The value of inappropriate repertoire

I often see teachers gnashing their teeth over picking repertoire for their students. Why do some teachers pick every song for every student for auditions and competitions? Teach the students how to find their own repertoire!

With advancing singers, working candidly with imperfect repertoire is very useful for their education. In the voice lesson, when a singer brings in a song that they are excited about, we explore it together and discover its challenges. I model my process of picking a song with them, and all sorts of light bulbs turn on about what they should be looking for. They want to shine, so they are engaged in learning this. I also learn much more about their interests, which helps me to make better suggestions for where they can go for future searches.

I often have them pick three songs for any particular purpose (e.g., studio recital, audition, or competition), and I tell them that together we will pick the one that they could sound best on. If they are at a certain level in musical theatre, we will talk about “overdone lists” and the art of cuts. If we have already done enough work to understand what their current strengths and weaknesses are, I will advise them to keep those in mind as they search. If they bring three songs that are all problematic (rarely happens), then we focus on spots in the songs to show why I am saying that, and then the student can go on to make better choices. Spending two or three lessons on song selection, with their full participation, is time very well spent. They learn quickly.

Constant top-down assignment of repertoire for a long-term student builds in dependence and keeps the teacher in the mode of “I always know what’s best for you, better than you do.” No thanks!

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