Tag Archives: chorus

Audition for San Diego Opera

My Audition for San Diego Opera

The following was written by our voice teacher and resident opera singer, Anne after her audition for San Diego Opera, one of the top opera companies in the country.

Friday night, I stood outside a building in San Diego at 9:10pm. I double checked the email again, and punched in the number code written, slowly and deliberately, as the email had mentioned I should. I waited a second, the door clicked open. I was in. Marble floors accentuated the click of my heels as I caught my reflection in the ornate mirrors to either side of me. The building had a 1920’s feel to it, and it felt way too classy for me to be in. What the heck am I doing here, I thought. I was nervous.

Two weeks previous to this night a good friend had texted me to let me know that San Diego Opera would be having auditions for their chorus for the upcoming season. Now, San Diego is one of the top opera houses in the United States. Principal work there would require management and years of experience. But chorus work, now that was something I was fully qualified for. I had tried to audition for them years ago, before my resume was built up, and had been rejected without them ever hearing me (which is not uncommon). But now I had a resume. And also, apparently, all you had to do this time was pick a time. I went online, filled everything in, and chose April 20th at 9:51pm. So there I was, dressed up, with my binder stocked with audition rep, nervously shifting as I waited for the elevator to descend.

Of course, there really wasn’t a blank between those two weeks. Between those times was a lot of preparation. Some of the work had already been done. What makes opera auditions different from musical theater auditions is that they the way we choose our songs varies. I am not worried if the song is overdone (trust me, one of the songs was Mozart. It is, without a doubt, overdone). When they say they want two of contrasting style, it is more a contrasting time period than a ballad and uptempo song. Both my arias were uptempo. One was written in 1789, the other in 1946. Believe me, they were contrasting. And these aren’t 36-bar cuts. They are the full thing. I memorized them, sang through them, worked out the characters on them, had actually already performed one of the roles, and sang through them multiple times. I had all of the information that was emailed to me and I was ready to go. And I was back in my car, having gotten to the parking lot at 8:00pm, if not earlier, waiting for 9:30, the time I told myself I would go in. It was 9:10. I was nervous. I knew looking at my music would make it worse, so I decided it was time to go in.

I walked to the building, a sign on the door letting me know that I was in the right place. Deep breath. This was the big time. Punch the code in, walk inside. Deep breath. We were here in the first paragraph, I hit the elevator button. Deep breath. Walk into the elevator, hearing the empty click of my heels. Deep breath. Enter the code into the keypad, choose the floor they tell me to go to. The elevator lurches up. I remember to breath. I get off the elevator and turn down the hall.

A woman is sitting at the desk in the room at the end. A sign tells me that this is the San Diego Opera Corporate Offices. “Are you Anne?” I am taken a back. I’m not late, am I? There is no way I could be late! “I thought I was early…” I respond. “You are. But so was everyone else, and there was a long break before you. Are you ready, or do you want some time?” I tell her that I just need to get a drink of water, if she can point me to a water fountain or bathroom. She does. My mouth is incredibly dry. I drink water out of the tap in the bathroom and look at myself in the mirror. Here I go.

I walk back into the room and tell her I’m ready. Why sit around and wait anymore. She types
to them and tells them that I am ready. Then she waits. We make small talk, which has never been one of my strong suits. Just breathe, I tell myself. You found that space today, you can find it again. You know what you are doing. The good thing is that there is no one ahead of me. There is no one for me to judge myself against, or pressure myself to sound like. I have a light voice, operatically speaking, and nothing gives me an inferiority complex like some woman singing Violetta’s death aria with long, silky, legato lines when I know I’m going up there next with a song that is literally laughing into a telephone. The laugh requires a high D, I keep telling myself. Time passes, they don’t respond. I find myself staring at a poster. I have no idea what the heck opera that is supposed to be. The woman gets up, she is going to tell them that I am here and ready to go. She doesn’t think they saw her note. I am amazed that anyone can walk into an audition room with such nonchalance. I long for that.

“They’re ready for you,” she tells me. I go in. The room is small, there is a woman at the piano, and two men sitting at a table. I am taken aback. This is the same situation as every other audition I have ever done. A person at a piano. Two unimpressed looking people sitting at a fold-out table. I’ve done this before, I tell myself. I’ve done this a hundred times. I hand the accompanist my music. I stand in front of the two men. “Hi, my name is Anne LaBella, and I will be singing “Una donna quindici anni.” I forget to tell them it is from Cosi Fan Tutti by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. To be fair, I’m pretty sure they knew that.

Let me break in my narrative quickly to inform you that for the last four months I have been doing an intensive through a vocal studio in Los Angeles. This intensive is for singers who, like me, know what they are doing. When I work with a student, I can hear what needs to be changed and I know how to fix it. But humans have an amazing way of getting in our own way, and artists of all sorts seem especially prone to this. In auditions, I would find myself locking up. That freedom and ease I feel on stage was replaced with the single thought, “They are judging me. I want them to like me!” I had made breakthroughs with this intensive. I noticed areas of tension dropping away, my mindset changing to more healthy ways to view my singing, and an ability to make the necessary adjustments in the audition that I need to make. This audition was the culmination of a lot of that work.

There is no introduction to the Mozart. The pianist plays a “D,” and then I take it from there. The placement of the voice felt good. It was hard to tell, the room was dead and I did what a singer should do; I relied on what my body was telling me and not what my ears were telling me. My ears would tell me to push, that I needed to be louder. But my support knew better. It knew what to do, and I let it. I placed the voice where it should be, and proceeded to inform the auditioners that once a woman hits 15, she really should know how to keep the attention of all men and never actually give them anything for it, and I, Despina, know what this is all about. I distinctly remembered to “drink in the sound” (inalare la voce, if I were to use bel canto
terms) at the end of the aria. Okay, that was the one I was worried about. I messed up some words, but I kept going. Did they know, yes, probably. But it’s okay. It is done.

“Thank you,” one of the men says. Okay, this is it. It is over. They are going to send me out. I’m not going to do any of the sight reading. They didn’t like me. “Can you sing a bit of the Menotti for us?” “Of course,” I say.

Now, here is where I make a mistake. I forget to tell the pianist my tempo. I didn’t for the Mozart, but remember, this is an opera audition. We all know Mozart. He is bread and butter. As a classical singer, if I could only ever sing one composer for the rest of my life, it would be Mozart. If I could only ever sing two composers for the rest of my life, it would be Mozart and also Mozart. You get the idea. But the Menotti, while accepted within the general circle as proper canon (I mean, the song is in the Schirmer book of soprano solos after all) is a little less well known. I don’t give her a tempo. She plays it slowly. I don’t blame her. There are a lot of notes on that page, and about 30% of them make little sense.

I proceed to then ignore the auditioners while I talk to Margaret on the phone. Margaret talks a lot. To be fair, so do I. I also laugh a lot. There is a video on YouTube of a white fox laughing. That is what my laugh sounds like. I keep waiting for them to stop me. We are 2/3s done by the time they tell me to stop. I messed up the runs. I don’t actually know if they know that. I kept singing, and ended with the pianist, so there was that. I also laugh really well, if you are interested in casting someone who can play a fox. They should have let me finish though. The ending of the song is part of the joke.

“Okay, thank you.” I’m ready to leave again. “Please go over there and take a look at measure 45.” I look at measure 45. It is marked Soprano I. How did they know? “You can sing on solfegge or any other syllable of your choosing. This is the tempo.” He beats the tempo. I sing. I sight read a lot. I do it for my job. I’m pretty good at it. But you know when you are pretty good at something and then you get nervous and suddenly you are terrible? That isn’t quite what happened. I did pretty well. The ending got a little weird. I breathed after I was done.

“Okay, can you look at the top paragraph. There is a translation underneath if you want to read that first.” It is a joke in Italian. I look at the translation. I look at the Italian. I can do a quick, basic translation in my head, so I am able to line up the important words. I tell the joke as if it were a joke. I stumble on a word. I keep going. I very much want to cry.

“Okay, thank you very much,” they say. I can’t tell if being there for that long is a good thing. I say thank you to them and to the pianist. I say thank you to the woman sitting at the desk. I go down the elevator, which doesn’t need a code if you are just going to the first floor. I walk out of the fancy, bright lobby into the dark San Diego streets. I walk to my car that is in the parking lot across the street. I get in, turn the key, and breathe. That was the most important audition of my life, and also the one where I felt the most in control and the most competent. Success.

How to Cut an Audition Song

How to Cut an Audition Song

When you see singing audition notices, you’ll often see instructions like, “32-bar cut,” “16-bar cut,” “one-minute cut,” and the like. But what does that mean, and how do you cut an audition song. And more than that, how do you know which section to choose or what latitude you have with these cuts and the keys you’re allowed to sing in?

What is a Bar

Let’s start with what a 32-bar or 16-bar cut means. Some professional auditions have even moved down to an 8-bar cut. Let’s look at “Tomorrow,” a song you’ll probably never want to show up for an audition with, unless you’re called back for the part of Annie.

Image result for tomorrow sheet music

If you’ve never studied an instrument or learned to read music, look at those little rectangles, which include the words, “sun-ll come out__to-mor-row” in one and “bet your bot-tom dol-lar that to-” in another. Each one of those is a bar (also known as a measure).

Now if your audition notice says “32-bar cut,” you’ll simply count around 32 of those. If it’s a 16-bar cut, you’ll choose 16. And so on. Many new auditioners will make the mistake of just choosing the first 32 because it’s the easiest way to go. But it’s much smarter to count out your most impressive and versatile bars. If the first 32 bars just constitutes the first 2 verses, for example, it’s a much better idea to cut the second verse and move to a chorus or a bridge. Or even start on the chorus and sing through the bridge–whatever shows you off the best! Just make sure that the bars you choose are well marked for your accompanist (if there is one), or that your backing track is cut correctly (if you’re using a backing track). Also leave room for some sort of intro so that you can easily know when to come in.

Does it Have to Be Exact?

Nah, probably not. If your cut is 30 bars or 34 bars in order to keep it from being an awkward end point, don’t sweat it. It’s unlikely you’ll get cut off or annoy anyone.

What If It’s a Minute Cut

Same rules apply. Pick your strongest minute. You’ll probably want some combination of verse-chorus-bridge if it’s possible to get all of that in. If not, pick your most impressive sections for your voice, and don’t repeat music too much (i.e. you probably don’t want to sing the chorus twice, unless the repeated chorus does something different and impressive).

What If a Cut Isn’t Listed

If it’s a musical theatre audition, learn the whole song, but be prepared with a shorter cut (32 bars is good) in case they ask. For a pop audition, like American Idol, choose your most shining moments and weave them together. Even if you aren’t asked to cut the song, you probably don’t want to come in and sing through a bunch of repetitive verses.

Can I Change the Key?

It depends! For professional musical theatre, you’re highly encouraged to stick with the original key and come in with a song sung by a part you could get cast as (i.e. don’t come in with “Stars” from Les Mis if you’re a soprano female). If you’re going in for a pop audition, you have a little more leeway. Choose a key that’s both impressive and manageable. If you’re singing a cappella, just make sure you have a way of figuring out your starting note so that you don’t accidentally start too high or low.

Have any audition questions? Leave them in the comments section below!

A Million Dreams - The Greatest Showman: Hard Songs to Sing

Hard Songs to Sing: A Million Dreams, from The Greatest Showman

By far, my most requested song to learn in voice lessons from both boys and girls right now is “A Million Dreams,” from the film The Greatest Showman. It may not be as tough to sing as “This is Me,” from the same movie, but it poses a unique set of challenges that singers new to belting sometimes struggle with. We thought it would be the perfect addition to our Hard Songs to Sing collection.

Why Is This Song Hard

1. The choruses start low and then quickly build to higher notes, leading some singers to tense up, get shouty, or flip into falsetto and drop out at the top.
2. The bridge has some sustained B4’s that can get tough.
3. The last “A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make” in the song will test your breath control. Seriously.

Instant Gratification

The Main Choruses

The problem with these choruses that move from low to high is that singers will have a tendency to start at an easy speech tone and then try to yank that speech tone higher and higher until they’re just shouting.

Try not to visualize the vocal line in the chorus as an upward diagonal line.


Instead, think of a series of waves that slowly drift upward.

This visual will do a number of wonderful things: your larynx won’t have a tendency to go higher and higher, the up-and-over visual will help your soft palate lift and your thyroid cartilage tilt (creating a warmer, more open sound), and the downward motion will help prompt you to use good breath support.

In addition to this visual, there are also some vowel and consonant modifications to try. On the word million, the “l” sound will cut you off prematurely, so just swallow it. It should almost come out “mi-eu-yen,” but maybe not quite that far.

Slightly open the “ee” vowels, like be and see. Your tongue should stay in the “ee” position, but your jaw should release in a way it normally wouldn’t on such a thin vowel.

The Bridge

It’s easy to want to shout up to the high notes in the bridge. Since they aren’t crazy high, it feels like you shouldn’t have to set up for them. But don’t be fooled. You still want to keep that up-and-over feeling we discussed in the chorus section.

When you sing eyes at “close my eyes to see,” visualize that up-and-over feeling and sigh down onto it on an “ah,” keeping your soft palate lifted, your face energized and your breath well supported.

The Final Chorus

The arc of the pitches in the “A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make” line in the final chorus is illustrated by the turquoise curves below.

It requires a significant amount of breath support to go up and down like that and tends to lead singers to run out of breath, go flat by the end, or sometimes just get very tense. However, you can mitigate these difficulties by visualizing the arc differently. Instead of thinking of the line as something that goes up and down, have your body in place for the high part the entire time. Visualize the vocal line as if it were more like the dark black diagonal line that moves downward over the top of the curves instead of the curvy turquoise line.

If you’re set up for the high notes before you get to them, instead of trying to readjust every time you feel one coming, you’ll probably use way less air and sing more comfortably and efficiently.

Not-So-Instant Gratification

Unlike some of the songs we’ve worked on in our Hard Songs collection, this one probably won’t be out of reach for that long. Whether or not you want to belt most of it, you’ll need a lot of twang in your voice to keep a consistent sound from the lows to the highs. Try this “na na” exercise. For now, just be kind of bratty or witch-like with it.

What have been your challenges with “A Million Dreams”? Let us know in the comments section below, and as always, if you have a song you’d like us to write a Hard Songs tutorial about, make sure to mention it!

Writing Songs on Guitar

Five Tips For Writing Songs on Guitar

Picture from https://takelessons.com/blog/how-to-write-a-jazz-guitar-song-z01

The following blog was guest written by Alex Frank, who has worked in the sound technology industry for over 10 years.

Songwriting is a process that takes a lot of dedication, commitment, and joy. The act of songwriting is very personal, unless you are in a band or duo that co-writes the songs. Sometimes inspiration strikes when you’re playing your instrument, and sometimes it happens when you’re just going about your day.

For the guitarist, writing a song can be more demanding than performing a song on stage in front of an audience.

Do you play the guitar, and are you looking for tips for writing songs? We’ve checked out five trusted tips for writing songs on guitar that we think will help you in your process.

The Parts of a Song

Songs can be broken down into various parts. We’ll discuss them in this article in order to guide a beginner through writing their first songs.

The Intro

Intros open your song and set the listener up for what is to come. It usually comes at the beginning of your song. The intro you use might cut across your whole song.

The Verse

The verse tends to be where most of the narration or storytelling happens in your song. Most songs have multiple verses. They can be short or long depending on your own inspiration, and you can even manipulate an early verse to form another verse later in the song.

The Bridge

This section fills the gap between your chorus and the return of the verse by creating a contrast. Some songs have them and some leave them out.

The Chorus

The chorus usually comes first in people’s hearts when they think of a song. It is the main part of the song, is repeated throughout, and is often very catchy and memorable. As a songwriter, you use your chorus to captivate your listeners. It is what sticks in people’s minds.

The Outro

The outro is the exit music for your song. It might be a piece of your chorus or just some instrumentation.

Five Tips For Writing Songs on Guitar

Get to Know Your Notes

It may sound obvious, but learning the notes on your guitar and how to play them instead of simply strumming can help you turn your song into something magical. Knowing your notes will help you be more inventive, which will help you compose songs easily and naturally on your guitar.

Create Your Rhythm

Another tip you need for writing a song on your guitar is to create (and mostly stick with) a rhythmic pattern. Your rhythm and strumming pattern will differentiate your song from other ones out there. You can get inspiration for your strumming pattern from many places, anything from rhythms notated in books to ones from other songs you’ve been listening to.

Cross-Pick

Use your plectrum, or pick, to imitate fingerpicking. Imitating fingerpicking with your plectrum isn’t the best option for everyone, because you do lose a little of the agility and warmth of your normal fingerstyle, but it can still be a very useful tool. To implement this strategy, start with a chord progression you strum from time to time. Pick one of the chords and select three sequential strings from the bass note; from your bottom string, up-pick the three notes in ascending order.

Finger-Pick

Unless you’re an expert, playing without picks sometimes makes you feel less in charge of your guitar. However, taking up the challenge of playing without your pick will help when writing a song on your guitar. Fingerpicking offers quite a wide range of unique tonal colors by allowing for more intricate patterns. It might result in the creation of new, engaging, and soul-filled songs.

Search For Chords

Be on the hunt for new chords. These chords might sound strange at first, and may also cause you to have to work out new stretches and shapes that temporarily make practice more challenging. This shouldn’t deter you from practicing them over and over again though. By putting in the time and effort, you’ll open up many more options for creativity.

Writing a song on guitar is a demanding, time-consuming task that requires a great deal of dedication and commitment. I hope you find the tips in this article helpful. If you did, pick up your guitar now (yes now!) and begin to write songs.

Author Bio

I’m Alex Frank who has worked in the sound technology industry for 10 years now. Today, I am an affiliate blogger who likes to educate my audience about sound technology. Visit musicinstrumentscenter.com to find all the information about music that you need.

Hard Songs To Sing: “Blank Space”

Taylor swift and Sean O’Pry in the music for “Blank Space”, by Josephlalrinhlua786, under CC BY-SA 4.0

Even though our last song in our Hard Songs To Sing Collection, “Shake It Off,” was also a Taylor Swift Song, I decided to write about another Taylor song, “Blank Space,” since it’s widely requested by our students right now. Plus writing about “Blank Space” means I have an excuse to guiltlessly listen to it over and over again without feeling like I need to move on to something more edifying. Compared to monsters like “Chandelier,” “Blank Space” doesn’t rank very high in terms of difficulty, but it certainly does pose some challenges in the chorus and bridge.

Why is This Song Hard?

1. The chorus forces you to end lines on relatively high “r” words, a rough consonant to control.
2. The C5 on “Got a long list” and “Cause you know” is higher than some singers can belt comfortably.
3. The line, “You love the game,” is high but has to be powerful to be convincing.
4. The end of the bridge, ending in “warn ya” ends on a sustained C5.

Instant Gratification

1. Rather than drawing out the “er” sound in the words forever and over, try sustaining the words on an “euh” sound and greatly softening the “r.” The results should sound more like “foreveu” and “oveuh.”
2. On the line “You love the game,” try adding an “EE” sound to the word you, making it sound more like “yeeeeaow.” On the word game, you can either try modifying it to an “A” sound (as in cat,) or an “EE” sound. Both should be a little easier to sustain than the “AY” sound. The “A” vowel will give you more of a belty sound, while the “EE” will give you more of a heady ring, but both vowels will be bright enough to give you some much-needed power. Try them both and figure out which one feels better on your voice.
3. If the sustained ya at the end of the bridge is feeling throaty, consider modifying it to “yeuh.”

Not-So-Instant Gratification

1. Work on head voice.

In order to make the higher parts of the chorus more manageable, try working on your head tones. Instead of trying to pull up to the notes on “Got a long list of ex-lovers,” try sighing from the top of your voice downward to those notes, as if you’re imitating a siren. Try some downward scales, beginning somewhere higher than C5 and working your way down. This will teach you to relax into the notes and build a little strength in the upper part of your range.

2. Work on your belt mix.

In order to keep the line, “You love the game,” from sounding too shrill or too sweet, it’s best to develop a solid belt mix. Sing arpeggios on “NAY NAY NAY,” over time working to sing a powerful C5.

Have any other parts of “Blank Space” you could use some help with, or have a request for a Hard Songs To Sing tutorial? Let us know in the comments section, and we’d be happy to help out.