Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Teaching "It"

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Teaching "It"

Article excerpt

Those of you who regularly acquaint yourselves with my writings have no doubt discovered my ongoing discussions of the fundamental skills required for a successful career in singing. And while my personal focus always has been on classical opera and concert repertoire, I'm confident the same skillset is required of singers who specialize in other genres. Some of the most important of these abilities are listed below, albeit in no particular order.

* The ability to sing in tune. I've often heard from people on the production side of professional music events say that correct intonation is a nonnegotiable skill. To put it more bluntly, the Seattle Symphony is highly unlikely to hire anyone who randomly-if not chronically-mistunes by more than a few cents (lOOths of a semitone). Of course, every singer has a bad night from time to time when things simply don't work correctly. But it probably is wise to do everything possible to ensure avoiding two bad performances in a row.

* The ability to learn and memorize music accurately and efficiently. As a tenor, I've been subjected to countless jokes about my brethren opening the score for the first time ever when they arrive at the first rehearsal, which is a prejudice I've worked diligently to dispel. But like many stereotypes, there well could be a grain of truth in this characterization. Unfortunately, we still encounter the occasional student who holds Pavarotti's (possibly apocryphal) reputation as being musically illiterate to justify their own musical deficiencies. And extensive examples are found in studio and live recordings of respected artists who sing a handful of incorrect pitches and/ or rhythms. But these are an exception to the rule. I firmly believe that it is more effective for singers not to count on being that person who is so special that normal rules don't apply (the same would apply to a lyric baritone who has his heart set on singing Fasolt or Fafner in Das Rheingold.)

* The ability to sing with expressive musicality. Many conductors currently engaged by significant performing organizations seek to control everything down to the subtlest musical nuance. When casting for a solo role, these folks might be looking for a truly "blank slate" who will scrupulously follow their musical directives, ignoring the singer's personal interpretation. But that doesn't mean they are looking for a dispassionate, expressionless singer to become their vocal Pygmalion. No, they are looking for someone whose intrinsic musicality most closely matches their personal vision. And with a nearly limitless supply of singers, they are likely to find somebody to fit the bill-eventually. I've always admired conductors who asked me to sing a passage a different way during the audition-, most seemed to believe that the way I sang a selection was the only option I had. Nonetheless, I'm quite certain that most casting directors prefer to see and hear some unique, expressive musicality. They might seek to make radical changes to that musicality, but at least they know the singer is capable of saying something.

* The ability to sing in multiple languages with passable diction. Fifteen to twenty years ago, I had the pleasure to work with a marvelous singer who already was in his seventh decade. This guy was a true "Verdi baritone," gloriously singing everything from "Eri tu" to "Di Provenza." He possessed a world class voice, but only when singing in English. All other languages were better described as merely Italian-ish or German-like. It's really a shame, because if he had come with the gene that allows us to hear and pronounce languages accurately, he could have had a major international career.

Ideally, a singer's goal should be actual fluency in one or more of the standard classical singing languages, not mere proficiency with diction. Every time I view one of the Met's high definition broadcasts, I'm struck by the fact that almost every artist can be interviewed in multiple languages. …

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