Here are the questions I ask myself when I am assessing a song performance, whether it’s by a professional singer, by an actor, or by an actor who doesn’t think they can sing, or may not be very musically reliable. We can use these questions to assess our own performance. We can also learn a lot by using these same questions to assess performances by our peers, or by famous singers or actors. Go back to the Part 2 of this series, the five ‘Singing as Storytelling’ blog entries, and listen again. Some of the commercially successful singers would not score well with these questions; but some of the performers with less musically trained voices actually do the better performances from a dramatic point of view.
1. Remember the purpose of a performing song in a drama college audition
“Sing an unaccompanied song in character using physical and vocal expression.” In other words, play a character who is singing their thoughts and feelings, instead of speaking them. NB This is about your acting ability, not the quality of your singing.
2. Introducing the song
- Did the performer give the song title, and the name(s) of the writer(s)?
- Did the performer say where the song is from (musical, play, other)?
- Was this introduction clearly spoken in a way that you could register the information?
- Did the performer have presence in the introduction?
- Did you feel you were experiencing a story and/or the unfolding inner life of a character?
- Hardly at all / sometimes / most of the time / all of the time
- To what extent did the performer find & live specific meaning & nuance in:
- a whole section of a lyric (verse, chorus)? [an Act]
- a whole line? [a Scene]
- parts of lines? [a Speech]
- single words? [a Line]
- Depending on the lyric, did the performer bring out more than one point of view – e.g. a narrator, different characters?
- Which did you experience more, someone singing to you, or someone living in front of you? Did you find yourself caring more about the story than the performer’s singing ability?
- Did the performance begin before the words & music?
- Did the opening grab your attention, draw you in? Why / why not? (Content of the words, delivery of the words, delivery of the music, embodiment of character etc)
- Is there anything about the start of the song that could make it easier or harder to pull us quickly into the heart of the story?
5. The Listening experience – close your eyes to hear what the performer’s VOICE is telling you
- To what degree did the performer’s vocal colours, emphasis and phrasing tell the story of the song?
- Did you hear contrasts of feeling?
- Did you hear the performer singing meaning?
- Could you hear and understand every word? (This might have been helped by every word being completed.)
- Despite the fact that this was a song, did you believe that the person was thinking and feeling each moment in the song, finding and feeling the words spontaneously.
- Did the performer find flexibility in the regular pulse and rhythms of the song, so that you noticed the words and character, more than the tune or music?
- If / when there were gaps / silences, did it feel like the performer was listening to music / instrumentals in their head, perhaps waiting to sing the next line in the song? Or did the gaps make dramatic sense, in the context of the story or unfolding of the character’s emotional journey?
6. The Visual experience – block your ears to see what the performer’s BODY is telling you
- To what degree did the performer use their body to tell the story of the song?
- Level of detail
- Level of authenticity
- Level of believability
- Use of gesture
- Use of face
- Use of movement & stillness
- Did the performance end well? Why / why not?
- What did the performer do after the last vocal sound?
8. Song choice
- What are the pros and cons of using this song in an actor’s (NB not a singer’s) audition?
- Was this a good choice of song for this performer? Why / why not? (Musical, vocal, dramatic, playing range)
- There is rarely time to perform the whole song at the audition. Did the performer make good cuts and choices of which parts of the song to sing?
9. Vocal ability
- In addition to the ‘Listening’ and ‘Music’ questions, did the performer seem to be able to do what they wanted with their voice?
- Was the performer using sound and safe technique?
- Would the performer’s voice be heard, and stay fresh and healthy through a run of stage performances, without microphone or amplification?
- Did the performer know more detail about the origin of the song?
- If the song was part of a play of musical, did the performer know the overall story, and the what part this song plays in that story, and the life of the relevant character(s)?
11. Music (the least important element in this context)
- Did the performance sound / feel ‘musical’?
- Did the singer seem to find the right key and pitch range to sing the song in?
- Did the performer sing mostly in tune?
- Did the performer seem to have a sense of rhythm?
- Did the performer find a way of making the music feel like their own, rather than someone else’s tune that they were singing? Were they singing their version of the song, and not an imitation of someone else’s performance?