The earliest degree program in music theater began in the 1960s, and since its creation, there has been an exponential increase in these offerings by colleges and universities. While resources exist that proffer advice for music theater auditions, many do not pertain specifically to those for college admission. David Sisco and Laura Josepher, who between them hold degrees in vocal performance, music theater, and educational theater, offer guidance on a wide range of topics relevant to the college music theater applicant. The authors speak not only to students, but also to parents and teachers who are usually involved in the process.
The opening chapter, entitled "Do I Really Want to Major in Musical Theatre?" offers a realistic summary of the demands of pursuing a degree in music theater, including financial considerations and career opportunities. The frank assessment will encourage students to conduct an honest appraisal of their interests, motives, and dedication. Statistics for employment in the field are sobering; in 2015-2016, only 27% of the members of the Actors' Equity Association worked as actors, and the average length of employment was 17 weeks. The authors, aware that the challenges may discourage some prospective students, lay out the potential hurdles at the outset.
If the student is still interested in studying music theater after reading the first chapter, the remainder of the volume presents a plethora of practical guidance. The authors lead student and parent through the process of evaluating music theater programs (which now number in the hundreds), encouraging them to consider the length of study, the type of degrees offered, cost, and other factors such as facilities, performing opportunities, and internship availability. Auditioning for schools requires both time and money, and the authors recommend students consider both when creating their list of audition schools. Consistent with standard counsel to college applicants, Sisco and Josepher advise students to apply to schools that fall into three categories: reach, target, and safety programs. The authors deviate from standard advice, however, by stating that students should apply to twelve to fifteen schools and "take it from there." Considering that the cost of merely applying and sending test scores may cost upward of $75 per school--and that does not include travel for auditions--the expense for such an extensive list is not trivial.
The fourth chapter tackles the thorny question of material selection. The authors underline that choosing inappropriate songs "suggests that the performer is not a literate theatre artist." They urge the student and teacher to consider the age, gender, tastes, character, and strengths of the performer when picking repertoire. The volume includes other useful directives, such as avoiding repertoire from, as the authors describe it, a "rotating parade" of material that is presented regularly at auditions. (A list of overdone songs appears in an appendix.) The advice is direct and specific. Know your voice type, and do not list yourself as two voice types. ("Women, you are not both a legit soprano and a mezzo belter," they write. "That's not a thing.") Avoid obscene material. The authors spend a chapter explaining the best way to select sixteen and thirty-two bar cuts, as well as how to tailor monologues. Excerpts should effectively display the singer's vocal and dramatic range, and should illuminate a character's journey with a logical beginning, middle, and end.
In the chapter entitled "How to Prepare for Audition Day," the authors address both in-depth study undertaken before the performance (such as reading the entire play from which the monologue is taken) and practical considerations (such as what to tell your pianist and how to say it). Regarding the latter topic, the authors underline the importance of treating your pianist with respect; in many audition situations, the accompanist provides input into the selection process. The practical advice is detailed, ranging from the brand name of recommended sheet protectors for the pianist's music to how to save money on auditions in New York by booking hotels rooms in New Jersey. Additionally, the authors solicited responses to the question, "What did you wish you had known before your audition?" from current and former students in music theater programs.
Importantly, Sisco and Josepher do not overlook the emotional toll of auditions. They recommend that students adopt the mantra "I am enough," and reaffirm that an audition does not determine one's value. While it is a common theme in all audition advice, it is particularly necessary for prospective college students because high school seniors often feel inordinate pressure throughout the application process.
Eleven appendixes complement information presented in the book. Topics include templates for a college audition spreadsheet, listing of summer music theater programs, step-by-step directives to learning songs and monologues, sample audition cuts, and rubrics for rating schools before and after the audition. There is a list of wild card questions that are designed to help the student prepare for interviews. Four of the appendixes are devoted to repertoire and monologue selection. The authors identify pieces to avoid, and pieces to consider, including several songs by contemporary composers. Some useful advice is omitted; while it is true that singers often gravitate to a small canon of songs that are currently popular or extremely well known, selecting a song that no one knows can be as risky as choosing a song everyone knows.
Overall, this book is a helpful tool for high school students who are preparing to audition for college music theater programs. The authors share useful tips about preparation and performance that are drawn from practical experience. However, there are occasions throughout the book that call into question the objectivity of the authors. In the discussion of preparation for auditions, for instance, the authors recommend working with a qualified teacher. Following a discouraging description of possible travel taking five hours to a major metropolitan area, they mention that some pedagogues offer lessons via Skype, and then strategically proffer their own email addresses. Another instance of self-promotion appears in the list of suggested songs. Several of these lesser known songs are available for purchase from a website that is operated by the authors, and some of these are composed by Sisco. These digressions into advertisements are regrettable, for singers eager for an acceptance letter may confuse recommendations with requirements.
The college application process has grown highly competitive, and students look for any edge to make themselves stand out in the audition pool. Mastering Musical Theatre Auditions contains useful tools for prospective music theater majors, particularly when consulted in conjunction with the advice of parents and teachers. Students who are contemplating a college degree in music theater should investigate this volume.
Austin, Stephen F. Provenance: Historic Voice Pedagogy Viewed through a Contemporary Lens. Gahanna, OH: Inside View Press, 2017. Paper, x, 354 pp., $65.00. ISBN 978-0-9905073-7-6 www.voxped.com
In the introduction to this compendium, Stephen F. Austin states that an understanding and appreciation of the instructional philosophies and methods of past singing teachers is beneficial to contemporary pedagogues. "Truth doesn't change over time," he writes. "Neither do effective teaching methods." The historical record of successful teachers offers insights into empirical wisdom. Moreover, the author states that good teaching and good science support each other; the methodologies of the masters were successful because they were based upon function. Austin draws upon his background in pedagogy and voice science to illuminate historical theories and treatises.
All of the articles first appeared in the Journal of Singing in the regular feature entitled "Provenance." As suggested by the title for the column, translated as "source," Austin presents historical treatises; he also explores the implications of the writings for contemporary pedagogy. The volume contains fifty-nine essays that were published between 2005 and 2016. The source material is drawn from teachers such as Manuel Garcia II, Francesco Lamperti, Pier Francesco Tosi, Mathilde Marchesi, Carlo Bassini, and William Shakespeare. There are also excerpts from lesser known instructors and singers, including Herman Klein, Herbert Witherspoon, Evan Williams, and Herbert Sanders. The articles cover the gamut of pedagogic principles, from portamento to posture, and registration to roles.
The articles fall into two broad categories: discussion of a specific concept, and illumination of the writings of a specific pedagogue. For essays of the first ilk, Austin cites several sources to explain a term used in voice studios, such as aspirato, martellato, and lutte vocale in both its historical and modern context. Each essay is meticulously researched and cites numerous primary sources. The second category introduces or clarifies the writings of voice pedagogues. Not surprisingly, the teachings of Garcia and Lamperti make frequent appearances, but a vast breadth of pedagogic writing is reflected in the collection. Four essays are devoted to excerpts from Julius Stockhausen's A Method of Singing (1884), while two articles from the late nineteenth century present the writings of American Frederic W. Root. Austin also provides perspective on pedagogic history; in the introduction to "Filling the Gap with Guiseppe Aprili," the author encapsulates the chronology of treatises written between Pensieri e riflessioni pratiche sul canto figurato (1774) by Giovanni Battista Mancini and Traite complet sur l'art du chant (1847) by Manuel Garcia II. There are reprints of accounts by authors who witnessed lessons taught by renowned teachers such as Garcia, Shakespeare, Emile Behnke, and Antonio Sangiovanni. The volume also contains essays that present and discuss reprints of articles from the archives at the predecessor of the Journal of Singing, The NATS Bulletin.
Austin's breadth of knowledge and scholarship is noteworthy. Equally commendable is the author's ability to place historical concepts into the context of the modern voice studio. The connection to contemporary voice pedagogy is made throughout the anthology, and is most evident in passages where Austin discusses technique in general. For instance, in the conclusion to the essay on messa di voce, the author delivers an impassioned rationale for consistent attention to technical exercises in voice lessons, regardless of upcoming performances. In his weekly lessons, "half of the hour is spent voice building ... I do not have any students who do not need it." The principles of voice technique are based upon a rich legacy, and the author maintains there is much to be learned from studying this historical record. Austin has contributed an outstanding collection of essays that explore and expound upon the writings of great voice pedagogues. This volume is highly recommended.
Mindel, Valerie. So You Want to Sing Folk Music: A Guide for Performers. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017. A Project of the National Association of Teachers of Singing. Paper, xix, 231 pp., $37.00. ISBN 978-1-4422-6561-5 eBook $36.99 ISBN 978-1-4422-6562-2 www.rowman.com
So You Want to Sing is a series of books produced under the auspices of The National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), and is comprised of volumes devoted to a genre. The first, So You Want to Sing Music Theater by Karen Hall, was published in 2014 (reviewed in JOS 71, no. 2 [November/December 2014]: 254-256). Other volumes in the series include So You Want to Sing Rock 'n' Roll by Matthew Edwards (2014; reviewed in JOS 71, no. 5 [May/June 2015]), So You Want to Sing Jazz by Jan Shapiro (2015; reviewed JOS 73, no. 1 [September/October 2016]), So You Want to Sing Country by Kelly K. Garner (2017; reviewed in JOS 74, no. 1 [September/October 2017]), and So You Want to Sing Gospel by Trineice Robinson-Martin (2016; reviewed in JOS 74, no. 2 [November/December 2017]).
The books in the series share several common traits. Each includes a correlated online supplement provided by the National Association of Teachers of Singing that offers music examples and exercises. Two chapters recur in every book: a section by Scott McCoy explaining voice science, physiology, anatomy and function, and an essay by Wendy LeBorgne addressing vocal health. For those styles that rely upon amplification and audio enhancement, Matthew Edwards contributes a chapter on sound technology. The core of each volume, however, is the insight offered by performers and teachers who are experienced and active in the field.
The most recent addition to the series is devoted to folk music. Author Valerie Mindel has had an extensive stage career and has taught folk styles for two decades. The opening chapter for So You Want to Sing Folk Music focuses on the same question with which series editor Matthew Hoch grapples in the prefatory remarks: What is folk music? Mindel's response is the title for the section, "You know it when you hear it." Folk music encompasses and incorporates a wide variety of traditions and styles, from ballads of British descent and religious songs to hillbilly and gospel music, and from protest anthems to bluegrass. The author offers a brief overview of the influences shaping folk music, as well as invaluable online sources for additional research.
Mindel devotes a chapter to the discussion of vocal technique. Many aspiring folk singers fear that voice training will diminish their authentic sound and make them sound "like an opera singer." Mindel allays these fears and explains the benefits and components of good technique, including posture, breathing, resonance, and placement. Regarding registration, the author underlines the importance of understanding the coordination of different muscle groups. Mindel frames the discussion of intonation issues within technique, and cites posture, breath, diction, and registration as possible causes of tuning difficulties. This chapter also offers specific advice for folk music, such as minimal or no use of vibrato, and speech-based singing in which the mouth and face remain relatively still. Some folk singers employ deadpan singing in which resonant sound is produced without any facial movements.
In the chapter "Sweet Harmony," Mindel emphasizes that, sooner or later, folk singing involves singing harmony. She explains the importance of blend, which is impacted by resonance, vowels, pronunciation, and volume. Singing harmony well, the author writes, is not a "finger-in-your-ear" approach where a singer is fighting to hold onto a part by blocking out other singers; rather, it is "listening lightly," allowing the ear to take control while the mind guides the direction. Mindel explains chord structure and intervallic relationships without using notated musical examples. She offers a sidebar entitled "10 steps to creating a parallel harmony," painstakingly leading the fledgling singer through the principles of creating a basic harmonization. For singers who have mastered this technique, she explains other fundamental harmonic structures, such as having the lead melody in the middle of the chord rather than on the top, crossing voices, blue notes, sevenths, and dissonances.
Working up a song starts with selecting and performing repertoire. Mindel delineates a six-step process for learning a song, and offers advice in crafting an interpretation, from delving into the text to determining accompaniment. For those interested in song writing, she proffers a thumbnail sketch of the compositional process, and interviews songwriters to give readers an insight into their methodology.
"Putting It Out There" probes the realities of performing folk music. Singers must develop songs, sets, and shows appropriate to different venues. Skills required for open mike night at the local pub differ vastly from those needed for an engagement as a house band. Mindel offers advice on getting the first gig, as well as identifying the demands of the recording studio, the necessity of video and social media, and the changes in general that have occurred in the business of folk music over the past several decades.
The strength of the "So You Want to Sing" series is that it offers a resource for performers who are interested in a specific genre of music. So You Want to Sing Folk Music is no exception. The author is experienced and knowledgeable about the genre, and she identifies the characteristics and demands of folk music. Singers who are interested in singing this repertoire will benefit from reading this volume.