I’ve spent a LOT of time listening to and evaluating singers this week. Because: FESTIVAL TIME. And this post is cutting it pretty darned close to the wire (I mean, it’s still Friday in Vancouver so, you know, SUE ME). I have heard A Path to the Moon* about a million times in the last four days so I feel I AM ENTITLED TO A LITTLE BIT OF LEEWAY FROM YOU.
you are a very whiny human. and that’s coming from a cat so …
1. favourite independent voice studio tool: postermywall.com
If you’re an independent voice teacher? You’ve made a poster or two in your life. Or four hundred thousand. You know, give or take. Postermywall.com is kind of like canva.com (which, incidentally, I just discovered a few months ago (thank you SECO friends) and virtually LOST MY MIND when I did. Because: SO EASY AND NOW I REGRET THE LIFE DECISIONS THAT LEAD ME TO FIDDLING AROUND WITH GOOGLE THINGS AND WASTING HALF OF MY LIFE MAKING CUTE POSTERS TO ADVERTISE ALL THE THINGS WHEN I COULD HAVE BEEN USING CANVA AND GOING TO BED A LOT SOONER), but better. So, #yourewelcome. (And thank you Patti for the heads up!)
you’ve missed a lot of sleep, human. you are not smart. you would be smarter if you got more sleep. and you would know to use handy programmes that save you time so that you can sleep more. and presumably get smarter. too bad about that.
Singing Voice Specialist, Kristie Knickerbocker demonstrates how a scope works, ON HER VERY OWN SELF. #happyworldvoiceday
humans are so weird. why are humans so weird?
3. favourite unintentionally educational YouTube video: Okurrr – Kris Jenner
The student of one of my friends? Taught herself how to tongue trill by watching this video. Yes. YOU HEARD ME.
did i hear you though? because i could swear you just said that a KRIS JENNER video was useful.
New initiative from Total Vocal Freedom with the purpose of supporting and empowering female singers over the age of 50 that are concerned about the longevity and quality of their singing voice in the second half of their life.
Yes. I stole that copy directly from their website. And yes. That’s the copy I included when I sent the information about the Phoenix Project to all of the women in my studio who might benefit from joining it. Which was about thirty seconds before I realized that I AM VERY CLOSE TO BEING THEIR TARGET MARKET. SAY WHAAAAAAT NOW?!?
you thought, perhaps, you weren’t aging with the rest of us, human? that you somehow escaped the inevitable? you clearly need more sleep. you are growing not smarter by the second.
If you have an hour or so to watch some cool voice teachery discussion unfold (and you weren’t able to watch it live because it happened at, like, MIDNIGHT YOUR TIME**)? This is well worth your time.
do not do this thing, human. we have been over this: YOU NEED YOUR SLEEP.
Here’s to sleeping and slowing down the inevitable decline into not-smartness. And as always:
You can teach your face off … I can help.
* Don’t get me wrong: I love me some A Path to the Moon. I just, you know, heard it a LOT this week. And you know what? You need to create ever-more energized K-sounds as you follow the composer’s crescendo marking on the chorus and allow that energy to build to create the crescendo. That’s right: those K-sounds? ARE A GIFT and will help you to avoid pushing or over-pressurizing to sing the crescendo. Also? You need to develop some subtext for those long chunks when you aren’t singing and make me believe that you have a reason to sing the next bit of text. AND? ASSIGN AN EMOTION TO EACH DYNAMIC MARKING ALREADY. THIS WILL HELP YOU TO EXECUTE THE DYNAMICS IN AN ENGAGED WAY AND ENHANCE YOUR PERFORMANCE. I HAVE HEARD THIS SONG A LOT AND I PROMISE YOU IT WILL HELP. #IPINKYSWEARIT
** Guess how I know what time Dr. Dan’s Lives are in my time? Because I am hanging out live with Dr. Dan in a few weeks and before I agreed to do so? I checked to make sure I wasn’t committing to trying to be interesting and witty at, like, three in the morning. That’s not good for anyone. Least of all someone who clearly isn’t getting enough sleep in the first place.
how to adjudicate a class with four hundred thousand singers and still get it right (or, at least as close to ‘right’ as you’re going to get on that fateful day)
Sometimes you’re just blithely adjudicating along and you suddenly realize that the class that you’re adjudicating may never end, because there are approximately four hundred thousand singers in it and you’re actually going to be adjudicating until the day you die.
And after that, you realize that you are on the three hundred and ninety ninth thousand singer, and you can barely remember how to spell the word “the,”* never mind what the singer sounded like who you heard at the beginning of the class, which, incidentally, started in the last millennium.
[This is a SLEEPING cat, people. A SLEEPING CAT. DO YOU KNOW ME AT ALL? #seriously.]
And after that, you realize that you are in no way going to be able to adjudicate this class fairly because not only do you not remember what the singer at the beginning of the class sounded like, the ONLY SINGERS YOU CAN EVEN REMEMBER are:
- the one who wore an elephant costume to sing ‘Memory’ (NOT EVEN CLOSE … UNLESS YOU’RE REASONING THAT ELEPHANTS AND CATS ARE BOTH IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM?),
- the one who had the same name as your great-aunt (ZELDA? YOU NAMED YOUR KID ZELDA? BUT WHHHHY?),
- the twelve-year-old who was over six feet tall (NOT THAT THERE IS ANYTHING WRONG WITH BEING SIX FOOT THREE AT TWELVE YEARS OLD … IT JUST STICKS OUT A LITTLE #ISALLIMSAYING),
- the one who inexplicably whistled instead of sang (WHAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW?), and
- the four hundred thousandth singer. **
Guess what? There’s a pretty straight-forward solution to this issue (I know, I know; you experienced adjudicators have a system you use. I mean, obviously you do, otherwise, as soon as the festival administrators realize that you only ever give first place to the last person who sang, you wouldn’t exactly be invited back to adjudicate, now would you?): keep a little rating system going for the entire class.
HELP ME OBI WAN KENOBI [#justme? or does this cat look like Princess Leia with a mustache? #toosoon? yeah. probably too soon.]
BUT … THIS IS GENIUS … and also: TELL ME MORE.
In your hotel room the night before (or, you know, five seconds before the class begins while the festival secretary is asking you to pre-sign the certificates … ahem), prepare a piece of scrap paper with a little chart (it does not have to be neat. obviously):
Put the lovely singers’ names on the left hand side of this very fancy chart. As you’re hearing singers, add details that may help to remind yourself of who they are at the end of the class (for example: title of the song they sang, or the fact that they are over six feet tall and dressed like an elephant … you know, whatever works). As you can see from the chart, I like to heavily weight overall performance/characterization (“perf”), technical skills (“tech”), and vocal development (“voice”), giving each of these aspects 10 marks and then I give lower weight to diction, tuning, repertoire choice (“rep”), and fidelity to the score (“[teeny tiny treble clef sign]”). But you can choose to weight the chart however you want and to have whatever categories you think are most important on this chart. You could even decide to just have a check list and whoever gets the most checks, WINS! #youdoyou, friend; IT’S YOUR CHART.
NOTE: this very fancy chart is for your eyes only. do not allow those parents who sit WAY TOO CLOSE to the adjudicator’s table while subtly looking back and down at your papers while you are adjudicating, to see this fancy chart. it may be fancy, but it is not for public consumption. it is a tool that you can use to be a better adjudicator and it is best if you assume that THEY CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH.
Write fast. Write well. And fill in the chart as you go (including the totals). At the end of the class, you’ll have your handy-dandy chart to remind you of what that first singer sounded like, and where they fell in the overall scheme of things. And if you’re REALLY LUCKY? One of those four hundred thousand singers will be, like, seven points ahead of the others so you won’t have to agonize over who gets first place.
COULD I BE THAT LUCKY!? [dare to dream, little black tabby. dare to dream.]
caveat the first
If a singer gets 0/5 for tuning, WITH VERY FEW (like, NONE that I can think of) EXCEPTIONS, they probably shouldn’t place first in their class. Listen, if there’s one thing every person on the planet thinks they know? It’s when a singer is not singing in tune. So if it seems like that ONE THING (the ONE THING that everyone in the room thinks they’re an expert on?) is not taken into consideration in the final grading? The festival atmosphere will take a turn for the very messy; singers turn hostile, teachers get resentful, and parents begin to regret paying for the festival experience (because: HOW COULD THAT SINGER WHO IS CLEARLY SINGING OUT OF TUNE WIN FIRST? AND HOW CAN ANYTHING ELSE THAT COMES OUT OF THAT ADJUDICATOR’S MOUTH BE WORTH LISTENING TO?). And when their stakeholders are unhappy? Festival administrators are REALLY unhappy. And that means you don’t get hired again. (And likely, rightly so.)
caveat the second
If a singer’s repertoire selection is woefully inappropriate (see: adjudicating 101 for lots of great examples … #yourewelcome), they probably shouldn’t place first in their class. When the twelve-year-old singing ‘Habanera’ from Carmen wins a grand opera class,*** singers and parents may not understand what the problem is, but other teachers sure as heck do. And most festival administrators do as well. Which means, guess what? You don’t get hired again. (And not because festival administrators are unforgiving people. Just because YOU DON’T SEEM TO KNOW HOW TO DO YOUR JOB.)
So there you have it; PINKY SWEAR that the next time you are adjudicating, like, four hundred thousand singers in one class, you will not do it by memory. Yes; pinky swear. Because I am so mature.
Now GO FORTH and adjudicate HUGE classes with finesse and fairness.
[or, high five, if you’re so inclined. or you don’t have pinky fingers]
You can adjudicate your face off … I can help.
*Or, you know, “vocal tract” (because: IS IT VOCAL TRACT OR VOCAL TRACK? UUUUGHHHH!!!), or when to use “breath” vs “breathe”, or whether “consistent” is ENT or ANT, or WHY YOU CAN’T JUST WRITE “YOU HAVE A NICE VOICE. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK” ON THE ADJUDICATION PAGE AND LEAVE IT AT THAT.
** To be clear: none of these things have happened to me in real life. HowEVER, they are all close enough to something that has happened that if I hadn’t told you that they HAD NOT happened, you would have assumed they did happen. Because, #SOCLOSE.
*** Festivals that even have a ‘grand opera class’ for twelve-year-olds is a WHOLE OTHER POST FULL OF UPPERCASE LETTERS.
one pesky issue you will inevitably encounter when adjudicating … and how to not piss off the entire room as you handle it
I pretty-much love adjudicating almost as much as I love teaching. Seriously, what’s not to love? Singers of all ages and stages performing their hearts out, excitement of not knowing what you’re going to hear next (I actually LOVE this part the most; I mean, IT COULD BE THE NEXT PAVAROTTI UP THERE! (what? IT COULD)), the chance to encourage young singers and support other teachers, and, of course, the opportunity to run your own little comedy show for a captive audience while you do all the other things (okay. yeah. I might love that part the most).
Staring-into-your-soul-grey-tabby cat would like you to know that, contrary to what I just wrote in the opening paragraph, IT IS NOT ALL SUNSHINE AND ROSES OUT THERE IN ADJUDICATING LAND.
Staring-into-your-soul-grey-tabby cat is absolutely correct on this point. There are a few sticky situations that come up when adjudicating … And I’m here to help you not make enemies of the people who hired you to adjudicate (or the singers, and/or their parents, and/or their teachers), while still doing the job they hired you to do.
sticky thing the first*: inappropriate repertoire choices
So, yes. You will encounter a whole lot of inappropriate repertoire choices at singing festivals. It’s just … a thing. And – I GET IT – we all have that one student (especially when we’re starting out) that we make little deals with against our better judgement: I’ll let you, dear ten-year-old student, sing “Let It Go,” even though it’s written for a pro adult belter to sing. AND IN EXCHANGE, YOU WILL SING A LOVELY LITTLE FRENCH FOLK SONG FROM THE RCM LEVEL 2 LIST. YES YOU WILL.** Ahem.
I-did-nothing-wrong-ginger-tabby kitten doesn’t realize that she’s too young to read Stephen King’s The Shining, because, even though it may be great literature and even though *technically* she can read all of the words in the book and understand what they mean? She is not emotionally mature enough to handle the subject matter and will be scarred by it for the rest of her life. [Not that I am speaking from experience with a certain set of Freddy Krueger movies that I may or may not have watched at a birthday party in eighth grade. THANKS A LOT EIGHTH GRADE FRIEND]
But, understanding WHY these things happen doesn’t negate the fact that it’s the adjudicator’s job to give constructive feedback about the performance … and whether the repertoire is working for the singer is part of that feedback.
There are a lot of ways that repertoire can be inappropriate for a singer (White teenager dressed in tennis gear singing “Summertime”, anyone? yeah. I saw that. Or how about the eight-year-old dressed in full sequins, doing a Fosse-inspired dance routine to “The Gospel Train”? yeah. I saw that too. I’ve also seen young teens doing “All That Jazz” which: your moves aren’t sexy enough but PLEASE DON’T BE SEXIER; YOU’RE FOURTEEN. #SOAWKWARDFOREVERYONE), but right here and now, let’s just focus on the kind of inappropriate that is encapsulated by anyone under sixteen singing anything written for the adult voice. And what to say in response.
Five tabby-kittens-of-varying-colour-schemes would like to know WHY? WHY CAN’T THEY SING “SOMEONE LIKE YOU”?!? THEY LOVE THE TUNE AND THEY CAN SING ALL OF THE NOTES.
Okay friends, three reasons anyone under sixteen likely shouldn’t sing rep written for adults:
REASON THE FIRST
The obvious one: the actual song is written for the actual adult voice. This applies to music theatre, pop, rock, classical, and pretty-much ANY STYLE YOU CAN THINK OF. And because young singers do not have the physical coordination and anatomical development of an adult, they will not be able to sing a song written for adults and sound like an adult. And this can lead to all kinds of annoyingly-difficult-to-correct tension patterns and vocal production issues. Not to mention: it just sounds wrong. (The number of times I’ve heard / read people state that Jackie Evancho sounded “just like a real opera singer” when she performed in America’s Got Talent …? Honey: NO REAL OPERA SINGER SOUNDS LIKE THAT. AND IF THEY DID? THEY WOULD NOT HAVE A CAREER. BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT A CHILD WITH A CHILD’S PHYSIOLOGY AND MOTOR COORDINATION WHO IS TRYING TO SOUND LIKE AN ADULT OPERA SINGER SOUNDS LIKE AND NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR THAT AT THE OPERA HOUSE.)
REASON THE SECOND
It’s just plain awkward when young singers sing about experiences that they are physically too young to have had. If you are fourteen years old (AND I KNOW THAT YOU ARE FOURTEEN YEARS OLD BECAUSE YOU ARE ENTERED IN THE “14 AND UNDER” CLASS AT THE FESTIVAL), I do not believe you when you tell me that the man you married had an affair and then told the public about it so now you are burning all of your correspondence and hoping that your husband burns too. (That’s “Burn”, from Hamilton … in case you were wondering***.) On a purely physical level (and leaving aside point #1, above), you do not look like a woman who has been married, much less married long enough for your husband to have had an affair and to have gone public with that affair. I mean, when did you even get married? AT EIGHT YEARS OLD?
REASON THE THIRD
And on an experiential level, dear fourteen-year-old, I HOPE you do not have anything in your life from which you can draw to present mature subject matter with integrity. There are reasons (I mean, beside point #1) that only my adult students sing “Climb Every Mountain”. Are there any lyrics in this song that might be objectionable for a young singer to perform? Obviously not; this is super-dooper wholesome Rodgers and Hammerstein, we’re talking about! However, it feels pretty awkward taking life-advice from a twelve-year-old, #amiright?
Super-philosophical-grey-tuxedo kitten gets it, but would like me to get to the part about how to talk about this without ANGERING ALL THE PEOPLE the next time he adjudicates.
Right! Here are the basic scripts I use pretty regularly (feel free to commandeer for your own needs):
ON THE PAGE: Great song! Be sure to continue exploring the repertoire written for your age. Have you looked at [insert name of appropriate rep that is similar in style or message or character] yet?
IN PERSON: I can see why you love this song – I do too! Are there other songs you’re working on that have a similar style [message | feeling | character, etc.]? I wonder if you’ve looked at [INSERT SONG] before? The problem with singing songs that are written for older singers now is that you have a limited window of time to sing the songs that are written for your current age. You know what song I WISH I could perform? “Naughty” from Matilda. But I don’t get to because I am too old. YOU still have time to sing this rep. But in five years? You won’t be able to. You’ve got a solid thirty years (if not more!) of being able to sing “History of Wrong Guys” but the rep that’s written for the young voice? Very limited time. So don’t miss out on the awesome rep that is written JUST FOR YOU!
ON THE PAGE: The subject matter may be a little mature for this young singer but sung today with great enthusiasm [passion | engagement | feeling]!
IN PERSON: Your love for this song is so evident and you already have a great start on the emotional commitment required to present it with integrity. So … you’ve done a lot of things for love in your life, have you? [Referring here to “What I Did For Love” … and delivered with a HUGE GRIN ON YOUR FACE] At fifteen years old, you’ve lived long enough to be able to look back on your love life and say that you didn’t regret what you did? WELL THANK GOODNESS FOR THAT! Seriously though; see where I’m going with this? I love the things you’re working on in the song, now see if you can find those things in a song that you can relate to even more immediately.
SEE HOW HAPPY THIS FRENCH BULLDOG IS TO DELIVER THE NEWS THAT THIS STUDENT IS SINGING INAPPROPRIATE REPERTOIRE!? THAT IS THE FACE YOU CAN USE, TOO! (There are no pictures of cats with this face because cats say everything with disdain (and also: EFF YOU). AND THAT IS NOT THE LOOK WE ARE GOING FOR AS ADJUDICATORS. (Although, I can’t control what’s happening on your inside face.))
ON THE PAGE: What a [poised | elegant | enthusiastic | engaged] delivery of this song’s message! Be sure to come back to this song in a few years when you have greater depth of experience to draw on to make this performance even more impressive.
IN PERSON: What a wonderful song choice; I can see that you connect with the meaning of the text and are invested in communicating it. Pinky-swear with me that you will sing this song again in ten years and then in twenty years and again in thirty years. I guarantee that as you gain life experience, you will find greater and greater depths of meaning in this song and that those greater depths will propel what is now an engaging performance to absolute KILLER performances that will touch our very souls.
Now GO FORTH AND TALK ABOUT INAPPROPRIATE REP CHOICES WITHOUT PISSING PEOPLE OFF!
You can adjudicate your face off … I can help.
ps soooo …. there’s a lot of ALL CAPS USAGE in this post. I’m Canadian so I’m going to apologize for that. BUT I’m also going to mention that I’m not actually yelling. I’M JUST REALLY REALLY PASSIONATE ABOUT THIS STUFF. #werestillokayright?
pps I wrote an adjudicators’ cheat sheet a while ago and I feel like … if you made it through the madness that is this entire post, AND THE POSTSCRIPTS? THIS IS YOUR REWARD. (I mean, if you want it. #nopressure)
* There are many sticky things in adjudicating land. Like, at least five that I can think of off the top of my head. But I’m saving those for other blogs. Because I wouldn’t want to run out of material, #amiright?
** Okay. I don’t actually talk to my students this way. (I mean, in my head, maybe.)
*** AS IF any of the voice teachers reading this blog don’t know what song and/or musical I’m referring to here. #butjustincase