Choosing Authentic Repertoire

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 starIf music be the food of loveThe 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.

I’m not telling you to reject songs outright – a song that might not seem right for you at first may turn out to be the most impressive song in your audition package. Keep an open mind and an open heart. But ultimately, know yourself and be your own advocate.

Choosing authentic repertoire

If you are curious about how to find the emotional truth in your song
(particularly in a classic or Golden Age song), click here to receive info
about an upcoming masterclass featuring a well-known conductor/composer
(as well as two other valuable workshops in the series)

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.

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