Audition Tips For Singers (from a pianist)


Many people dislike auditions, and I can't blame them - it's unpleasant business trying to convince others you're great in six minutes or less. To make the experience a bit more pleasant, I thought I'd share some basic insights on how to prepare. I didn't think anyone needed to be told some of these things, but all of this I've lived through. Someone somewhere went to an audition and wasn't aware, so here's to you. Next time you'll know.

0. Make sure you know what you're auditioning for. If they want to hear "newer" repertoire but the advertisement does not include the word "musical", maybe just check what the genre is. Pro tip: contemporary classical music differs somewhat from Let It Go.

1. Choose a selection of songs. They might want to hear excerpts from two or three, so bring more scores than one. It's very likely the pianist isn't a walking jukebox and will not be able to play arias from memory - and even if they could, why should they help you get the job when you've already proved yourself to be an unprepared twat.

2. Usually it's wise to sing basic repertoire. The jury likes to hear stuff they know, and pianists like to play stuff they know. With arias like Pamina (that you should never sing in auditions by the way, I've been told by a prestigious jury member), Mimi and the Count, it's more likely that you'll get many right notes and chords to support you, in approximately the right tempo.

3. Make the selection varied: Different languages, styles, and characters. Three slow Mozarts in Italian is boring - they heard from the first minute what they need to know about you and Mozart, so move on.

4. Vary styles, not fachs: Not a good idea to bring both tenor and mezzosoprano repertoire (though if you're a very flexible countertenor it might make sense to go for the gold). When you're trying to sell yourself in a short amount of time, it's better to make the story simple and memorable. It also helps if you...

5. ...Dress according to your fach. Basically, if you want to sing trouser roles, wear trousers. (Ta-dah!) Most importantly, please do wear clothes that are your size and shoes you can actually walk in. Smart casual is good, luxury escort maybe not so good.

6. Learn the songs by heart. It's really not okay to bring scores or to have the lyrics on your phone screen. Learning three songs by heart is possible, and it really is the minimum requirement - why on earth would they hire you to do a full opera production if you can't remember six minutes of music?

Now you know what songs to bring and what to wear. Let's take a closer look at the sheet music:

7. Always. Bring. The. Music. For. The. Pianist. Bring it in paper form, unless they specifically ask for a pdf. And if you are offered the chance to send them the music beforehand, ALWAYS TAKE IT. You never know, they might actually practice and make your life much easier. NEVER ASSUME THAT THE PIANIST KNOWS THE PIECE, because they may not, and who will be the loser in that equation? The pianist is hired to play through dozens of arias, and they'll be paid no matter how they scramble through them. You, on the other hand, might get seriously lost if you have to sing on top of wrong chords played at the wrong time, and it's your very own job interview you're messing with.

Personal anecdote: I was accompanying a violin masterclass where I got the repertoire list in advance. One violinist sent the first Brahms sonata, and I practiced it. When the course started, the violinist announced that they had switched the sonata, and are playing number two instead. I asked why they didn't let me know, since I'd practiced a whole sonata for no reason, and would now primavista my way through a second one - it was my first violin masterclass, so my repertoire was limited at best. Turned out the violinist had just assumed that since I'm accompanying a violin masterclass, I would know all the basic repertoire by heart.

The moral of the story: Please don't assume pianists are Gods. Many of them are, but also Gods have to start from somewhere. And in the end, you're the one who'll suffer from your assumption - like the violinist who ended up getting rubbish accompaniments to lessons they'd paid a lot of money for.

8. When printing the sheet music, make sure the paper doesn't have anything else printed on it already. I once had to play trough an aria that looked like it was either contemporary art or a very complex secret code. There was some kind of text file printed upside down on the same pages as the music was. Don't do that.

9. Tape the damn scores. One tape up, one tape down. NOT JUST ONE IN THE MIDDLE - when the pianist is turning the pages, it's much harder to avoid turning multiple ones when the bottom of the score is not taped together. Don't save tape, save the pianist's nerves.

10. Decide where you want to begin, and mark it extremely clearly. Preferably in colour. You do not want to spend four out of your six audition minutes trying to find a suitable spot for the pianist to begin. Even if there's a traditional place where Everybody Knows It Should Begin, just draw a mark. If the aria doesn't have a clear ending, mark that too. AND JUMPS - do not be vague with jumps. Sometimes singers draw just a slightly thicker black line on top of the barline, and then I'm trying to guess - while playing - whether I should be searching for a similar line somewhere or not. Make it red or green or whatever, but make it stand out! Use "VI-DE" or "CUT" and cross out the beginning of the cut big time. Basically mark things in a way that a 5-year-old would understand. Because what's the worst thing that could happen? Will the pianist refuse to play because your markings are too clear?

Last but not least:

11. Greet the pianist. It's weird when the singer makes no eye contact. A bit of basic kindness goes a long way - just look at the pianist, say hello, and after you've sung your stuff say thank you.

And that's it. You got the job.