Photo Credit: Robbie Frank, Reflections Film LLC
Recital season is always a stressful time for college musicians. I can't speak for how the instrumentalists prepare for their recitals, but, after 2 full length voice recitals of my own, I feel qualified to give some tips about voice recital preparation. Hopefully, this post will make your life easier during your recital year.
Do: start thinking about your program as soon as possible.
Do you want your recital to have a theme? What style(s) do you want your recital to contain? What are the requirements for you to pass your recital? Make sure you ask yourself those questions well before your recital date, and make sure you are consulting your teacher about your songs. Having a program that meet the requirements that you also enjoy is important to a successful recital and will make your preparations and practice sessions much easier.
Don't: pick music that is too difficult for you or not for your type.
If you're an undergraduate, the Queen of the Night aria might not be the best for you. Similarly, if you are a mezzo, maybe don't put in Glitter and Be Gay. Your teacher probably don't let you sing anything that is too difficult for you, and they definitely won't let you sing something that's not written for your voice type. Pick music that will show off YOUR voice.
Do: divide your music into sets as soon as your program is finalized.
Decide where you want your audience to clap. Generally, for a classical recital, people don't clap after every song. Note that in your program and practice your sets together. For my junior recital, I divided up my program by language. So, during my practice sessions, I'd practice my French set all together, take a break, then go into my Italian arias.
Don't: compare your program to other people's.
Programs are like tailor-made dresses. They're designed for you. Pick a program that you love and don't compare it to other people. Someone else's program might be more technically difficult or all in foreign languages, but that doesn't mean you have to cut your English set to make room for a Polish set if you don't want to. However, with that said, it is okay to get inspiration from other people's recitals. Did they sing a song that you really want to learn? Bring it to your teacher and ask if you can fit it into your program.
Do: get memorized early.
At my school, the unspoken deadline for memorization is one month before your recital date. For me, I finalized my program the summer break before my fall recital and was mostly memorized by the time school started in September. This gave me lots of time to play with the characters and the musicality of my program. I was also not as nervous when it came time to go on stage because I knew these songs so well.
Don't: let the last month freak you out.
The month before your recital is going to seem scary. You're going to feel unprepared, anxious, and have doubts about the whole thing. Don't worry. This is the month to explore and make mistakes. In my experience, you make the most progress and during the two weeks before your recital. Just relax and remind yourself why you are doing this in the first place.
Do: plan out what you want your dress rehearsal to be like.
I had open dress rehearsals for both of my recitals where I treated them as proper performances. I invited people to come so I could have an audience, and so that people who couldn't come to my actual recital got a chance to see it live. That's one way of doing it. You might decide that you want your dress rehearsal to only include you, your accompanist, and your teacher. You many want to work through things logistically or sing certain songs twice. The bottom line is: it's your time. Use it however it will benefit you most.
Don't: wait until the last minute to deal with logistics.
Logistics is half the battle. You have to book your dress rehearsal space, book your reception space, pick an outfit, pay your accompanist... Have a plan and enlist your friends to help. Make sure your parents know where to go. Girls: make sure you PRACTICE IN YOUR DRESS AND SHOES! Have a plan for everything that might go wrong way in advance so that you can focus on you the day of your recital.
Do: take your time to prepare yourself before the performance.
On your recital day, you are the most important person. You get to be a diva. Make sure you eat something that makes you feel comfortable, and don't be afraid to tell people to leave you alone or be quiet. My parents fight exclusively during times of high stress. I've had to tell them to please be quiet or fight somewhere else before both recitals. Also, once you've gotten to your performance space, think through your songs, meditate, or have some tea to calm your nerves.
Don't: kick yourself if you're not perfect.
Trust that you've prepared enough for this performance. Everyone in the audience is on your side. Strive for meaningful communication and not for perfection. And trust that whatever you are doing is good enough.
Do: enjoy performing and have a great time!
This whole day is about you and your achievements. You are giving people the gift of your talent. So enjoy, and have fun with it. You are going to do great.
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When I announced to my parents I wanted to major in voice at the end of my freshman year of high school, they thought it was a joke. And they laughed about it and told me it was funny. It took a year for it to sink in that I was serious. I don't blame them. I've had many hobbies in the past - ice skating, ballet, art, math olympiad - and none of it lasted long. They had no reason to trust a 15-year-old with the attention span of a squirrel to actually carry through on the "whole singing thing." Back when I told them of my newly-found dream, I had just completed my first year of choir and a total of 4 months of voice training. During that time, I had, somehow, gotten into both sectional- and regional honor choir and spend two glorious weekends rehearsing and performing. I was hooked.
My parents, though lax compared to most other Chinese parents, had their eyes set on something more practical for me: business. I'd always been good at math and science. And, what's more, I genuinely enjoyed it. Though I told people that I was taking AP Chem just to get the GPA bump, the truth was I loved every minute of it. But music became a big part of my life. I looked forward to choir and band more than anything else. I loved belting out show tunes in my room and annoying the neighbors. And, during those rare honor choir weekends, I would pretend that this is what I did for a living and sang like I was being paid for it. For my last two years of high school, I commuted an hour each way to my voice lesson every week, sometimes twice a week. I was in love with singing. I couldn't imagine not doing it for a living.
And then college application time rolled around. My parents were worried that I'd started too late to get into a performance program. Plus, even if I did, what are the chances I'd have a stable career? They picked seven schools for me, all for music education, music business, and general arts degrees. I got to pick three that I actually wanted to go to, but also for music education. I didn't care at the time. As long as I got into a music program, I was happy.
One crazy year later, I was starting as a music education major at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, one of the best schools for music educators in the country. I went to the mandatory music ed meeting during orientation, and promptly changed my BM in Ed to a BA in Music the first week of school. My argument, which I still 100% agree with: the world doesn't need another bad music teacher. See, I've been blessed with so many good music teachers. But I've also seen my fair share of teachers who would rather be doing something else. I didn't want to be one of those teachers who would rather be performing and blame their students for their current position.
My first voice lesson went something like this:
Me: I want to be a voice performance major.
My teacher: What major are you now?
Me: Music ed. But I don't really want to do the whole... teaching thing...
My teacher: Well, I have to hear you sing, but you can audition into it.
Me: Oh great! When can I do that?
Cut to me unable to do any simple vocalizes because of my unhealthy belt habit and my split register. Really though, I had a gigantic hole in my middle voice.
For the next two years, I would ask my teacher every other lesson when I would be ready to audition into voice performance. I'm not exaggerating when I say I have the best voice teacher in the world. She was patient, kind, insightful, and gave me all the courage to keep trying. After two years of hard work, but also multiple break downs and a brief period as a voice and piano double major (wow did that end quickly), I was finally declared ready to go for it. (Of course, that was also the last chance for me to try. We literally waited until the last possible moment.) Three songs and multiple questions later, I was accepted. I cried tears of happiness and began preparing for my now-mandatory junior recital.
The rest of my college career passed in a blur. I almost failed my level three jury, but somehow got through by the skin of my teeth. After that, I went to Florence, Italy to study Italian opera. I took lessons in the city twice a week. I sang my senior recital without forgetting a word. I got to be a part of the group that sang at both Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. I graduated a semester earlier than expected. And I got cast in my first show since high school.
I look back at that 15-year-old girl who has barely started and I see how far I've come. I am thankful for every one of my educators, and especially my current voice teacher for believing in me and giving me a chance. I am thankful for my parents who took some convincing and a few years to come around, but are now fully supportive of my dream.
I had just become truly comfortable at school, and now I'm out of it. I'll go to a bigger pond, where I'm the smallest fish once again. It's a scary though. New York City is a big place. But hopefully, seven years down the road, I'll look back at me now - 22, just out of college, full of fear and anticipation - and I'll think to myself: I've come so far.