Coaches and Accompanists : Preparing Your Music For Auditions

Nothing will mark you as an amateur faster than a disheveled pile of sheet music, out of order and bearing the markings of coachings gone by. This noted international coach and accompanist shows you the professional way to get your book in order for effective auditions.

1. Use a sturdy three-ring binder with rings no more than an inch wide (wider rings make the pages hard to turn). Cloth-covered binders are best since the chemicals in vinyl can react with photocopies and smudge them. Don’t use floppy binders that won’t rest securely on the music rack. Make sure your binder contains your name, address, and phone number.

2. Photocopy your music single-sided and tape it together on the inside. Double-sided copies are not as sturdy and accompanists are likely to turn two pages at once since they’re used to the feel of double pages. Use a good quality photocopier and plain white paper. To tape two pages together, lay them face down and line them up exactly side-by-side. The edge you’re taping will be the outside edge of the finished copy. Use three small strips of tape, one in the middle and one exactly against the top and bottom. Don’t use more tape than this and don’t use staples (ouch!). Never, ever put your music in plastic covers.

3. In most cases it’s best to arrange the pages back-to-back in the same configuration they were originally published, since editors usually make an effort to facilitate page turns. It’s also very disconcerting to an accompanist to play from music that looks “backwards” if they’re used to the original score. It’s not uncommon for accompanists to “practice” page turns by figuring out what to omit and which hand to use. If you’re not sure what the original configuration was, just remember that page 1 (and thus all odd-numbered pages) of any book falls on the right hand side, and that page numbers are printed near the outside rather than the inside edge.

4. There are two exceptions to the above rule: If the music consists of only two pages, place it open-faced in the binder so there are no page turns, regardless of the original configuration. The other exception is based on common sense. If you can clearly see that the editor has not facilitated the page turns but that reversing the pages would, go ahead (you might want to confirm your choice with an accompanist). This might be the case for example with a four-page aria that originally had three page turns but would actually be better with the first page starting on the left instead.

5. Index the individual pieces of music with tabs. The best kinds are those that have an index page lined up exactly with the tabs themselves. The older multi-colored plastic tabs can be problematic because the little cardboard strips tend to slip out and it is often hard to read the titles through darker-colored tabs. Label the tabs in black ink with large clear letters.

6. Always keep an “accompanist’s notebook” separate from your own study copy of the music. This should be marked with only those things that pertain to the accompanist. Use a bright-colored felt-tip pen to mark all cuts and other notations. These should include starting and stopping points, plus anything that affects timing (rit., fermata, a tempo, etc.) If you want a long introduction or postlude played in full, it’s a good idea to mark this, since accompanists often cut these down automatically in auditions. When marking cuts, use brackets that enclose the cut portion. If there are many cuts it might be best to do a “cut-and-paste” recopying job based on the idea of “no-can-see, no-can-play.”

7. With a few exceptions, accompanists do not like the new Schirmer anthologies because of the frequent unfacilitated page turns. The piano reductions in Bärenreiter piano-vocal scores are notoriously unplayable and actually banned from use in German opera house auditions. If you’re not sure which edition to use, poll a number of accompanists and you’ll usually get a consensus.

8. Take a minute to flip through the notebook page by page to be sure the pages are in order and the photocopies don’t have any notes chopped off. When you go to the audition, remove any music you’re not prepared to sing that day.

Marcie Stapp

Marcie Stapp, author of The Singer’s Guide to Languages, taught English and French at the Mangold Institute in Madrid, served as conductor/coach for the Academy of Vocal Arts, The Curtis Institute of Music, Indiana University, the Osaka College of Music and the Gernot-Heindl Opera School of Munich. Her opera translations are performed by leading music schools and professional companies. A member of the faculty at the Mozart Opera Studies and The San Francisco Conservatory of Music, she also prepares Sukai City Opera’s fall productions while giving master classes in Japan. She has accompanied the master classes of Margaret Harshaw, Renato Capecchi, Max Rudolf, Jess Thomas, and Gerhard Hüsch, and has appeared in recital with members of the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, and New York City Opera.