Things have changed, people. Singing doesn’t matter any more.
You’ve spent years getting better; extending your range, working on breathing, learning to belt. But, here’s the deal. We already expect you to sing. We take it for granted. (If you can’t, well – that’s another blog post.) What we want to know is this: are you an interesting person? Can you tell a story, engage our attention and relate to the people around you? These are the things we want to know in an audition. I mean – yeah, the high note matters, but don’t you dare think about it. It should simply be an extension of the story you’re telling.
In the last five years, I haven’t worked with a director who hasn’t made a big deal out of communicating instead of singing. In fact, most of them ask for less singing. It’s my job as a music director to figure out what that means – even if they won’t admit it, it’s certain that every director will come to me if there’s a tuning or diction problem or other quality issue. So, don’t hear me saying that those things aren’t important. But, it can’t be about that in the big picture. Your singing needs to be rooted in communication. It should match your speaking patterns even though specified rhythms and pitches are required.
Think of it as freedom.
Singers, fear not. Don’t let this become an identity crisis. This means you can shout, whisper, murmur, confide, scream, cry and spit during your song the same way you would during a monologue.
Dancers and Actors who sweat over singing auditions, this should open the door wide for you. It’s simply acting on pitch. You have far more latitude than you think.
Here’s what to do:
Work on your voice, yes. Improve technically. Devote serious time to singing practice. As my dear friend Roz says, “You have to build the house before you can live in it.” So, build it diligently. But, once you’ve built it – you must start living.
Sing the phone book. Sing the news. Sing anything that isn’t a song. Then switch gears and teach yourself to speak your audition songs. Speak them until you’re completely comfortable performing them as a monologue. Then, treat them as a monologue within the context of the musical structure and on the pitches required. Don’t compromise. Be relentless in going back and forth: speak it, then sing it. Over and over until it’s second nature.
We’ll still hear your voice. But now it will be rooted in greater truth. No more high notes for the sake of high notes. And more often than not, your acting instincts will dig deep and teach you ways to wail that money note that you didn’t know you had.
Need help? I’d be glad to work with you – but it’s not that hard. It just requires a change of focus.
Ben Johnson is a Chicago based music director and singing coach. He is the curator of The Money Note.