Your Audition Partner

Donna at CCM

Today, we talk about the printed music that comes in the audition room with you. No huge revelations, but you’d be surprised how many folks create stumbling blocks for themselves by ignoring this basic advice.

Our Cincinnati auditions (at CCM) are typically played by Donna Loewy, who is not only a fabulous pianist and collaborator, she’s a wonderful resource on how to improve your audition by making sure your partner at the piano has the tools s/he needs to help make you sound good. The guidelines below are pulled from my previous blog posts on the topic and amplified by Donna’s wisdom.

Music That Stays Open
If you bring actual scores (anthologies or piano/vocal scores), please be sure that they stay open easily. My library science friends cringe when I break the spines of my scores, but that’s one of the things they made us do in Piano School to toughen us up. If the book won’t stay open, the pianist can barely play, let alone collaborate with you on a higher musical/artistic level.

Hide & Seek
Regardless of whether you bring a book or a notebook, please mark all of the pages carefully – with easy-to-read and clearly marked tabs. If the panel asks for the Donizetti aria, you don’t want to have to retreat to the rack to thumb through the book for the pianist. You want to use those precious seconds to prepare yourself for the next aria.

Page Turns
All copied music should be double-sided. No staples. No fold-outs that flop over.

Basic Clarity
White paper. Black note heads. No dark gray on light gray. Clear ledger lines. No 6th-generation xeroxes or manuscript.

Sheet Protectors
Generally, avoid sheet-protectors. Strictly, if they are non-reflective, they should work, and some pianists don’t mind them. But it’s always dicey to know which plastic is going to be reflective in which light situations.

Mark your cuts extremely carefully. There can be no ambiguity about where a cut begins or ends. Check out the standard cuts for a scene before you get too creative. If they work for you, consider using them. (They got to be traditional for a reason.) It makes life easier for everyone.

Correct Versions
Please make your notebooks “stranger friendly.”  If you are used to extra notes, because your coach knows that they are there, but you have a score without the interjections of other characters, please get a score for your audition with those notes written in. Otherwise, the pianists who do not know what you are used to, are given a score with notes “missing” in the traditional way. And you won’t hear what you are used to.

Please write in your cadenzas (or at least an approximation of how they end) so the pianist doesn’t have to guess about when to meet you at the finish line.

If In Doubt…
If you have music that you know is difficult to perform with no rehearsal, please reconsider how important that music is for your package, and see if there might be something else that might show the same things vocally and dramatically. And if the answer is “no,” consider bringing your own pianist.

Know How to Lead
Get good at telegraphing your desired tempo by the way you breathe and the way you sing.Don’t snap, clap or conduct to indicate tempo. Aside from being slightly irritating (don’t ask me why, it just is… I’ve been on the receiving end myself), it’s rarely functional. I have yet to see a singer indicate a tempo (by clapping, snapping, conducting, etc) that bears a real resemblance to the actual speed of the aria.

Don’t use a copy of the music that has every single note that you or your teacher has ever written in it. It’s hard to read past all of that stuff, and some of it is downright misleading.

Missing Music
At least once every season, someone offers an aria that’s not in his/her book. Or sings something that’s missing a page (usually the last page.) It sounds so basic, but it’s alarmingly easy to do. The notebook does a lot of work for you during the audition season, and it requires careful, thoughtful attention. It’s the most basic stuff that’ll get you every time.

Want more? (Oh, there’s always more…) My colleague Laurie Rogers wrote this great piece for Classical Singer a few years ago: Take the Lead.

And I leave you with a slightly different kind of list. One that I hope will give you a window into what it takes to be a good audition partner:

What Makes a Fabulous Audition Pianist?

Listening. The ability to put the playing in subconscious mode and use most of the conscious mind to take in all of the details of the performance and become a split-second collaborator for singers the pianist has never met.

Flexibility. Turning on a dime to respond to the unexpected – a mis-timed entrance, a sudden change in tempo, an ill-marked cut in the printed music, a book (or, perish the thought, a stray piece of loose music) that won’t stay on the rack.

ESP. The ability to know sometimes a singer grinds to a halt not because he wants to, but because he can’t help himself. The pianist must gently prod the tempo. The ability to know that a singer’s desired tempo is predicated on the length of phrase she can sustain or the very specific speed that the coloratura must move in that particular voice.

Tolerance. Auditioners are a nervous lot. Normally sane, pleasant people can become pretty tightly wound in the audition room. Face it – the pianist is physically closer to the singer than any of us, and some of that wears off.

Musicality. We notice this and are thankful for it almost hourly. Singers feel it in their bones even if they don’t acknowledge it consciously. A well-shaped phrase, an interlude or prelude that actually encourages the singer to join in the music-making – that’s what it’s all about.

We’re heading out of the midwest today, home for a day of laundry and repacking. See you next week from New York City!

One Comment

Lauren Bernofsky

A great set of tips! I’d like to remind performers that photocopies are fine, as long as you own the original. Photocopying something you didn’t buy means that the composer and publisher aren’t getting the income they need to keep doing what they do, which is provide quality music to you, the performer!

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