Susan is hitting the ground running with her auditions! In week three of her audition tour, she has already made connections with and taken lessons with two German coaches. It’s not all frolics and roses. To be a professional singer takes true grit. Sometimes, all you need is a good conversation with your dad and some good German chocolate to remind yourself to get back on the horse. Read on to see what she has learned about the audition process and herself through these lessons.
WEEK THREE – in which I work with some coaches, get discouraged, talk to my dad, and feel better
"When one finds oneself on a new continent, it can be a good idea to work with some coaches. Maybe tastes differ here. I may be here again at some point in the future; let’s meet some people, do some networking, lay some groundwork. Plus, a coaching can be like auditioning through the back door. You get an hour with this person, so they get a better sense of what you’re like to work with and what you’re capable of. They get to see if you have grit, if you laugh easily, if you can take direction quickly – none of which you can really display in a ten minute audition.
It’s almost never a bad idea to get some new input – particularly from people who are in a position to know what they are talking about. I love my coach at home, but I’ve worked with him now for years. We have a certain rapport, which I love, but I do worry that after years of him laughing at my dumb jokes, he’s maybe begun to lose some objectivity when it comes to me. Charm – it’s a blessing and a curse.
Coach #1 was sitting in one of the auditions. He’s not an agent, but a conductor who’s just somewhat recently moved to Berlin. He emailed me after the audition to say he’d enjoyed my audition and if I needed a coach, he’d love to work with me. We got to chatting and, unsurprisingly, had some mutual friends. We went out for beer and pizza with those mutual friends. Those mutual friends vouched for him, so I went ahead and set it up.
I wasn’t sure this would ever come up here, but one of my favorite things about being here is the public transit system. Everything looks a little old, but functions like it’s brand new. The trains come very often and some of the bigger stations have free wifi. The station by my apartment has a little kiosk where they sell pretzels. It is amazing. Plus, I enjoy the people watching and overcoming the tiny challenge of five stops on the U7, seven stops on the U2, turn left, walk three blocks, turn right, etc. It unfailingly makes me feel very capable.
Anyway, I made it to my coaching in Kreuzberg and we got to work. He complimented my German in my German aria. “Your accent is really lovely. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were a native speaker.” That is 100% due to the work I did on that piece with Christine over the summer. She IS a native speaker and I took a lot of notes. (Thanks, Christine!)
I thought it made the most sense to work on the parts of my package he hadn’t already heard in the audition, so next we did my English aria. This is how I learned that no person will ever EVER ask for my English aria while I am here. The opera community of Berlin is very conservative, more conservative even than other areas of Germany, apparently. This means yes to Mozart (always yes to Mozart, who says no to Mozart?), no to Menotti. People in America can also be pretty snobby about Menotti, but I love singing Monica’s Waltz enough that I decided I didn’t care. Poetry has historically been really important to me, even before I was a singer. Analysis of text can be my way into a sonic/theatrical world. This particular text, in addition to being thoughtfully and effectively set musically, is dark and strange and wonderful. “I love your deep and nocturnal eyes. I love your soft hands, so white and winged. I love the slender branch of your throat.” If what we’re here to do is tell stories, this is one of the stories I want to tell. I know it’s often handed to baby sopranos in college, but I feel strongly about it.
He suggested the Silver Aria or Be Kind and Courteous. I don’t know. I think there is no package that exists that will please everyone you audition for, and I’d rather fail singing things I really love than succeed singing things that bore me to tears. I know these people have to sit through my audition, but not nearly as often as I do. He conceded that I made a good argument for it, vocally.
Earlier in the week, I ran into an old friend from graduate school. Let’s call him Jack (not his real name). The last time I saw him we were all drinking wine out of boxes, practically still children. He works at one of the larger opera houses in Berlin now. He brought me to a cast party, which was super fun. I always imagined these people to be intimidating and intense, but at least while they’re in party mode, they’re much more, “Hey, eat this cheese and mushroom thing; it’s delicious. Have you tried the chili yet?” So that’s nice to know. Everybody was super warm and welcoming to me and I got to practice my German a little, though it’s an international house so a lot of people spoke English. While I was there, I briefly met one of the Repetitors at this opera house and he gave me his card. It pays to have friends, kids. I didn’t see this happening or anything, but I’m sure Jack vouched for me.
So, a few days later I went to coach with this very important and well-placed person. Let me tell you, he really had my number. It took him about 30 seconds to zero in on most of my weaknesses as a singer. The people I have worked with at home, I have worked with for years, so they can hear the progress I have made, but for this guy, he has no context. Today is the only baseline he gets. He can’t hear that my middle voice is warmer than it was, he can only hear that it’s still not all that warm. So, it was a little disheartening to hear things like, “Your instrument is quite bright. Your facility up top is impressive, but I wish you would be more elegant in your approach of these high notes.” Those are all things that might’ve been said to me when I was 18. Those are all things I’ve been working on forever. My voice has always had a lot of squillo. I’ve always overemphasized the high notes, and after years of study, there is absolutely no reason I shouldn’t be able to do them however I like. We went through most of my audition package – except the English, which he agreed, nobody will ask for. In addition to giving me very accurate, ruthless feedback, he was also really nice and polite to me. So I know he was not just being a jerk. It was agonizing, but he gave me a receipt and invited me to come back and work with him again.
I came home and got a call from my dad. He’s got excellent intuition for when I need to hear his voice. I’d just gotten done having a good cry about the whole thing. My dad was a musician in his youth, so he gets it. I was in a very, “Have I learned nothing? Have I made no progress at all? Am I ever going to figure this out? I’ve spent the whole of my adult life trying to do one thing very well and I don’t even do it that well!” sort of headspace, which I’m sure is very tiresome for my friends and loved ones. Dad was more optimistic. He thinks it’s very good that the guy invited me back to work again. Dad says, “These people do not have a lot of time. If he thought you were hopeless, he would’ve said, okay thanks, enjoy your trip. He didn’t say that. Go back and work with him again. They need to know that you’ve got grit- that they can yell at you a little and you can keep on coming.”
I felt a lot better after I spoke to him. Chocolate also helps – everything they say about German chocolate is true. I’m going to take this evening to mope, and then tomorrow it’s back to the grindstone. My dad knows me well; I do have more grit than this. Nobody promised me it would be easy and learning is never a comfortable process. I’ve got my work cut out for me."
Who doesn’t like Menotti? Okay, okay… I guess he’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Anyway, we think that no matter how many or how few opera jobs come from this audition experience, it is well worth it. Susan, you have true grit. Not many singers have the courage to go abroad for three months just to audition! As Susan’s discovered, networking is key to this business. It’s not always what you know; sometimes, it’s who you know. Please, share our blog and sign up for our GVAI newsletter to get the blog delivered straight to your email inbox.
Also, Christine will leave for a trip to Germany soon and will be only in urgent cases available for online German diction-voice lessons. If you want to get help for your upcoming auditions, please contact her here asap.
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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.