College is such an exciting time of life. It’s the first time you’re out on your own—your first foray into adulthood. College is also such an important time of life. You’re learning skills and making connections that will shape the rest of your life. And as a voice major, you’re hoping those skills and connections will be the foundation and start to a singing career.
Find out how to use your newfound independence to make the choices that will make lasting and good impressions on your teachers and fellow students—many of whom will one day be your professional colleagues—from four professors who know.
What’s the number one thing you see college students do wrong on social media?
Joseph Evans: Going on social media with personal information, posting silly and compromising photos, and criticizing other singers. Social media is continuously being trolled for personal information that will affect everything from your personal and professional reputation to your insurance rates. Be discreet.
Caroline Smith: Post comments, pictures, and/or videos that are distasteful, negative, or even disrespectful. Better to forego such online posts and call your mom or a close friend to vent instead. Once something is posted, it is out there and may even come back to haunt you.
Frank Ragsdale: They post negative things about their school, colleagues, teachers, or summer programs they are attending. What they need to remember is that this business happens in a very small world, and you never know who might read the post or know someone who is referred to in the post.
What do you see singers do right in rehearsals?
JE: Showing up memorized and knowing when to mark.
Lisa Sylvester: Singers who are early to rehearsal, have music organized, are ready to make notes in pencil, and have a good attitude (both with conductor/musical director and with their colleagues), are always ready to begin again in the right place after a stop is made to make corrections—these are all ways singers can leave good lasting impressions.
CS: They come early, are energized and prepared, are ahead of the learning curve, and stay fully engaged and focused throughout the rehearsal—even when not in the scene or the one to whom comments are directed. They give the director, conductor, etc., their full attention and make accurate and complete notes. If there is a tempo issue or blocking concern, they wait until after the rehearsal and ask if they may speak to the conductor or director—in other words, they do not stop the rehearsal to make a scene or disagree publicly. They are nice and supportive of colleagues, remember to thank those with whom they have worked, and are polite and gracious to all.
FR: Singers who are prepared, ready to work hard, and are on time. You may get hired the first time because you have an amazing instrument—but if you are unprepared or difficult to work with, you probably won’t get hired again. I tell my students that if you’re early you’re on time, if you’re on time you’re late, and if you’re late you’re fired.
What do you see singers do wrong in rehearsals?
JE: Not memorized, not warmed up properly, not knowing when to mark, and arguing with conductors and directors.
LS: Singers who arrive late and disrupt a rehearsal already in process, singers who have negative body language, singers who talk when a stop is made to correct something and then don’t know where in the music the conductor/director would like to begin again, singers who raise their hand to make a “comment”—usually about someone else or another group—which is best handled by the conductor. Singers should raise their hand only when they have a significant question related to musical or language/diction issues.
CS: They arrive late and/or unprepared; talk while others are trying to work, sing, etc.; and do not pay full attention. They make the mistake of thinking only their part is important and deserving of their energy. They gossip and badmouth peers and/or the director, etc. They are obsessed with and tend to talk mostly about themselves.
How can student singers make a great impression in class?
JE: Participate when one has something to contribute to the subject at hand.
LS: Student singers who are well prepared with the assignment given make a good impression. Singers who perhaps even do more than is assigned or are helpful to a peer who might not understand something make a great impression. Showing effort and being open to trying new things always leaves a good impression.
CS: Always be prepared. Be energized, eager, and want to learn. Be receptive and open to new ideas and corrections/suggestions and be willing to try new things. Ask questions, especially if something is unclear or not understood.
What do you see student singers do in class that leaves a bad impression?
JE: Sleep, yawn, and leave class to go to the restroom.
LS: Attitude and body language (in a negative sense) can really leave a bad impression.
CS: Being late and uninvolved. Checking out even if physically present. Being unprepared. Trying to get by with minimal effort. Being inattentive and rude, talking with classmates while the professor is speaking or working with someone, etc. Being dishonest with professors and exhibiting dishonesty in their work.
Any other thoughts on how college-aged singers can make the best impression during their college years?
CS: Be energized and excited about learning. Be grateful and respectful. Ask questions and dialogue with professors—we are not perfect mind readers and relish inquisitive learners. Go the extra mile by not settling for the bare minimum. Take the setbacks with grace and use them as growth and learning experiences. Believe in yourself and know that your own gifts are unique and special. Be in competition with yourself setting goals for personal growth and improvement as you embrace and celebrate your personal talents. Above all, always remember what you love about music and the excitement, enjoyment, and reasons that led you to choose this path.
FR: Be sponges and absorb everything possible. You can learn something from everyone or every situation. Then, in everything you do, you should ask yourself, “Is this the kind thing to do?” This applies to your interactions with others as well as the way you treat themselves.
Meet the Faculty
Joseph Evans is division chair of the voice studies area at the University of Houston’s Moores School of Music. Before teaching, Evans was one of the leading tenors of his generation appearing at La Scala, New Israeli Opera, Ireland’s Wexford Festival Opera, Welsh National Opera, English National Opera, Teatro La Fenice in Venice, and New York City Opera, to name a few. Evans continues to be an active singer, in addition to his busy teaching life. During recent seasons, Evans sang the role of Curley in the Houston Grand Opera, Bregenz (Austria), and Washington D.C. productions of Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men as well as Captain Vere in the HGO, Seattle Opera, and New Israeli Opera productions of Billy Budd.
Frank Wayne Ragsdale is associate professor of voice at the Frost School of Music. As a performer, his career has included opera, oratorio, musicals, plays, and recitals on nearly every continent. In the studio, he teaches a variety of styles of voice including classical, musical theatre (legit, belt, and mix), rock, pop, and country. His students have graduated from programs at Indiana University, Eastman, Cleveland Institute of Music, and Rice University. They have sung with Houston Grand Opera, Tri-Cities Opera, Glimmerglass, Opera Omaha, Florida Grand Opera, and Utah Festival Opera, as well as Young Artist Programs such as Seagle Music Colony and Tri-Cities Opera.
Coach/pianist/conductor Lisa Sylvester is a vocal coach and chair of vocal arts and opera at the USC Thornton School of Music. She is also faculty coach at Opera Viva!, a summer training program for young singers in Verona, Italy. Sylvester has served as assistant conductor/orchestral pianist at Long Beach Opera in their mainstage productions of works by John Adams, Philip Glass, Leoš Janáček, and Osvaldo Golijov, among others. She also serves as music director for LBO’s Education & Outreach production of Grigori Frid’s The Diary of Anne Frank.
Mezzo-soprano Caroline B. Smith is vocal area coordinator and director of Vocal Arts at DePauw University. Smith recently adjudicated and gave masterclasses at Beijing’s Conservatory for Classical Singer’s International Vocal Competition/masterclass series in 2015 and continues to be and active masterclass technician throughout the country. Her students have won scholarships to Rice University, Eastman, University of Maryland Opera Studio, Cleveland Institute of Music, New England Conservatory, Indiana University, Peabody, Florida State University, University of Michigan, Manhattan School of Music, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Northwestern University, and NYU, to name just a few.