By Brendan Lai-Tong
As many of you already know, the audition process for obtaining singing roles in opera, musicals and other shows can be quite challenging. Just like singing, auditioning is a skill, and it can take a few tries to get a grasp of how the process works.
Today we will be sharing singing and audition advice from Lyric Baritone and Character Tenor – Donn Bradley. Donn is a native of Santa Cruz, CA, and current resident of wherever the work is, USA. Donn is a versatile singer, with solid technique in Opera, Musical Theater, and several popular styles.
He has performed five major roles with Townsend Opera, and narrated five major works for the Modesto Symphony Orchestra including Façade by William Walton, and performed as Bass soloist for Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with VITA Academy in Sacramento (2008).
Previous major Opera/Operetta roles include: Ko-Ko in The Mikado (2012), Major General Stanley in Pirates of Penzance (2011), Njegus in The Merry Widow (2010), Monostatos in The Magic Flute (2009), Sir Joseph Porter in HMS Pinafore (2009), Dr. Falke in Die Fledermaus (2001), Papageno in The Magic Flute (1998), The Pirate King in Pirates of Penzance (1998), and Louis in The Wandering Scholar (1997).
Hi Donn, thanks for taking the time to interview with us.
What inspired you to start a career in music?
I have been able to sing my whole life, though my desire to make a career out of music did not really take root until I studied Vocal Performance at CSU, Stanislaus. I was inspired by the excellent teachers I’ve had.
What music was the most influential in shaping your concept of sound, style and performance?
For sound, Thomas Quasthoff and Pavarotti. For style – that is very situationally-dependent. I try to listen to every recording I can find of anything I am hired to perform, after I have learned it for myself. There is always something to be learned from everyone else you listen to, even if all you learn is what NOT to do in some cases. My performance sensibilities are mostly learned from having been in a lot of shows, and learning on the job. Nobody starts out as an amazing actor, or a perfect dancer, etc. Continuing to audition, and do shows, is the best way to work on learning to perform well. Even if you must start off as a chorus member, and most do, get out there and get yourself on stage. The better the company you work with, the better the experience will be, usually. Community theater can be helpful to a degree, but if you want to learn to perform like a pro, you need to work for professional companies.
We’re always on the lookout for new and interesting music. What are you listening to right now that has caught your interest?
Vienna Teng is a fine Bay-Area composer/pianist/singer. The Book of Mormon on Broadway is a phenomenal piece. It’s certainly not for everyone… Be careful if you are uptight about religious, racial, or toilet humor.
Many of us would love to be better singers. What are some things that anyone can do to quickly improve the quality of their singing?
- Practice good posture when singing. Poor posture is responsible for many vocal problems.
- Find a way to eliminate tongue/jaw tension. These are the worst enemies of good singing.
- (A good teacher is probably the best way to deal with those issues. Be careful – a bad teacher can be much more harmful than many people realize. Singing should always be comfortable. If it isn’t.. something is wrong!)
- Know what you are saying with your music, and put your heart into it. It’s wonderful if you have a beautiful voice, but that means nothing without a message. People listen to music because it moves them. Be moved by what you are saying, and your audience will be moved with you.
- Sing repertoire which fits your voice.
- Stay away from alcohol, and drink plenty of water.
Do you have any favorite method books or vocal studies that you would recommend for others to try?
The Functional Unity of the Singing Voice, by Barbara M. Doscher – This book is excellent.
Performing in front of a huge audience can be intimidating! What are some things you do to boost your stage presence and combat performance anxiety?
I understand that singing in front of 1,000 people is really no different from singing for 1 person, or 10,000,000. If you focus upon what you are saying, and live the story for your audience, they will live it right along with you. The size of the audience matters not. The degree to which you are invested in what you are singing… matters greatly. Audiences can sense immediately if a performer is comfortable or not. If you are comfortable, confident, and enjoying what you are doing, the audience will enjoy it. If you are uncomfortable, lack confidence, and/or don’t like what you are saying/doing… The audience will feel that same discomfort. The next time you see a show of any kind, keep this in mind as you watch.
You have held many major roles in operas and musicals throughout your career. Can you expand upon what you do to successfully win an audition?
Develop good habits:
- Be punctual… arrive at least 15 minutes before your audition, warmed up and ready to sing.
- For any audition piece, know what your character is saying, what they are doing, what their motivation is, and let that show in your facial expressions, and a few gestures. Do not be overly expressive to the point that it is distracting. A little goes a long way, when artfully applied.
- Do not over-sing. I can’t stress this enough. Sing. Don’t push.
- Be professional in your bearing. Introduce yourself, and be confident, not arrogant, about what you will sing and how you will sing. When the judges are done listening to you, keep your mouth shut, and leave. Anything you say beyond what they are interested in hearing, can, and likely will be held against you.
- Remember that there are lots of other people who want the same work you are auditioning for. If you don’t get a part, don’t give up. Audition again at your next opportunity. The only time you really ever lose is when you stop trying.
Thanks once again for interviewing. We’re sure our readers in California would love to hear you sing. What upcoming performances can we check out?
This fall, I perform with the San Francisco Opera Chorus in Verdi’s Requiem, Der Fliegende Holländer, and Mefistofele.
Brendan Lai-Tong is the Assistant Marketing Manager at Sheet Music Plus and holds degrees in trombone performance from University of Miami and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.