We are so excited to be bringing you this new series of Vocal Voyages to you for 2016, and we are absolutely delighted to begin with the incredibly talented Richard Symons. After today’s blog, Richard will be posting every Wednesday for the month of January. If you like what you read, make sure to like, share and follow us by email.
I’ve been living in New York for a year and a half now, and ever since I moved here I’ve wondered what it would be like to be one of those people sitting in Starbucks sipping their $5 cups of coffee, typing furiously at their MacBooks. Is it their rapid stream of consciousness, or the terrible coffee that whips them into this frenzy? I have to find out. So as I sit here on W86th St typing my first installment of Vocal Voyages, I’m embarking on a journey of scientific discovery… Or at least, that’s how I’m romanticising it!
Before this Tall, Non-Fat Latte with Caramel Drizzle drives me completely insane, let me say a few things:
It’s a privilege to be writing for The O Word. I love endeavors to demystify the industry of opera and classical music. I by-no-means have all the answers, or even some of the answers, but through collaborating and sharing ideas we can all (hopefully) have more enjoyable and rewarding experiences!
This series is designed to help young singers back in Perth take the next steps, and give you guys an insight into the world of a young singer in NYC. In other words, this is your blog, so own it. I’m sure The O Word would love you to write in and request blog topics that would most benefit you! Follow them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tinder, all of the usual places, and swipe right on them.
Finally, but most importantly (and maybe write this down, because this’ll be in the pop quiz), all of what is about to follow is just one person’s opinion and experience. The most useful piece of advice I can give is that there is no ‘one way’ to have a career in classical music! This extends to the training as well. Opera is not like Medicine (or what I understand Medicine to be like, after binge watching Grey’s Anatomy), no one pathway to becoming Chief of Surgery at Seattle Grace. The path I’ve chosen is just one of MANY, so just remember to check-in with yourself and make decisions (preferably educated ones!) based on what you think is best, not on what is #trending among all of your colleagues and friends.
Right, let’s begin…
Auditioning for Graduate programs in NYC
Step 1: Are you sure you want to study in NYC??
I was, but I only knew that because I had spent time here in NYC before I sent in my audition materials. Luckily for me, and the rest of us currently studying Mannes, we were involved with West Australian Opera whilst Maestro Colaneri was Artistic Director. I remember sitting down and having a chat with him about what it was like to study in New York, what Mannes offered, and if he thought it would be something that would benefit me. Having him as a resource was incredible. So when I flew to Canada for my cousin’s wedding, I stopped in NYC and had some lessons with potential teachers that various people had recommended. And now, I’m studying with one of those people!
Knowing what I wanted, and why I wanted it, was for me the most important factor in my decision to study at Mannes. I was sure I wanted to study in NYC and ultimately that means that, no matter what happens in the future, I owned my destiny. When deciding what your next steps are I don’t see there being ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ decisions, only ‘informed’ and ‘uninformed’ ones. So ask questions! Email, Skype, Facebook any and all of your contacts and ask for help.
Step 2: Pre-screening
It’s the same as an audition – all you can do is sing your best. But don’t stress about it, you’re auditioning for further training, not professional engagements! Schools understand that you’re a work in progress, that your passaggio might need some tweaking, or that the rep you’re singing now might not reflect what you’ll sing in even 2 years time. It’s all ok. Just sing music you have an affinity for, and sing it to the best of your ability.
But, for goodness sake, prepare yourself so that it’s not a last minute rush to make the audition deadline. Book your recording space in advance, book a pianist, decide on your rep early so you have time to work on it. Singing is stressful enough without you adding the stress of being unprepared! When I recorded my audition I booked two sessions a couple of days apart from each other, incase I wanted to rerecord some songs or arias. And thank goodness I did!
Oh, and by the way…check, double check, triple check the required audition materials. Each school is different!
Step 3: I got an audition! How long should I travel to NYC for?
Cool! Well done! Let’s grab a celebratory beer!
As for travel, it ultimately depends on how much time you can afford. I would say the more the better. I suffer from jet lag quite badly, and it took me 2 weeks to fully acclimatise to NYC time…remember, it’s 12 hrs difference! So I made sure I had at least 2 weeks in NYC before my first audition. During that time I also took as many lessons as I could, with as many teachers as I could. As well as giving you an informed opinion on where you might want to study, I also found it helped going into auditions knowing some of the faces on the audition panels (which are made up of the teachers on the vocal faculty of that particular school). Research each teacher and their students and book a lesson with them. Just because someone is “the best” doesn’t mean they’re necessarily right for you, for a variety of reasons.
I also allowed 1 week after my final audition to go out an experience the city. After all you might end up moving here, it’d be nice to figure out if you actually liked the place!! We’re singers; we can be accused of being a tad neurotic around audition periods, so getting to explore the city and its many haunts without the stress of having to sing was invaluable.
Step 3.5: I didn’t get an audition…
First thing’s first – this doesn’t mean you won’t have a career. It doesn’t mean that you’re not talented. There are any number of reasons why the pre-screen panel (often 1 person listening to 30 seconds…) decided not to award you an audition. You can choose to let it halt your progress or you can grow through the disappointment. If you have set funds aside to do an audition trip a worthwhile use of your time would be to travel to NYC anyway and have lessons with teachers, and discover what you need to do to reach the next level in your training.
Step 4: $$$
Spending 4 weeks in NYC costs money…obviously… so here’s a list of some costs to consider:
Accomodation – There are quite a few Perth people living in NYC right now, but don’t rely on being able to couch surf for 4 weeks. NYC apartments are tiny and even though people love visitors it may not always be possible. Look into AirBnB and other such websites. Staying in Brooklyn or Queens instead of Manhattan might be more cost-efficient, so think about that as well.
Lessons – Lessons are on average $160, but can be as expensive as $225+. It’s expensive, but entirely worthwhile.
Food – You’ll most likely eat take-out most meals, it’s just how NYC is! So factor that in, and make sure you don’t starve.
Transport – The subway system is amazing and costs $117 for a month of unlimited travel. Avoid taxis, they’re an unnecessary expense (but maybe treat yo’ self on audition day). Keep in mind that with the hectic NYC traffic, the subway is often a less stressful way of getting from A – B in terms of making sure you are on time for a lesson or audition. BUT always double the estimated travel time for any important lessons, auditions, nail appointments to be safe. If you’re early, go park yourself in a Starbucks.
Just being in NYC – don’t forget to save a little extra to actually have a good time in NYC! It’s an incredible city, one of the best, with so much to offer. Cheap seats to Broadway shows are roughly $40, and you can get tickets to The Met for $35…and I’d say if you’re travelling to NYC to do auditions you’d probably want to see some shows at The Met!! A lot of museums have ‘suggested prices’ which effectively means you can actually pay $1 to get into most places. Worth remembering if you’re on a tight budget!
Tipping & Tax: Hardly any prices advertised in shops and restaurants include tax, so don’t be shocked when your bill comes to $11.57 instead of $10! Also, tipping is a thing here, so get used to figuring out what 15% of $44.50 is!
Step 5: The small matter of the actual audition…
As I said before, hopefully you’ll have had some singing lessons with various singing teachers so you’ll have some friendly faces on the panel. But, that won’t stop it from being nerve wracking! You’re in a completely different city, with 100’s of singers (who are all incredible) fighting for a limited amount of spots. It’s stressful, I’m not going to sugar coat it. But the good news is – everyone at the school showing you to your audition room has gone through the exact same experience, and understands what you’re going through. And you can guarantee all of the other singers auditioning are feeling the same butterflies. You are not alone.
Make sure you get there in plenty of time to warm up and get used to the building. Oh, and probably something worth noting…in America they write the date differently to Australia. The 2nd of March 2016 is written 3/2/16. So just double check the date of your audition carefully, otherwise you might think your audition is on the 3rd of February (it happens, trust me)!!
Make sure you have a very clear picture of the nuts-and-bolts of you audition. Do you need to bring copies of music for the panel? How many? Do you need a rep list, and have you printed it? I would travel with all of your music on a USB (and maybe stored in your dropbox or in your email) in case anything happens to your hard copies, which you should definitely come prepared with. Obviously you can find places to print here in an emergency, but it’s easier to bring hard copies with you and have everything super organised before you hit the distraction of the city.
And this really shouldn’t need to be said, but just incase – be nice to your accompanist (if this is news to you, smack yourself on the back of your head. Seriously.)!! Book an extra rehearsal with them if you can. Make sure the binder you give them is impeccable and that your music has clear markings on it. Remember – the more prepared you can be, the more fun you’ll have and the better you’ll sing. Travelling to NYC to audition is a big investment of money and time, so don’t sell yourself short..
So that’s all for now, more to come next week. Please comment with any other questions you might have about auditions and I’ll do my best to answer them!
Written by Richard Symons