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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Student Preparation: OPERA America concerns

Here's some food for thought, aspiring singers. At the recent Opera America meeting, professionals in the business discussed not only what they are looking for in young singers, but also concerns they have about singers getting started in today's world. Following are some of the points raised. Post here and let me know your thoughts. The morning session began with posing a question to Forum members who work with singer training programs: What are the blueprints or foundations on which your training program is built? A rep from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music said that learning to sing is the most important part of his program. A rep from Oberlin Conservatory of Music agreed and added that developing a level of musicianship is another essential part of his program. A professor from Yale Opera added that creating professional singers is a main goal of his program. One teacher from the University of Minnesota – Duluth noted that students are lacking independence and a sense of self empowerment because they have been hand-held. In response to this statement, a rep of Des Moines Metro Opera posed the question: How do university programs address K-12 deficiencies? One professor from the University of Maryland said that students are given remedial tests when they enter her program but the results of these tests are sometimes just reflections of how much the students can cram. Rice University’s admission requirements ensure that undergraduate students will be at a high academic level and it is with the masters students that they encounter problems. University of Minnesota – Duluth is cutting academic credit limits which leads to deficiencies in graduates. Eastman School of Music noted that such cuts may lead to the return of ½ and ¼ credit courses at her school. The conversation moved to a discussion of the skills and attributes artists must possess in order to be considered for training programs. A rep from the Banff Center said he looks for singers with a baseline of technique and a unique sound, noting that teaching singers to act is different than teaching actors. A rep of the Houston Grand Opera Studio said she looks for the best voices. Another rep of Houston Grand Opera added that the ability to take on new information is important and that a singer’s training has to be quickly accessible. One panelist from Boston University expressed concern that singers are being over-trained and therefore lacking a spark of individuality. She worried that singers are over-listening and over-perfecting. A panelist responded that self-knowledge and training should work together. Some questions posed: Does collegiality factor into the audition process? One panelist responded yes, in the sense that she looks for a willingness to learn and self-awareness on the part of the singer. Another added that he looks for a quality voice and a singer who has something to say artistically. There is a new gap in the process of singer training and career development: between completing a young artist program but before achieving a performing career. Some felt that as students move up the pyramid, they do not know how to get to the next step. The conversation then moved to a discussion of how to teach singers about the business of singing. Highly emphasized was the importance of goal setting in regard to teaching students to become professionals. Concern was expressed that students waste time worrying about things they cannot control, referencing a mindset of “I’m going to get a career.” Some said students often focus on their external presentation as opposed to studying languages or becoming interesting people. (This struck me as particularly important, folks!) In response to the topic of teaching singers to be professionals, the importance of showing up on time and the ability to make quick changes and flexibility when working with directors and conductors was emphasized. One artist manager added that as an artist manager she expects singers to have a sense of their craft so that they can distinguish themselves, but she is not seeing this as often as she would like to. It was added that singers should have a hunger for artistry that involves going to rehearsals, chamber concerts, etc. Here's a question: Is there work for all these singers we are trying to help? Now, that's a sobering question. Thoughts?

Final performance class

We will all meet together in HRH today. If Mr. Byrd or Dr. Mosteller is playing for you in lieu of Dr. Steele, be sure they have your music!...