Susan has spent just over two months auditioning in Germany. Though her German language skills are pretty stellar and she can find her way in a foreign city like a pro, she still sometimes has those difficult moments. Every singer is bound to experience a bad audition at least once in their life. If we are being really honest, they are bound to experience several. However, those who succeed are the ones who keep auditioning even after they have those bad days. Read on to see how Susan handles a bad audition experience like the successful singer she is.
“I really don't want to, but I'm going to try to tell this story exactly as it happened. I would love so much to lie at this juncture, to soften the edges of this or skip over bits. I promised you honesty, though, so here we go.
I had a conversation with my friend Steve on Monday evening about auditioning. "Auditions are all about confidence. If you don't think you can do the job, you're not going to be able to convince anybody else you can do the job either." I agreed. He made Glühwein and spaghetti and we talked about the ChristkindlMarkts and listened to YouTube clips of our favorite singers. There was a lot of Richard Strauss. I drank tea and went home early because I had an audition for an agency the next day.
I woke up, warmed up, drank my coffee, got ready - all totally normal. The auditions were being held in the back room of a church. Things began to go slightly sideways when I was checking in with the proctor. How tall are you in meters? How much do you weigh in kilograms? I had no earthly idea. Believe it or not, it's never come up before. After a little awkward back and forth, it turned out she had a helpful conversion chart with which I did my best.
I changed my shoes and waited around for a while - again, totally normal. Eventually it was my turn. As we've discussed before (probably ad nauseum) people here like to ask for Mozart a lot. So, I decided to start with my Mozart. It didn't go well. I felt stiff and I biffed the F pretty badly.
When I finished, the agent started speaking to me and the pianist discreetly left the room. "First of all, your voice is very small. I would be worried about it cutting through an orchestra, so there's that. You gave me nothing of this character. Have you seen a video of Damrau doing this? I know that what she does feels very far away from what you're doing, but see how she builds a character. This is a dramatic coloratura role. There is nothing at all dramatic about this voice. Also you made an intonation mistake - I think you know where? It's just not ready - you sound like you are maybe still in school? Maybe you could be in a chorus, but not as a soloist. I can't imagine anyone hiring you as a soloist." I wish I could tell you I am exaggerating. I am not. I managed to nod and say, "Okay, thank you," before slinking out of the room.
I grabbed my coat, changed back into my boots, and walked out of there. I made it out the door, but I hadn't even reached the sidewalk before I started crying. I cried the entire walk to the train. I cried waiting for the train to come. I silently cried on the train itself, so as not to attract attention. I've lived in cities a long time, so I am very good at silently crying on trains. If you don't make any noises, nobody will bother you.
I got home and kept crying. I texted my best friend at home and told her I wanted to quit. Not just being a singer, but being a person. I felt so ashamed and worthless and alone. "I keep waiting for these people to run out of ways to tell me I suck, but they never, ever do," I said. "Seriously thinking I should maybe just never open my mouth again as long as I live. I am garbage, and everyone sees straight through me to my core of garbage-ness." She said all the things people who love and care about you say in this situation. "That's just one man's opinion," and "You know rejection and difficult feedback come with the job," and "Think of how many people in your life have the exact opposite opinion of you." She handles me well when I'm in the pit of despair. I knew that, it's why I reached out to her, but I wasn't really able to hear her. I kept crying until I was so exhausted I fell asleep.
I woke up a few hours later, remembered what happened, and started crying again. I texted my friend to apologize for unloading on her. I barely slept that night. I watched the entirety of Season 2 of Glitch on the Netflix. It was okay. At some point, I packed and set my alarm because I had to take a bus to Karlsruhe in the morning. I slept maybe four hours, woke up, made my coffee, and started crying again. It seemed like a gargantuan waste of time to put make-up on if I was only going to cry it all off, so I just left my apartment without it, looking every bit as haggard and exhausted as you're imagining.
The bus to Karlsruhe is nine hours long. I did a lot of staring out the window looking at nothing in particular - more silent crying, of course. At one point, the driver made an announcement. I caught that we'd be stopping for 30 minutes, but I wasn't really listening. I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't realize I was the only person left on the bus when the driver walked up to me. "Verstehen Sie mich?" "...Ja." He went on to politely explain (again!) that everybody has to get off the bus because this is his lunch break, he has to lock the bus up for 30 minutes. I apologized and sheepishly got off the bus. There was a coffee shop at this truck stop. I could've gotten something to eat, but I didn't.
Back on the road, for the first time in a long time I started thinking about the Spartans. When I was in school, we learned about them. They were a very militaristic people, they knew that their boys would be spending a lot of time on military engagements, far from home or reliable food sources. So, they encouraged their boys to start stealing from a young age. If they got away with it, they were praised. If they got caught, they were beaten. There's a rather famous story about one boy, who'd stolen a fox. He hid it underneath his tunic and went off to school. The fox, trying to escape, gnawed at the boy's chest with its teeth and claws. The boy remained still, calmly allowing his teacher to question him lest he be caught stealing. Nobody was any the wiser until the boy fell down dead. The fox had torn him to pieces. That's what I felt like - silently torn to pieces, dead.
We got to Karlsruhe around 6:30 pm. The hotel was about a 25 minute walk away, which I thought would do me good after all that sitting on the bus. I walked past the zoo and saw lots of picturesque little shops. I got to the hotel and checked in. It was early enough that I could've gone somewhere to go get dinner, but I didn't.
In the morning, having not eaten anything for over 24 hours, I was obviously ravenous. The hotel had a continental breakfast, thank God, so I didn't have to go far before stuffing my face. Muesli, eggs, sausage and bacon, toast and Nutella. I felt a little better after that.
The audition that day was also in a church, a train and a bus ride away from my hotel. So, after I checked out, I headed for the train. The ticket stuff turned out to be pretty confusing. They've got a similar system to here in Berlin, where if you're going from Zone A to Zone B, it's a certain amount of money, but from Zone A to Zone C, it's more. Most of Berlin is in Zones A and B, but I've never been to Karlsruhe before. I have no idea what zone I'm in and I have no idea what zone this random church is in. I got a "2 wagen" card. Does that mean it's good for one transfer or is it good for getting to my destination and then back again? I'm still not sure. It was 2.40 euros and nobody stopped me to ask about it. I did buy another one on the way back, but only because I was nervous and wanted to be on the safe side.
This agency had said by email not to arrive before 11:45 for this 12:30 audition. We all arrived right around 11:45 since we've all learned that the earlier you arrive, the earlier you get to sing. The assistant was explaining to us that we should fill out this form, put down as our first choice of aria the thing we'll sing first and then bring it back to him. "Verstehen Sie?" "Ja!" I said, because I did. The two girls on either side of me were both like, "Um... No, can you say it in English?" He proceeded to say, in German, "It's very important that you understand German, if you want to work in Germany," which of course they did not understand. I sort of jumped in and translated the part about the form for them - we were getting acquainted and it turned out one of them was Russian and the other was French. They just both spoke English better than they spoke German. "And you must be German," one of them said to me. "Hah! No, I'm American," I said, ridiculously pleased by her mistake.
After that the assistant was very kind to me, meaning I got to go warm up first. While I was warming up, I thought of my teacher at home. I was wearing this little jacket she'd given me that I love and I sort of felt her with me. Inexplicably, I felt strong and calm and capable. I knew I wouldn't be up to starting with Mozart, so I started with Adele. It's also in German, so they can have no objections there. He asked for Oscar, which also went well. He shook my hand and said he'd be sending feedback by email.
I can always tell how well or how badly an audition went based on my mood right after. I knew I had to get the same bus going in the opposite direction to back into the city, but I wasn't totally sure where that was so I just started walking. This is the part of the country where the Black Forest is, so there were trees everywhere. It was kind of gently raining. There was nobody around and pretty soon I was singing my Verdi to myself as I walked down this hill.
Eventually I made it back to the central train station. My dad called and we had a nice chat; I managed to crack jokes about that first audition. I decided to spring for the train back, rather than take the bus overnight as I'd originally planned. I also bought myself a bretzel. When I was in middle school, Herr Dressler, my German teacher, used to sometimes make us bretzels as a treat. They tasted just exactly the same."
The life of a performer is like a roller coaster. Sometimes, you have mountain top days. Other times, you feel like you’ve sunk to the bottom of the ocean. Chin up, Susan! You’re doing something that not many dare to do because it is so difficult. Just take it one day at a time and remember to breathe. Like your friend said, it’s one person’s opinion. You know yourself best.
If you’re reading Susan’s story, let us know in the comments if you’ve had any crazy audition experiences. We know that Susan is not alone in her experience! Continue to follow Susan’s German audition tour every week on the GVAI blog.
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Hello, I am Christine, the director of GVAI, a passionate singer, German diction, voice and performance coach. I love music, singing and dancing. Life is an exciting journey and I invite you to walk with me....
GVAI's Summer Opera Program 2018 will be the Magic Flute again. Details will be announced in the near future. Enjoy pictures of the last program here.