We're delighted to welcome baritone, conductor and teacher Sam Evans as the Fellowship blog's first ever guest contributor. Here he recounts a weekend of professional development classes which he devised and led for the octet in February. 

Having secured hotly contested places on the Fellowship scheme, the eight young singers are about to take their first steps into the world of professional singing. Day one of the weekend was designed to prepare them to compete for work in an audition scenario. At some point soon, they are likely to find themselves in a rehearsal room for a staged opera or performance. Day two was about giving them the tools to be able handle whatever a director might throw at them.

To help guide them in this intensive weekend, I engaged two leaders in these fields. Professor Mark Wildman has been Head of Vocal Studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London for 27 years. In that time, he has auditioned thousands of aspiring professional singers, and has seen and heard it all – both good and bad. Tom Guthrie enjoys a successful career as a singer, both soloist and choral specialist; but he also trained as a director on the Jette Parker programme at the Royal Opera House, and now has a busy career as an opera director.

During day one, Mark Wildman put the Fellows through their paces in a practice audition, run exactly as it would happen in a real audition situation. They entered the room, greeted the panel and the accompanist, indicated their preferred tempi to the accompanist (Jo Ramadan), and did their best to perform their audition piece as well as they possibly could. Once everyone had ‘auditioned’, Mark and I got the group back together and gave feedback on their performance. After a well-earned lunch, the Fellows auditioned again. However, this time they formed a panel for each other, and gave feedback on each other’s performance under Mark’s watchful gaze. All the young singers grew in confidence in their performances over the course of the day, and Mark was delighted with the insightful and constructive feedback they gave to each to each other in the afternoon session.

On day two, the focus changed to the physical nature of using the body as an expressive tool. Tom defines stagecraft as “the technique of using your body to communicate stories and characters, in a space.” Tom drew on his many years of experience of working with opera singers at the highest international level, to help the Fellows learn some of these techniques. He then put them into practice by getting them to perform a song or aria, and encouraged them to use what they had learned to find new depths of expression in their singing.

Young singers beginning a professional career today are entering an intensely competitive world. The economic pressures on the Arts are well known, and yet the standards of singing seem to go up all the time. Throughout the weekend, the 2016/17 NYCGB Fellows demonstrated their vocal quality and impressive performance skills. But they also showed their dedication to the art and craft of singing, through their hard work, concentration and perseverance. And they all demonstrated that they have the one thing that young singers need above all else: grit.

Sam has also written about his experience of leading the weekend on his own blog, and filmed a discussion covering various aspects of the weekend and more with Tom Guthrie.

Read Sam's blog post on his own website