Judging at NATS

I judged college junior women and college senior men today. I will write a few random notes here.

Please ask other people what your “starter piece” should be. A lot of you picked starter pieces that were not your best, I suspect.

I heard lots of Italian with missing R’s today. Flip or roll, those are your choices. Please learn when to do which. Not doing this is no better than lisping your S’s in English. I can understand a trace of American accent here and there, but American R’s are not an option in Italian, German, French, Latin, or Spanish.

By the way, Spanish is the second language of our country, and not one person offered Spanish for one of their two “foreign” languages. Why? I think I hear Fiddler on the Roof now: “Traditiooooooon, Tradition!”

Please do not pronounce Latin like weird Spanish! If you are singing from a sacred Latin text, Ecclesiastical Latin is probably the way to go. Now if you want to go all musicological and sing something like one of the Carmina Burana solos in some variant of Latin, be my guest. But I don’t think Faure’s “Pie Jesu” is supposed to ever be “Pee-yay Yay-zoow”.

Phrasing was usually more convincing in English. I think it’s because people don’t speak their foreign texts enough to get an idea of how the words flow in those languages. Language familiarity is a difficult reality of classical singing. Learn how to speak sentences in your languages. Especially the sentences in the poetry you are singing!

Quando me’n vo’ is hard! Don’t sing it if you can’t do those arpeggios well yet!

Why does everyone want to sing Countess before they’ve done Zerlina? Or did you sing Batti, batti when you were in high school (which was too soon) and now hate it?

These students all presented themselves well and certainly were trying. I felt fatherly toward them all. So young, so eager, so much potential.

One student sang “Strange Fruit”, the song that Billie Holiday used to sing. I didn’t even ask my fellow judges if they thought it was an “art song” (I wouldn’t really call it that, but then again why not?), since they weren’t familiar with it, but as the judge captain I made sure that we heard it last. This young woman who had been so tentative and uptight on “Alma del core” and “Bist du bei mir” blew us away with this song in a huge free, wonderful chest voice. Tears came to my eyes. I hope she will become able to connect with the other rep she sings so completely, and to learn how to connect that big bottom with her top.

We did have clear “winners” in each category, which is nice. I have judged categories where I felt no one should “win”.

It was a good learning experience for me to check in and see what’s out there in our colleges and universities. It was also nice to mingle with the other teachers. We’re recognizing each other more and more. I’m feeling less like an “outsider”, realizing that some of the younger teachers such as those I judged with feel like I did a few years ago. Studio teaching is a very independent activity and it’s strange to throw all these studios together and stir them up with these auditions. A bit of a test in keeping egos and insecurities at bay.

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