Sunday, July 5, 2009

Make your Audition Pianist happy

It is astonishing to me how many singers sabotage their own audition.

The process of auditioning is costly. To remain in top marketable form, singers need regular lessons, coachings and/or classes. On the day of each audition, time and attention is invested to dress and groom appropriately, warm up, travel to the location, find the correct room, and wait for the correct time. Additionally, the audition takes time away from actively earning money. It is an exciting, often nervewracking, event in every singer's life.

And these same people who have invested so much time, energy and finances arrive . . .
. . . and immediately handicap the pianist who accompanies them. With their own music.

It really is a simple situation to fix - it just takes some attention and some office supplies.

Many of the following comments are universal in dealing with audition pianists, but I am thinking specifically of Musical Theatre auditions. They usually involve a monologue and one or two 16 measure cuts of a song (ballad and/or uptempo). Occasionally the whole song is requested.

Suicide by Song Selection
Finding the elusive combination of a song that you like, with a melody that highlights your voice, with an age appropriate character that fits your body type and personality, that is not overdone (the list continues) and has an easily played accompaniment can be tough. Unfortunately, unless the piece lies within [whoever is at the keyboard]'s capabilities, the audition will suffer (or be suffocated). Weird time signature changes, tough key signatures and lightening-quick tempos should all be red flags. Work with a pianist and ask if it is difficult. Which leads me to the next common error:

Wrong chords and keys
Always have a professional accompanist test your sheet music, for this very good reason: mistakes occur often in sheet music, especially random downloads from the internet. The music could be in the wrong key, it could be different than your recorded version (different intro and ending, for example), or it could be a very bad arrangement, period. So allow yourself plenty of time to prep your piece with a pianist before you perform it - an audition is not a good place to try something brand new.

Lost in Translation
Auditioning with a pop or rock song you love may seem like a great idea . . . until you hear it performed using only a piano. Some songs simply don't 'work' with a keyboard, and need drums and a guitar for it to come off well. Yet another reason to work with a pianist ahead of time and pick your song carefully.

And now, onto the actual pages of music itself. This will get you started, quick and dirty:

The Devil is in the Details (or Loose Sheet Music is Evil)
  • Music in a published book must lie flat
  • No Loose Sheet Music (music curling up and falling down on the piano can be unhelpful)
  • Sheet music should be hole-punched
  • Sheet music belongs in a 3 ring binder that allows efficient page turns
  • Sheet music should not be singled sided and hole-punched on one side (necessitating twice the amount of page turns)
  • Sheet music should be double-sided (or tape -not staple- one-sided copies back to back). An exception: if it is an odd number of pages, it can be helpful to fold out the beginning or ending page to lessen the # of page turns)
  • Sheet music should be complete (missing a page can be unhelpful)
  • Sheet music should be in the correct order
  • Sheet music should be in the correct key
  • Sheet music should include the left hand part at the bottom of the page and the singers' melody at the top of the page (copy at 93% reduction and you should be fine)
  • Sheet music should not be in plastic sleeves (glare is distracting)
  • Sheet music should be dark enough to read easily
  • Sheet music should not be run through a fax machine
  • Sheet music should not be hand-written on lined notebook paper (something I've actually been handed at an audition - it was a ballpoint pen-written, transposed Jason Robert Brown song)
Following these guidelines, your song should now be organized in a form that resembles actual music. Because the pianist usually has all of 30 seconds to mentally grasp the dots and lines on the page, it is additionally helpful to do the following:
  • Mark beginnings and endings clearly. Have the intro and the ending clearly spelled out (no requests to just make up a beginning/ending)
  • Use a highlighter or pen to draw attention to confusing repeats, codas, key changes, time changes, etc.
  • Visibly cross out measures you do not want played
  • Mark spots where the tempo speeds up or slows down
  • Mark breaths
  • General rule: the less page turns the better
  • Clearly mark the name of the song, the composer, and the tempo
  • Note any 'cue lines' if you are going straight into singing from a monologue
  • Clearly communicate your tempo (usually by quietly singing the first line)
In mentally reviewing auditions that were not successful, sometimes it helps to think of the situation in terms of cause and effect. I like to think of it in terms of crime and punishment:
  • For the crime of handing the pianist a published music book that cannot lie flat, the sentence is a ridiculously choppy performance with occasional pauses and swatting noises from the piano bench.
  • For the crime of handing the pianist a 'lead sheet' (a vocal line and chord symbols), the sentence is a unique rendition of your song that may be altogether unrecognizable to anyone else.
  • For the crime of requesting a major transposition, the sentence is a brief dirty look and a clench-jawed version of the tune which the pianist pulls from his - ear.
The saying goes that "If the audition is successful, the singer sang well. If the audition goes badly, the pianist messed up" . . . it is also true that every time a singer says, "Can you transpose this up a 3rd?", there's a pianist somewhere that cries.


Anonymous said...

From pianists and accompanists everywhere, thank you.

Anonymous said...

I just finished being the audition pianist for our production of Les Miserables near Toronto. I will book mark these page and make sure to hand it out for all future audtions. 80% of the people who brought in sheets would be amazed to read this list. They would think "really? I should consider my pianist?"

Anonymous said...

I'm laughing and crying reading this. I did the most disastrous audition the other day and it started with me asking the pianist to transpose down a 3rd. It went downhill very quickly from there. Lesson learnt. Never again. Thank you for this article.