Auditions don’t always go the way we want them to. More often than not, they result in some form of “no,” and we are left to wonder what exactly we could have done differently. One of the hardest lessons to learn as a performer is that usually you will never know the reason you didn’t get a gig or advance to the next round of a competition. And you still have to keep going anyway. It’s even more maddening when you realize that in many cases the audition result had less to do with you and your shortcomings and more to do with external factors beyond your control. Maybe you remind a judge on a panel of an ex. Maybe the judges are a bit hangry because they haven’t had lunch. Maybe the judges are a bit sleepy because they JUST had lunch. Maybe the judges know they are looking for someone taller or shorter than you. Or maybe the auditions are being held because they have to hold them as per union rules, but in fact the role(s) for the show have already been cast.
Regardless of the reason you didn’t get the gig or advance in the competition, there is always something you can learn from the process. Even if you DID get the gig (or advance to the next round of competition), you should still try to learn as much as you can from the experience. This is true at any level, whether you are a student involved in the TMEA audition process, an aspiring opera singer doing the Met Competition, a pop singer auditioning for The Voice, or someone trying out for a role in the community theater production of The Sound of Music. It is important to ask yourself a few questions:
1. How was my preparation? Did I do everything I could to be ready for this audition?
2. How did I feel before/during/after the audition?
3. What were my goals for this audition, and did I accomplish them?
4. What would I like to improve or change for a next audition?
There are many more questions to think about, but these cover a basic analysis of the preparation for the audition, the audition itself, and preparation for future auditions. I find that taking this slightly clinical approach can not only help you learn, but can also help you process the emotional roller coaster that goes along with auditioning. You are absolutely allowed to wallow in a bit of self-pity if it doesn’t work out, or celebrate if it does. Feel all the feelings. But having a system to analyze things can help everything feel a bit less personal, and can keep you in a healthier headspace. It never feels great to get a rejection, but if you know that you have some potential learning in that moment, and you have a specific series of test questions to ask yourself to get those analytical juices flowing, you can sometimes move past disappointment a bit more quickly.
The key to a successful “postmortem” of an audition is honesty, especially in regards to question #1. No human being is immune to slacking off from time to time, and we all have days when the practicing just doesn’t happen. That's normal. But there is a certain amount of prep work that each person needs to do to be ready for auditions (or any other event). If you did not meet that need in your own preparation process, then you know that is one of the first things to improve for the next audition. Deep down, we all KNOW whether or not we did the work. We may not like to admit it, but we know.
Analyzing how you feel throughout the audition process can be really helpful in recognizing how nerves are affecting your performance. Do you feel sick to your stomach before you go in the room? Do your palms get clammy? Does your mouth suddenly get dry? Did your mind go blank, or was it racing through a million bad scenarios at once? Did your breath suddenly become really shallow and you feel like you can’t sing those long phrases you practiced? If you can recognize your own brand of nerves, then you can acknowledge it as a part of your process. Then it becomes more “normal” in your mindset and you can more easily deal with it. That’s not to say that you will ALWAYS have the same nervous response, but in general you’ll notice patterns. Once you recognize the patterns, you get a clearer picture of your own process, and knowing your own process is one of the biggest keys to building a healthy and sustainable technique.
If you take away nothing else, take away this: the only thing you can truly set against nerves is solid preparation, and the only way to develop solid preparation habits is to analyze your own process and figure out what works and what doesn’t. This daily work is a grind sometimes, and the audience will never know or celebrate your own mastery of your nerves. But in the end, the quiet confidence that comes from true self-knowledge and strong foundational work is a wonderful feeling to have when you walk into that audition room to face a panel of judges (or maybe just a blue tarp).
How often do we think about how our actions and words (or lack thereof) make others feel? It can be just one email, or one text message, or one inadvertent glance, but there can be far-reaching effects, many of them unknown or unintended. It doesn’t matter how old we are or what we do for a living–we all have incredible power to connect with others and lift them up, or to tear them down.
For those who have been involved in opera audition season (or as it was so aptly titled in an op-ed for Schmopera.com: “The Festival of Shattered Dreams”), they know it as a time of hope, fear, disappointment, sadness, jealousy, happiness...basically every emotion. There are so many layers to the interactions between singers and companies, whether in email correspondence or the coveted in-person audition. The timeliness of responses, the length of an email, the furious scratching of an auditioner’s pen, the furrowed brows as the panel pores over your resume, the unfurrowed brows when the panel doesn’t even look at your resume, the auditioner who gets up to look out the window or look at text message during your aria...the list goes on and on.
It’s a complicated business, but what it should boil down to is very simple. Every singer who applies to your program or company is a human being who has devoted a lot of time, money, and heart into their operatic training. Whether or not you want to hire them for a young artist program or leading role, you owe them all the same level of professional courtesy and care. I know it is absolutely exhausting to sit through a million auditions, but you owe these singers your attention in this moment. If there are singers who will be getting that first email saying “We’re sorry but you have not been selected for a live audition”, make sure that the tone of it is kind and professional, and the sooner you can get those (and any) rejections out, the better. Just remember that just as the job of holding auditions is very challenging, it is also incredibly difficult to be the singer who is auditioning for you, hoping to start or continue building a career.
The importance of mindful communication goes beyond just this, however. As we have all found through this pandemic, communication and connection are essential to our well-being as humans. When we reach out to one another, whether in professional or personal correspondence, are we just communicating information, or have we given any thought to how that information is presented? The old, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” adage comes to mind. Small gestures can carry huge weight. Checking in with remote-working employees to see how they are doing, or welcoming back employees to in-person events or interactions with a friendly memo or email can be huge steps toward making people feel like they are valued members of your organization or team. A quick message or check-in with friends could be just the thing to lift their spirits or remind them that they matter to someone. We all struggle with feeling lost and alone sometimes, so it’s good to remember that we always have the power to reach out and change that for someone else.
We have all missed performing for live audiences, and many have found ways to scratch the itch with virtual performances, recordings, creative collaborations, and the like. As we transition back to some of the “normal” routines, working with opera companies (both in choruses and as soloists), symphonies, and other entities, many of us have had time to reflect on how we feel about our work, and how we feel we are being respected (or not) by those entities. Whether it’s an opera chorus, a ballet company, a symphony, a community/church choir, or maybe even a barbershop quartet, it’s so easy to make the members feel valued. A quick “Welcome back, we are so excited to see you” email from the “powers-that-be” can be incredibly effective. It may seem trivial, and in the hectic scramble of life it is easy to forget these small touches, but they really do make a difference to how your employees, coworkers, and even bosses, feel.
The same goes for those of us running our own private voice studios. I always send a general “Welcome to a new semester in the Maus Vocal Studio” email once I get my schedule set up, but this fall semester it felt especially important, and I spent more time than usual writing and re-reading it. Never forget that all of our students want to feel like they belong and that they matter, and as teachers we have an incredible amount of power to tip that scale one way or the other (even if we don’t always feel that way). In fact, this has always been a part of my own general teaching philosophy. Yes, I have goals, and I want my students to build their skills and become self-sufficient and technically sound singers. But I also want my students to know that first and foremost, I care about them as human beings, and I am invested in helping them grow. I push them. I challenge them. I build their voices as best I can, but along the way I also want to build them up to be confident, kind, and supportive people who have a real love of music.
The people in your life, whether the relationship is professional or personal, should always feel like they matter. It takes so little effort to write that email, to send that text or Instagram/Facebook message, or to share that funny meme with the person who will just love it. It takes slightly more effort to call someone on the phone, but that too pays huge dividends, and is well worth your time. People seem to be almost mindless these days in their rush to write a nasty review, or tear someone down in a pointless online argument, or are in too much of a hurry to be friendly or polite. Everyone has value as a human being, and we are all fellow adventurers in this journey called Life. We owe it to ourselves to help others see their own worth as we do, and we owe it to others to let them know that they matter to us. CUE CAST ALBUM FOR WAITRESS–TRACK 15–YOU MATTER TO ME, and let the feelings commence.