Don't Die With Your Music Still In You
"I'm supposed to sing this song for my audition, even though I hate it!"
I mean...what? I heard the above quote verbatim from a student that had material suggested for them to use for their college pre-screen videos and/or their in-person college auditions. The student didn't really connect to the material or particularly like it. When the student showed me the song, it was an obscure song from an older, obscure musical that I had never heard of, and I happen to be an avid fan of older, obscure musicals, having read basically every musical theatre decade book that Ethan Mordden has ever written- highly recommended reading!
This led me to want to write this blog post about the importance of choosing repertoire that you actually like and connect to emotionally, a.k.a. listening to your gut. I can get so excited about suggesting certain songs for students, imagining what they would do with a particular song, hearing their voice singing the song in my head as I play through it for them, sometimes even playing a snippet of the original cast recording performance for them, and I can usually tell by a student's response whether or not they're into it.
Honoring your artistic impulses and the styles of music that you respond to is SO important. Of course, you don't want to necessarily sing the latest song from the latest hit musical for your college audition, nor do you want to sing something so obscure that most people will have no idea about the context of the song, the character or the situation you're trying to present at your audition. The best audition material should be a vehicle for you as a performer, whether at a professional audition or for college, to display your ability to be considered for a particular role/show or represent what you consider to be your strengths as a performer.
One piece of excellent advice I have heard along the way is that you want everything currently in your audition book to be "fantastic." (And one piece of advice I often give my own students: do not take anything, even in the back pockets of your audition binder, that you don't feel prepared to do or think is in "fantastic," performable condition into the audition room with you.) I am guilty of seeing a song in the front or back pocket of a performer's audition binder that they bring into an audition, and would much rather hear them do that particular song than the song they're offering, only to hear from that performer say that they can't sing it, don't know it, etc.
The bigger issue, for me, is that there should be motivation for a performer to sing a particular song. One thing that I say to my students or to my colleagues frequently is, "You can't teach desire." I can't make you want to sing a particular song or like a certain song any more than I can teach someone to like kale if they REALLY have tried it and don't like it. You, as a performer, should be excited about what you're about to share with people in the audition room on the day of your audition. It will also make the auditioning event something to look forward to, an opportunity for you to share something you're excited about performing, regardless of the respect and/or attention shown to you by the people in the room.
Last point: you are an artist. You should have opinions, emotions, thoughts, inclinations, and things that you want to communicate and express. The "art" shouldn't just be a means to an end for you to "get" something, whether that something is admission to a college program or to book a particular job. Hopefully, you want to become a performer because you have a viewpoint and feelings that you want to be birthed into the world that are uniquely you. To quote the late, great Wayne Dyer, "Don't die with your music still in you." Share it with the world.