Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Serious about Singing: Age Appropriate Repertoire for the Talented Teen

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Serious about Singing: Age Appropriate Repertoire for the Talented Teen

Article excerpt

THE NEXT GENERATION OF SERIOUS YOUNG singers is preparing for a career at an earlier age and with more intensity than past generations. This group of talented teenagers requires special multifaceted instruction during their vocally formative high school years, one important element of which is carefully selected repertoire. The challenging aspect is selecting age appropriate arias that are also competitive enough for competitions and top tier university auditions. This repertoire should demonstrate the singer's particular strengths, and at the same time be technically appropriate as well as textually and dramatically relatable.

Often young singers perform repertoire that is too easy to be competitive at a higher level, the wrong Fach, or too advanced for the developing young voice. Finding the balance is critical. For example, one often hears young mezzo sopranos sing the "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen. There is an innate sexuality to Carmen that is completely inappropriate for even today's overexposed teens. It would be impossible for a young woman of 17 to convey the deep passion and complexity of this gypsy woman. Her interpretation would be enormously uncomfortable for the audience, and, more important, she would not have the vocal maturity necessary to sing this aria.

Sometimes a teacher's enthusiasm for a young singer inadvertently influences repertoire selection in a less than ideal way. The average teenage singer is assigned music at the level of 26 Italian Songs and Arias, as is appropriate. However, when a more capable singer arrives in the studio, the enthusiastic teacher can sometimes misplace judgment and, swayed by the young singer's enthusiasm, assign far too advanced repertoire. This can have long lasting negative repercussions on the student's vocal development, as well as a lack of success at auditions. It takes time, patience, and guidance to achieve the high standard of singing skills necessary for the operatic repertoire. Scott McCoy states,

The huge repository of song repertoire provides ample support for the developmental need of younger singers. When assigning new repertoire, especially when it will be used for auditions, simpler is often better. I will be much more impressed by a potential freshman who sings "Caro mio ben" with beauty and elegance than someone who struggles through "Vissi d'arte."1

Although singers must offer more than "Caro mio ben" to be competitive for most auditions, the point is nevertheless well made. Therefore, the conundrum remains for the attentive voice teacher. We must select repertoire that gives our young singers the best chance for advancement in competitive situations while remaining aware of the serious vocal requirements of operatic arias.

There is a great deal to consider when choosing realistic repertoire for the gifted student. It must: 1) be age appropriate and competitive; 2) be chosen for the purposes of developing good vocal technique; 3) be interesting enough to make good audition material; 4) be appropriate to the general Fach of the young singer; 5) be appropriate to the skills of the accompanist; 6) contain relatable text; 7) be appropriate to the tessitura of the student; 8) be appropriate to the level of the singer's diction; 9) showcase each student's unique talents. When a singer auditions with the wrong repertoire the fault lands squarely on the teacher. There is a lot at stake for these young singers, and it is the teacher's obligation to guide them with great care.

This article suggests a list of repertoire that achieves the goals delineated above. These arias are for gifted teens who have a great deal of vocal proficiency, whose technique is functioning at a high level for their age group. They should have a natural talent as singers and musicians. Their vocal technique would have already been developed through repertoire choices from the 26 Italian Songs and Arias and other art songs over the course of several years. …

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