Are you working on difficult material right now? Then you know that the warm up and cool down periods are crucial parts of that work. I’m not talking about the physical warm up-though that should also be a part of your artistic day, I mean the moments you take to focus, to get in the “zone”, the “flow”, the “artistic state”.
Similarly, I find it helpful to cool down from particularly hot pieces by taking a moment to come back to reality through mindfulness; we really must teach ourselves how to shed the anxiety, fear, and/or trauma we have hosted in our bodies for the sake of storytelling.
I do benefit from taking time on either side of my working period to put on my headphones and listen to one of the pieces below to get into and out of a specific creative flow. (I create entire mixes for specific roles, but that’s another story 😉 )
Here were my picks last year:
1.) Inside the Actors Studio Suite, by Angelo Badalamenti
2.) Out of Africa Suite, by John Barry
3.) Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2, C Minor
And now, some of my go-to pieces in rotation lately:
4.) “Outsiders” and “Roses”, by Jean-Michel Blais
5.) Brahms’s String Quartet No. 1 in C minor and String Quartet No. 2 in A minor
6.) “Good As Hell”, by Lizzo
What about you? What are you listening to these days?
While this may be a normal question to those of us who have worked with a coach or class or college, for actor-singers just starting out, being asked “what’s in your book” can be a bewildering moment. Even actor-singers who’ve been at this a while aren’t really using their book as a tool to sharpen their focus and confidently go after what they want in the audition.
Just what is a Rep Book? Repertoire Book? Audition Book? Audition Binder?
It’s the music you take with you to auditions, the same way a model or designer brings a portfolio to interviews.
Here we go, from start to finish, this is everything you need to know about building your starter book, and continuing to build a winning book that gives you audition confidence and helps you stand out in the audition room.
WHAT THEY ARE REALLY ASKING YOU
What are they really asking when they ask you what is in your “book”? If it’s an industry professional they are asking: Who are you? What is your “type”? “For what roles are you perfect? What is your vocal ability/range? What do you love performing? How prepared are you?
You will save yourself YEARS of grief by being mindful about what you put in your book as you begin building. A book with three songs that are a singularly stunning short performances will serve you better than a book of 20 songs you “know”.
YOUR AUDITION BOOK IS A BINDER with copies of the songs you sing for auditions.
The physical assembly of the book will include these elements:
post-it notes and/or highlighters
a few extra copies of your headshot and resume
music selections you sing for auditions
WHO IS THE AUDITION BOOK REALLY FOR?
The only people who will use your rep book/audition book are you, your coaches, and the pianist at the audition. The pianist at the audition is the critical person to keep in mind as you assemble your book. Just as you perform for the “people behind the desk” to show them your ability, the way you handle your rep book/audition book shows the pianist (who is often also the show’s music director) what it would be like to work with you in music rehearsals.
One critical role of the Audition Book is to make the pianist’s life easier from the moment you walk in the room.
ELEMENTS OF THE PERFECT AUDITION BOOK
THE 3-RING BINDER
The binder for the Rep Book or Audition Book is typically solid black or solid white and is usually 1 to 1.5 inches thick. You don’t get bonus points for having an art project on the cover of your book. And honestly, it may look like you have a little too much free time on your hands. Keep it clean and simple.
In every audition prep workshop I’ve ever attended (I’ve attended many) someone inevitably asks this question: “Do audition pianists want our music to be in page protectors or just hole-punched?” And a very long and boring conversation takes place and all I can think about is, “I’m paying $x per hour to listen to THIS conversation again!…and the answers are always the same: IT DOESN’T MATTER as long as your music is easy to read.
What’s my personal preference? I use page protectors for musical theater repertoire and no page protectors for opera/operetta. Here are MY reasons why, but know that you could go either way and be absolutely fine.
REASONS I USE PAGE PROTECTORS FOR MUSICAL THEATER REPERTOIRE
If you are really hustling for great musical theater roles, it’s not uncommon to have two or three or more auditions or lessons in one week. That means those pages are being turned hundreds of times a month, and usually with vigor.
More flexibility in arranging cuts (see below).
The use of page protectors in musical theater audition books is fairly standard; it looks and feels very tidy.
It’s faster than the Print-Tape-Reinforce-Fold method (below).
Occasionally after you’ve sung your requested cut, a casting director will ask you to sing the full song, or a different part of the song. I keep the full version of my songs (pages I’m not using for my cuts) stacked inside an extra page protector-for just in case.
Note: Some pianists really appreciate it when you use glare-free page protectors; however, they are a little thicker/more difficult to grab and turn quickly, so other pianists don’t love them. Ask your favorite pianist what he or she prefers and go with that.
REASONS I DON’T USE PAGE PROTECTORS FOR OPERA/OPERETTA REPERTOIRE
I have less frequent opera audition opportunities than musical theater opportunities, so the pages aren’t being manipulated by pianists as often. For one, there are far fewer U.S. opera companies than U.S. musical theater stages, so fewer auditions to start with. Secondly, so many U.S. opera companies are strapped for cash that they actually charge an audition fee of $25, $35, $50 or more. It’s illogical, but true! And I’m not about that life.
You usually don’t need to arrange cuts in opera. Most companies will ask to hear “an aria” or a “short aria”.
Page protectors just aren’t commonly used in the opera world, so it may scream “hey, non-serious musical theater performer here!” to the pianists who just haven’t developed a lot of respect for U.S. musical theater performers.
If you DO go without page protectors, you should prepare your music using the print-tape-reinforce-fold method:
Print your aria single-sided. A double-sided print of music can sometimes be difficult to read depending on the lighting in the room and how heavy the paper is, because the reverse page can show through.
Tape: put pages back-to-back to create one double-sided page. Tape the pages together using one long piece of tape along the outside edge of the paper.
Punch and reinforce. Use a dependable three-hole-punch on the opposite length of the paper, and apply reinforcement tabs.
Fold, “dog-ear”, or curl the bottom corner of each page to make it easier to turn.
ARRANGING YOUR MUSIC IN YOUR PAGE PROTECTORS
Print your music single-sided. You will have more flexibility in arranging new cuts of your song for different auditions; also, it’s easier to read music that has been printed on one side only, unless you are using heavier-weight paper.
Include as few page turns as possible – this is a big one. Your pianist will not love you if there is a page turn in the middle of a complex or deceptive chord progression, or if there are multiple page turns relative to the length of the cut.
Consider for a longer cut of music, like a “brief song” (60-90 seconds of music), keeping the originally published pagination. For example, if page 11 was published to be on the left side of the book and page 12 was published to be on the right, keep it that way, because the publishers are often conscious about avoiding awkward page turns when they are arranging the layout for printing.
Label each song clearly that you or your coach or the audition pianist can find your next song easily and without your help. I like to use repositionable tabs because I will rearrange my book from month-to-month.
Another reason to use very clear writing or printing on your tabs is because it gives the audition pianist (remember, this is often also the show’s music director!) a quick glance at other things you do!
POST-IT NOTES AND HIGHLIGHTERS
These are used to show the start and end of your cuts.
Remember, one of the critical missions of the Audition Book is to make the pianist’s life easier just because YOU walked in the door with this really great rep book. Here’s where you can really make a great impression.
Clearly mark START and STOP and any CUTS in your piece. I use sticky note markers to do this, because I use different cuts for some songs, depending on the audition requirement. So instead of reprinting and re-highlighting my music, I just move the sticky note. I do have a few songs where a verse + chorus + 2nd ending make a perfect 32-bar cut, and I’ve marked those up permanently.
Before every audition, double-check those sticky notes to make sure your cuts are exactly what was requested on the casting notice. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Singer and Actress, Joyce Lyons (AEA., SAG) has performed all over the country (Aspen and Durango in Colorado, Santa Fe, NM, Lenox, MA and Washington, DC.) and of course in the Big Apple to name a few and to much acclaim. Once described as “What Cabaret is all About!” Her cabaret shows are legendary, but it was the honor of performing for Justice Clarence Thomas at the Supreme Court that still leaves her speechless. Her recently released CD, “Sooner or Later” is receiving radio airplay throughout the country and features some of New York’s finest musicians, including the stellar Lee Musiker (Musical Director and Arranger), who’s “day job” is musical director for Tony Bennett. Sooner or Later is available on iTunes or CD Baby or her website…joycelyons.net.
I met Joyce when she taught a masterclass on “Expressive Text Portrayal” for Underworld Productions last fall. She coached our American opera and musical theater pieces, and she helped us make an honest connection to our audience. I have often thought of that class. It’s not just when working on my musical theater I want to infuse all of my vocal “conversations” with that same ease and honestly. If you have a chance to see her perform, don’t miss it.
Joyce, what was the first aria you learned?
First aria or classical piece would be Vivaldi’s Domine per Gina [Crusco, voice teacher] pushing me out of my “jazz box!”
Do you attend shows that you aren’t singing in? What makes a good performance?
I always like to get out and see other performers. I can always learn something new. To me, a good or great performance is one that makes me laugh, cry, reflect or sigh! Or better yet, causes me to lose all sense of time and space.
What was your first stage experience like?
My first stage experience was 4th grade, sang “Side by Side” with my older sister. It was great, though she was wearing fishnet stockings held up with rubber bands and one of them broke…I’ll never forget it.
Do you sing in the shower?
…Yes, I sing in the shower, all the time!
What is a technical reminder you give yourself while warming up?
The technical reminder I give myself when I am warming up…to take my time and breathe…just breathe!
I practice exercises and then attempt to always learn a new song.
And you teach voice, too?
I teach performance/lyric interpretation and I love it when working with students and they make a connection to the material. Truly making the song their own and creating a performance that soars!
Such voice; she pours out her gorgeous lyric mezzo like honey.
Such style; her chic gamine taste is too playful and elegant for anyone else to pull off.
The face of a Rossetti model, the big heart of a sister, and the fierce musicality of a seasoned performer…
If Tynan actually had a mean bone in her body you would hate her.
I’m serious. You would feel hopelessly inadequate. Instead, you can’t help but be drawn to such loveliness. If you’ve known her for 5 seconds you want to be her best friend.
What is it about Texas girls?! 😉
Growing up, she sang with The Children’s Chorus of San Antonio, and today listeners describe Tynan as a dynamic and radiant performer. She’s also impossibly down-to-earth and human in her performances. She recently made her Bel Canto at Caramoor debut as Cousin Hebe in Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore with The Orchestra of St. Luke’s under the baton of Will Crutchfield.
Other operatic and concert credits include: Mahler 2nd Symphony and Beethoven 9th Symphony with the Festival Orchestra of Christ Church Oyster Bay, the title role in Carmen and Bach’s Cantata 82 with the Rapides Symphony Orchestra, and Dorabella in Cosi fan tutte and Ado Annie in Oklahoma! with the Natchez Festival of Music. Tynan was also a finalist in the 2010 Liederkranz Competition and a semi-finalist in both the 2010 Palm Beach Opera and Joy in Singing competitions!
But wait, there’s more! In about a week she’s singing on a masterclass at Carnegie with Marilyn Horne!
The first aria I learned was Voi che sapete from Le Nozze di Figaro. I was a senior in high school and I prepared it for the annual spring Texoma NATS competition. I don’t remember the actual performance as much as I do the collaboration with my first coach, Rogelio Riojas-Nolasco. It was a one-off coaching and performance arranged by my high school voice teacher and I never saw him again, but he clued me in on the hormonal subtext that makes Cherubino such a sweet, pesky and lovable character.
So, is your family musical?
My mother is a beautiful musician. She is a choral conductor and accompanist and is by far the most inherently musical soul I know. I started my musical journey as a toddler under the piano, then graduated up to the bench as her principle page turner.
What was your first stage experience like?
Since singing Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” in the way-back of the station wagon probably doesn’t count, I’ll say my first significant solo stage performance was in the 5th Grade talent show at Harmony Hills Elementary in San Antonio, TX. I was (am) a huge Bette Midler fan and I sang Wind Beneath My Wings to a very weepy group of PTA moms. I still remember what I wore and what it felt like to walk to the center of the stage in that cafetorium.
Do you sing in the shower?
With reckless abandon!
Love it! What is a technical reminder you give yourself while warming up?
When warming up, I try to focus on efficiency and alignment. My posture and breathing give me the most trouble, so I spend most of my warmups keeping my posture in check and keeping my support as even and unforced as possible.
Then what do you practice – exercises, new arias, difficult arias…?
When I move on to actual practice, it tends to be an extension of the warmup; keeping support consistent while threading changing vowel shapes and consonants onto that foundation. I practice things slowly and deliberately at first, then bring things up to speed (hopefully) without losing the legato line. At the end of my practice, I usually try to sing through something without thinking of anything but how fun it feels to open up and sing. It gets me out of my critical brain and reminds me of why I do this in the first place: Because it feels good to make music!
Starting tomorrow I’ll be featuring a Diva of the Day…no offense boys, but you’ve always got the Barihunks blog 😉
I already have several interviews in the works, and let me tell you, these ladies are drop-dead gorgeous, witty, and super-talented. Come back tomorrow as we kick off the feature with Tynan Davis…oooh la la!
Know Who Your Character is When No One is Listening
To my Beloved Tenor who is working on expression, this is for you.
During an aria or even an entire opera, we won’t see every aspect of a character. In life, no one sees every aspect of you; have you ever thought about how much time we spend sitting in silence? I think over-achieving opera singers forget about these quiet moments when all they can hear is the music. Know who your character is when no one is listening- when not even your character is listening to herself/himself. Understand that REAL people are constantly using filters, and in acting for REAL, you have to get to know even the filters that your character would use.
Even in your stillness when sitting on the A train and staring off into space, there is no doubt that you are a REAL person.
A REAL character has so much more UNSAID than SAID.
UNSPOKEN STORY + FILTER + SPOKEN STORY = REALITY
It is your own reality that informs how you introduce yourself -or not- or how you tell a story, how you react to bad news…indeed, it is your own reality that informs how you sit in a silent moment. Yes, as our acting teachers have all told us, “this is the most important day of your life!” during any given scene, but as an opera singer we actually have to show very little because of all the layers available to us that contribute to the unspoken story.
The little that we do show is informed by this REAL character that has come to life in our table preparation. Further, the little that you show allows the voice to radiate out of your character in a very specific way, and you will perform the role unlike anything else your audience has ever seen.
Don’t settle for acting “as if”. Have a purpose for every detail in the music.
Prefer an internal “gesture” to vocal “gesture”.
Prefer a vocal “gesture” to physical gesture.
Use cadenza and other stylistic devices to illustrate intention.
Play a game of hide-and-seek between context and subtext.
TIP!!! After you have done all your table work (who, what, when, where, why), discipline yourself to sit in the long silent moment that proceeds your character’s speech, as if you were sitting on the subway train. I do this for 30 minutes at a time several times over the course of preparing a role or art song. Sit alone and still as the character, then jump right into the piece from that stillness. Alternate between jumping into a spoken monologue and into the sung version.
None of the major Method teachers of the 20th century was completely correct or incorrect, and not all acting styles will work on an operatic or musical theater stage. I sincerely believe that every actor – singing or not – must make sense of his material through an honesty about the world around us.
I developed my own personal acting method primarily from two people: Michael Gelb and Anthony Hopkins. More on this next! 😉
Method acting is a phrase that loosely refers to a family of techniques used by actors to create in themselves the thoughts and emotions of their characters, to develop lifelike performances. It’s contrasted with more classical forms of acting as well as traditional opera performance, in which actors and singing actors simulate the thoughts and emotions of their characters through external means, such as vocal intonation or facial expression.
Though not all Method actors use the same approach, the “method” in Method acting usually refers to the practice, pioneered by Constantin Stanislavski and advocated by Lee Strasberg, by which actors draw upon their own emotions and memories in their portrayals, aided by a set of exercises and practices including sense memory and affective memory.
Method actors are often characterized as immersing themselves in their characters to the extent that they continue to portray them even offstage or off-camera during a project. However, this is a popular misconception. While some actors have employed this approach, it is generally not taught as part of the Method.
More Than Script and Character
Opera and Musical Theater singers, we have at least two more major layers added to our portrayal beyond character and “lines”.
We have music and we have vocalism.
This doesn’t mean we can’t develop lifelike performances, it means we have to build REAL musicality and REAL vocalism, which will eventually become your clean canvas for creating a character…no one said it was easy.
As for the music, obey and honor the composer. Be a musician of integrity and be faithful to the score and to tradition. Unless you have proven yourself a worthy challenger, always yield to the conductor.
As for the voice, build the instrument relentlessly as athletes study, build, and nourish their bodies. Trust that all your technique is there when it’s performance time. When the curtain goes up, it’s too late to think about technique. If your technique isn’t ready to trust, your performance will seem especially contrived and uncomfortable for the audience.
Next up…Know Who Your Character is When No One is Listening
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
In attempting to make singing actors out of classical singers, I’ve observed frustrated teachers and students trying to marry the sound of the voice with the sense of the scene.
Almost every “Acting for Opera” workshop I’ve attended includes reciting the text followed by reciting a character’s “facts” and concluding with a Frankenstein performance mashing all those things together.
It goes like this:
Teacher has Student recite the text of the aria.
If Teacher wants to really torture Student, she will have Student recite the translated text word-for-word in English.
Teacher, with a lengthy oration on how to flesh out a character, asks Student to rattle off the “who, what, when, where, why” of the character’s circumstance during the character’s aria.
Singer gives the facts.
Student proceeds to perform the aria again, this time singing the happy bits with a smile and the intention “to inspire joy” and the sad bits with a faraway look and the intent “to recall a happier time.”
Teacher looks at the rest of the class with pride and leads the ovation.
Ta-Da!! In a brief 25-minutes the aria has magically transformed from the standard park-and-bark to a performance complete with gestures, facial expressions, and dynamics.
And I’m sitting in my seat unmoved, thinking “I still don’t believe you! I don’t believe that this is what it feels like to be on top of the world, in a fight with your lover, betrayed by your best friend, dying of consumption…” Here’s the truth. You don’t have to shove those details in my face, Singer. You only need to give me permission to have two things: the clean canvas of your own honesty and an infinite palate of pure colors provided by an honest performance of the music and the text with which to paint my own human experience in this very REAL moment.
“I still don’t believe you! I don’t believe that this is what it feels like to be on top of the world, in a fight with your lover, betrayed by your best friend, dying of consumption…”
Just as the acting teacher struggles to pull something deeper out of an opera singer’s performance, there is a struggle among opera coaches as to which acting style is the most appropriate to facilitate the athletic demands of the singer’s instrument. A popular argument at this time is that opera singers can never take advantage of a true Method acting technique, as total immersion into a character will most definitely interfere with the ability to produce the correct operatic sound. Sadly, many of those who uphold this conviction don’t really know what they mean by “Method”.