You’ve assembled the perfect group of songs to sing. You’ve worked hard with your voice teacher to perfect every last note. You’ve booked the audition and you’re ready to go. But when you walk into the room and begin to sing, you realize you have no idea what to do with your hands. Your mind starts racing, “Should I move? Where should I be looking? Should I pretend I’m singing to another person, or just look at the judges?” Once you leave the audition, you can’t remember what you did, how you sounded, or what the adjudicators said to you on your way out.
Or perhaps you feel your music deeply, but keep getting feedback from others that you lack expression. Maybe you’re shy, or inexperienced, or are overcome by performance anxiety. Maybe you want to create a more nuanced character, but don’t know where to start or if you’re on the right track.
If you connect with any of these experiences, you’re not alone. Performing in front of others is tremendously difficult! Music students are taught to focus their attentions almost exclusively on vocal technique – the nuts and bolts of how you are singing. And we are taught that the quality of your technique is what renders you worthy or unworthy as a performer. But once we walk into an audition, we must start focusing on what we are expressing. That is a major mental shift that can prove difficult if not practiced, and singers are often not provided with guidance on how to do this.
The truth is, people want to be moved. Of course, it’s important to know what you’re doing technically, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle. That technical know-how must be paired with authentic, genuine expression to create a complete picture that will draw your audience in. This is where a good coach can make all the difference.
Vocal coaches can address issues of technique, but they are primarily focused on helping you hone and refine your overall presentation. Here are a few examples of things a vocal coach can address:
- Deportment: how you enter the room, how you interact with your pianist, how you introduce yourself, how you transition between pieces.
- Musical tradition and style: Handel shouldn’t sound the same as Puccini. A vocal coach can help you understand the differences between musical traditions, and how to incorporate elements that adjudicators will likely be listening for.
- Language: Whether you’re singing in a foreign language or your own native tongue, your audience needs to understand every word clearly. A vocal coach helps ensure that your texts are clear, accurate and understandable.
- Stage work: Where should you be looking? Should you move or stand still? What should you do if you’re singing to another person in your song?
- The “third line”: in other words, what inspiration can be drawn from the text and music to create a 3-dimensional, authentic character to present in performance?
- Performance anxiety: many vocal coaches have experience working with performers who suffer from performance anxiety, and can give you techniques to help keep you focused and calm in the audition room.
It’s important to note that just as it takes time to master your technique, it takes time to incorporate a coach’s feedback into your performance. Do not wait until the week of your performance to seek out a coach. To be your most prepared and comfortable, work with a coach at least two weeks prior to your performance.
Working with a vocal coach, in conjunction with your voice teacher, can help you understand your music more deeply, more richly, more completely, which will only serve to further engage your audience. And moving others is what performance is all about! So now that you know…get thee to a coach!