The Music Major Minute : From College to Young Artist—What Is Next?

When you are preparing to graduate from college, you may be wondering what is next. How do you take the next step toward becoming the best singer you can be? There are always exceptions to the rule, but most American operatic careers begin with Young Artist Programs (YAPs). Young artists range in age from 18–35, depending on voice type and individual readiness. Most singers spend their 20s singing as young artists, but you don’t need to fear being too young or too old if you fit the criteria of the program. You do need to know which programs suit your skill level.

It takes time to understand your own voice and hone the qualities that will get you the contract. By writing this column, I hope to give you a crash course on the intricate world of Young Artist Programs that are part of the opera industry. It is my hope that by learning what programs are available and who your competition is (generally speaking, of course), you can research programs where you can successfully audition and begin the transition from student to young artist.

Reality Check
A significant step in beginning an opera career is understanding your reality. The notion that we create our own reality is popular in our collective pursuit of happiness, but author Kathy Gottberg points out that this concept is not new. In her blog, The Truth behind ‘You Create Your Own Reality,’ she reminds us of the ancient spiritual beliefs that have contemplated the terms of our existence for centuries. Gottberg cites:

The Buddha said, “What you dwell upon you become.”
Jesus said, “It is done unto you as you believe.”
Hindu mysticism from Shankaracharya says, “Whatever a person’s mind dwells on intensely and with firm resolve, that is exactly what he becomes.”
It says in the Talmud, “We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

Whether you consider yourself to be religious, spiritual, or simply figuring out your own humanity, being in touch with your authentic self will ground you as a person and as a singer. It is my observation that we humans do create our own reality and we are simultaneously fantastic at ignoring it. Singers must allow their ego to shine while performing but also understand their place on the ladder leading to stages. Author and speaker Caroline Myss
( encourages us to ask ourselves, “How am I creating my reality? From what level? Am I using it to access the bigger part of me, or the smaller, fearful part that just wants to be safe?”

Do you know which aria you sing better than anyone else and are you savvy about presenting yourself attractively in both appearance and collegiality? When you use your strengths to choose repertoire you sing well, communicate professionally, and present a developed character in auditions, you can make a positive impact. Knowing your reality as a singer will help you find programs and companies where you will be competitive.

But as Myss asks, “Are you ready to access the bigger part of yourself?” There isn’t much room in the opera world to be fearful. We make noise for a living! To make your voice heard, you want to audition for experiences that are not out of your league but also won’t waste your time and money. Being prepared for auditions includes researching the program and knowing as much as you can about what each YAP can offer you.

FAQs for YAPs FTW Because YOLO

Why are YAPs important?
Young Artist Programs offer training, stage time, and introductions to conductors, directors, coaches, and teachers. With every performance, there is an opportunity to grow as an artist. Whether you sing scenes, understudy a role, or debut a new role, YAPs provide experiences that will prepare you for an operatic career.

Who is auditioning for the YAP you are interested in?
Let’s look at the main categories of Young Artist Programs and who is being selected.

1. Pay to sing—Domestic programs
Many undergraduate and young graduate students begin with these programs. Investing in a pay to sing program is an investment in your training and your musical career. When you are just starting out, scenes are a solid way to begin professional-level study without the pressure of being a lead in a full opera. Seek programs where the faculty is dedicated to training young artists and places you are guaranteed performance experience.

2. Pay to sing and study language—International programs
When you are ready for adventure, opera in another country, and intensive language training, there are summer programs all over the world—especially Europe. These programs are designed for graduate and post-grad student levels. Some programs are more expensive than others, and travel will not be included in the tuition. If money is holding you back, inquire about scholarships, give a benefit recital, or start a GoFundMe campaign! Do not be shy about asking for some financial support when you have been accepted into an international summer study program. Your grandparents or a wealthy admirer might surprise you with a check to support your dreams of travel and singing in Mozart’s hometown!

3. No pay/No fee
There are summer programs that do not pay and do not ask for tuition. Typically they will house you and sometimes feed you. These programs produce full operas and operettas. The term “emerging artist” is used to describe singers ready for this kind of program. An emerging artist has been well trained in vocal technique, diction, and classical style. Emerging artists demonstrate excellent stage presence in auditions and are ready to perform full roles.

4. Small stipend
There are YAPs that pay $100/week or similar. No one wants to earn less than minimum wage; but competitive singers will take the gig for a chance to put on a spiffy costume, work with outstanding directors, and sing leading roles in a full opera. Many of these programs will require you to sing chorus in another production—and if you want to be a professional singer, you say, “Yes, please” and you prepare (memorize) your parts before the first rehearsal. Again, these programs are typically for emerging artists that have finished graduate school or have equivalent training.

5. AGMA pay scale
The bigger opera houses have YAPs under AGMA union contracts. Singers that get into these programs will be outstanding talents that are ready to get as much stage experience as they can while they are building careers beyond the young artist level. Young singers with exceptional talent will be hired alongside 30-year-olds that have graduate degrees and several summer programs. Individual readiness and the power of a good audition are real factors in the quest for any contract. Do your research on YAPs you hope to audition for, ask advice from your mentors, and ask yourself how far you are willing stretch yourself.
James Harrington has compiled a great resource in his blog, YAP Bootcamp. You can read more at OpusAtlas:

What materials are needed for auditions?

Five arias
Appropriate arias that leave no doubt that you could sing the entire role.
Include different languages and various styles, but stay within your Fach.
Every director would like to see Mozart on your list.

“Headshot photography for classical singers has evolved at a breathtaking rate over the past 20 years,” writes Claudia Friedlander for the Carnegie Hall Musical Exchange. “For decades, the standard was a single black-and-white vertical close-up of the face shot on film, then printed and reproduced on glossy stock. Nowadays shoots are digital and usually full color, often with the aim of producing a variety of pictures—vertical and horizontal, face and full body, formal and fun, indoor and outdoor. While you may choose one image to be printed, most of the time you’ll submit digital copies of your photos online for publicity materials and college/Young Artist Program applications.” (
-Your printed headshot should be an 8”x10” photo on standard 8.5” x 11” photo paper.
-Your photo should look like you on a good day. Classical singer headshots are typically more formal than actor/musical theatre headshots, but this means a dress or suit jacket, not a glamour shot.
-Print your name on the bottom of the picture—even if you digitally submit the photo, your name serves as your brand on the photo.
-Camera phones are great for Instagram, but you need a professional photographer to shoot your headshot. This is an investment that will visually demonstrate that you are a young professional with an understanding of the opera industry and that you are ready to represent the school, YAP, or concert in their promotional materials.

Wear solid colors and minimal jewelry because you do not want to distract attention from your face.

“Your résumé should be a one-page representation of your performance and training experience to date. . . . Typos and misspellings can be an indicator of your thoroughness in preparing a role. Résumé exaggerations can be viewed as deliberate untruthfulness (not a good character assessment), and missing information can raise flags.”

The Opera America website is one of the best sources for detailed information on how to create a professional opera résumé—including downloadable sample résumés. Classical singing résumés should include:
Contact Information Header
Your name, voice type, and contact information (cell, e-mail, website, etc.) should be easy to read at the top of your résumé.

Performing Experience
Organize a chronological list of complete roles and scenes performed to date, with the most recent date at the top. With each role, include the opera title, composer, and where and what year the role was performed.

Include a section that lists academic degrees, training programs, and names of teachers, coaches, or directors that could serve as references.

Special Skills
Include opera- and performance-related skills such as languages, instruments, dance, and theatre training.

Repertoire List
Create a separate sheet with your contact information in the header. List the arias that you are prepared to perform for the audition. Include the aria title, opera title, and composer. This will give your auditors a chance to see what other repertoire they might wish to hear and will save you a dramatic pause if your nerves make you hesitate the moment that they ask you what else you have to sing.

Many companies will use online video submissions as a first elimination before a live audition. It isn’t worth losing a live audition due to submitting a poor-quality, last-minute video from your phone that isn’t musically accurate or does not have good sound quality.
-Plan ahead.
-Spend a bit of time and money getting a video of three arias that demonstrate your abilities.
-Position the video camera on you. The pianist needn’t be in the video for your audition.
-Rehearse with your pianist before the recording. If your pianist is prepared, you will avoid more takes that can fatigue your voice.
-Hire the best videographer you can afford. Universities often have recording studios or students learning sound engineering that will do a good job for less than a pro. As a young artist, your video does not need to be Met HD level, but should have microphones set up to record your sound without distortion. And I hope it goes without saying that you would never consider adding any dreadful reverb!

What if I do not have an impressive résumé?
Do not be intimidated by the applications that ask for professional experience. If you only have university roles or community chorus, that is OK. Every famous singer must sing a first gig. With practice, perseverance, and a bit of luck, so will you.

Christi Amonson

Soprano Christi Amonson’s recent concert engagements include touring China as a soloist with Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra, “Easy to Love” pops concert with the Sacramento Choral Society & Orchestra. Opera News described her sound as “liquid silver” after singing Nannetta with Chautauqua Opera. Amonson earned her DMA in voice and theatre under the tutelage of Grayson Hirst at the University of Arizona, where she has been an instructor. She earned her MM in Voice at the Manhattan School of Music and her BM in Music Education at the University of Idaho. In New York City, she sang with several opera companies and directed choirs for the Metropolitan Opera Guild’s Urban Voices Program. She is currently assistant professor of voice at Troy University.