The Language of Being HIRED

Karis, a singer in Germany, won a German vocal competition. Anticipating congratulations from her diction coach, she relates, “I couldn’t believe the first thing that came out of his mouth, ‘Hmph. You need work on vowel endings, especially the third phrase….’ He just kept criticizing. The judges obviously liked what I’d done, but he couldn’t even say, ‘Good job.'”

Many good American singers in Europe fail to satisfy the language requirements of an often-finicky coach or conductor. When receiving an endless stream of commentary on pronunciation, singers may be pushed to the limit of their own good manners and the conclusion that “nothing will satisfy those Germans. “Not true! While it is true there are directors who focus more on details and have perhaps missed some of the “big picture “you gave in your performance, diction coach Elke Siefert says, “We all care about our language and really love hearing it spoken or sung beautifully. When we hear an American singer who has worked on it, we love it.”

Also, consider what director Adrian S. has to say, “German performers often comment that American singers are so well trained, it’s a good thing they don’t take language skills seriously or German singers would be out of jobs. “While the thought of continually working on German pronunciation may not be exciting, there are definitely payoffs. You will be more hirable and in some cases, keep that job you’ve worked so hard to get.

“The intendant at our house brought in an American he wanted to add to next year’s ensemble. But the diction coaches said that although she spoke German, she had no sense of the language. All the comments were made behind her back. I’m not sure she ever received the feedback of how to improve her chances.”For more success, Elke suggests each singer continue diction coaching, whether or not currently employed. Every singer has language “lapses.”This is her description of either not maintaining what has been learned or having a particular mistake in pronunciation that seems to occur regularly. Says Elke, “Keep working on it, then go back to those same (critical) people five years later and have them say ‘I can’t believe how good your pronunciation is.’ One of my singers, David, was willing to work so thouroughly that he completely got rid of his accent.”

Supporting this further, Staatsoper Wien house baritone, Bruce Brown says, “This year we have a great diction coach who works with us on having no accent at all…believe it or not, it can be done!”

TNYON will continue to review products and programs to help you keep working on your languages. Next month will include a review of the new program: EASY LANGUAGE which claims to boost vocabulary and pronunciation in 17 languages using a CD ROM.

Kathleen Michaels

Kathleen Michaels is a professional singer, freelance writer and member of NATS living and working in Europe. She lives in Switzerland with her husband and daughter. This is her first article for TNYON