Crossover Corner: Creating a Crossover Practice

Peter Thoresen

Setting goals and saving for the future are not easy for singers and voice teachers, but they are necessary skills that “cross over” other areas of our lives. All need those same skills for success.


This January I did some things I’ve been talking about doing for a while. Specifically, I took a solo trip to Vienna with the primary purposes of speaking German, going to the opera, and having an adventure. I hadn’t been back to Austria since doing (and loving) the AIMS in Graz program 20 years ago as a rising senior in college and I began making serious, vision board-esque noises about taking a trip like this this in early 2020, but then…

One pandemic later, and my desire continued to grow and it became more focused—I even opened a separate savings account that I contributed to with cash that normally wouldn’t have had such a focused purpose. I use an app called Digit that makes saving toward separate, multiple ends an easier task—I named one end goal “Travel” and started stashing unplanned income there. Here I’m talking about things like a payment from a last-minute voice lesson that I hadn’t been planning to teach or a small honorarium for a gig—smaller amounts that added up more quickly and grew in meaning because they were working toward a new and focused purpose. 

I started this process around November 2022 and was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I began to plan and arrange logistics for my Eat Pray Lieder adventure. This was due in large part to my speaking it out with a couple of trusted, non-naysaying friends and loved ones. I told my therapist that I wanted to go to a German-speaking country, dress up and go to the opera, speak German with waiters, and limit the cities I would visit. After telling a good friend who’d recently been to Vienna and Salzburg, I researched airfare and decided I’d follow in his lederhosen and take an overnight to Salzburg for the Sound of Music tour as well. 

I picked a week that I’d be free before school started, looked up which operas and musicals were playing in Vienna (this helped me make hotel decisions as well) and then I began telling other friends about my trip. No longer was I casually mentioning that I wanted to go to Europe at some point. I narrowed my focus—even down to the coat I thought would look stylish as I walked about Vienna in January. I was practicing my trip.

The trip was amazing—it filled my heart and artistic cup and then some. I saw Il barbiere di Siviglia at Wiener Staatsoper on my first night in town and enjoyed a gritty and gorgeous Die Dreigroschenoper at the Wiener Volksoper on my last night. And in between, I spoke German with flight attendants, servers, operagoers, cashiers, baristas…and…twirled around in Salzburg when I got out of the Sound of Music tour van—in which I’d sung “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” with complete strangers whom I would later eat crisp apple strudel with next door to the church where Maria tied the knot with the Captain. 

This was crossover in so many ways—from English to German and from Figaro to Mack the Knife. I was living and engaging in plural passions—and doing it as a result of preparation and practice. During the trip, I realized that I was practicing crossover and in a way that’s as similar—to me—as an exercise or meditation practice.

Four days after I got back to New York, I continued my crossover practice in a different way. I began teaching two sections of music theory and sight singing to the first year Musical Theater students in the Pace University BFA Musical Theater program. I took over the two sections after a colleague left mid-year. I was stepping in—a.k.a. crossing over—to teach a course sequence at the half-way point. I was still teaching private studio voice, but now getting to school 3 hours earlier each day to teach a course I’d never taught formally. And even though I’ve taken music theory sequences at three different universities, have had my “ears trained” by some of the best, and worked in sight singing church job situations for many years, the impostor syndrome chorus began their warmup…loudly. I had to actively remind myself of my qualifications and readiness. It proved helpful to me to speak it out that even though I don’t have degrees in music theory, nor have I fostered ambitions to teach music theory, I do teach students nearly every day of the week, and that for years I have and continue to work with ensembles as a music director. 

I’ve been practicing.   

So why all of this for Crossover Corner? Practice. If we think about the multitude of musical, artistic, and life elements we’re expected to practice as classical musicians, it makes pragmatic sense to consider crossover as a personal practice, just as much as we practice solid vocal health habits and Italian diction. The concept of practice lowers the stakes, making it easier for us to actually prepare for something, do it, and then assess and consider how it went and how we should proceed next time. 

If I only teach one day of sight singing, that is the only reference I’ll have for how it went. If I only audition for one musical, that will be the only reference my body and brain have for preparing and going through with that type of event. In this way, it can become really easy to upsize the value or fear factor something can have. Practicing my German with a variety of servers and ushers made it much safer for me to feel confident to chat a little about the production to the person next to me at intermission at “Barbiere.” 

This all begins with speaking and continues with doing. If I say I’m going to go to a yoga class and then actually go, I have a much higher chance of going again. Additionally, I’ll begin to know what I feel comfortable wearing, who my preferred instructor is, and what time of day works best for how my life fits around the class and vice versa. Practice empowers the logistics and how our personal preferences relate.

Let’s pop out of Tree pose and cross over into classical singer land. Let’s say you’re a soprano who’s been living her best life lately with songs from The Bridges of Madison County and you loved including two of Francesca’s songs in your senior recital—so much so that you want to add a few more Jason Robert Brown pieces to your repertoire and perform them in a non-school setting. Tell someone supportive—out loud—and include one or two additional and logistical specifics, such as…

“I’m going to perform a JRB set at an open mic this fall. I’m looking for a pianist and another singer to partner with for a duet or two for a 20-minute set.” 

Finding that open mic venue and collaborators will become much easier now that a season is on the calendar and the personnel and set time have been spoken aloud. Side effects may, and likely will, include networking and meeting other like-minded musicians, a performance opportunity or two, and developing a practice of planning and doing. 

One thing is for sure: nothing will happen if you stay silent. Go practice!

Peter Thoresen

Dr. Peter Thoresen is an award-winning voice teacher, countertenor, and music director. His students appear regularly on Broadway (Almost Famous, Beetlejuice, Dear Evan Hansen, Hamilton, Moulin Rouge! and more), in national tours, and on TV and film. He works internationally as a voice teacher, conductor, and music director in the Middle East and Southeast Asia with the Association of American Voices. He is an adjunct voice faculty member at Pace University and maintains a thriving private studio in New York City; he also serves as music director with Broadway Star Project. Thoresen has served on the voice faculties of Interlochen Summer Arts Camp, Musical Theater College Auditions (MTCA), and Broadway Kids Auditions (BKA) and holds a DM in voice from the IU Jacobs School of Music where he served as a visiting faculty member. He teaches a popular online vocal pedagogy course for new voice teachers and performs throughout the U.S. and abroad. To learn more, visit, @peter.thoresen (Insta), and @DrPetesTweets (Twitter).