Appearances that matter

October 29, 2006

Much as I hate to duplicate what my husband Chris blogs about, I too would like to put on record some of the advice given at yesterday’s deportment-for-singers workshop, especially as it cost us $20 each to attend this “bizarre event” (as a friend put it after hearing a description today). In any case, Chris does not mention everything we heard.

As I remember it, the tutors’ advice to would-be soloists was as follows:

  • If you have plenty of musical talent but no taste in clothes, it might be best to seek help from an image consultant.
  • In case of mishap, be sure to have a sewing kit handy backstage.
  • Your hair must be clean and your shoes must shine. Men should wear a conservative tie and have their “dress pants” well pressed. Female singers should always wear high heels for a performance and dark “hose” on their legs. A mini skirt is not a good idea. The bottom line is: you must make yourself look marketable.
  • During a recital your face is as important as your voice, so don’t obscure it from the audience. It’s better not to wear glasses on stage and to keep the hair off your face. Have a word with the lighting technicians about the spotlights, as Elizabeth Schwarzkopf or Hermann Prey made a point of doing.
  • Don’t bring a bottle of water or any other props on stage with you. A music stand, for example, acts like a barrier between you and your audience; know your songs by heart so that you don’t need one.
  • Practise beforehand any spoken introductions and keep them short.
  • Never adjust your clothing on stage.
  • When you’re ready to begin singing, nodding to the pianist is unnecessary and distracts the audience. A slight lift of the chin and focussing of concentration in the direction of the audience is a subtler, more appropriate starting signal.
  • When you start to sing, don’t look directly at any of the audience but at a central, neutral spot slightly above their heads, such as a clock. Don’t make eye contact with anyone out there during your recital. The only exception to this rule might be for special, jokey effect during an encore, say.
  • If you forget your words just make some up and keep singing. If you really do have to start a song again, confess your error in a confident way as Joan Sutherland used to do and relax the audience with a little joke about it.
  • Don’t close your eyes when you come to the climax of the song. It’s the audience who are supposed to be feeling the emotions, not you. Closing your eyes shuts them out.
  • Gestures that are mannered and artificial turn people off. You don’t have to stand rigidly still while singing, but don’t wave your arms, hands or fingers unnecessarily and don’t wander off across the stage away from the piano during your songs.
  • Curtseying is too grand a gesture for recitals. A simple bow is better. No perfunctory bowing, but don’t overdo it, either, especially between sets of songs half way through your programme.
  • Rehearse bowing in unison with your accompanist. If you are presented with flowers and she is not, it is gracious to extract one flower from your bouquet and hand it to her as a token of gratitude.
  • Be generous, not arrogant, with your audience, and that applies to the reception afterwards, as well!

Having taken in all these rules, I then spent the evening at a performance of Swan Lake by the Kirov Ballet, and was highly amused by the way the ballerinas came on stage to take their bows. The words “mannered”, “artificial” and “grand” don’t begin to describe the way those performers did it.

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