Please suggest a non-religious song for auditioning in the soprano range.
January 12, 2012 9:29 AM   Subscribe

Please suggest a non-religious song for auditioning in the soprano range.

Dear Ask MetaFilter,

I am auditioning for my university's classical choir in two weeks. I have not done any singing since high school grad choir eight years ago (erk). I used to be able to sight-read and match pitch fairly well, but I am out of practice now.

My biggest problem: I don't know what to sing! I dislike singing songs with obvious religious overtones, which seriously limits my choices -- but I think I would be OK with singing something in a different language (French or Latin preferred). According to the choir website, the choir focuses on "major works from the choral/orchestral repertoire" with "special emphasis on works from the 19th and 20th centuries." Please note that I am a soprano.

So, Ask MetaFilter, what classical piece of music would you suggest? Any tips on practicing sight-reading and pitch matching would be great, as well.
posted by tickingclock to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe something from an opera like The Magic Flute or Tosca? I think both of those have some good soprano songs.
posted by Mad_Carew at 9:49 AM on January 12, 2012

I'm not sure that this is what you're looking for (I am not a musician), but I love Bellini's Casta Diva. Here is a very short Wikipedia list of well-kown arias for sopranos.

Very different, but here is traditional English folksong I love, "Early one morning". There are quite a few arrangements, I think, many for mezzo though. Here is soprano interpretation, and here another, with links to other soprano songs in the side bar. My favourite version is this one from Nan Mouskouri. I don't know how you would go about finding notes for each version, though. Maybe a Google-search? Or a musical library?

Good luck.
posted by miorita at 9:58 AM on January 12, 2012

Here are a couple of ideas.

In French:
"Si mes vers avaient des ailes," music by Reynaldo Hahn.
"Oh! quand je dors," music by Franz Liszt.
"Après un rêve" or "Au bord de l'eau" music by Gabriel Fauré.

Latin is a bit tougher but you could try "In trutina" from Carmina Burana by Carl Orff.

These are all very familar "standard" pieces which in this case I think works to your advantage. You don't want the people you're auditioning for to be so interested in the obscure novelty of the song that they don't notice how you sing.
posted by La Cieca at 10:00 AM on January 12, 2012

Apres un Reve is one of my audition standards. You can demonstrate a lot of musicianship with that one.

How high a soprano are you? You can just do the "Dulcissime" from Carmina if you have the high D -- we had someone audition for my chorale with that, took 30 seconds and they were an instant shoo-in.

Basically, what you want is "art songs or arias." there are oodles of these, from the 24 Italian Art Songs and Arias, to the Big Book of Lieder if you're comfortable with German. Try the Aria Database for a good aria search, too.
posted by KathrynT at 10:14 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Pretty much anything from the classic collection 24 Italian Songs and Arias of the 17th and 18th Centuries would be good.

Definitely not anything from the operatic repertoire starting with Handel.
posted by slkinsey at 10:17 AM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was trying to find a good interpretation of another favourite of mine, "Vive l'amour que reve, embrasse et fuit", and happened upon something which might be of use to you - this seems to be a music library.
posted by miorita at 10:17 AM on January 12, 2012

The problem with finding a classical song is that religion was hugely important in the sort of structures that paid composers, and they largely paid people to write religious music in order to secure their place in heaven.

So, a few of these are overtly religious, but they're all very standard and either in other languages or the religion isn't the point:
Pie Jesu from Durufle's Requiem (this is gorgeous, though I think it does have choral parts so depends on how you feel about ignoring them)
Ave Maria - Bach/Gounod one is my favourites
Silent Noon - Vaughan Williams
Art Thou Troubled or Wheree'er you Walk - Handel (probably too easy)
Oh Had I Jubal's Lyre - Handel
Sleep - Warlock

There are loads of possibilities from other operas, but I would stick to early music that allows you to showcase the same kind of vocal styles as you'd use in the choir. For example, I would not choose Verdi or Puccini to audition for a choir that wanted a nice pure tone without too much vibrato.

On preview - I agree with the Italian Songs and Arias, though English art songs are also well worth a look.
posted by kadia_a at 10:20 AM on January 12, 2012

Does it have to be a classical piece? If you have a folk song or show tune that you're already comfortable with, that might be a better choice than an art song that you have to learn. Something that allows you to show a clear/pure tone.

The 24 Italian Songs and Arias is justly popular, so be careful - you could be one of a half a dozen women auditioning with "Caro Mio Ben"!
posted by mskyle at 10:23 AM on January 12, 2012

Just a note about doing folksongs - depending on your university music department, they may take a very dim view of singing any kind of folksong, even in an audition. I'd go with the 24 Italian hits that slkinsey suggests.
posted by LN at 10:30 AM on January 12, 2012

I would absolutely council against offering an operatic selection, unless it is from a work that predates Handel and is fundamentally song-like in its vocal requirements. Not only is singing operatic repertoire challenging on a variety of levels -- people spend a lifetime trying to master it -- but it would be inappropriate for the purposes of auditioning for a spot in a university choir because solo classical singing and choral classical singing are quite different things with very different goals and expectations. A number of highly-in-demand operatic voice types are practically unusable in a chorus.

Fundamentally what they want to know is whether you have (1) a well-controlled instrument (i.e., can stay on pitch, doesn't have a wobble, has reasonable flexibility, doesn't have any registration or other technical issues); (2) a nice tone that won't stick out and is appropriate for the choir's repertoire; (3) whether you can cover a pitch range that is appropriate for your contemplated voice part in the choir's repertoire; (4) what your language and diction skills are; and (5) whether you have any musicality. Often a choral audition will include a sight-reading component (this being a very important skill for the choral singer) in addition to the solo singing.

What the auditioners won't care about is whether you have a great high C, can sing bravura passages, have a powerful operatic voice, can sing a technically challenging and rangy Mozart or Bellini aria, etc. None of these things translate to what a choral singer needs.

So what you want to do is pick a piece that allows you to show these 5 things to the greatest possible positive effect, and which is otherwise as easy for you to sing as possible. It's far better for you to really nail an easy piece than it is to do so-so on a challenging piece.
posted by slkinsey at 11:53 AM on January 12, 2012

You can't really go wrong with the 24 Italian Songs and Arias -- some selections are operatic, yes, but they're also standard audition repertoire that nobody will fault you for using. (Which means that others will probably be using it, but if you're auditioning for a place in a college choir, that's less of an issue than if you're auditioning for, say, a lead role in a musical that requires you to stand out.) Note that there are different editions of the book for different voice types, and the same song can be radically different to perform in, say, the high soprano vs. low soprano editions.

That said, if you're auditioning for a classical chorale, particularly one that does older works, you're going to end up singing religious material. Sorry. That's just how it works. If this is that much of an issue to you, it's not going to stop being an issue once you're in.

Re: sight-reading: I have a really good file of tips I've held onto (it's not online anymore, message me for it), but you cannot learn sight-reading from a book. You have to practice it. And if you're not already good at it, you have to practice it starting right now.
posted by dekathelon at 11:58 AM on January 12, 2012

depending on your university music department, they may take a very dim view of singing any kind of folksong, even in an audition

I agree. You want to do something that draws from the same musical traditions as the choir.
posted by slkinsey at 12:00 PM on January 12, 2012

Nthing 24 Italian Songs and Arias. In any case, it's a fantastic book to have in your music collection, and is basically the quintessential standard for learning classical voice (in my experience). My favourite was Per La Gloria D'Adorarvi (very upbeat and majestic!) but O Cessati Di Piagarmi is nice if you're after something more ballad-esque and tragic.

Lieder are also great if you're okay with German. Mozart's Die Verschweigung has a great, simple and tuneful melody with lyrics that sound innocuous enough but are quite bawdy if you speak the language.

In terms of English suggestions, When I Have Often Heard Young Maids Complaining by Purcell would also be a good audition song.

All of the above are about love, not God, with the exception of Per La Gloria D'Adorarvi. As others have suggested, go for simple songs that you know you can do well. Even while I was studying classical voice at uni, our teachers kept us well away from most arias - the young, untrained voice just isn't ready for that sort of thing. Folk songs, lieder and art songs are the way to go for sure.
posted by lovedbymarylane at 11:43 PM on January 12, 2012

As an alternative to the standard 24, Joan Frey Boytim has edited collections of songs for each vocal range that are suitable for auditions, competitions, and other classical music events.
posted by thatdawnperson at 9:31 AM on January 14, 2012

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