Category Archives: Questions

Audition Strategies for the Non-Singing Job Seeker

A FB friend posted a link to this article on The author is an HR professional, and sang opera on the side. She compares the two types of job search – the audition and the traditional interview – and recommends trying the singer strategy of preparing for the audition/interview, and then letting it go once you’re done. She quotes her teacher :


“You have no idea what they want.

They may have a conception of the role already. If they want Corn Flakes and you’re Raisin Bran, you’re not going to get the role, but that’s okay. Your job is not to try to figure out what they want. Go sing the best version of you that there is at this minute, and forget about everyone else.”


It’s a difficult lesson for singers to learn, but arguably even more difficult for the average job-seeker, who isn’t used to trying to cram three interviews into each day for a week while couch-surfing in NYC.


And it made me think: if we are better at framing this process in a positive way, what other ways might the singer/musician/artist mindset be beneficial to those seeking employment or hiring managers? More on that thread to come.

I am off to Glimmerglass today, for a few days of auditions and opera performances. It’s embarrassing that I’ve not yet been, but I’m very much looking forward to remedying that by day’s end!


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“Failure is the best thing for some people.”

The Telegraph UK has an interesting article written by Hanna Furness; a short interview with Tim Rice (That’s Sir Tim Rice to you!), the librettist who might be most well-known (at least to folks of a certain age, ahem) as the librettist for Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, and The Lion King.

He had planned to be a lawyer.

He was good at tests, and he figured he’d ace his exams.

He didn’t.

In fact, every time he re-took them, his scores went down.

“When I went to do law, I kind of drifted through that and thought I can pass these exams. And I didn’t – I failed three times and each time I did worse and failed by a bigger margin.

“And that taught me so much. I always worry today when I see everybody has to pass – there’s very little failure these days. I think failure is the best thing for some people.

“It tells you whether you’re in the right job or the wrong one. It’s a cliche, but most people are good at something and most people are good at what they’re enthusiastic about.”

Failing stinks. It makes us feel icky – it challenges our perception of ourselves and our relationship with the world.

But oftentimes it either makes us look around for other options, or challenges us to dig in more deeply.

(So maybe it’s a win, even if it doesn’t really feel like it?)

Rock on, Sir Tim.

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Reading List: Artistry, Discipline, and Measuring Success

I’ve found two articles that I think are worth reading – and they’re related, although not by intention.

The first is this, which talks about redefining musical success in areas other than winning competitions or selling hundreds of albums.

The other is this, written by this week’s Profile Phriday interviewee. We talked a bit about his devotion to a specific martial art (I learned about him initially through a mutual friend who is a fight choreographer), and though it didn’t make it into the final interview, it is a big part of who he is. With me, and in the attached article, he talks about the amount of time it takes to master an activity and makes a compelling argument for finding the art, the beauty, the discipline in all one does.

I’m considering this pairing my dose of inspiration for a long weekend.

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Opportunity: Leadership Intensive

OpAmOpera America is again offering a fantastic professional development course for Opera professionals. The application deadline for their Leadership Intensive is January 31st. As a member of the inaugural class, I can tell you that the experience changed my perspective on the business and my role within it profoundly, and that’s in large part due to the people I met and worked with there. Their advice, expertise, and support have been really invaluable – and the fact that they’re great fun makes our continuing connection something I look forward to greatly.

It’s a wonderful experience – I recommend it wholeheartedly!

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Auditioning for a New Administrator.

Auditioning for a New Administrator.

My colleague Kim and I are so excited to announce that we’re hiring!

We’re looking for a Manager, Artistic Operations: the job will have a mix of duties, some supervisory, some nuts-and-bolts. We’re a small department, so we’re looking for a trustworthy personality who works well with us and can learn the ropes quickly. I have to say (and I’m obviously biased, since summer 2014 will be my 9th summer with the company) that it’s a great place to work. Interesting projects, good people…you won’t get rich, let’s be honest, but if your experience is anything like mine, you will absolutely have a good time.

The job posting is on Opera America’s job board and a few other internet hotspots, and I respectfully ask you to forward the bejeezus out of it! I’m happy to answer questions via this email, or in the comments.

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Too big for one’s (vocal) britches.

We’re in Chicago on our annual audition tour (Day #7, City #3), hearing folks a few blocks away from Millennium Park. At this point we’ve heard somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 singers on the tour thus far. In between singers I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking. Thinking about my own career path, about higher education and its role in a performer’s career, about the arts as a job market. My head is pretty muddled, and I have many more questions than answers.

Many young people (And I’m talking more about the Studio program in specific, although these tendencies do hold their own against the Filene Young Artist candidates to some degree) on this tour have brought repertoire that is, bluntly, not quite right for them. They’re doing their best, they are prepared, but in many cases they’re fighting a fight that they just cannot win. Now, I don’t mean that these pieces aren’t right for them to study – I actually believe that studying rep that’s outside of your fach – heck, even stuff that you’ll never, ever, EVER sing is ok. Learning about music (nay, about anything) in a visceral way is always beneficial. When I would start to lose interest in my piano studies, for example, my high-school piano teacher (the sainted Jeanne Baker from Slippery Rock University) would dangle a piece that was technically way over my head in front of me: it would challenge me in a way that was more exciting than repertoire that was more within reach. But she never let me play that stuff on my recitals – two different contexts, two different types of pieces.

I’m talking about young singers auditioning with repertoire that’s too heavy, that feels constantly one step out of reach, that has a thick orchestration that would swallow their voices 75% of the time and only allow the highest or loudest notes to be heard.

Now, I will attribute a certain amount of this repertoire madness to these singers being young and headstrong – I can guess that as a 20-something I was likely difficult to reason with. (Mom, you don’t need to weigh in on that…) And sometime I’m sure they just say “What the hell! I’m going to put it on my list!” But I must attribute some of it to bad/misguided advice.

Here’s the thing: schools traffic in potential. Faculty in voice programs need to have a bit of ESP to determine which young voices are going to blossom into significant talents. However, even as someone who works at a training program, I still am charged to see these folks as professionals, as potential employees – regardless of their “emerging” status. I can’t put aside the practicalities of their performance to see their potential. The two things have to be in line. So when the aria is technically a step out of reach or two fachs too big, the professional picture that is painted is murky; it leaves me with more questions asked than answered.

Before you think me unsympathetic, I know university professors have their work cut out for them; instilling a healthy, consistent technique in young singers in a short handful of years, preparing them to enter a shrinking job market, pushing the necessity of good health, of continued study, of artistic and vocal development. Distractions are many, hours are long, pay is low and most of them do it for love of the art more than any other reason.

But I might also see university music departments that seem to be balancing their budgets on the backs of their vocal majors, pretending to prepare them for careers in this economy when their faculty  – gifted teachers, without question – have more traction with the glory days of opera or their own fledgling careers than the current, problematic national landscape. Students are taught that they can either perform, or teach, with their skill set, and not much else in between.

Two. Choices.

I also understand not being able to be all things to all students, to having to narrow curricular focus in order to delve into a topic deeply. But to do so, at the exclusion of coursework/knowledge that will enable students to work, to professionally present their very best selves, is shortsighted at best, deeply wrong at worst.

I have pals and readers here who teach, so I’d like to open up the dialogue. Am I wrong? Is there anything to be done?

More questions:

  1. Students, are you having conversations with your professors about what constitutes study material and what material best represents them in the wider world, and where the two diverge?
  2. Faculty members, are you aware of where your students fit in the national opera scene? Are you letting them know that, while they may sing Brangäne in a school production (poor example, but you get it, right?), that doesn’t mean that they’re hirable as Brangäne at a professional company?
  3. How do we, as an invested community, prepare artists for the realities of today’s economy while also developing informed consumers of the art form?

Big questions. No easy answers.

You know, when I was in undergrad we had a cut system – at the end of every year, certain students would be “invited” to change majors to Humanities or something else. I remember thinking it was horrifically cruel, but in retrospect I think it may have been valuable: to have one’s path be questioned, to take in the weight of that invitation and decide to either explore another field or to dig in, knowing that more was demanded.

Am I way off base? Do you have thoughts as to how we can address this in a larger way? What programs are doing a good job of preparing young singers for the profession? Who is giving good advice? Comments or email – I’m all ears.

Live from Vancouver

I’m writing from the lovely city of Vancouver, BC – and really, beautiful does not begin to describe the city, the weather, the geography, or the people. I’m here for the Opera America conference, and have been making some good connections and learning a lot – I am a big fan of professional development and enrichment, and while this introvert is looking forward to some quiet time, I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to attend and learn.

This article came up on my newsfeed today. I love the fact that the NYTimes is tracking the career paths of performers who have had alternate careers. As a voice student, I was in awe of all things Juilliard. It’s nice to know that the self-examination, struggle and discernment that I went through wasn’t unique to my circumstance.

Look back on your last 10 years. Where are you now? Where did you think you’d be? Are you content where you are?

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Grey matters.

In light of the article that referenced business school advocating extroverts, I’d like to direct you to this article from the New York Times. It talks about confidence, and that fact that the human experience is so very… well, varied, that there are no clear parallels.

(I give the author huge props for not imposing his own perspective on the study’s results, and simply acknowledging that there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. Hurrah to complexity, to gray areas, to waiting until a conclusion can be drawn before drawing a conclusion. What a breath of fresh air!)

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Detail orientated. (Or something like that…)

I’m spending this Monday on the couch, keeping my less-than-healthy germs away from my co-workers and reading pages and pages of internship applications. Each application has several parts: a cover letter, a résumé, two writing samples and two letters of recommendation.

I’m an educator at heart, and I believe strongly that I have a duty to each applicant. I need to read each scrap of paper thoroughly; I must make articulate, thorough notes on each application so that, should I look back on who we’ve decided to interview, it’s clear who rises to the top. Because I not only need to find the student who best fits each summer position, I need to make sure that I know enough about them to help them grow throughout their experience.

But this process brings out my inner cynic. And mostly? It’s due to carelessness.

The writing samples are usually pristine, although there are many thesis statements that seem to be very lightly linked to the actual content of the essays. The recommendations are also usually pristine – being that they’re from professionals, teachers, professors. (That being said, I’ve already received more than one recommendation on behalf of a student that references an internship at another arts organization.)

The areas with which I struggle, on a yearly basis:

  • The cover letter. Typos and mechanical issues are de rigeur, and I say that knowing that I likely catch only half to two-thirds of them. Really, it’s worth it to have someone – and we all have pals who are great at this – look over your materials before you send them in, and comment on spelling/grammar/structure. (I am not a grammar goddess, but I do notice when prepositions are used incorrectly, when you misspell a word in one sentence and then tell me how “detail oriented” you are in the next… it doesn’t inspire confidence.) Also, there are an awful lot of folks telling me why the internship would be great for them, but not very many take the time to tell me why they’d be great for us. It’s a subtle distinction, and one likely born out of youth and inexperience, but I’m always impressed when an applicant shows some knowledge of our operation and draws parallels that make it easy for me to say “sure – let’s schedule her for an interview and learn a little more.”
  • The résumé. I’m not looking for a college junior to have a full page of professional credentials – don’t pad, and don’t use marketing-speak unless you’re applying for a marketing position. (Although if you do had a full page of credentials? Please spin them slightly towards skills/traits that you think I might have interest in, or have asked for in the posting. For example, babysitting/nannying demonstrates responsibility, flexibility.) But please, list your experience in reverse-chronological order. Check the spelling (especially my operatic pals, as spell-check might change Aïda to Aide). Check for consistency – dates are formatted the same way throughout, headings are denoted the same way, etc. Pretend that you’re laying this all out for someone who is – in my case – really really blonde, and make it easy for me to find the important information.
  • The format. I work on both Mac and PC platforms. If I open up your application with an older/newer version of Word, or heavens forbid  from home on my Mac (that does not, at this time, have any Microsoft products on it) using Pages, all of that lovely formatting you’ve done is going to go out the window, and I’ll be wondering if it’s the program or the document that is the problem. Go ahead and .pdf those important documents so that they look the same to everyone involved.

I could go on, as could many, many others. But the reason why I say these things isn’t to lambaste an applicant for not spellchecking or being detailed or for submitting an application at the last minute. I say these things because I want each applicant – I want you – to have a shot at spending a crazy summer with us. But every time I notice one of these tiny things, your shot gets smaller and smaller.

Please, make it easy for me to send that email, schedule that interview, get to know you a little more. Because my end goal is to help get the very best folks into this field, to surround this art form for which I care deeply. Your cover letters have told me how much the arts mean to you: we’re on the same team. Let’s help each other out, shall we?

Snow Days and Creativity



My office is closed today, and I’m exceedingly grateful to have time to putter, write and read. Greg Sandow has a wonderful, thought-provoking article up at ArtsJournal today about music schools and the dearth of creativity found therein.

But how do we do this? How do we foster creativity — celebrate the students who already are creative, and encourage the others to be — without turning the school upside down?

When we hear auditions every fall, we hear hordes of singers who are doing everything right – intonation, articulation, dynamic variation, strong language skills, good dramatic arcs to their arias. And shamefully, afterwards I often struggle to remember their performances. Sure, some of my mental fog is due to the sheer volume of folks that we hear in a short time. But more often it’s because the performances we see are careful. They are note perfect and earnest but not very memorable. By memorable, I mean that the singer has demonstrated that they’re careful students and stewards of the repertoire, but they’ve left many of the most important questions unanswered: they leave the room and I find that I haven’t learned anything about them or their artistry, how the aria resonates with them personally. It’s like scanning a CGI crowd scene, looking for one true facial expression.

(Caution: there are those of you who are memorable, because you’ve put the passion into the performance but are not quite as careful as you should’ve been in the learning process. It’s a double-edged sword, I realize… but please know that the preceding paragraph is not for you – go practice!)

I’ll agree with Mr. Sandow – discipline is important. Strong choices are exciting. The two should not be as opposed as they seem to be. So I ask you – were you challenged in school to be creative? Who gave you the most support? Where did you struggle?

(The ArtsJournal article is one of a series. I hope you’re looking forward to the next installment as much as I am.)


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