They all mean well, but are those who offer last minute feedback actually doing more harm than good?
There’s the high school director who heard a senior Soprano on her Area music for the very first time the day before Area, and casually suggested that she cut all of the vibrato from her big, beautiful, warm sound in the next 16 hours.
There’s the middle school director who thoughtfully took the time to mark the cuts in a blank score and copy and distribute them to the auditionees. Those students then spent their final voice lesson, to which they brought only that blank score, being reminded of every little detail they had spent months hashing out and writing in their original score, from breaths to dynamics, instead of getting a final run at the audition cuts and building confidence.
There’s the high school senior who advised his 8th grade brother with an unchanged voice, that he should learn how to sing with vibrato in the days leading up to Region, because he thought singing with vibrato would be an advantage.
And countless other times when directors, friends, even PARENTS have made last minute suggestions that did more harm than good.
Most of our students are extreme over-achievers who believe fervently, but incorrectly, that more advice is better, and it’s a good idea to cram in new ideas last-minute. Adults: We have to accept that this is wrong and that these kids don’t and won’t get it and will continue to beg for our input down to the last second. So as adults it is OUR jobs to restrain ourselves because by ignoring this fact and offering advice anyway we are part of the problem.
We strongly believe that the days leading up to a contest are for rest and confidence building, not for making last-minute changes to audition music.
We have a policy in our private studio: Any student who is found to be studying with a second voice teacher without our prior knowledge and approval will immediately be released from the studio. We don’t care how good you are, we don’t care if they are a voice teacher for a “different style”.
That “pop singing-only” voice teacher sure did ask to hear your Region music, didn’t she? And she tried to change your La Danza pronunciation DIDN’T SHE?
That’s because after hundreds of students passed through our studio we learned something: teens are still not yet ready to combine multiple ideas and then make and feel confident in a synthesis of opinions. They’d rather be told what to do. In short: teens are still conditioned to please teachers and adults, not to decide for themselves what is best when it comes to singing.
Which is why we shut this multiple opinion thing down Day One with a signed contract (that few people probably read, TBH, but it’s there, anyhow.)
Music educators forget this, because as college music majors we got this whole filtering thing down pat. We had to – because we had vocal opinions flying at us every hour of every day, especially as performance majors. Plus, we were older and more mature with more developed frontal lobes.
So you can imagine how we feel when our students, who spend an hour a week for 5 long months, in some cases, working on this music in a concentrated and carefully sequenced setting, let one off-hand, last-minute remark change the course of their audition.
Listen, choir directors. You are HIGHLY qualified to be teaching this music and your opinions are valid. If your students don’t have voice teachers, it may actually be part of your job description. But that doesn’t mean you should, especially at the last minute.
Ask yourself: would you ask a voice teacher to come in and clinic your choir the day before UIL? BIG NOPE.
That choir and their performance is your baby, and you get the last say. When clinicians come in (weeks before Contest), you get to talk to your choirs afterward about how they can apply that advice, OR NOT and then have weeks to implement changes. Can you imagine the chaos if you let any clinician, I don’t care if it’s Robert Shaw, got the final rehearsal before Contest but then you had to walk out on stage and perform?
And the thing is: my opinions as a voice teacher about your choir’s performance are valid, too! Heck, I may have more insight into your Sopranos section’s tuning problem than you do because I know 3 of them aren’t raising their soft palate and 4 of them need better vowel shape…. because I know their voices inside and out. I also have a Masters’s degree in music and get paid to section lead professional choirs. But you don’t ask, nor do I expect to have a say at all because in this context you and I completely agree that the voice in your choir’s heads should be yours.
But somehow choir directors who judge TMEA auditions as a solo audition, which it is, forget to prepare the students as if they are singing soloistically and instead revert back to choral “fix-it mode”. Remember, when you fix something last-minute with your choir you are there to wave your hands and make sure they do it in performance, but with TMEA, you essentially drop a bomb and then leave them to their own devices with no reminder, no implementation, no new habits formed. Only a new, teeny tiny seed of doubt and anxiety. You expect them to take or leave your opinion and also, in rapid time, own their decision, feel confident in it, and implement changes on their own.
You would never ask your choir to do this. This is simply too much to ask and, in my opinion, it is extremely unfair to damage the confidence of a student who has devoted so much time and effort to this process by making them feel insecure about their preparation even IF there is something they could improve on.
So give your opinion to students, a month, maybe even a week out. Invest in their progress and meet with them often, instead of swooping in at the last minute without context and handing out free advice like Oprah with new microwaves. Speak to their private teacher if you feel they’re having an issue that needs to be resolved and can be in enough time that something could reasonably be fixed. And learn this mantra and use it liberally: “I think you should take this phrase to your teacher.”
If Austin and I had a prenuptial agreement, it would have probably discussed two things since we don’t have any money:
- Custody of the dog.
- Don’t mess with my students’ technique right before a contest.
Literally, in this house, it’s grounds for divorce! So when an overeager student of Austin’s walks into my studio asking for me to hear them the day before Region I say: “Sorry, no, I like being married.”
So directors, we beg you, know the weight of what you say, because your singers are conditioned to respond to every flick of your wrist and flit of your eye, whether or not it feels good in their voice or is the best thing for them and their vocal journey, individually. Be aware of how much influence you have over them and accept their inability to synthesize or filter conflicting or diverging opinions and meet them where they are instead of expecting maturity and wisdom decades beyond that.
Trust your on-campus voice teachers. If you feel something needs to be said, don’t fret, the kid has heard it before. Sorry not sorry: you don’t have any magical insight that their voice teacher doesn’t have that is going to be 1. Implemented perfectly in short order and 2. THE THING that makes or breaks their audition. They aren’t doing it because they don’t practice, or because they don’t yet understand how, or their voice isn’t ready, not because nobody as smart as you has come along to tell them to do it yet.
And if they truly haven’t heard it before, you either have hired unqualified voice teachers, or the voice teacher is purposely not saying it because there are bigger fish to fry. Like, hi, if notes and rhythms are still wrong we probably aren’t in there finessing dynamics and the kid doesn’t need to be distracted by anything else. If you feel the need to override your voice teachers’ vocal advice then you may need to do some soul searching and figure out why OR get new teachers next year… If they don’t quit because they sense that you don’t value the work they’re doing.
To those of you who aren’t music educators but are offering opinions on a student’s audition, please stop. Just stop right now. Walk away. That includes you, fellow High School singers. Your friends need your support not your criticism — so keep it to yourself.
I have at least three current voice students whose parents were music majors in college, one who currently runs her own private voice studio. They are probably qualified to teach their own kid and save the money, but they don’t, because once you’re in my shoes you get it, much more so than some rando in the peanut gallery. Voice students need one consistent voice in their heads (besides their own) when they go in the audition room and if they’ve got a good private voice instructor, it should be theirs.
So dear students: I love you and am proud of all the hard work you’ve put in. Don’t change a thing, just go out there and be the best at the thing you’re best at. You are enough and you don’t need to fix anything. We are rooting for you!