Auditioning students

I just read an article at the music teachers helper website about auditioning students for acceptance in your studio. http://www.musicteachershelper.com/blog/?p=693&pg=blog&action=taking-on-new-students-developing-an-audition-process#comment-104851

I’ve thought about doing this from time to time. On the one hand, it ensures that you are going to have students who are serious and who can read music, who can hold a part, who can stay in tune. All of your students will be coming in with a basic level of ability on which you can build without needing to spend time working on matching pitch and plunking through parts for them to learn. What a luxury!

On the other hand – it seems kind of elitist to me, especially at the high school level. High school kids are insecure enough without having someone judge whether or not they are worthy of being taught. No matter how kind you may be in telling them that they didn’t make the cut, their emotional response is going to be that they are not worthy of your time. It’s part of the high school mindset. I don’t want to be a factor in someone deciding “I guess I can’t sing — so why bother?”

I have never dismissed a student for not being able to sing. I have dismissed students for poor attitude, for no-showing, for non-payment, for vocal health issues that they didn’t want to address (e.g., nodes caused by poor vocal practices outside singing such as yelling in soccer), because I felt someone else might be of more use to them in the style they wanted to learn, but never because I didn’t think they had any talent. Who am I to tell someone he can’t sing? Isn’t that my job, to facilitate his singing the best he can?

If I turned down people who couldn’t match pitch at their initial lessons, I would never have gotten to work with one of my favorite students, who is now a wonderful young basso. Working with him has been a joy, and not only because he can sing better now but because he’s a great kid with whom I’ve enjoyed working! How many great people would I not have gotten to know because I decided in the first half hour that I didn’t want to make the effort to take them from non-singers to singers?

To make that decision at an initial lesson, when people are nervous and feeling so vulnerable, just seems to me to be counter-intuitive. It takes several lessons for us to get to know each other and figure out where we’re going on this journey.

My high school students pay for five lessons at a time. This is for two reasons – to guarantee that they show up after the first week (the practical reason), and to allow them to become more comfortable with me. I can be intimidating, and not because I am on a high lofty perch but because I’m so intense about singing and because, frankly, I’m a little weird. (In a good way.)

I do like ideas in this article about structuring that first lesson and I’d like to implement them, but not because I want to determine if this student is worthy of acceptance to my studio. I think some of these ideas will allow me to determine what I need to do for new students more quickly and become more efficient in helping them progress and realize their potential.

Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

3 thoughts on “Auditioning students

  1. Christine, I agree – no \”auditions\”. I view my job as simply this \”helping people to sing better\”. What skills they come in with are irrelevant. I do have a short waiting list, and it's not a totally fair democracy. Some people stay on the waiting list a long time, and some move up very quickly, depending on how I feel about them. I get most initial inquiries by email, and I ask them to state their goals. If they're too young, or want to do pageants, or have never sung a note but have signed up to audition for AI, then I refer them to other people or just say that the studio is full. But as you said, taking someone from nonsinger to singer is wonderful! If a new student says \”I croak like a frog but have always wanted to learn how to sing\” I'm interested! And I have yet to work with someone who cannot be taught to match pitches. It's a great job!

  2. LOL to the wanting to do pageants. I had a mother call me because her daughter had been doing pageants since she was 4 and she was 11 now and was doing her first pageant that involved talent. She was referred by a friend, so I told her to come in.Kid comes in, I ask her what she likes about her voice now. Shrugs, looks bored. I ask what she'd like to improve. Shrugs, looks bored. I say, \”Do you want to sing higher?\” \”NO!\” I take her through some vocalises during which she keeps rolling her eyes. Then I say, \”Well, what have you brought to sing for me?\” and she says, \”I wanna be a cowboy sweetheart.\” I said, \”Okay, do you have the music?\” and she says, \”No.\” \”A recording?\” \”No.\”So I ask her to stand there and sing it for me. This tuneless monotone comes pouring forth – \”Iwannabeacowboysweetheart Iwannalearntorope&ride.\” No expression, no pitch modulation, nothing. And then the yodeling began.

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