Keys for Your Next Vocal Competition

“If you fall… you at least fall one step ahead of where you were.”
 – Selma Hiake


Getting your foot in the door on a professional level starts with auditioning for many different venues. And the very first and most important decision you have to make is to know what your proper entry level is so you are prepared and not either over or under reaching for a goal that will not show you to your best advantage. Remember, you only get one chance for making a “first impression.”
Competitions – Certainly competitions can be an important part of a performer’s career building. However, unlike sports competitors, when we compete, it is a more subjective selection; personal taste if you will. It’s about human sensibility rather than being rated by some quantifiable criteria. So have some perspective and be prepared for the fact that you can’t please everyone and not everyone is going to like you. Your job is to present your whole package starting with having your solid vocal technique in place, presenting your personal brand, showing off your unique and authentic personal charm on and off stage, and most importantly, using your ability to take those listening on a journey through your story telling when you sing. That makes you the winner.
Here are some other ideas to consider when thinking of entering a competition.

  • Choose wisely. The competition must be appropriate for your level of performance and experience and match your musical and story-telling strengths.

  • Never do more than you can honestly “take on” and still do well. As you know it’s not useful to do a bad audition so make sure you create the best conditions for yourself.

  • If you can, make sure that you secure your favorite accompanist for this event. This will help you feel like you have an important partner working with you and give you confidence. If you have to use the accompanist they provide, see if you can arrange a rehearsal with them before the competition so you can work in tandem when it comes time to perform.

  • Always start with the piece you feel the most comfortable with; the one you absolutely love to sing and know others love hearing you sing.

  • Never just try to impress the judges or the audience. You are there to do your “job” which is to tell a story through your singing.

  • Dress for success. Don’t over or under dress, know what is appropriate beforehand.

  • Always be on time and if you happen to wake up on the day of and feel too sick to go to the competition, always call as far ahead as you can as a courtesy to everyone. This will go a long way when and if you what to do this competition again. And because our industry is very small and connected, if you name should happen to come up, you will be appreciated and thought well of, for this courtesy.

  • If you felt you did poorly, DO NOT, tell anyone. Don’t whine and complain to your colleagues or any of the audience members or the judges. Just suck it up and get better at presenting your package each time you audition or perform. It’s your “job”.

Any time you put yourself in front of the public either on or off stage, if you are prepared, it gives you the opportunity to start creating some important connections. It’s not only an occasion to be heard but a chance to use your networking skills. It also allows you to hear other emerging singers perform and start noticing what is asked of these competitors by the judges. Make sure, if you have not been selected to be in the semi-finals, to go as an audience member to the semi and final round of the competition. It will give you a clear idea of what these particular judges are looking and listening for. You might find that your sensibilities in picking the winner might differ greatly or perhaps be in sync with the judges of the competition.
Start your own thought process of what your particular strengths are for the next competition. And above all remember that because this is a subjective human process, it is subject to inequities, the frustration of not understanding others reasoning when it comes time to pick the winner. And judges can be restrictive, biased, unimaginative, and even unpleasant. It’s just part of the wonderful world of performance art.

Carol Kirkpatrick

For as long as she can remember, singing and performing have always been in Carol Kirkpatrick’s blood. From her beginnings in a small farming town in southeastern Arizona, through her early first-place triumph at the prestigious San Francisco Opera Auditions, and subsequent career on international stages, Ms. Kirkpatrick has thrilled audiences and critics alike. “A major voice, one worth the whole evening.” (The New York Times) Since retiring from the stage, she continues to be in demand as a voice teacher, clinician, and adjudicator of competitions including the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.  Combining her knowledge of performance, business, and interpersonal skills, she has written the second edition of her highly regarded book, Aria Ready: The Business of Singing, a step-by-step career guide for singers and teachers of singing.  Aria Ready has been used by universities, music conservatories and summer and apprentice programs throughout the world as a curriculum for teaching Ms. Kirkpatrick’s process of career development, making her “the” expert in this area.  She lives in Denver, Colorado.