Music Major Minute: Thou Shalt Not Put Thy Stanley on the Steinway

Music Major Minute: Thou Shalt Not Put Thy Stanley on the Steinway

In this installment of the “Music Major Minute,” you’ll find the 10 commandments to perfectly prepare for juries.


Vocal music majors sing a jury for their final exam every semester. The jury is a performance opportunity to showcase recently learned repertoire and improved vocal technique. As with most college finals, the jury is a cumulative test for the semester’s assigned music. Students do not present music they learned in a previous semester unless the teacher requests further study. My 10 commandments for juries are here to serve as advice to nervous freshmen, and provide reminders for seasoned students, to fight stage fright with preparation

1. Thou shalt rehearse with thy pianist

Whether your school provides a pianist or you hire your own, it is the singer’s job to communicate. Singers need to set up rehearsal times, provide clean copies of the music, make payment, and do anything else your pianist requests (such as arranging to rehearse in a room with a grand piano or providing translations). We need our pianists to be our partners onstage, so practice gratitude alongside practicing your repertoire! Always thank thy pianist!


2. Thou shalt be memorized

Juries are to be sung memorized unless your teacher specifically instructs you to use music for an oratorio aria or chamber music. This is standard practice, and there are few exceptions. Prepare early, work out your translations, and know what your texts mean, including English. Some of our old English art songs make zero sense in today’s vernacular, so take the time to understand the context of these words. Write your texts down on notecards or in a small book that you can carry in your backpack. Glance at these cards instead of checking Instagram when you find yourself with a few minutes to spare. 

If memorization is difficult, ask your teacher for memorization techniques. We all have different methods, but time is universally required. All singers, students, and professionals alike need time to commit words and music to memory. I advise my students that memorizing at the last minute is a stressful gamble. Give yourself enough time in the practice room to sing your songs from memory over and over!

3. Thou shalt bring an extra copy of thy music in case of natural disaster

Your pianist has a copy of your music because, of course, you have rehearsed. You have a published edition of your music that you own because you are following copyright laws (!). But, if luck isn’t in your favor and your pianist’s dog chewed up half of their binder or their iPad battery died, you needn’t fear, because you will have an extra copy in a binder that is hole punched and ready to go. 

When several professors are gathered to listen to you sing, the last thing you want to do is waste their collective time by walking in without music. This is the simplest part of your preparation that can be done early and double checked the night before your jury. Newsflash: juries are practice for your future auditions. In school, you sing a jury for a grade—but in life, you sing an audition for a job. Practice now for an A, and later these skills will aid you in building your career.

4. Thou shalt sign up and arrive early

If you are a music major, you know you have a jury at the end of the semester. This jury is your final, so read the guidelines and sign up ASAP so you get a time that works with your schedule. Many universities set up 10-minute slots over multiple days during finals week. Help the process run smoothly by signing up and showing up.

Your professors want you to give your best performance for your jury. If several students in a row show up a few minutes late, then the schedule gets thrown off, and it is more difficult for you to concentrate or get to your next final on time. If you arrive early, you have time to get control of your nerves and take a selfie for your social media proof of existence. What? Someone else didn’t show up for their time? Look who is present and ready to go. On behalf of professors everywhere, I thank you for being prepared to sing!


5. Thou shalt bring thy completed paperwork

The college years are filled with exercises in “pre-adulting,” and nothing says “adulting” like paperwork. There are forms for most juries. Print them or fill them out by hand—the choice is yours. Just do it before you walk in the room, please.

6. Thou shalt smile at thy professors

Terrified to sing for Professor Snape? Exhausted from studying for other exams?  Your jury is not the place for anything other than a pleasant smile and your best performance. I get that it can be irritating to be told to smile, but all performances require at least a modicum of, well, performance. The act of smiling is known to reduce stress; ergo, smiling as you walk into the room or onto the stage can reduce performance anxiety. 

When you take a moment to prepare to sing, channel the character of your song: this includes the mood of the poem, the objective of the character, etc. Connecting to your music will help you focus on the task at hand, and your facial expressions will synergize your singing. A professional demeanor will set you at ease and garner interesting feedback from your professors. Even if you are thinking, “Fake it till you make it,” that smile will get you into performance mode more successfully than a furrowed brow or the “singer in headlights” expression that often sneaks into jury performances.

7. Thou shalt make no excuses

If you wake up on your jury day feeling slightly sick or vocally fatigued, you can email your teacher to let them know if you won’t be 100%. If you are too sick to phonate, then you might need to cancel and take an Incomplete. This is not ideal, but it occasionally happens and can be made up in the first few weeks of the next semester.

Otherwise, try to not make excuses—we have heard them all. “OMG! I can’t believe I forgot the words. I knew it this morning!” and “You guys, you wouldn’t believe the morning I’ve had! My roommate locked the bathroom door, and I’m wearing Crocs because I can’t find my dress shoes after that party last night…oh, wait, I mean, we didn’t have a party last night…I mean, you know I’m 21, right?” Say less and save your grade.

8. Thou shalt not compare thyself to other singers

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It can be intimidating to listen to upper classmen sing behind closed doors—especially if they are singing your song. Don’t psych yourself out! Remember, the jury is your final exam—your chance to demonstrate the progress you have achieved this semester. Your teacher, professors, and conductors have heard your past auditions and performances. They have gathered for this jury to hear you sing and to give you feedback on your development and performance. This is not a competition among your peers—it is just for you. Amen.

9. Dress nicely

We are not trying to reinvent the wheel here: simply dress for success. Your appearance announces to your professors how much effort you have put into your final performance of the semester. Plenty of articles have been written about audition attire, and I’ll sum all of them up for you in two words: look nice. Don’t make us worry about wardrobe malfunctions, don’t make us ask you to take off your cap, etc. Solid color dresses/dress shirts/suits will always be a solid choice because they do not take our attention away from your voice or your music. Ladies, simple flats are fine. If you wear heels, make sure you can walk in them. We aren’t the fashion police—we just don’t want to worry about a student falling off stage. Gentlemen, a light polish on your dress shoes is classy as fire.

10. Thou shalt not put thy Stanley on the Steinway

A little louder for the freshmen in the back: The piano is not a table! Respect the piano. Do not put your water bottle or backpack on the piano. There are times a singer needs a sip of water. If you are extremely dry from taking your Claritin D and chasing it with Dayquil because the Internet gave you terrible medical advice, you still need to be a respectful singer and place your water bottle on the floor. In most cases, just leave it at the door with your stuff. You can sing for 10 minutes without water. I believe in your mucosal abilities to keep your throat feeling hydrated, and so should you.

Thus sayeth the professor…

These commandments are not just one professor’s diatribe. The dearly departed composers up above (Mozart, Schubert, Copland, etc.) and those still writing music for us today (Libby, Ricky, Jake, etc.) all want you to present their music to the best of your abilities. Your talent is still developing, but your presentation can be perfect right now. Prepare, arrive early, and be ready to sing your songs like only you can. Your confidence will have your back when you walk into the room professionally prepared. After all, that is what you are training to be: a professional. Toi toi toi!

Christi Amonson

Christi Amonson is a soprano, a stage director, a curious reader/writer, a professor of voice and opera at The College of Idaho, and a curator of food, hugs, and good times for her family.