With fall auditions around the corner, we thought we'd sit down with Rolando to hear his tips on selecting the best repertoire for your voice. Here's what he had to say, including what he never wants to hear at an audition.
How do you know what kind of songs to pick for yourself as a vocalist? I'm sure many of our students have voice teachers, who may select pieces for them, but ultimately how do you know what to pick that works for you?
As a student, you don't. As a professional singer myself, even I have to go to people whose job is to see things from the outside. Only people from the outside can help us understand where we fit in the world. So you need one to two people in your life who you really trust, and whose opinion you value. This person will ideally have worked in professional musical theater or classical music, and has a firm grasp of what material best showcases you as an artist.
What are good resources to draw on if you just want to look around and present some of these people with some ideas of material that you might like.
I always tell my students that the musical theater world lives in types. And so what you can do is take a step back from yourself and see what type a performer is most like you. Are you an ingénue soprano who easily sings high? Are you a belter? Are you a sassy comedic type? So you prefer to perform as part of a larger ensemble? Are you a stronger dancer? Are you an actor who enjoyes delivering text more than music? And when you see which of those types you feel you best fit into, I send students down the YouTube wormhole. There you find a musical theatre role model. You don't necessarily have to like all of the performers you find. You can like them. That's a bonus. But those singers whom you discover may be someone you feel can be a role model for you as a young artist. Once you find few artists like you, then continue down the wormhole and see what kind of repertoire they sing in their career. If you are in ingénue soprano and you like Laura Osnes, you will probably see that Laura Osnes is has not sung … what's a good example?
She's not singing Mama Rose from Gypsy?
Exactly! She's not singing Mama Rose from Gypsy. So if you feel that you fall into her type, you see what she performs, what roles she does.
How do you feel about students performing repertoire written for older people, because the music written specifically for younger performers is a bit limited?
Right, we call it being age-appropriate. Not necessarily that the song or role has to be written for a 15 year-old performer, but it has to be something that is age-appropriate. So it's the same as the idea that you don't wear certain things to synagogue. There is certain material that you just shouldn't present. I'm not saying that young people can't present something that is edgy if that performer is emotionally ready, and vocally ready, to present something that's edgy. But performing something too advanced when not ready to do so actually makes a performer seem younger rather than older.
Are there certain songs that you never want to hear a young singer sing in an audition?
I can tell you in the classical music world, I never want to hear a classical singer in high school audition with an operatic aria. I just don't. Likewise, I never want to hear a musical theater singer sing something that is very brassy, for example, if that's not what their voice is. So age-appropriate is part of it, but also appropriate for what you are as a performer. Now that's of course only in audition. I truly believe that in lessons and in the practice room that we should absolutely try out different styles of music to help us better understand who we are as a performer. Our teachers and coaches are again our outside ears that help us determine if the material is the best way to showcase ourselves in auditions and performance. So, yes, play with different styles in private, but in public, only perform what makes you shine!