I’ll confess, I didn’t want to take my own advice.
As I worked through weeding out and distilling down my own book, I had way more than ten songs that I felt needed to be in there “just in case.” Songs I’d been using for a long time, songs I’ve been told I ought to have in there, and many songs I loved.
I found myself asking myself the same questions about each song:
- What does this song accomplish for me (dramatically, stylistically, etc.)?
- Is this song redundant to others in my book?
- Is this objectively a good audition song?
- Do I truly love this song?
The redundancy question was the most interesting. I had quite a few songs that fulfilled similar functions. In particular, I had multiple uptempo vaudeville flavored tunes and multiple quirky waltzes.
Sticking to the Ten Song Theory, my non-musical theatre songs revealed themselves very quickly. There were certain composers I loved, I knew I wanted a 1950’s song, and I knew I wanted a country song. Pulling mostly from sheet music I already had, my four choices became clear, and they all make me happy.
Choosing my musical theater repertoire was trickier. I confined myself to the remaining six slots of my Ten Song approach: Classic Uptempo, Classic Ballad, Complimentary Classic, Contemporary Uptempo, Contemporary Ballad, Complimentary Contemporary.
- I only had one option for Contemporary Uptempo on most of my lists, so that one was a no-brainer.
- I knew I wanted a Sondheim song in my book, and I also knew I wanted a specifically comic Classic song, so my Complimentary Contemporary slot went to my Sondheim song. That choice helped me determine what kind of song my Contemporary Ballad had to be.
- Then, looking at my Contemporary Ballads, there’s one that I’m just a little more endeared to than the rest. It’s a song that I’ve loved since I was a kid, so much so that it brings me a tinge of shame to admit it. I believe that slice of vulnerability is good. If I ever sing that piece, I’ll be sharing a deep piece of myself. I believe that’s important. It also serves me dramatically and stylistically, chosen with specific intention and purpose. It’s not only a sentimental choice. I weeded out many sentimental choices quickly in this process. It’s a conscious, strategic choice based on how I’d like to offer myself.
- Of my Classic Ballads, there was one song that I couldn’t imagine removing from my book. There were quite a few I loved, and I questioned if I needed a more generic, utilitarian piece, but as long as I was committed to the distillation process I simply couldn’t imagine removing this particular song. Any song I considered in comparison felt redundant or “correct.”
- Because I had the most Classic Uptempos, they were the hardest to whittle down. Even stranger was that I didn’t have an option that I loved that would fulfill a catch-all Classic Uptempo song. I had all of these vaudeville-style songs and quirky, comic waltzes. I wanted something that wasn’t steeped in a specific style. Something in the ballpark of “Miracle of Miracles,” “She Likes Basketball,” “I Met a Girl,” “She Loves Me,” “Nothing Can Stop Me Now,” etc. I love all of those songs, but none of them landed in my gut as the way to go. Once again I found myself going back to the musical scores I loved as a kid, and I recalled a song that I would never have imagined bringing into an audition room. Was it vocally rangy enough? Was it too childish? Would it make any sense? Then, I started singing it and realized a few things: It was full of discovery (making it actable), it seemed to live quite deeply in me, it was fun to move through the journey, it evoked the energy and spirit that the other songs I mentioned hinted at, it brought me that same slight shame and vulnerability I mentioned about the Contemporary Ballad, and it just made me happy. The song had never been on my radar as an audition piece, and now I’m delighted by the thought of it. For all of those Classic Uptempos I previously had in there, I chose one totally out of left field.
- However, I still knew I wanted one of those other Uptempos in the book for my Complimentary Classic. I needed something to point at being a comic vaudevillian. With that specific intention, one song seemed to hit the nail on the head more than the rest. It’s also a song I have a long historical love for, but what made it the right choice was the specificity of its function.
After determining those ten, I decided on two additional songs to keep in my book to serve specific functions. Once again, that decision came from considering the overall composition of my book and what specific vehicles I wanted to have at my fingertips. That being said, I’m confident I could run with those ten core songs. That core list feels satisfying and whole. From that list, I can amend and swap in particular songs for specific reasons. No ten songs can show absolutely everything about you, but a satisfying list can provide a solid foundation from which to adjust with intention.
Looking at the songs that had been weeded out, it became clear that there were songs I wanted to have readily available to swap in, and a third tier of songs that were either still in the works or specific to certain styles. These second and third tiers became apparent in the consideration process.
Ultimately, it goes back to what songs you love. Many of my core ten songs are songs that have lived deeply in me for many years. What makes them effective is that they’ve marinated in my being and resonate more organically than others. Not all ten are such old friends. Others are newer and specifically, strategically chosen. In all cases, there was a sense of compulsion. Out of all the options on the table, I couldn’t imagine removing it from the book.
Best of all, this process forced me to consider myself as a commodity and as an artist. How do I want to market myself? My songs had to reflect that. Obviously if I want to book work, I need my audition songs to point to certain creative possibilities (often uninspired or obvious ones), but how I want to market myself may or may not reflect how other people see me. I get to offer what I’m capable of. Artistically, discovering the sense of compulsion around certain songs illuminated (and in many cases reminded me) what I want to share as an artist. What are the kinds of stories I love telling? What perspective and play can I offer when I walk into a room. What do I want to say? That compulsion toward certain material is an excellent clue to where my creative curiosities lie. It activates conviction, and reveals the entrances to caves that you need to explore.
That’s how you get through auditions: by choosing material that you are perpetually compelled to explore.
Back to Part One: What Should I Sing?
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