Saturday, June 13, 2009

Repertoire - why do we choose what we choose?

Saturday musings with my coffee...

This is a comment that I have come across from time to time - why do we sing WHAT we sing?

Singers are often asked to work on certain songs/arias while studying and if can sometimes feel like you are child being asked to eat all your vegetables!

Perhaps it is an important distinction to develop an understanding of WHY you are being asked to do these things!  It isn't because the teacher says so!  Or it shouldn't be! Repertoire can be used for so many reasons in the studio - from translating a technical behavior, to developing a stronger articulation, to working on vocal balance within a certain tessitura, to creating a building block in vocal intensity, to developing stylistic knowledge, to creating knowledge of era and composer - and so much more!

Whether you are studying voice from a theatre perspective or an opera perspective or a classical perspective, the development of repertoire is simply that - DEVELOPMENTAL.

You must learn to sit up, balance, roll over, crawl, walk and THEN run.  Where you MIGHT be, is not necessarily where you are RIGHT NOW.  The repertoire you choose to help you discover that journey can make all the difference in the world.

We have a tendency to want too much too soon; too big too soon; and this can cause such vocal issues and missed steps along the way.  Acknowledge where you are RIGHT NOW.  BE THERE.

Your repertoire should create an integration with your vocal technique and how it is being built to allow the vocal journey a place to inhabit.  The repertoire changes and grows to develop further technical behavior, knowledge of repertoire and development as a musician.

As you then continue to develop your repertoire - be it your audition arias, your book of audition cuts,  - it is then necessary to explore the repertoire that YOU CONNECT TO!  Yes, it has to jump the hoops of what the requirements are, but YOU MUST WANT TO SING IT!

There is SO MUCH repertoire out there - and you should never EVER have to sing something that you do not find a connection to.  Using a song/aria to discover something, to learn something, on your way to discovering the repertoire you will use as audition material or performance material is one thing;  but your audition and performance material should show off what you can do NOW; and what you connect to NOW.  

This will allow you an opportunity to continue to grow musically and emotionally and discover further depth in your technical behavior, characterization, and presentational skills.  If you are not connecting to your repertoire, this shows too!  It stifles your growth, your person, and your artistic temperament.

When there is such wonderful repertoire out there, why would you settle for something that you didn't connect to?  This is YOUR responsibility!  Develop your performance/audition material with your teacher and your coaches, but at the end of the day, YOU must be connected to it in a real and  positive way.  It should excite you, inspire you, and give you something to look forward to.  If it doesn't, it's going to feel like the child plate of veggies, and you'll suffer through it - and so will the rest of us!  You should want to DEVOUR your repertoire and those listening to your audition and your performance should want to hear MORE! 

Finding repertoire takes time, dedication, listening, exploring, comparing/contrasting, and it is the responsibility of the singer to discover it!  It is your voice, your development, your audition, your performance...not your teacher's and not your coach's.  When your foot hits the threshold of stage or audition space, IT BELONGS TO YOU.  ALL OF IT.  Claim your voice, claim your space, CLAIM YOUR REPERTOIRE.  

When you claim every aspect of your development, you then take responsibility for it all - because it truly is yours.  What works is yours, what doesn't work is yours, and it is yours to seek out MORE to discover and claim!  If you don't like your repertoire, FIND THE REPERTOIRE YOU DO LIKE!!! What are you waiting for?! Who are you waiting on?!


  1. Thank you, Susan! Great topic, and something that really resonates with me just now. I have just reached the point technically where my true voice and repertoire is becoming clear, as a singer and as an actress. It's exciting...

  2. Marvellous news R! When true voice meets true repertoire, exciting things begin to emerge!!!

  3. Susan, as a first stop where would a person largely ignorant of the world of repertoire head? As an amateur who lives somewhat isolated from the larger musical world, the mountain of repertoire can look like a formidable one. IS there a smaller hill to climb to get started on the expedition? One place I have started is by listening to the Met radio on Sirius in my car. When I hear a song that makes me really paty attention, something so beautiful that it makes me want to sing it, I type it in the notepad on my cell phone (once the car stops of course).

  4. Fresca - this is often an overwhelming thing! Obviously, working with your teacher and coach to find repertoire that makes sense to where you are technically and vocally is key. Also, start listening to singers you admire and perhaps singers that are your voice type. Listen to things they did early in their careers to see the journey of the repertoire as their voice continued to develop and mature; if you have favorite composers, discover what about those composers draws you in. Is there an era that you are drawn to? Find out about the vocal music of that era! It doesn't have to be of one genre art song, folk song, and the like! And listen listen LISTEN! Lists are great! Just a start!