The annual search for decent audition spaces in various cities across the country is a huge challenge. Some of the spaces we use are typical opera house rehearsal halls, and we’re all familiar with how they feel, look, and sound. But occasionally we end up in a space at one of the two extremes of the acoustic spectrum.
1. The Bathroom/Stairwell Acoustic
Singers initially love the fact that everyone sounds huge in such a space. But quickly, some grapple with the fact that once the sound gets rolling around, it’s very difficult to zero in on pitch. Simply, hard to hear. What’s surprising is that a live acoustic actually picks up and magnifies certain troublesome aspects of certain kinds of voices.
For us, this kind of environment is the aural equivalent of squinting for 2 days, trying to zero in on the core of the sound and ignore the noise around it. All of the upper partials are exaggerated, and although this can flatter the occasional muted, dark voice, anyone with any natural squillo in the sound can peel the paper off the walls.
2. Singing Into a Sock
If forced into either end of the spectrum, this is what we often choose. And I’m here to try to convince you that you actually have a better chance in this kind of environment. For in a dry acoustic, we know that we have to mentally add a certain amount of bloom and resonance to everyone’s sound, and that tends to make us charitable. (As opposed to the hyper-live acoustic, where the mental exercise is one of subtraction.) We actually tend to deliberately overlook (or minimize) some things because we know how naked the sound is.
But singers have to have the technical foundation and discipline to resist the urge to push and drive the voice because of a too-dry acoustic. The biggest mistake that inexperienced singers make is to react to dry acoustics by pushing for volume because they don’t hear much sound coming back at them.
Bottom line: Get experienced in and prepared for the entire range of possibilities. For this isn’t just limited to audition spaces – there’s a similar range of acoustics in the performance halls you’ll experience. Work with your teacher to find ways to avoid focusing on the unreliable aural feedback and to depend on other, more technically secure ways to know that you’re doing your best singing.