Performance Opportunities and Repertoire for High School Singers
High school singers: What was it that first attracted you to the study of classical music? Perhaps it was participation in a choral program, attending a concert or opera, or some wonderful singing you heard in a film or in a video you came across online. You may have friends or family members who sing or appreciate this repertoire, who encouraged you to develop your voice. Or, like me, perhaps you learned to play an instrument while still in elementary or middle school and became interested in singing when your voice began to take on increased range, resonance and focus.
While it is possible to begin learning healthy singing technique at any age, singers often do not begin serious vocal study until their early teens, when the physical changes that commence during puberty begin to provide your voices with greater stability. These changes are significant. Over a period of six months to three years, girls’ larynges will increase 20 - 30% in size, while boys’ larynges will grow 60 - 70%. For girls, the lower range will increase by an interval of about a third and their upper range will increase slightly; for boys, their lowest pitch will drop by about an octave, while their upper range will lower by about a sixth. Throughout this period, both girls and boys will normally experience some huskiness or breathiness of tone as well as gradual changes to the weight and timbre of your voices. While your voices will take on greater clarity and settle into a more consistent range by your late teens, the changes that begin with puberty usually continue into your mid twenties.
While your voice is maturing, it is essential that you choose repertoire and seek performance opportunities that are designed to facilitate the development of your range, flexibility, coordination, musicianship and confidence.
Educational Competitions for High School Singers
There are any number of excellent opportunities for young singers to showcase your accomplishments and learn from your peers. I’ve listed three examples here, and I hope that you will add others that you have found valuable to the comments thread below.
The National Association of Teachers of Singing holds Student Auditions events at the local, regional and national level throughout the United States and Canada. Singers prepare repertoire appropriate to their age and level of development and perform it for a panel of voice teachers, who provide them with detailed written feedback and encouragement. While NATS offers audition categories for singers of all ages and levels of experience, in my experience the auditions for high school singers are often the best-attended. Because friends, family and others singers are permitted to attend these auditions, they are not only excellent opportunities to gain audition experience and feedback but also chances to listen to many other singers in your age group. Any singer who studies with a NATS member is welcome to participate. Consult this page to investigate which chapter and/or region serves your area, and click on the appropriate region for more information about local Student Auditions and other events.
Soprano Anna Lee, 2015 First-Place Winner, High School Women
“O luce di quest’anima” from Linda di Chamounix by Gaetano Donizetti
Baritone Grayson Milholin, 2015 First-Place Winnter, High School Men
“Les berceaux” by Gabriel Faure
Classical Singer Magazine sponsors an annual Convention that features educational workshops, opportunities for singers to receive artistic and career feedback, and hosts representatives from nearly a hundred colleges and conservatories that offer performance degree programs. The Convention also holds a competition with divisions for high school, university, and young artists/emerging professionals. Registration for the 2017 Competition will open on October 1, 2016.
Soprano Maggie Kinabrew, 2016 1st Place Winner, Classical High School
“In uomini, in soldati” from Così fan tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Baritone Alex Wunder, 2016 2nd Place Winner, Classical High School
“Madamina, il catalogo è questo” from Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Music publisher Hal Leonard hosts an annual vocal competition focusing on young performers, with categories for singers aged twelve and under, thirteen to fifteen, and 16 to 18. Singers are evaluated via online submissions, so this is a good opportunity for you to learn to produce strong video auditions.
Benjamin Wenzelberg, 2016 1st Place Winner, High School Voices/Art Song
“Breit über mein Haupt” by Richard Strauss
Taryn Surratt, 2016 2nd Place Winner, High School Voices/Art Song
“Als Luise die Briefe ihres ungetreuen Liebhabers verbrannte” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Art songs are ideal for helping to develop technique, musicianship, and foreign language diction skills. These are works composed for solo voice and piano. Because opera is intended to be performed with orchestra, voice teachers generally prefer that you wait until your voice has fully matured and you have developed the skill to project well and effortlessly throughout your entire range before adding most arias to your repertoire. Here are some excellent examples of repertoire collections designed to instill good technique and musicianship.
Joan Frey Boytim is a voice teacher who specializes in training young voices. She has compiled a collection of song anthologies featuring repertoire in a wide variety of languages and styles that are well-suited to high school aged singers. When I asked my colleagues to recommend their favorite collections for young singers, these are the first volumes they mention.
For well over a century, voice teachers have found this collection of Italian art songs and arias valuable for introducing classical singing technique to students of all ages. It is available for medium high and medium low voices.
Jay Althouse’s Folk Songs for Solo Singers collections feature beautiful concert arrangements of familiar tunes. They offer not only wonderful study pieces but also effective recital repertoire. These volumes are also available in both medium high and medium low keys.
Canada’s Royal Conservatory Music Development Program includes outstanding repertoire recommendations for singers of all ages and levels of development in their syllabus. High school aged singers usually fall into Levels 5 - 8, so view the repertoire lists that appear on pages 29 – 50.
Your voice will continue to grow and mature progressively throughout your career. Professional opera singers understand the importance of allowing their voices to “grow into” new repertoire as their careers progress. In an interview for Classical Singer, bass Eric Halfvarson talks about the necessity of choosing appropriate repertoire at each stage of a career:
“We basses are probably up into our early 30s before that’s really done. It’s important not to sing too hard any time before that. Unless you have a very economical, soft-textured, light voice, you should wait a while… You have to have a firm understanding of the patience that’s necessary to grow slowly. I didn’t do Mephistopheles in Faust, for example, until I was in my early to middle 30s; the same was true of Filippo in Don Carlo. I didn’t do Hagen until my late 30s or around 40. And now, in my 50s, my voice is functioning about the way it should in these parts.”
Set yourself up for lifelong success by choosing the repertoire to which your voice and skill level is best suited at ever stage of your development. You may have first fallen in love with classical singing through attending an opera performance, but give your voice the time and attention it needs in order to become capable of singing this repertoire with the skill and stamina it requires. You will find that most of the opera composers you admire also composed wonderful art songs you are ready to learn right now. These will enable you to learn the technique and master the styles that you will need once your voice is ready to take on full opera roles.
Are there songs you love to sing or collections that you would like to recommend to other high school aged singers? Share your favorites in the comments!