Studying Voice during a Pandemic – Part 2
Thoughts from Five University Voice Professors
By NAfME Member Linda McAlister
This is sponsored by Schmidt Vocal Arts,
sponsor of the 2021 Tri-M Music Honor Society® Chapter of the Year Award.
Read Part One and Part Three of this three-part series.
Recently, I sat down with five university voice professors to discuss the effects of COVID-19 on their instruction, their universities, and the arts in general. In Part Two of this three-part blog, we discussed how these professors are handling the 2020 fall semester and what audition advice they have for young singers given the current environment.
- Dr. Soon Cho, Assistant Professor of Music-Voice, Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA
- Prof. Judith Haddon, Artist Faculty-Voice, Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, Chicago, IL
- Prof. Amy Kane Jarman, Senior Lecturer of Voice, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
- Prof. Beth Roberts, Voice Faculty, Mannes School of Music, The New School, New York, NY/Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ
- Dr. Randall Umstead, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Voice, Baylor University, Waco, TX
The 2020 Fall Semester and Audition Advice for Young Singers
in the Current Environment
McAlister: How is your school handling the fall semester? Specifically, what are the plans for individual voice instruction, choir ensembles, and opera productions?
Cho (Pacific Lutheran University): All individual voice lessons will be done remotely. Small ensembles (8–10 students in each) will meet for rehearsal 1–2 times per week, and these rehearsals will be no longer than 30 minutes. On days that students are not meeting in person, there will be opportunities for virtual coaching, collaboration, preparation, etc. The ensembles will be coached by members of the choral faculty, as well as VOCES8, one of the premier professional choral ensembles in the world.
Haddon (Chicago College of Performing Arts): Voice lessons will be online only for three weeks, and then we will reevaluate. Choir and opera are completely remote, so that means no choir performances in fall. We usually have our “Opera Fest” in the fall. This year, they will be small ensembles of duets and trios featuring contemporary female composers. The singers will sing on stage, but without an in-person audience. The performances will be streamed via an invited YouTube link. Because of the differences this fall, we have also tweaked our recital requirements for graduate students, allowing them to use more operatic arias. The recitals will be recorded professionally in the recital hall (without an audience). With the increase of arias, the students will be able to use the recordings for pre-screening videos or online auditions for professional companies or young artist programs.
Jarman (Vanderbilt University): This fall at Vanderbilt, most applied instruction is happening in person, with everyone in masks, with a mandatory time limit of 30 minutes at a time. I am teaching from home while my students are in my studio at school, so we have a dedicated set up of laptop/microphone/hard-wired into the internet. Our Performance Class is an exception: we have the largest space in our building, which normally seats 620. In the new COVID protocol we can have 75 people in the room. With 33 voice majors and six faculty, we are able to socially distance in the audience. When a student gets up to sing, the piano is quite far behind them, and they are able to take off their mask while they are singing. After 30 minutes we clear the hall for 15 minutes, then return for the final 30 minutes of class time. Opera and choir are operating virtually for the most part. The opera production this fall is Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, which will end up being a fully-animated production with all the singers recording their parts individually.
Roberts (Mannes School of Music/Montclair State University): At Mannes, all voice lessons will be conducted remotely in the fall semester. The Opera Department will focus on project-based performances, including a Mozart/da Ponte project. Every student will emerge from the year with a full role coached, learned, rehearsed, and performed remotely. At MSU, the Voice Faculty have the option of remote or in-person teaching. The Opera Department rehearsals and performances will be virtual and will focus on four One-Act Contemporary American Operas: The Battle of Bull Run Always Makes Me Cry, Always, and Naomi in the Livingroom by Jonathan Bailey Holland as well as At the Statue of Venus by Jake Heggie.
Umstead (Baylor University): Our applied lessons are all listed as hybrid, and they will have more or fewer face-to-face elements depending on the instrument and the comfort of both faculty and student. Our choir plans are to start virtually for one to two weeks, and then slowly begin rehearsing with smaller numbers of students in multiple locations (or outdoors). Our opera plans involve multiple productions with small casts, and they are all able to be brought online, should that be necessary. The goal this semester isn’t a glorious finished product; it is the building of musicianship, community, and safety, with improved appreciation of the art form and each person’s unique role in making it. We will revisit our ensemble plans every weekend as we monitor the situation on campus and in the community.
“The goal this semester isn’t a glorious finished product; it is the building of musicianship, community, and safety, with improved appreciation of the art form and each person’s unique role in making it.”
McAlister: How is your school handling auditions for the upcoming admissions cycle?
Cho (Pacific Lutheran University): Currently, we are planning to hold in-person auditions on campus in late-January and February 2021 for the incoming class of Fall 2021.
Haddon (Chicago College of Performing Arts): We are using the online platform Acceptd, which will be all online, but in real-time. Singers will have recorded accompaniment and sing live in real time from their end. Then the faculty will also be able to chat with the singers after they sing. All auditions will be held in February of 2021.
Jarman (Vanderbilt University): Vanderbilt is handling auditions for Fall 2021 completely virtually. We are giving virtual sample lessons and will be having some virtual information sessions for interested students.
Roberts (Mannes School of Music, Montclair State University): At Mannes, all Fall 2021 auditions will be digital, and pre-screening recordings are required for Voice, Piano, and Composition. At MSU, we are still waiting to hear plans.
Umstead (Baylor University): Our auditions will have two online phases: an initial video submission, and a phase for live, synchronous meetings with select students.
McAlister: What do you look for in a pre-screening video or online audition?
Cho (Pacific Lutheran University): I want to hear the singer’s unique voice and musicality, and see his/her/their commitment to storytelling. A good audio quality without engineering, good lighting to see facial expressions, and good video angles to see the singer (at least waist and above) are important to best represent yourself.
Haddon (Chicago College of Performing Arts): Potential. You come to school to study—you don’t need to be perfect.
Jarman (Vanderbilt University): In a pre-screen video I like to see a student’s face clearly, and enough of their body so I can observe posture and breathing. I don’t need to see the pianist or the room. Most of all I want to see that a singer is communicating and has something to say. Is the singer conveying the joy they have in making music? Is it clear that they understand their text? Are they singing in tune, and is the music learned accurately? Do they have ownership over what they are doing? Do they appear to have good musical skills? (Usually this is something that shows up in their comfort with the collaborative experience with the pianist.) Is their foreign language diction reasonable for a high school student? I suggest that students select the foreign language they feel most comfortable in. If they have experience with French, that is great, but if not, don’t select a piece in French.
Roberts (Mannes School of Music, Montclair State University): I listen for vocal quality, technical skill, and musical ability. In addition, I look for sincerity, poise, confidence, and expression.
Umstead (Baylor University): Don’t worry about making the perfect visual product. High production values, altered video, etc., are not what committees will be listening for. Prioritize audio quality, and don’t enhance it.
McAlister: What makes you want to teach a specific singer?
Cho (Pacific Lutheran University): I enjoy teaching a singer with an interesting vocal quality, independent music making ideas, and unique personalities that capture the listener’s attention.
Haddon (Chicago College of Performing Arts): There’s something in their eyes, potential, and excitement. I look for a certain intellect—that they want to learn. If someone looks impenetrable, then it might not be a good match.
Jarman (Vanderbilt University): What makes me want to teach a specific singer is something that is intangible. Is there something in the sound of their voice that intrigues me? Do they sing expressively and openly? Do they present themselves as someone who is happy to be singing for me (even in a recording)? Do I think I have something to teach them? Are they comfortable with themselves and excited to be auditioning for a college music program?
Roberts (Mannes School of Music, Montclair State University): Obviously vocal and musical talent are big factors. Equally importantly are work ethic, communication, and how effectively the student responds to instruction.
Umstead (Baylor University): That’s a complex question. Often, there are some voices that teachers hear and instinctively know that they can help that person. You also develop a sense for which auditionees have a spark for creativity.
Stay tuned for Part Three of this three-part blog:
COVID-19 and the Arts: What Happens in a Post-Pandemic World?
To read Part One of this blog, click HERE:
The Disruption and Quick Pivots of COVID-19: How the Pandemic Has Affected Their Own Teaching, Their Students, and Their Universities
About Schmidt Vocal Arts and the author:
Schmidt Vocal Arts is dedicated to encouraging young singers to pursue their passion for classical singing and the vocal arts through scholarships and vocal programs for high school singers. NAfME member Linda McAlister is the Executive Director of Schmidt Vocal Arts, where she oversees the organization’s breadth of programming. These programs include the Schmidt Vocal Competition, Schmidt Vocal Institute, Schmidt Vocal Scholarships, new education and training opportunities, and a growing alumni network. Learn more at www.schmidtvocalarts.org. Follow Schmidt Vocal Arts on Facebook and on Instagram @schmidtvocal.
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September 17, 2020. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)