If you plan on making the audition rounds this fall, the time to tinker with your audition binder is now.
"Audition season ... is a horrible time to learn a new aria. It’s easy to want to chill during the summer months or just learn the next role which makes us mostly reactive, and [we] never get to drive the conversation of who we are," says Robert McPherson.
Robert McPherson is an operatic tenor who has sung everything from Rossini to Bel Canto and beyond. Currently preparing his comic opera show, The Drunken Tenor -- one part stand-up comedy, one part sketch comedy, and one part vaudeville -- for the Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle. In his spare time, McPherson moderates an online singing forum, "The NEW New Forum for Classical Singers." N.B. to any singers interested in joining, McPherson describes the group as "irreverent and full contact, with a propensity towards colorful language". While moderating various singer discussions on the forum, he noticed a pattern of queries concerning goal setting and meeting internal expectations, and saw a need to fill. Hence, #SummerReboot was born. "We state our goals for the week on Monday and then 'weigh in' on Friday," McPherson says. "Currently we are focused on refurbishing old arias and working up new pieces."
Planning some time with your "five" now will save you a lot of trouble later. Join in online by using the hashtag #SummerReboot on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and follow these steps to reboot your audition repertoire so you feel confident when September rolls around!
1. Evaluate your past audition season
Depending on how your past season went, you might be tempted to move on and never look back. However, if you take the time to identify your mistakes, you can take steps to correct them before your next audition. Try to set aside emotion for now, and evaluate from a neutral perspective. Think about effectiveness: How many auditions did you sing this past year? Out of those, how many did you feel really good about your performance? How many gigs resulted from these auditions?
Look at your repertoire choices: What was your favorite aria to sing? What aria did audition panels ask for the most? Conversely, what on the list did you never perform? Which aria were you secretly praying would never get called? Spend some time jotting down what comes to mind, with as little self-judgment as possible.
2. Decide what to keep and what to change
Next, you’ll want to take a look at what you’ve come up with, and start analyzing. Spend some time thinking critically about what worked this past year and what didn’t, and start to identify common threads. You probably already have an idea about what you think worked well and what you’d like to change. Perhaps that aria you love isn’t being selected by the audition panel enough to merit a spot on your list. Maybe your starter aria isn’t getting the results you want. Does your perception match with the data you’ve gathered in step one?
3. Identify the 'holes' in your audition package
Now it’s time to decide where there is the most room for improvement. Is your starter aria too long? Do you have too much German, and nothing that moves? Despite our best intentions, sometimes our packages get thrown together hastily or just become lopsided over time. Or maybe you had a fabulous, put-together package from last season, but your voice has changed and your repertoire is no longer serving you.
This is the time to be ruthless! While it’s true you should love to sing your audition arias, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should put something on the list just because you love it. Some arias we love might not be the best use of our limited time in the audition room. Be honest with yourself about what pieces give the audition panel the best snapshot of who you are as a singer.
4. Explore new rep
Now that you’ve identified what you might be lacking, it’s time to decide what to add! Start listening to a wide array of repertoire that satisfies your desired criteria, and jot down what inspires you. Bring your ideas to your next lesson and ask for feedback. Now play around; sing through some things just to see how they feel in your voice. Explore how different characters sit with you, and how some may bring out a different side of your voice or personality. Once you’ve found a few good selections, spend some time working them up and bring them to a coach or two for more input. The idea is to get feedback from multiple trusted advisors who know the industry. Pay special attention to how these new arias show off your voice, and how they fit in with the other pieces on your list.
5. Take it for a test drive
The best way to get comfortable with your new package is to try it out in front of a live audience before the actual auditions start rolling in. McPherson's Summer Reboot hashtag encourages singers to connect out in the real world, not just online, to help eachother meet their goals, "What this means is finding other friends and performing for each other near the end of the summer. It’s easy for these things to exist only online and in our practice room so setting deadlines helps give a sense of urgency." So get together with a friend or two, find a church hall, and split the cost of an accompanist. Invite everyone you know to come hear a free concert! This will both help with the first-time jitters that come along with singing a new piece, and help you pace yourself; seeing how you fare when your new arias are lined up with the older ones.
If you're interested in joining in the fun, search for the Forum on Facebook and use the hashtag #SummerReboot across your social media platforms.
This fall, McPherson will return to the Met for performances of Figaro, Semiramide, and the Merry Widow. After that, he says, "the sky’s the limit—I guess I’ll have to see how well the #SummerReboot works for my new pieces, though I’m confident it’s going to be great for me." Follow these steps for an aria reboot and see where it can take you!
This post originally appeared in Modern Singer Magazine, here.