This is over 20 years of adjudicating and I believe I am coming from it from a seasoned perspective!
I adjudicate voice and theatre, and this week I have been in Edmonton Alberta Canada adjudicating their Provincial Final Music Theatre competitions.
Perhaps the most difficult thing for young singers is finding "age appropriate" material to perform and compete with.
There's an interesting triangle of personalities that comes into this: the teacher, the parent and the singer.
Ultimately, if the teacher calls themselves a teacher, they MUST be doing CONSTANT research and learning to find out what material is out there and who it is for!
I was told today that a teacher actually asked me to give them a website to find appropriate material. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?! DO YOUR WORK!!
If you expect to be spoon fed as a teacher, then no wonder your students expect it!
EVERYBODY needs to be educated - teacher, parent AND singer. The first education is with the teacher, as they lead the triangle. They must be willing to spend the time and money to find things out!
"Age appropriate" material in Music Theatre combines many things:
It begins with roles that can be played professionally/semi-professionally by the age of the singer wanting to sing it. A teenager isn't going to play Mrs. Lovett. Frankly a 20 year old shouldn't be either.
A Jean Valjean isn't going to be played by a 12 year old.
Look to Broadway productions or professional regional theatre to find out WHO is playing roles to give you a sense of things. LOTS of archives out there and you have it ALL at your fingertips on the Internet.
Then, IF the role is age appropriate - can the singer actually sing it? Not, does the singer or the parent WANT them to sing it? CAN THEY? Teachers, you have to stand firm as YOU are the professional. Just because Susie's mother wants her to be singing something doesn't make it a good idea.
Can the voice take on the stylistic and vocal demands of the song? Is it going to show what that singer can do NOW and do well, or show what they CANNOT DO? A no-brainer.
If the voice CANNOT DO WHAT IS REQUIRED why would you put a singer in that position? If they don't KNOW they have to be told. Discover what you do well and DO IT.
Then, do you have the dramatic intelligence to create the scene required? Can you create a character? Do you know HOW to be onstage? Do you realize LESS IS MORE? Do you study movement, gesture, motivation, subtext, intention, etc etc etc?
Then and only then, will the song choice be truly appropriate and may have a chance to actually create something theatrical.
Style, technique, craft, discipline, KNOWLEDGE all play into discovering what is appropriate.
It starts with the teachers' knowledge first. The teacher needs to find out what is out there, to be able to recommend ideas to any given singer. If they do not know the repertoire and the demands of said repertoire, they will not be able to authentically prepare a singer for a competition.
A parent needs to back off. If you don't want to listen to the teacher, then find another teacher. Or teach your kid yourself.
Singer - ask questions. And if you ask questions, be ready for the REAL answers. Know what your voice does NOW. Know what you are capable of NOW. Don't wish, don't want. BE AND DO.
So where's that website for appropriate material?
Where do you think I learned it? I'm not going to do your work for you! Teachers, parents and singers need to take responsibility and do their OWN work.
The vocal demands, the emotional demands, the dramatic demands all play into the discovery of a song.
We must respect the composer's intent and honour it. We must respect the genre and the stylistic intention and honour it. We must respect the process and DO IT.
The pursuit of craft - from performance to teaching - takes TIME and COMMITMENT!
There is so quick fix, all-inclusive website, spoon-fed answer.
The answers are in the discovery - from researching, to listening, to reading, to studying, to asking questions, to trying things.
We find out our answers through work, trial and error, and more work.
Discovery is a wonderful thing if we are willing to DO IT and commit to it.
Teachers - be the example your singers and your parents need to see: DISCOVER! RESEARCH! Do not expect the answers to be handed to you - but rather, go after them.
That ethic will be shown through example.
Know what you are doing, and if you don't, ask for help. Don't ask for the answers. Know the questions to ask. Or, simply do something else.
If we cannot respect our craft and discipline enough to do the work, why bother?
So "age appropriate" means many things - it is as complex as the singer who will perform the scene! It needs careful exploration and decision-making.
But when it fits - it is worth all the work! And EVERYBODY experiences the results!
Looking for something too hard, or trying to be impressive, instead of discovering the process and what a singer can do well RIGHT NOW can be a disaster.
Impressive happens when it is real. Real happens when the work is discovered by EVERYBODY - teacher, parents and singer.