Indulge me for a little while please, dear reader. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “I indulge her every time I click on the link to this blog,” but this one is all about me and my innermost.
OK. Now that the rest have departed for more stimulating shores, let the three of us left examine my mental processes for these few weeks leading up to my ATCL Diploma on 6th December:
January 2015: “Woo! I’m actually doing my Diploma! How on earth did that transpire?”
All the time since: “I have to practise. An hour a day. But some days I am too busy/grumpy/sleepy/Doc/Bashful/preoccupied to practise or there are various men traipsing around my house who will think the worst of me when they hear operatic arias (that I’m learning for the first time ever) sung badly.”
The last three weeks: “OK. I have a date. It’s two weeks earlier than I’d thought but, hey, that means that my exam won’t be four days before Christmas. And it means two fewer weeks of having to dodge lurgies. But still hardly any time at all. And I’m rubbish. And I’m in India for a week. Still, I’d better get my head down and work hard and it might come good.”
Random cautions for the lead up to a singing exam:
- You are not Cecilia Bartoli/Kiri Te Kanewa. This should not bother you unduly. They have had years of practice and several teachers, coaches and repetiteurs (not to mention, shhh!, record producers and engineers to make sure their recording comes out right.)
- Conversely, do not expect the person to whose version of your songs you are listening always to sing the correct notes in the correct order. Or at the correct time. It is up to YOU to make sure you listen to a recording in the correct key, which might not necessarily be the correct key for a particular artist. They are famous and celebrated so they are allowed to change key. You are not.
- Also, it’s up to you to make sure you have read and understood the music since you do not have recourse to the services of a dedicated voice coach who will spend hours with you before you audition and before your performance to makes sure you get it right every time.
- Count. Count. COUNT, FFS!
- Since you will be expected to read the music, many of your early practice sessions should include picking out the tune laboriously on the piano. If you don’t read music, then tant pis madame.
- It’s always better to try and learn pieces off by heart than attempt to read the music on exam day. Trust me, if you’ve done enough practice, you will have learned the song and then you should be able to interpret it much better than if you’re struggling with a wobbly book on a music stand. (I will NEVER know why music is not routinely ring bound so it lies flat on a piano or music stand. Perhaps that would make it easier to copy.)
- Sort out your accompanist very soon, especially in the run up to Christmas as good ones get very booked up with concerts and, oh, exams. It is possibly that the person with whom you have done the run-throughs is busy on the damn Sunday morning when your exam is held. Always have a Plan B, C and D. Good musicians are at a premium.
- Do not be intimidated by the wonderful musicianship of a great accompanist. They are there to make you look good. They are waiting to take the lead from you, rather than vice versa.
- Make sure there are enough scores to go around in case an accompanist is ill, say, and you have to find another one at short notice. Make sure your computer has the correct drivers for your new printer.
- Do try and gain experience at performing solo in front of an audience. It is asking too much of yourself to go into a singing exam if you have never sung solo in public before. Nerves in front of an audience can cause your most rehearsed technique to fly out of the inevitably slightly open window that causes a draught.
- If, however, you don’t have access to numerous friends with a grand piano who can accompany you at the drop of hat, or organise an informal recital, then this is probably not the best time to fret about it.
- Analyse how nerves affect you. If necessary have a stern word with yourself during your performance. “You bloody well need to pull yourself together, mate, because it’s too late to back out now.”
- Avoid viruses. They are EVERYWHERE but you still need to avoid them. Even in December.
- Do not undermine yourself by reminding yourself that ANYONE can enter for an exam, whether they are fantastic or their voice resembles water gurgling down a plug hole in Auckland. You would not be doing it if you were really not up to it and any teacher worth their salt would not recommend that you enter.
- It does NOT matter if you don’t get a Distinction.
- NEVER let anyone undermine your fragile self-belief by suggesting that a) your singing was “All right,” or that b) perhaps you might consider postponing your exam. You are FABULOUS and a DIVA at all times. You need to visualise yourself as such. Scarves and a haughty manner will help.
- It’s all about the words, stupid. Make sure you understand all of the lyrics to your songs, and a good approximation of the pronunciations. On the day you will be acting out the words to your songs. Be ready.
- Sort out what you’re going to wear a long time in advance and stick to that. Do not wear anything for the first time in a singing exam. Make sure you’re smart yet comfortable: catching your reflection and being shocked at the person staring back at you is going to cause distraction and frettage in your exam and we don’t want that.
- Do not be tempted to wear tight trousers to an exam or a rehearsal. They interfere with your breathing and thus with your performance.
- Switch off your inner saboteur chimp.
That’s about it.