The uglier side of auditioning!

With this post I am hoping to help singers to realise that auditions are simply never a black and white case of are you or are you not good enough! We are frequently judged by others but we are most critical of ourselves and our abilities! You must trust that the choices made against your singing actually have little to no bearing on your ability

Firstly never doubt what you know about your voice and classical music!

Often audition or competition panels manage to make you think you don’t know a thing, whether that be by feedback given to you on the day or the general aura of “smugness” that radiates around their vicinity. I have been asked on numerous occasions “why did you present this piece?” “do you think this is appropriate for you to be singing now?” I even got told on a panel once that my pieces were “too contrasting”, despite contrasting arias being requested, and that “no one has the vocal ability to cover pieces from such different genres.” My response was well “Leontyne Price does” lol! Not that I think I am up there with her but the pieces selected for that particular audition were decided between my teacher, at the time, and myself. These panels are often basing judgement on what they think is best for you, based on about 3 minutes of singing. 3 minutes!! I have been told I am contralto, my voice is too light for Verdi, my voice doesn’t suit Puccini, and other BS based on hearing my voice for a total of 10 minutes maximum. I often stand there pretending to agree but in my mind thinking “yeah you know f*** all about my voice, and what I should be singing, you're merely talking cause you're being paid to.” These comments aren’t helpful and often make you doubt the hard work you and your teacher have been putting in for the past months, or years.

Trust yourself and trust your teacher! It’s not in either of your interests to start doubting yourselves. Also audition panellists were young once, and didn’t know as much as they know now. They were faced with criticism and doubt, they are just experts at making you believe they are GODS. They only hold power over you if you believe they do, and only in that room. Once they leave the audition room they are just like everyone else, biological batteries that eat, sleep, shit and piss!

Not all audition panels are like this but you will in no doubt at least be faced with one or two in your career.

Why didn’t I get the part?

If you think that you didn’t get the role, part, or place at music college you were going for because of your voice alone then I am here to tell you, you are wrong! I will also tell you some of the reasons why you might not be offered an audition in the first place.

In my experience I have come to believe that actually your voice is probably only 20 – 30% of the reason why you may not be chosen or cast.  Auditions are so subjective for example; perhaps someone on the panel doesn’t like your outfit, the tenor they have in mind is shorter than you, the panel are tired and aren’t really paying attention, they wanted a petite blonde for the soprano role and you’re a buxom brunette, someone associates this piece with a person they hate, the panel are thinking about food as they haven’t had a break yet, they simply don’t like the piece you presented, a panel member prefers it when that phrase is sang through and cause you took a much needed breath, for them your interpretation is ruined, do you see what I am saying? The outcome of the same audition could vary day to day with absolutely nothing to do with you.

However below are some less subjective, and perhaps more frustrating reasons why you may not be cast:

  • Lots of opera companies receive funding to hold auditions, even if they have no interest in casting from them, meaning they will hold auditions purely for additional funding only.
  • Following on from my first point, opera companies often know who they want for what parts prior to auditions. I have experienced this for real, often being told by an all too naïve conductor that they know who they want for a particular role but they audition them anyway to make it all seem legit. Guess what? Said person gets the role.
  • Some companies won’t even offer you audition if you haven’t studied at one of the London music colleges, specifically Guildhall, RAM, RCM or NOS. Obviously because I haven’t studied at any of these institutions I must be shit. FYI it’s not where you study it’s who you study with!
  • People who have influential family members in classical world are more likely to be successful thus meaning they often get preference when panels are selecting candidates for auditions/roles. Even if you are technically better you may find you’ll be pushed aside if you come from an unknown, uninfluential family in the classical world for someone with a more established familial background.
  • Some companies simply do their audition process on a first come first served basis. In my opinion this is just lazy time cutting so they don’t need to sift through more CV’s than they can be bothered to. This particularly annoys me as I and many other singers have spent a few hundred pounds on recordings to help with the audition selection process only to be dismissed because we didn’t apply “early” enough, even though we obviously applied before the deadline.
  • Music colleges have been known to allocate all the spaces on their post graduate and opera schools to students already studying at their establishment. This doesn’t however stop music colleges auditioning potential students from outside as they make a good £100+ per audition, and extra money isn’t to be sniffed at.
  • In the past some music colleges have taken on more international students as they have to pay double to study in the UK. You know what that means, double the income. I am not saying that a lot of the international students don’t get in on merit, far from it, but when colleges are deliberately not taking in talented national students purely for monetary reasons then there is a problem.
  • Sadly discrimination can rear its ugly head in auditions. This can relate to any part of background be it sexual orientation, race, social class, weight, age, or disability. This will certainly be a reason for some unsuccessful auditions, however you will likely never find out if you are being discriminated against or not.

And after all that hope is not lost. If you are not cast or offered a place at music college fuck it, you’re career is not over, you may just have to take an alternate route but you must must must use the disappointment to drive you forward and prove all those that doubted or overlooked you wrong!

I hope this hasn't dissuaded you from pursuing a classical singing career but I think it is important that at least some of the bad practices that go on in auditions is put out there. As they say knowledge is power and it's also good to know what one is up against in such a competitive industry.

In my next post I will cover some of the difficulties and limitations one faces from a working class background in an industry where it can cost so much to be successful.

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