A Look at the Yod a.k.a the J-Glide

A common point of confusion in French Lyric Diction is knowing when to pronounce the -ill(es), -il(s) as a Yod [j], and when do we pronounce this double “ll” combo as just one “l” [l]. There is a method to this madness, and it is not so complicated.

If the term”Yod” or “j-glide” is stumping you, you can check out one of my past blog posts on the subject of semi-consonants to catch up!

First, we should look at when we pronounce “i” as a Yod.

i or ï is pronounced as a [j] when preceded by a single consonant when it is in front of an a, e, o, or eu. Beware: not when it is in the middle of a word -ie- in some verbs and their derivatives or as the last sound of the word -ie.

For example:

Avant de quitter ces lieux, sol natal de mes aïeux (Before leaving this place, native soil of my ancestors), Valentin’s aria from Faust by Gounod

[aˈvɑ̃ də kiˈte sɛ ljø sɔl naˈtal də mɛz‿aˈjø]

In the example above, in the words “lieux” and “aïeux”, the i and ï are pronounced as a glide. Both of these vowels are in front of eu.

But we do not make a glide in the future tense conjugation of verbs like “oublier” (to forget) [ubliˈe]

J’oublierai (I shall forget) also does not have a glide; in fact, the e vanishes in pronunciation. I often hear [ʒubliəˈre], but the correct way to pronounce this word and other words like it is: [ʒubliˈre]

When -ie- is at the end of a word, it is simply [i] unless the composer gave a note value to the schwa, in which case it will be [iə], and we should not hear a glide between these vowels.

il, ill, ll : When do these letters make a Yod?

  • il, ill, and ll make a glide when at the end of a word in the following combinations: -ail,-eil, -ueil, -oeil- and euil.
  • il sounds as a glide in the middle of words in the following combinations: -aill-, -eill-, -euill-, -ouill-, -ueill- and oeill otherwise, it is pronounced as [ij].

Examples:

Un deuil amer (bitter mourning) [œ̃dœj‿aˈmɛr]

but in the word fille, we add an [i] in front of the glide; otherwise, there would be no vowel in the word: jeune fille (young girl) [ʒœnə fijə]

List of Exceptions:

As anyone who has ever studied the French language or French diction knows, there are many rules to follow, but there are just as many exceptions to the rules, if not more.

When il(s) is at the end of a word and follows a consonant, the i is [i], and the l is sometimes silent and sometimes sounded.

The following is pronounced without an l or a glide.

  • gentil (nice) [ʒɑ̃ˈti] N.B: You should not confuse this gentil with its feminine version gentille [ʒɑ̃ˈtijə] which is pronounced with a glide.
  • fusil (gun) [fy’zi]
  • grésil (hail) [gre’zi]
  • sourcil (eyebrow) [sur’si]

The following is pronounced without a glide but with an l

  • cil (eyelash) [sil]
  • fil (thread) [fil] or fils [fil] (the plural form of thread and pronounced exactly the same as the singular form) and not to be confused with fils (son or sons) [fis], which is pronounced without an l, but with an s whether it be singular or plural.

You could memorize this list, consult a French dictionary for the IPA translation on these more special words, or refer back to this post.

The exception also applies to the ll in the following words and their derivatives:

  • mille (thousand) [milə] Derivatives: million, milliers, milliards…
  • ville (city) [vilə] Derivatives: village, villageois, villagoise
  • tranquille (tranquil) [trɑ̃ˈkilə] Derivatives: tranquillité, tranquillement

If you don’t want to forget, memorize this phrase: Milles villes tranquilles: “A thousand tranquil cities” then you will remember that every word belonging to the family of these three words in French are pronounced as [l] rather than a [j].

These tips should help you navigate the world of “glide or not to glide” when it comes to the YOd and how to avoid making mistakes while singing, or speaking!

My favorite French dictionary online

We don’t always have a dictionary in our pockets, and let’s face the fact that we are in a digital age, no matter how much we love actual books. My favorite French dictionary online is the Larousse: https://www.larousse.fr/ This dictionary has been my go-to since as long as I can remember, it has it all, and the online version is quite good to work with.

Studying in Europe: Is it for you?

I have been living in Europe for over 11 years, and very often, people want to have a consultation with me to ask me questions about studying in Europe. Typically, they consider doing their Master’s degree and want to know information on schools, costs, programs, and work opportunities after their studies. Looking forward to life starting up again after Covid-19 is more under control, it is good to plan ahead, and many of you are already planning to audition in Europe (online). I put together a list of things to consider.

As a North-American singer, the idea of going to study in a foreign land can be very seductive. The rich history, the languages, the exotic feeling of living overseas-all these aspects seem like a dream, but thinking about making a move to Europe is one thing; doing it is another. By studying in Europe, you will be setting the course for your career. Living abroad, even for a couple of years, will significantly affect your future. All the experiences you will have will contribute to your artistic life and how you see the world. You will expand your cultural horizons and develop a more global mindset. You will hone in on your people skills and independence. The everyday challenges of dealing with a completely different culture and language will help you grow in so many ways. Living in a foreign country will take you out of your comfort zone by performing daily tasks such as getting groceries and setting up your bank account. These mundane chores can become mini-adventures when you live abroad. The prestige of a foreign degree can also improve your international prospects. Most European countries invest highly in their higher education systems, which lower costs while maintaining a high-quality education standard.

Tuition:

Compared to North America, the tuition fees in Europe are very low. Some European schools don’t even have tuition fees-it is free of charge! When there is a tuition fee in most countries, they are higher for international students than the domestic student, but still generally not as high as North America’s fees. Even with this as a big plus point, there are other costs to consider. Tuition fees in Europe don’t typically cover other expenses such as student insurance, books, and other supplies.

Click here for information on tuition fees in Europe.

Living and other expenses:

In addition to the program fees, studying abroad involves considerable costs:

  • Airfare and other travel expenses: Weekends away to visit neighboring countries, trips home to see family, factor all this into your budget. It can make a significant dent in your finances.
  • Student visa: Almost everyone who holds a non- EU/EEA nationality needs a visa when they want to stay in Europe for a longer time. Students are often required to apply for a student visa (or temporary resident visa for students). With this visa, you can stay in your host country for a fixed period. Click here to find out more on visa costs.
  • Health insurance: This is a must because you don’t want to find yourself sick or injured in a foreign country without health insurance.
  • Food: Although you can always find markets in Europe that have a “no frills” assortment, checking the cost of living is very important so that you are not surpised at the prices when you get here.
  • Rent: This varies from country to country (For instance, in Amsterdam, it is quite expensive and there are not many apartments available). Click here for a helpful link on housing.
  • Internet: This is a must for your school work and communicating with your loved ones.
  • Entertainment: There is so much to see and do in a new country and in exciting cities like Vienna, Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin. You can catch a world-class artist performing on any given night, have a night at the opera or a live concert by your favorite band. Although there is student pricing and rush tickets, you will want to budget a big chunk of your finances for these kinds of activities. They will richly contribute to your artistic growth and are a necessery part of your training.

Scholarships:

Some schools in Europe offer scholarships, but they are not worth as much as in North America. Some scholarships may be available from your home government for students who want to study abroad. You can organize fundraising performances or crowdfunding to help out before you leave. If you think that you will want to get a side job to help cover costs, there are strict rules about that when you are on a student visa. Each country has its specific set of rules, so make sure you check what is possible before you go out and get a job. Click here for a helpful link with information.

Travel on the continent is easy:

One of the clear advantages of studying abroad is being near many of the world’s most exciting destinations thanks to cheap flights, trains and busses and short travel times. It is easy to take a train, spend a day, or make it a weekend trip, to a neighboring country, catch an opera or a concert, see some museums or soak in the atmosphere and enjoy the sites.

Building a network:

You will build a network by studying abroad, meeting people you would probably never have met at home. You will sing for people with influence in Europe. You will secure ties with professors and classmates that will undoubtedly be useful in the future. Many networking opportunities will come to you by being selected to participate in a masterclass or doing auditions. It is then your task to keep up with your network after your studies to continue to build upon them. These connections will turn out to be a valuable asset in the early days of your professional career!

Language:

Although you can easily choose to study in English, you will inevitably learn a new language through immersion. By being surrounded by a language, you will probably pick it up, but if you study the language and immerse yourself, there is an excellent opportunity to become fluent. Be sure to broaden your circle of friends and not always spend time with people who speak your native language. Most importantly, dare to speak the language, dare to make mistakes, and don’t take yourself too seriously. Part of learning a new language is all about making mistakes and learning from them. As singers, you will be so grateful that you dove into a new language; it will be an asset for the rest of your life!

Culture shock and depression

Culture shock is a real thing. It is a negative side-effect of living abroad. When you first land in your chosen country of study, there will be signs written in a very different language from English, different customs, and you will feel like you are on another planet. You will suddenly find yourself missing random things, like food that you never knew you liked so much in the first place, your bed, your friends back home. Yes, the first few months may feel like you are on an extended vacation doing some sightseeing, but then you start getting homesick, and you miss family and your culture. For instance, it is not so easy, or cheap, to fly home for Thanksgiving and so you spend it with classmates in your flat. It is fun, but you may feel an underlying feeling of homesickness. These feelings are all very normal. You may feel a little depressed, but it will pass. Keeping busy and getting to know people will make it soon feel a little bit more like “home”.

Once the “newness” of being here wears off, you may start to notice distinct cultural differences. Some you can adapt to, and others that are more difficult. Every culture is different, and although it will broaden your horizons to experience them, it doesn’t mean that you will adopt them as your own. Always remember that you are a guest in the country and it is not your job to change people around you to bend to your ways, you have to find a way to live with the cultural ways of your host country. You will also find that when you return to your home country, whether for a visit or for good, you will experience what is known as reverse culture shock, which is “the emotional and psychological distress suffered by some people when they return home after several years overseas. It can result in unexpected difficulty in readjusting to the culture and values of the home country, now that the previously familiar has become unfamiliar”. I have experience with this, especially having been in Europe for such a long time. When I return to Canada for a visit, I feel like a tourist.

If you can, I hope you do study abroad. There is so much to gain and so much to learn from doing so. However, if you are seriously considering this kind of move, please take your time, do your research. Don’t let the romantic idea get in the way of your reality. I recommend that if you choose to study abroad, take your studies very seriously. It is fun to be on a different continent, but the schools where I have worked take your commitment to your studies very seriously. Your goal is to be happy and satisfied with your learning and life experience while being a great ambassador for your home country!

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

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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!

How to Sing the French Mixed Vowels

The French language has fifteen vowel-sounds. I say this every year at the start of my French Lyric Diction class as the students’ eyes widen. I can almost hear them thinking “Fifteen? How is that possible? How can I sing fifteen different vowel sounds?” That seems like a lot and it can be quite daunting if you are a singer starting out singing in this language. The three vowel-sounds that I would like to focus on in this little French Lyric Diction post, are the three mixed vowel-sounds [œ] [ø] and [y].

When I say “vowel-sound” I don’t mean a pure vowel. The vowels we all know from when we first learn how to read are a, e, i, o, and u. Think of all the french vowel-sounds as derivatives of these. Some vowel sounds are even based on the derivatives of the derivatives. A mixed vowel is when you take two characteristics of two different vowels and as you combine them you create a whole new vowel. They are called “mixed” because their formation is dependent on the simultaneous positioning of the tongue and the lips.

In the chart above, we see the vowels in the tongue position, and the vowels in the lip position, in the middle are the mixed vowels.

The Phonetic [y] vowel-sound:

  • Phonate the [i] sound, as in the French word “midi” [miˈdi] (noon) or if you wish to come from the English language the [i] in the word “we”.
  • Now, sustain this [i] sound, as you do so, form your lips to the shape of a closed [o] as in the word “rose” [rozə] in French (or English) all the while not changing your [i] tongue position.
  • You now magically have the phonetic [y] vowel as in the French word “lune” [lynə] (moon).

The o-slash vowel:

  • Phonate an open [ɛ] as in the French word “tête” [tɛtə] (head) or from the English language, the word “feather”
  • Again, sustain this [ɛ] and as you do so, form your lips to the shape of a closed [o] while not changing your tongue position.
  • You now are making the sound of [ø] as in the word “feu” [fø] (fire).

The o-e vowel is a little different:

  • Start out in the same way you did with the o-slash: phonate on an open [ɛ].
  • While sustaining this vowel, you will form your lips into an open [ɔ] as in the French word “homme” [ɔmə] (man) or from the English you can think of the word “on”. So this is less of a closed [o] formation than we used above. (If it starts sounding like [ø], turn back you have gone to far towards a closed vowel with your lips!)
  • You now have a perfect o-e vowel, and you can now perfectly sing the word “coeur” [kœr] (heart)
  • Nota bene: the Schwa [ə] sound is equivalent to the [œ]. They have the same sound, the difference is that the schwa can never be stressed while the [œ] can be stressed. Example: émeute [eˈmøtə] (riot) while singing this word, the stress is on the o-slash and you would sing the schwa unstressed if it has a note value.

As you sing, if you think about the vowel that you are making with your tongue and just adjust your lips, you can avoid going too far between sounds, and your singing and legato will feel easier, especially depending on the tessitura in which you are singing.

Example:

Intonate these words, all the while keeping your tongue in the [i] position while forming your lips into a closed [o] when reading words with [i] or [y] sounds.

Tu dis qu’il a une fille unique. (You say that he has an only daughter.)

[ty di kil a ynə fij ynikə]

Looking at the phonetic transcription, you have only 2 vowels ([a] and [i]) and two vowel-sounds ([y] and [ə]). The [y] and [i] are the ones you want to practice here. Glide to and from these vowels, see how it feels to not change the tongue position. Try it on different pitches to practice. Do the same with the other mixed-vowels until you master singing them, it will feel easier and your voice will most definitely respond!

Singing in French can be a very scary thing. I am not going to lie to you and tell you that it is easy. But with a few tools, it can definitely be more singer-friendly and as you practice, you will really learn to enjoy singing in this beautiful language.