice and it does not disturb the legato line. It is the r most commonly used in French opera and mélodie. In this recording , you hear an excellent use of the “flipped r” used by Véronique Gens.

Chanson d’Orkenise Gens/Vignoles

There are a lot of discussions about the use of the “uvular r in classical singing. While speaking French, we all use this r but should we use it when we are singing classical music? In France, Belgium and I believe in the French-speaking regions of Canada, the “uvular r” is recommended for singing in French. From a singing perspective, the argument arises that this places the sound too far back in the throat and that a “flipped r” keeps the sound more forward. In my opinion, the use of the “uvular r” gives a “pop music” feeling to the music. The discussions surrounding which r we should be using are ongoing. My advice is if you are not a native French speaker, do not use the “uvular r” because the chances are you will not make a convincingly authentic “uvular r” sound while singing.

Story time...

I once had a student who was not French, bring in a French aria he had studied all week. Before singing it, he said: “I don’t know why, but every time I sing this aria, I have a sore throat”. Alarmed, I wanted to hear it to see if he was doing anything wrong. It should be noted that this aria was very r heavy. Well, as soon as he started singing, I heard it immediately, he was using his version of the “uvular r”, but it was much too hard and aggressive, we switched to the “flipped r” and everything was solved. We had a good laugh about it afterward!

In this third recording of Chanson d’Orkenise by Poulenc, Patricia Petitbon opts for the “uvular r“. She does it with subtelty and she is gentle with the attack but you can hear that it is in the back of the throat.

Chanson d’Orkenise Petitbon/Manoff

My strong advice (and many of my voice teacher colleagues agree) is to use the “flipped r”. Whatever you decide to use, make sure it does not compromise the quality of your singing. Practice now and then with a “uvular r” in case you go off and work with someone who will have this as a preference, and it is requested of you to use it. Work it out with your French coach and your voice teacher to help you to do it healthily and authentically.

What Are the Takeways of Singing in a Masterclass

Series: Frequently Asked Questions-Part 1

I have reached out on the social media platforms for singers to ask me their burning questions. From these, I will create the “Frequently Asked Questions” series. If any of you have any questions, feel free to send me a message and maybe they will appear in a future post!

Question: “Should I apply to sing in masterclasses? What can I expect?” -Anonymous Soprano

What is a Masterclass, and why take part in one?

In the world of music, we love masterclasses! A masterclass is essentially a class given to advanced students of a particular discipline by an expert of that discipline while fellow students or an audience observes. The main difference between a class and the masterclass is how it is set-up. It is a cross between giving/taking a lesson and performing. In a singing masterclass, the student will typically perform an aria or a song, and then the master will share advice on how to sing the aria or song.

When the masterclass is open to a general audience, the master can give more “general-public friendly” advice to the singer. The goal is to simultaneously entertain an audience who is made up of fans of the master and singing aficionados as well as give the singer nuggets of information that they can take with them. A private masterclass given at educational institutions, with students in the audience is less about the “show” and more about the work.

There are several reasons singers choose to participate in a masterclass.

  1. You are a fan of the singer/coach/director/conductor giving the class: You admire their work, their career and, you identify with them on an organic level. You genuinely want to learn from them.
  2. Networking: Although this should not be the main reason to participate in a masterclass, it is a significant consideration. A high profile masterclass can put you in a spotlight, suddenly singing for a vast audience that may include future employers. Beware: If the masterclass performance goes well, that is great, but if it goes badly, it just happened in front of that same audience. Nota bene: These days, masterclasses can be streamed online or filmed and distributed.
  3. It is something singers like to put on their résumé under the title “Masterclasses”: To be quite honest, when I read a résumé, I am not entirely interested in your masterclass experience, so I don’t consider this section too much.
  4. Requirement: You are asked to sing in the class by your studio program or your institution

If you don’t want to sing in a masterclass, or maybe you are just not ready yet to be selected, attending it can be just as rewarding if not more because you don’t have to cope with the pressure of performing and you can absorb all the information. As an auditor, think of doing the following:

  1. Bring a notebook and write down notes, advice from the master and points that can help you in your journey.
  2. Learn repertoire, note the pieces performed, maybe even find repertoire you aspire to sing.
  3. Let the atmosphere inspire you and leave the class motivated.
  4. Connect with like-minded people.

How to prepare to sing in a masterclass

After being chosen and deciding that you want to sing in a masterclass, you should consider the following to be adequately prepared. Remember that although you are there to learn, you also want to do everything you can to show yourself in the best possible light.

  1. Choose repertoire you know well: Polish your selection and make sure you have had a lot of experience singing it. Being in a masterclass situation can sometimes throw you off. You don’t want the extra pressure of singing an underprepared piece.
  2. Know your translation: Be capable of fluently translating the text starting at any given point of the piece.
  3. Be prepared to stop at any time. The master will (hopefully) stop you often. Make sure that even if you are stopped after every two bars, it doesn’t throw you off.
  4. Be prepared to take criticism: This is very important. Although masterclasses are meant to be a learning environment, this does not mean you will only get positive feedback from the master. Be prepared to take this criticism gracefully. Be open to try new things suggested by the master, and do it all with a smile even when you disagree.
  5. Don’t expect to retain all of what you have done in your 20-minute session. Although you will hold on to some tips and information, many of the new concepts that worked in the moment, might not work again unless you apply it long term with a teacher. They will be in a file stored away in your brain, and perhaps they will pop out of nowhere when you are ready for them in the future.
  6. Most important: Already have a solid grasp on your vocal technique. While the master teacher gives their pointers and advice, the expectation is that you can produce a change quite quickly without completely unraveling, and this can only be achieved, if your technique is solid enough to try new concepts.

Things that can happen in a masterclass

  1. While singing in a masterclass you may have the lesson of your life; the master gets you to sing as you have never sung before. In 20 minutes, they say all the things that get you to make the most wonderful sounds you have ever made. Afterward, you take this to your teacher, and you are not able to reproduce the sounds you made before. The reason for this is simple enough: the concepts introduced to you in a 20-minute session with a master need to be followed-up weekly to integrate it into your vocal technique. In the class, the master is helping you along, coaching you through the concept, but unless this is followed-up long-term, it will probably not stick. If your regular teacher is attending the masterclass, they can help you translate this concept into your current technical journey.
  2. The master may tell you that you are not the voice type you present yourself to be, maybe not directly, but a statement like: “Are you sure you are a mezzo-soprano?” or “I think you are potentially a dramatic soprano voice” and this raises many questions for you. Just because a master says this, does not mean you should run out and change your fach. They may be right, but you should discuss it with your voice teacher and your coach to see what they say about this. They are your team, they see you every week, and they know your voice inside and out. They will guide you through this. While in the masterclass, accept these statements without too much comment (the last thing you want to do is start a discussion because it will eat into your allocated time) and then speak with your trusted team afterward.
  3. Although masterclasses are generally positive and very worthwhile experiences, the master teacher may be very demanding, and they can seem impatient. It is important to keep your composure at all times. Years ago, I played for a masterclass where the master teacher was not particularly interested in one of the voices. He was very hard on the student and it did not yield good results-in fact-we were all uncomfortable. The singer, however, never lost his composure and gained the admiration of the audience.

What you can expect to take away from a Masterclass:

I often give masterclasses and I have also played in hundreds of them. They can be a celebration where singers and singer friendly people come together to explore new things:

  1. Nuggets of valuable information: You will retain many of the concepts presented to you, such as stylistic advice, diction advice, and technical tips. This information from people at the top of their field will be with you forever! I suggest making notes immediately after the class so that you don’t forget what was said. Nota bene: recording is sometimes prohibited, so always ask the organizers if you may record the session.
  2. An unforgettable experience: Meeting and singing for someone you respect is a surreal experience. It can feel both wonderful and crazy. You may catch yourself thinking: “I can’t believe I am singing for [insert name]” the whole time.
  3. A performance opportunity: This is simple enough. In any masterclass situation, you get to perform in front of an audience.
  4. Inspiration and motivation: If the master teacher is good, you will feel inspired. They will bring out things in your singing and artistry. It will then motivate you to work on them. After inspiring masterclasses, the students run to a practice room to continue the work.

All conservatories, universities, and summer programs have some form of masterclass series. Even in this present time of the global pandemic, Masterclasses survive online, and it is even easier to get top-level people to give the classes. An online experience can be just as informative and exciting as it is in person.

It is important to connect with people at the top of their profession such as elite singers, teachers, coaches, directors and conductors. You will learn so much by singing in this kind of situation about where you are in your current journey. You will also learn by auditing a masterclass about how you will handle it when you participate in a masterclass in the future. The reward is what you make of the experience!

Gambling With Your Repertoire Choices: Is it worth the risk?

One of the biggest dilemmas a young singer faces is the dreaded aria list! What should you be keeping in mind when preparing to audition? Is there a strategy? When deciding what repertoire to bring to an audition, you must always be realistic: sing what you sing well! If you are not certain that a specific piece suits your voice, or that you can sing it well under ANY circumstances (i.e. not having the time or a place to warm up; you’re feeling a little under the weather; having a pianist who doesn’t know the piece; etc) then leave it off of your list. The most important thing is to show yourself in the best possible light.


When you sing/work on your aria list with your coach and voice teacher you can trust their opinion on what suits your voice best. They can certainly advise you on your fach (your specific voice type) and keeping the chosen repertoire within the guidelines of the fach. More importantly, however, you should propose repertoire for your list on the basis that you can sing it well. You may have an ideal list for your fach, and it may look great on paper – however, make sure that you can also sing every single aria that you present extremely well. Also, sing through the roles to know that if a panel casts you based on a certain aria, to be sure that the role is well within your capabilities.

Depending on where you are auditioning, you may be asked to present a list of between 3 – 5 arias in different languages and styles. The arias should also be diversified in terms of showing everything your voice can do at that particular time in your development. I would advise against including any “work-in-progress” arias as these tend to always sound unfinished and depending on a panel’s imagination (or lack of imagination in many cases) may not always work in your favor. Remember, you are applying for a job, show your potential employer what you can do at this moment.

Normally, in an audition situation, the panel allows you to choose which aria you would like to sing first – however, that is not always the case. In my experiences both playing for auditions and sitting on audition panels, I have seen instances in which the singer announced at the start of his/her audition: “I would like to begin with [enter aria title]”, only to have the audition jury say: “Actually, could you please start with this other aria instead?”

There are various reasons for an audition panel to do this: you could be the 20th soprano of the day who wants to start her audition with “Adieu, notre petite table” from Massenet’s Manon and the audition panel just can’t bear to hear one more performance of it; or, they might prefer to hear you sing something else from your list because they will be producing/casting the opera from which that specific aria comes and they would like to know if you could be a contender for a role in their production; or, the aria you chose to start with is exceedingly long and the audition panel is simply pressed for time. And, the list of reasons goes on…

Fortunately, this does not occur that frequently, and, audition panels usually let you sing through your first-choice aria out of courtesy. Generally, audition panels know quite quickly-sometimes within the first few bars of your first selection- if they are interested in you or not so don’t be alarmed if you are only asked to sing one aria. Sometimes, if time permits, they will ask to hear a second aria. If you sing only one aria, this does not mean that you did not sing well, so don’t despair! I know many singers who have gotten a job by singing only one aria in their audition. It is not a good idea to try and over-analyze their choices, doing this will just give you far too much anxiety. Just as I have seen singers get the role from one aria, I have seen singers not get the role after singing two or more.

If you did not necessarily sing well in your first aria, and the panel decides to hear a second aria, it is certainly possible to turn your audition around – so, always do your best and leave your mistakes in the past! If you get the opportunity to sing three arias, this is generally a good sign: they liked you and were intrigued by what you had on your list and what you could do vocally and artistically. However, this does not necessarily mean you have landed a job – it can simply mean that they wanted to hear your voice in different musical settings, or to see if you would become a bit more comfortable the more you sang.

IS THERE A STRATEGY?

No, there isn’t. You can always try to guess what the audition panel will want to hear, and many singers try to do this but don’t count on your guessing to be 100% accurate. Strategizing your audition will not help you feel more comfortable, it will just add to this already stressful and unnatural situation. Your best plan is to be excellent in all aspects of your singing and preparation.


1. The Gamble

So, you have your arias (in the following scenario, three) picked out, and you think to yourself: “Well, if I start with this aria which is fast and in Italian, they will most likely want to hear that other one as a second selection because it is slow and in French. My third aria is also Italian and fast, they will most definitely not want to hear it.” This is a dangerous approach. It is like gambling: You place your bet, sometimes you win, but most often, you lose!

Storytime:

I was once in an audition in which a singer put an aria on their list that they did not know from memory. I think we would all agree that this was not a good plan; however, the singer assumed that the audition panel would never ask for that aria, since it was similar in style and tempo to the aria the singer had chosen to sing first. Well, the audition panel asked for the unprepared aria and the singer was caught redhanded. This is not a position you want to be in. Needless to say, the singer did not get the job.

2.Playing the “long aria” card:


If you decide to put an aria on your list that is extremely long, for example, Zerbinetta’s aria; Anne Trulove’s aria “No Word from Tom”, or Tatyana’s Letter Scene, please be prepared to sing it ALL. It is not wise to put long arias on your list and assume that the audition panel won’t ask for the entire piece simply because it is long. They can ask for a part of the aria, or indeed, the full aria.

Storytime:

I was playing for auditions and as I was rehearsing with one of the singers I noticed that she had Zerbinetta’s full aria (which is at least 13 minutes) on her list. I suggested that we just start each section to briefly set tempi, to which she replied that she did not think they would ask for it all. Surprised by this, I said: “Well…you never know, so be prepared!”. We then just started each section of the aria. Sure enough, much to her surprise, the panel asked for the full aria. Luckily, she did an amazing job with it; however, it could have gone the other way.

Sometimes, auditions are running on time – or, the audition panel has extra time because of cancellations and they would enjoy hearing these longer arias. These arias are wonderful and show a great deal.

If you only want to sing one part of the aria, you should make note of that on
the handed in repertoire list by writing down the text of exactly from which point in the aria you would like to start.

For example:
Zerbinetta’s Aria “So war es mit pagliazzo” Ariadne auf Naxos R. Strauss

This way the panel knows that you would like to perform from this point in the aria until the end, and not the full aria.


3. Sing as if you have all the time in the world!

If the full title of the aria is on your list and the audition panel asks for it, my advice is just to sing it and let them decide if/when to stop you. If they ask to hear your very long Händel aria, I would not advise you to say the following: “It is quite long, do you want to hear all of it or should I just start at the B section?” Of course, you are trying to be helpful by doing this, but trust me, if you are auditioning in reputable houses, the chances are very good that the audition panel knows the length of your repertoire, so, please let them make that decision themselves. Assume that they want to hear you sing the full aria and sing like you have all the time in the world. If they decide to stop you, you will know it. I have seen singers start an aria, and just wondering after every phrase: “Is this where they will stop me?” At times, even if the panel says that they will stop you, they often don’t, take it as a compliment, they are enjoying your performance!

What about video auditions?

We all have to do video auditions, but especially now during the current global pandemic. When making pre-recorded video auditions or live auditions via Zoom, I would advise that the same advice applies as above. However, with a recording, there is a bit more control. You can re-take if things don’t go so well, you can fix your hair if it looks strange, or you can just scrap it all and do it on another day if you are having a bad singing day!

Aria choices for your video recordings

When recording, I don’t recommend choosing excessively long arias. Singing on a recording requires very different energy and mind-set than doing a live audition. When singing live, we know that once it is out, there is no going back, but the knowledge that we can go back on a recording makes it very difficult to be happy with what we have done. Not to mention, the more takes you have to do, the less fresh your voice will feel and sound. Choose arias that show all of your voice, but that are shorter.

For example:

Mimì’s act III aria “Donde lieta uscì” From Puccini’s La bohème

This aria is short and has a lot of “bang for your buck”, as they say. It has legato lines, a great opportunity to be expressive, and some beautiful high notes. Best of all, it is short, clocking at approximately a little over 3 minutes, so even if you have to do several takes during a recording session, it is not going to exhaust you too much.

Another important point to remember is that a panel listening to your video audition is probably not listening to the full arias. When you are auditioning live, you have a captive audience. Sure, they can be writing down comments or looking in their files while you are singing, but they are in the room and you will finish at least one aria. With video submissions, panels are at times left on their own to listen to hundreds of video recordings, or sometimes they do it as a group, either way, in all my experiences doing this, it is common practice to listen to big sections, but not necessarily the full aria. They know the spots they want to hear, and they generally click around the take to get to the good stuff.

5.Aria order

Just as in a live audition, order your selections on your video audition file in the order of what was the best take of the best aria. Always put your best foot forward. The first notes a panel hears will determine a lot. Even if all your takes were amazing, you know there is always one that you like better than the others. If you are not sure, or if you are the type of singer who just cannot listen to themselves, ask your team. Your voice teacher and your coach will be honest with you and you trust them not to let you send something out which does not show you at your best.

In Conclusion

Auditioning is almost an art form, the more you do it, the better you become, or at the very least, the better you learn to cope with it. The people on the other side of the table, or at their screens, all want the same thing: to be moved by your singing. Don’t try to strategize and cut corners, do your best, trust yourself and your team to help you along! Remember that you are selling yourself as a product – believe in your product, and they will too!