I have several rising seniors who will be auditioning for college in the upcoming year, as well as younger students who will be considering this as well in the not-too-distant future. The most important thing we need to do in the next few weeks is to select repertoire for their auditions. Specifically, repertoire that shows them in their best possible light, and in which they can find something authentic that speaks to them as expressive human beings.
In listening to Dr. Nicholas Perna on the January 31 episode of The VocalFri podcast, I was struck by a particular quote and had to stop walking the dog for a second so I could listen to it again and dictate it to my Notes file on my phone for use in this very blog. The quote was:
“When we see a genuine performance, we see an artist taking hold of their own repertoire.”
(FYI, I was listening to this in June – I was really behind on my podcasts, so I wasn’t stopping on an icy pavement.)
For me, the most authentic repertoire I have chosen has been music for themed programs, whether those are classical recitals (my Joan of Arc concert at HCC in 2016, the “Woman’s Life & Love, Yesterday & Today” concert of music by Schumann and Maury Yeston a year or so later) or my cabaret shows (Oh! to be a movie star, If music be the food of love, The Not Here Cabaret, I can definitely say that I took hold of my repertoire in those performances. And I was very satisfied with those performances.
But then again, by that point, I was not a teenager or an undergrad, and I’d had the life experiences to know what was going to work for me.
For the students I’m referring to, they can choose their own repertoire to a certain extent, but I’m expected to guide them in those choices. I am looking for songs that are
- age appropriate
- voice appropriate
- ethnically/racially appropriate (no cultural appropriation!)
- emotionally appropriate
And ones that they like.
Because if they don’t like it, they’re not going to learn it. At least not as deeply and truly as they would a song that speaks to them.
And sometimes they might like it, or think they like it, and it checks all the boxes as far as appropriateness, but for some reason, it does not work.
Case in point – I sang on a spring-themed Baltimore Musicale program a few years ago. I chose three songs for myself, and one was by Brahms. I’ve sung a lot of Brahms in my life. I love Brahms and I think his music fits my voice perfectly.
I could not memorize the words to that song for love or money. I wound up making a joke about how I was reviving the tradition (according to Anna Russell) of the German lieder singer not memorizing lyrics, “but carry[ing] them on the platform written in a little book.”
It did not feel authentic. And the joke fell a little flat, TBH.
The other two songs did, but that one did not. Not only because it wasn’t memorized, but it didn’t speak to me. I didn’t sing badly on any of the songs, but I wasn’t emotionally attached to that song, and I think that’s why I simply could not memorize it.
My goal as a singer and as a teacher is to select music that not only will feel authentic, but allow the singer to be their most authentic self. Not a copy of someone else (cough Lea Michele cough) but to find their emotional truth in the telling of the story of the song.
Take hold of your performance and choose authentic repertoire for yourself. If you are working with a teacher, work with your teacher to find those pieces.