The dreaded day is here! No, not the Day of Wrath, or the Day of Fire. It’s the Days of Reauditions. The 2 days where about 1/3 of the chorus has to prove to themselves and to the chorus management that they belong on the regular roster.
They try to make it as friendly as possible, but a reaudition is still an audition, with something on the line, which still makes it inherently a bit terrifying. You, alone in the chorus room, standing in front of the chorus manager Mark and the director John Oliver, with naught but an accompanist to help you. No mumbling the words to that one phrase you never got down, hoping the basses to the left and right of you can cover. It’s up to you to show ’em whatcha got, knowing that John somehow hears music in a higher resolution than you do and reportedly takes “detailed notes” on every auditioner. Not that he needs them; he’s the sort of person who probably remembers meeting my dad once at a post-concert party back when I sung for John in the MIT Concert Choir. I’d bet dollars to donuts John Oliver knows (and has notes on) every piece I’ve used to audition for him since I first joined back in ’98.
Tonight I’m singing Schubert’s Meeres Stille, or Sea Calm, at the recommendation of my wife and my voice teacher. It’s a short piece, about 2 minutes long; well within the 4 minutes or less requirement, and easy enough for me to memorize in the 4 weeks of preparation we’ve had. While memorization is not required for the audition, I figure that given my memorization skills are one of the big things I bring to the table, and given that the piece is so short, I have no business NOT memorizing it. Besides, it lets me put the notes and text almost on automatic. Why is that important? Because there are a BAZILLION other things not on automatic that I’m constantly thinking about as I perform the song. Plus, a short song like this can help me keep up my confidence.
Probably 95% of singing is about two things: confidence and breathing. If either one of those falters, everything else goes to hell. I had a terrible night Wednesday night where I was rehearsing with my wife and just could NOT make it all the way through my phrases — I was oversinging, breath was escaping me, it was ruining all my vowels and the stresses in my text, I was trying to overcompensate… it was like a pitcher trying to find his fastball. It was a real confidence smasher. The next morning I sang the whole piece in the shower and it was totally fine. Sang it before leaving for work to my wife and she said, “Where was that yesterday?” Confidence restored. Now I just need to maintain that confidence and that good breathing technique until I’m through the audition.
Frankly, I don’t really have time to be nervous once you get going. As I mentioned, I’m constantly thinking ahead and making mechanical adjustments and my brain’s going a billion miles an hour while I’m in the process of singing a solo piece. This is a good approximation of what’s going through my head when I perform this piece:
Okay, you can do this. Exhale all the way, open throat, get that empty space, drop the diaphragm, get a good starting breath. Okay we’re off. Are you oversinging? We want a good mezzoforte here. Remember that Stille ends in a schwa. Close that /e/ in herrscht. Really voice that /v/ and push that double /s/ in Wasser, good, don’t forget another schwa, like a French o. Finish the phrase, now big breath. Don’t rush. Ready? Keep the /o/ closed in ohne, shape your mouth like only a pencil could fit into it. Roll that R if you can, and close that /e/. Are you going to make it? Yeah, you will. Finish the phrase. You have a rest there, take the extra time, big breath. Not too much on und, it’s an unimportant word. Close off that umlaut. Nail that T. Grab that breath, be ready for this one. Keep your mouth shaped for the /i/ in sieht and carry it through to Schiffer. Remember what Brett told you, bear down, really push on your diaphragm all the way through that phrase so you don’t run out of breath or squeak. Not too much, though, this connects to the next phrase. There. Got your breath? Go. Smile a bit! Keep up those zygomatic arches! Open the /a/ up, not too wide, though. Don’t forget the schwa at the end. Get that next German ch, think of this as a whole line, keep rings as the destination of this phrase. Do you need to bail out? Maybe sneak a breath before umher, when you put the glottal. Open that throat! Need a big breath here, 4 measures, all the way. We’re scared, we’re frightened, the sailor sees no wind, the sea is deathly still, make them see you frightened, and angry, use it to keep that baffle so that you don’t oversing or undersing, push this phrase through like you’re stretching a rubber band, push it, push it, voice those consonants, don’t stress those unstressed syllables, you made it. Keep the tempo. Todesstille, deathly still, show it! Another “pencil” /o/ on Todes, another schwa, now fürchterlich! Show them how terrible it is! Keep that last note spinning, spinning, spinning, hold that fermata until you choose to let it go, and… break! Big breath, ready? Last line, go. Your destination is Weite, don’t blow all your breath on ungeheuern no matter how great it sounds, you need to get to Weite. Great. Last phrase. Don’t slow down, whatever you do, and don’t let up. Get a good breath, another 4 bars. Keep the tension or you won’t make it to the end. Close the /e/, rhyme all those schwas, think French o again, voice the /v/ and /l/ in Welle, end it when you’re ready. Smile! You’re done. It’s exactly how you meant it to go. Exude confidence.
Yes. That’s literally what goes through my head while I’m singing a solo piece like this.