Lost in Translation


Man – it’s gotta be rough being a baby trying to communicate.  If only the stupid adults would take a baby language course – in their minds I’m sure they’re quite clear and we’re the ones who just don’t get it. Recently Baby has been making lots of intense noises and gestures when she wants something, and when I obviously misinterpret what she is asking for the noise just intensifies as I try to keep guessing, which is actually pretty hilarious after the fact.  Motherhood and sleep deprivation have affected my communication as well; apparently I’ve taken to repeating the same statement a few times just louder and slower instead of using my words.  

Communication is important generally but especially in singing – arguably the most crucial element of the practice.  I was speaking with a former pupil recently who was up for a large scholarship and was asking advice regarding repertoire choices.  The panel wanted something classical and she is very into pop music and wanted to sing something she felt she enjoyed more.  I explained that part of what they were going to be listening for is her ability to sing the repertoire they would essentially be paying her to sing.  Repertoire choice is an important aspect of our communication as singers.  Before physical or musical presentation have a chance to, repertoire choice communicates something to our audience.  When considering audition material, what we choose to offer is significant in communicating possibly the most important aspect of communication which is the ability to listen.  When you are able to choose appropriately then repertoire communicates that you have heard the panel’s request and are able to understand and meet the need of their request.  

For example, if at a restaurant you ordered a salad and they brought you a burger then you would likely wonder why and ask for the salad again.  I would say that the restaurant hadn’t listened to your order.   If there was another restaurant that gave you a salad consistently every time you ordered a salad then you would likely go the second restaurant rather than bother with the with the burger-or-whatever-then-salad-place.  Maybe you would choose differently than most if you had time for two meals to be prepared and brought,  or maybe you would put up with the inconsistency if the salad was exceptional (which in some cases it is).  But you might  have health or dietary restrictions that mean that you can’t eat a burger, which makes going to the pushy burger place a double nuisance.  My point is that if you offer ‘what is best for me’ or what you have a personal preference to sing then the auditioners are like the customer in the restaurant; your choice to offer something different to what they’ve asked to hear will leave them confused and frustrated.  Even if you sound as amazing as you (or your teacher) think you sound singing your favourite song, you’ve up front communicated ‘what I think is more important than what you are asking for’.  And unless you’re the Callas of this generation then you won’t likely be successful.

We are approaching the season where most singers wind down and take a break, which is hugely important to productivity and growth of course.   But breaks can be taken strategically.  Look ahead to see what rep will be required from any auditions or applications you have coming up in the fall season and start work on those now.  Especially if they’re not a first choice ie your favourite.  You may not be as motivated to practice, as well as needing a bit more time in a smart world to learn new rep.   Starting early will take a huge amount of stress out of an already stressful process, and with the extra time you’ll be more likely to find something you enjoy singing that fits in with requested repertoire.  There is enough music out there to find something that fits you and the audition.  And if there isn’t then maybe you need to rethink that audition.  

Happy communicating!


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