Why do I make mistakes when I perform?

Assuming one is adequately prepared, why do mistakes still happen in performance? Some possibilities from my personal experience:

a) Distraction: Thinking about something non-musically related and performing on auto-pilot. Sometimes auto-pilot works just fine, but switching focus back to music is when things go wrong.

b) Evaluation: Thinking, “That could’ve been better,” or “This is going well!” Whether positive or negative, evaluation means I’m thinking about what already happened instead of listening and being in the moment. Not much different from a) in effect.

c) Self-doubt: Thinking, “Do I remember the fingering/notes here?” “Can I play this part?” Obviously the answer is “yes,” but the second I doubt it, I screw it up.

d) Forgetting: Some things require extra concentration or intentional counting to execute, and I don’t remember to do it unless it’s written in my score. (I’m sorry to report this worsens with age.)

e) Accidents: Sometimes mistakes just happen because we’re human.

What are some auditioning tips for singers?

Plan your elevator pitch

Despite having your painstakingly-formatted résumé, the director may still say the dreaded, “Tell me about yourself.” Whether you choose to name drop, list your most impressive accomplishments, or talk about your passion for new music, being prepared with a concise and compelling story will help you make a favorable impression. You’ve probably already written an artist bio; consider writing an elevator pitch as your next step.

Update your web site

I once observed an Artistic Director and a Music Director discussing a singer, and one said to the other, “I wonder if she has a cold today, or if it’s a technical issue.” They pulled up the singer’s web site to check for recordings, but none were posted. What a lost opportunity! The directors were on the fence between the no pile and the maybe pile, and that omission put the résumé in the no pile.

Be memorable for your artistry

The need to stand out in a sea of sopranos is real, but don’t let your outfit speak louder than your singing. I once saw a soprano wearing a flattering but unconventional piece of attire. Before the singer had even entered the room, the director looked at the list of names and said, “Is she the one that wore the [clothing item] last year?” More than a year after the audition, I remember the soprano’s name and outfit, but which two arias did she sing? No idea.

Ask for advice

Recently before an audition, a singer emailed me: “If you have any insights or suggestions about auditioning for [the director], I’m all ears.” I thought this was a smooth move for a few reasons:

  • The singer acknowledged that I, a mere accompanist, may have artistic insights. This happens infrequently enough that I found it flattering.
  • The tone of email was not demanding or desperate, so I was happy to write a brief but thoughtful response.
  • The singer created an opportunity to demonstrate how he meets a musical objective.

If you have a contact within an organization, try asking that person for advice. Don’t forget that people who aren’t decision-makers may have useful insights from observing singers inside — or even outside — the audition room, and that chatting about singers with music directors is probably our water-cooler activity.