The subject of selecting repertoire resurfaced in September after I judged the Youth Division (10-17 yr. olds) at the Oregon State Fair talent competition. There were two basic problems with 99% of the singers’ song choices:
- They almost all sang inappropriate repertoire for their youthful ages.
- The difficulty level of their songs was generally just beyond their abilities.
The other 1%, well, that young lady won the competition. Not only did she have a solid belt, a strong stage presence and personality, she was successful because her song was age appropriate and totally within her abilities. She looked comfortable singing every note and understood what she was singing about. This familiarity and ease freed her to focus on the performance; she had fun and therefore so did her audience. Every other singer, mostly young women around 14-15 years old, sang about how their man ‘done them wrong’, how ‘there ain’t no good men left,’ etc… Um, no. I didn’t buy it. They were just strutting around the stage pretending to be at least 10 years older than they were, awkwardly imitating their favorite adult singers. Just a little more research and thought and most of these young singers would have been far more successful and competitive. Especially for Musical Theatre, but I would argue in every genre, age appropriateness is so important. There is so much repertoire out there to choose from, for every age, voice type, personality, ability and style. All it takes is some research, time and thought.
And frankly worse in my mind than inappropriate subject matter, there was always at least one note or musical phrase that took these young people beyond their vocal limits. This caused them to resort to basically shouting which in turn caused them to sing out of tune. Oh the strained necks and contorted faces, the notes that didn’t quite reach their mark or pushed horribly sharp. (Not to mention that few of them knew how to use a microphone effectively which is a totally separate problem and skill set!) The minute they started to strain, push and go out of tune, they irrevocably tainted the rest of their otherwise good performance. Especially in pop music and especially with today’s technology, you should always have your music transposed into a comfortable key. It makes all the difference and it’s thankfully not like classical music- no one cares that it’s not in the original key! It’s whatever works for you, whatever sounds best that matters. (Oh how I wish that were true for classical music…oh to be allowed to sing Glitter and Be Gay down a half-step!)
Case in point: there was one young man who had the beginnings of a great young tenor voice, a wonderful stage presence and engaging stage personality. When he started to sing, I was ready to give him top marks. And then the song started to go way too high and he struggled for more than half the song to hit the high notes. Furthermore, he was no more than 12 and singing about how he wanted his ‘baby to come back.’ He mugged his way through the piece but it had a false ring to it and his vocal fatigue took its toll on his natural charm and abilities. He would have been delightful (and infinitely more successful) had he sung something from Aladdin or Oliver, or even, forgive me, High School Musical. But no matter what, certainly not as vocally challenging. (If he just had to do the song he did, at least transpose it down a few steps!) I was disappointed for him. He had really positive performing qualities that just can’t be taught but a bad repertoire choice did him in.