Gearing Up For Your Next Competition

The catchphrase “do as I say, not as I do” applies, in many ways, to how I feel about my past experiences as a competitor in regional, national, and international operatic competitions. As a competitor, I’ve had significant pitfalls alongside some serious wins.

Whether you are a seasoned pro on the competition circuit or prepping for your very first one, there is something here for everyone as I address competition preparedness, routine, mental preparation, confidence, and a not-so-secret “secret.”

Come Prepared

This is not the time to sing your new aria! Even if it is “perfect” for your voice and you love it, if you have not sung your aria a hundred times and have not had it coached, it is not ready for a competition. There are competitions that explicitly state there is no changing your repertoire. Better safe than sorry and list what you sing well when filling out the application.

The competition may be months away, but we all know how life gets in the way. Your best singing comes when you are not experiencing anxiety and fear, so sing what you sing best—also a good rule to follow when picking your first piece.


You’ve Got the Power . . . of a Routine

It is easy to give the judging panel the “power” or “control” because you want to impress them. It is empowering and more interesting, however, to come into the audition as the one in control. Make them want you. Envision yourself as already being chosen. Why don’t we do this? One word: fear.

By developing a pre-performance routine, you can take more control of the situation and feel more empowered, which will alleviate fear and provide every advantage to succeed. Before the competition, make sure you have:

Drunk more water than you ever thought possible to stay adequately hydrated—especially if you are traveling on planes and staying in hotels.

Made sleep your number one priority.

Stretched your body in your preference of exercise.

Been kind to your body by eating—and eating right (nothing that will give you acid reflux or phlegm issues, for example).

Abstained from alcohol.

Chosen an outfit that you feel confident in and that allows you to breathe.

Brought Emergen-C, tea, any allergy medications, a travel humidifier, and healthy snack bars if you have been traveling.


The Mental Game

“I’ve learned a lot of things about myself through singing. I used to have a certain dislike of the audience—not as individual people, but as a giant body who was judging me. Of course, it wasn’t really them judging me. It was me judging me. Once I got past that fear, it freed me up, not just when I was performing but in other parts of my life.” —Julie Andrews

As the great Julie Andrews explains, when presenting yourself in front of others in a performance setting, you can become your own worst enemy. A January 2011 Journal of Singing article reveals that up to 80 percent of individuals will experience anxiety during a performance as well as leading up to it.1

A crucial part of setting yourself up for success involves keeping an optimistic perspective. As the daughter of a well respected psychologist, I am fortunate to have been exposed to, and benefitted from, extensive mental training in sports psychology. My father frequently quotes baseball player Babe Ruth: “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” This applies to auditions, performances, graduate school applications, love, and most life tasks.

It’s easy to be defeatist and say, “I’ll never win/find true love/be successful/{insert insecurity here}.” By following a routine and being prepared, you further your chances for a home run. Sometimes, however, life’s biggest moments are not defined by a home run but by a single or double—it’s the accompanist you meet at the competition, the host family who happens to have an intimate connection to an A-level company, or receiving valuable feedback from a judge, or a card to keep in touch, or some other fortuitous connection.

Another useful sports psychology example of positive thinking is in platform diving. Divers are required to stand on the balls of their feet and execute back dives and inward somersaults off the platform. Hitting their head on the platform is a real threat and causes a fear of injury. If they think about hitting their head, it makes it almost paralyzing to jump off the platform.

As sports psychologist Don Greene describes in his book Audition Success that divers “learned to substitute positive process cues for each one of the ‘what if’s.’ For ‘What if I hit my head on the platform?’ they substitute, ‘Jump in the right place.’”2 Singers can implement this same strategy. For example, instead of thinking, “Oh, no, here’s the high note,” think “relax” or “breathe.”


The Not-So-Secret “Secret”

Do you know it? Can you already guess what I am about to say? The “secret” is singing with joy, confidence, and presence. State your name and aria with poise and find joy on the stage by thinking that you are bestowing a gift (your voice) to the audience. It’s a way to retain your power and confidence. These attributes permeate the audience and the judges. No one else has a voice like yours. Sing with all you’ve got!


What If You Did All the “Right” Things and Still Lose?

So, you were prepared, felt like you hit a home run, and still lost? This is the hardest lesson in our subjective art and in life. It’s unfair. But remember, it is how you respond to your disappointment and how you move forward that defines you.

Mary Claire Curran

Mary Claire Curran is an industrious soprano who believes in making her own opportunities. She is a lyric soprano, Broadway belter, and cabaret singer. Curran is the 2017 winner of the Rohatyn Great Promise Award from the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Eastern Region. She lives in New York City. Read more at