Friday, September 28, 2007

Deadline - Wolf Trap Opera Studio - Monday 10/1

Monday's deadline is for our new Studio Artist program, targeted toward upper level undergraduate students or those in transition to graduate school.

The next Young Artist roster application deadline is the following Monday, October 8.

Application information links are on the right sidebar.

I'm Happy to Recommend...

I'm finally getting back to the recommendation letter discussion that I promised weeks ago in response to watching the chatter over at the New Forum for Classical Singers.

My colleague Josh Winograde (who is responsible for running the Studio) dashed off a detailed response to the recommendation letter discussion, and I've been meaning to run it as a guest blog. Here 'tis.

MYTH: Doesn't the resume speak for itself without letters or rec?

FACT: If you are applying for a "career ready" program like any of the big YAPs (Met, HGO, LA, SFO, etc), chances are you have plenty on your resume to help you get the audition: you may have won a competition, you may have gone to a fancy conservatory and done lead roles, someone may have called us and said "you gotta hear this kid!" etc. However, when an undergrad applies for college-level programs, a resume shows very little.

Last year at the Wolf Trap Opera Studio auditions, we heard (and hired!) singers whose resumes were basically blank and who came from schools that I had never heard of (or at least had no idea had music departments producing fine young singers). It is impossible for us to hear every applicant because we simply don't have time, and without the supplemental application requirements, these few singers I am thinking of would certainly have been ruled out by their resumes alone. Thankfully, we required letters of recommendation and personal statements that got them their audition appointments. Thinking about these few singers who we hired AND PAID to sing in a professional setting for the first time, and thinking that without their letters of rec they may have spent last summer working at a movie theater (which I did when I was 21), I am SO HAPPY that we asked for letters, and we will continue to do so.

However, as Kim pointed out in her post, there are no letters required for the Filene Young Artists because their resumes contain much more experience that DOES speak for itself.

Myth: it is a colossal waste of paper, time, and money.

FACT: Actually this CAN be true but isn't always.

PAPER: At WTOS, we have no specific requirements. The letters do NOT have to be sealed in envelopes, notarized, dated recently (or dated at all), or even on paper (we are happy to receive e-mails). They can be copies of a letter that someone wrote 5 years ago as far I care (although that in itself may be a telling fact). However, at the actual audition itself, it is very interesting for all 4 of us on the panel to remind ourselves who the singer is, so during the audition we pass around a packet that we have created which includes the letters ("Oh, right! This is the lady who worked with Frank Corsaro." or "This is the one who was clearly dating his coach judging by the effusive tone of this letter" etc...). For us, there is no paper saved, ALAS! If they were e-mailed, we subsequently printed it out (on recycled paper ... go Wolf Trap!).

TIME: Advice to singers ... please make the process easier on recommendation-writers and provide us with a stamped, addressed envelope (recycled paper ... go Wolf Trap!). In many cases, especially if I know you VERY well, I am happy to e-mail you the text of my letter which you can type up yourself (recycled paper ... go Wolf Trap!) and present to me when it is absolutely done and ready to simply sign. Since I plan to sign the letter, please make sure the format, spelling, addresses, etc, are perfect. Also, please feel that I know you VERY WELL before you ask me. Unless you want the letter to say "I have known her for two months and she seemed pretty cool and sings pretty well," you should KNOW IN ADVANCE that I will have more than that to say about you. If someone says to you "Perhaps you should ask someone else who will have more specific things to say,” or “I am too busy,” do NOT take it personally. What WOULD be a colossal waste of time is if I had to e-mail 600 people asking "Should I hear this guy who put you on his resume?" I think the whole "If you are curious about someone, ask me" method is potentially impossible unless it is only about a handful of singers.

MONEY: If all of the above duties are left to the writer, I would imagine that it could get costly for one person to write 60 letters or more. But postage, paper, envelopes at the very MINIMUM should be provided by the singer. I mean what could that possibly cost the singer, 20 bucks at most for a nice box of resume paper, some business envelopes and a role of stamps? Of course this does get worse when things like letterhead and personalized stationary are required, but it doesn't have to include those elements at all.


I am sorry to have to reiterate that there are more singers than there are jobs for those singers. It is a sad fact that is true in almost any business. Unfortunately, there are also more applicants than there are audition slots ... (talk about a lot of time and money, have you heard what a space in New York costs for us to rent for the day?). Many programs have certain elements that will naturally limit the applications (i.e. some programs who charge tuitions may miss hearing talented kids who have no money; advanced programs will know that someone who is 35 and has never done a role before PROBABLY won't be a competitive applicant; programs who limit their audition tours will naturally weed out singers who simply can't clear their calendars to travel). But at the WTOS, we have no way of knowing, and we depend on (and READ!!!) all the supplementary materials we require.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Is There an Echo in Here????

No time for a thoughtful post, for we are staggering under an unprecedented avalanche of audition applications. (Blogging mantra: Do the Work First, Then Write About It.)
But.... I am about to lose my mind with this %^$(*& reverb.

Hundreds of our audition applications arrive complete with audio samples. Not so many years ago, my challenge was trying to hear a voice that was trapped inside a low-fidelity cassette tape. Not ideal, but (I thought) achievable. If you knew what to listen for.

But now...

For heaven's sake, if I were recorded with the acoustical enhancement of most of these CD's, even I would be granted an audition. And that's just wrong.

I am really not sure what to do about it. We've always encouraged audio samples as a tool for someone whose paperwork might be weak, but who might have an edge if they could actually be heard in the screening process. But with a 5-second reverb, who can tell? It's the aural equivalent of trying to make out a moving object in a deep fog. A luscious, warm, deep, confusing fog.

Trying to make contact with the essense of the voice (never mind the text, pitch, or articulation) inside this aural fog is making me tired and oh so cranky.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Pay To Sing

No, not as in a pay-to-sing summer program.

As in, you have to pay to get a chance to apply to sing in our audition tour.

Is this unfair? The annual autumn application/audition fee discussion is ongoing over at the new Forum for Classical Singers ( We lurk occasionally to feel the temperature of the aspiring classical singer pool. And sporadically, I de-lurk (unlurk?) to throw in a rant of my own.

I know I promised a recommendation letter post, and I'll get to that in a few days. But for now, a copy of my post today on the NFCS.

Response to Application Fee Rant

I know you won't believe it, but I am sympathetic.

That said, there's no way Wolf Trap Opera could do a truly nationwide talent search if we didn't charge. Roughly, once you tally the rental costs for audition spaces, paying pianists and monitors, and covering travel and hotels for almost a month on the road, you're in the neighborhood of $25,000. (And all of this is done frugally - for better or for worse, the Wolf Trap way...) That doesn't include the salary costs for the company personnel who spend almost 2 months every fall doing nothing but application & audition-related work.

As far as application fee vs. audition fee, we also used to return money orders (I'll get to the money order thing in a minute) if an audition was not granted. In many ways, an administrative nightmare. And (I know this will be controversial) a free application process generates a lot of materials from people who are only casually interested and don't take the time to submit a complete and thoughtful application.

I know it stinks to pay a fee and not make it to the next step, but it's a fact of life, and not only in this business. And if you really think that the application processing part of this equation is simple, you should visit our office some day in September/October. It takes 3 people the better part of a month just to receive and organize the materials, track down missing pieces, merge or enter information into the database, review the actual applications and associated materials (audio files, resumes), and correspond with applicants. Not to mention the several weeks I spend in midwinter agonizing over requests for audition and application feedback.

Not that what you all do isn't difficult - it most certainly is - but the resources expended on our end for this particular part of our operation are equally significant. Could we bankroll it from somewhere else? We already do, for almost half of our audition budget has to come from other sources - individual and foundation contributions.

The money order is a PITA. But we've been taking credit cards for two years now as part of our online application. And the checks that we've received that bounced (unwittingly or on purpose) cause another layer of expense and administrative headache at this end.

Well, this has most certainly been more than you wanted to know. If you take away anything, realize that we are not making money off poor singers, we're just keeping our balance sheet defensible and protecting our future and yours. We could certainly avoid all of this and have a nice leisurely autumn casting the next season by word of mouth and colleague recommendation. But we choose to make sure everyone has a chance to be considered. (And trust me, even if you don't get an audition, your application and CD spend quality time on my desk.)

OK, back to work.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Deadline Approaches - Monday 9/24

Yes, the first deadline for Filene Young Artist and Fellowship applications - for auditions and interviews requested for Houston, LA, Seattle, Chicago, and New York.

For basic information:

To start the online application:

All upcoming deadlines:

  • September 24 - Filene Young Artists & Fellowships (Houston, LA, Seattle, Chicago, NYC)

  • October 1 - all Wolf Trap Opera Studio applications (
  • October 8 - Filene Young Artists and Fellowships (Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Vienna VA)

I'm Back

I've been reminded a few times in this last week that my month-long blog sabbatical is up. Today. Sigh. I won't lie. It's been refreshing to keep my thoughts to myself for a while.

I've also been asked how my month-long vacation was. Sadly, it was only a vacation from blogging. I did take a handful of days off from work, but it fell dramatically short of a month. Instead, there was mythic-proportion budget wrestling, repertoire research, chamber music series bookings, and the general cleaning-up of detritus from the summer.

So we're back into audition season mode, and if you're joining back up with us for that purpose, I'll try not to disappoint.

First, An Overdue Response

A comment to my end-of-season post asked about auditioning during a big Fach change:

I recently graduated from my Master's program and moved to Los Angeles and my new teacher has decided that I am a soprano. So, I'm going through a fach change. Should someone who's just changing fach's do an audition for summer young artist programs? All the roles I have done on my resume are mezzo roles, will people expect me to explain that?

Yes, you will certainly need to explain. Not at great length, but a note on the rep list or the application that explains that you are moving to soprano will be helpful. I see this at least a half-dozen times a season.

The bigger question is whether or not you have enough audition rep to offer that you feel represents you well. If you're moving from high lyric mezzo, you might be able to represent yourself fairly with the highest arias you've sung. Anyone who's used to listening to developing voices will be able to fill in the blanks. But if it's a huge switch, and there are technical gears to change that haven't yet been addressed, then best to stay out of circulation momentarily until you feel it's well in hand.

If you're looking at a program where you'll be singing chorus parts on a daily basis, be clear about how you want to be considered. Most lyric mezzos are perfectly fine in the typical soprano chorister tessitura. But I doubt that your teacher would be happy with you spending a summer singing in the chorus "alto" range.

If you're looking at a program that will actually cast you in substantial scene work or full-length roles, then it's a little scarier to know if you'd be ready in time. There are zwischenfach roles that will help you bridge the gap, but it's not a given that they will be available.

More to Come

Enough for now... trying to ease back in.

Back tomorrow with a discussion about recommendation letters:)