Opera singers: this is why you’re not getting hired

I play the piano and work with singers. You guys are doing a bunch of stuff wrong and if you fixed it you’d be far more likely to get the success you’re looking for.

Yeah, I know singing is hard. Doesn’t matter. Anything worth doing is going to be hard.

Besides, why are you so attached to your self-image and your achievements?

What makes a good singer

You’ll be hired to sing for one of two reasons:

  1. You have some rare quality that’s in high demand (in which case they might be willing to put up with your obnoxious behavior), or
  2. You’re able to do your job without making things harder for everyone else (this is also a rare quality).

It’s up to you to decide which way’s easiest.

What everyone else really cares about

Those other people you’re singing with only care about one thing: how easy you’re making their job (and, they only complain when you make things difficult).

They never complain because you’re doing it “wrong”. There are lots of ways to sing “wrong” that don’t make anything harder. Just because it’s printed in the score in black and white doesn’t mean it’s important, regardless of what you learned in music school.

“Knowing” the right notes isn’t enough

To sing the right notes, you have to understand the scale functions. Not intellectually, but physically.

Yeah, I see that you wrote in the solfege in your score. Doesn’t matter.

Yeah, I know you “know” what it should be.

If you’re not able to find your note and I say, “it’s the tonic”, you shouldn’t react by trying to cover it up with excuses.

I’m not asking if you understand intellectually what it should be. I’m asking if you understand it in your body. In fact, I’m not even asking. I’m telling you to sing it again and try to let your body absorb it.

How to make conductors happy

They might not admit this, but it’s true:

Conductors don’t care about every little detail. They care about the big picture.

You, the singer, care about the little details because you’re responsible for all of them.

The conductor, on the other hand, is responsible for making sure the whole thing sounds good. They’re especially concerned with making sure the orchestra can stay in sync with the singers. Therefore, the more problems you have with tempo, the more stress you’ll cause the conductor.

They don’t care about the words and pitches and diction. They don’t care whether you sing a dotted rhythm or a straight rhythm. They only care about those tiny details when the tempo is perfect. That is, are you singing along with the same beat as the orchestra?

So, tempo flexibility should be important to you.

When you’re working with a coach, don’t say “it should be faster/slower here”.

It doesn’t matter what the tempo “is”. You should be able to sing at any tempo. Yet, you’re a slave to the tempo, and you’re blaming the pianist for having the wrong tempo.

I don’t care about your fucking fermatas and your fucking “the tempo should be free here” and your fucking “the conductor will cue me”. When you’re practicing with me, you follow the fucking score.

You can’t cram memory

You shouldn’t be forcing yourself to memorize things. You should absorb the music. It must become part of you. If you want to sing from memory, why are you pretending to keep the score at a distance and then running here to look over my shoulder every time you feel insecure?

To become bulletproof, you must practice being uncomfortable

When you’re having trouble with a section, don’t say to me, “can we move on?”

Did you hire me as a coach or not? Do you trust my way of working? Are you wanting someone to just reassure you and make you feel good?

Practice should be uncomfortable. You should be facing your insecurities and weaknesses. That’s the whole point, to get outside your comfort zone.

Why the fuck do you want to “move on”? No, you need to sit right here. Like Daniel waxing the car and painting the fence.

Let your coach’s disapproval inoculate you

You think I’m mad? You’re “sorry”?

Don’t apologize to me.

I don’t care.

I’m not here to judge you. I’m here to work your ass off. I don’t want to hear excuses. I want to hear your singing.

Yes, I’m mad. What does that matter? It’s not about my fucking emotions. It’s about the work you’re doing. It’s not about reassuring me or trying to calm me down. When you do that, you’re wasting time and you’re disconnecting from what you’re presumably trying to do (work on your singing).

How do “Michael’s emotions” have anything to do with your singing?

Don’t look at me every time you sing something to get my reaction. Yes, you’re doing it wrong. Furthermore, it’s not going to be right until you take your fucking attention off of me and put it where it belongs: on your singing.

If I tell you to repeat something, you can assume I’m going to want you to keep repeating it until I’m satisfied. You can’t shortcut that by acting like I’m an abusive teacher and am forcing you to do something you hate.

Jesus Christ, you’re so traumatized. What did your teachers do to you as a kid?

Why do I have to pay the price for that now?


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