Boosting Young Singers’ Training

By Brian Speck, Director of HGO Studio

May is one of my favorite times in the year at HGO. The Studio artists are getting ready for their summer projects, and it’s gratifying to look back on the year and see how much each of them has grown. We also welcome 16 singers (eight each week for two week-long sessions) to participate in our Young Artists Vocal Academy (YAVA), which is sort of a mini-HGO Studio program for undergraduate level singers. I find these young, hopeful, and talented artists so inspiring, and I’d like to share what we hope the singers in the YAVA program will gain from the experience.

Training is a long journey for an opera singer. It takes a great deal of time, energy, and focus to develop young raw talent into the sophisticated artistry that you see on the HGO stage. Young singers learn so much in school; their instructors help them to establish a reliable vocal technique, teach them the mechanics of diction in several languages, guide them in the selection of repertoire, build their skills as an actor, and address many other facets of their emerging artistry. We are lucky to have so many excellent teachers to mentor next generation of artists.

But in the midst of their academic training it can be a challenge for young artists to get contact with the professional world they hope to join, and that’s where YAVA comes in. One of the most common topics of conversation among working opera singers is the list of things they wish they’d known back in those undergraduate years. While the YAVA participants are with us in Houston, we expose them to ideas and experiences that help them to think well beyond the walls of their conservatory or university, and envision the career that lies ahead. While we certainly can’t tell them everything, I hope that YAVA provides a glimpse of the professional standard and career path, so that these singers know what to expect. By the end of the week, they should be able to set new goals that reach far beyond the next year or two, and create a plan to acquire the skills they need for success in this challenging industry.

YAVA provides singers with a great opportunity to work with the same faculty who are responsible for HGO’s Studio and main stage artists. The HGO music staff coaches YAVA singers each day. They receive individual drama coachings with an HGO staff stage director, and daily voice lessons from HGO’s director of vocal instruction, Stephen King. Group classes are held in movement, career development, acting, and many other skill areas. The YAVA singers meet our current Studio artists and have a chance to hear them sing and ask them questions. Our production stage manager gives the singers a tour of the theater, and explains the rehearsal and production process at HGO, highlighting elements of the process that may be new or surprising to a singer who hasn’t yet worked in a professional house.

YAVA also helps HGO identify talent that may be of interest in a few years for the HGO Studio. Three of our current Studio artists (Megan Mikailovna Samarin, Mane Galoyan, and Ben Edquist) first came to HGO as participants in YAVA, and many finalists in our annual competition have been alumni of the program. Given the relationship between the two programs, we look for the same qualities in YAVA auditions that we hear in studio auditions. The most important trait is a very high-quality, distinctive vocal talent. Beyond that, we know that undergraduate singers are in a formative stage, but we try to get a sense of the singer’s natural musicality, connection to text, aptitude for acquiring vocal technique, and hunger for knowledge.

I’d like to congratulate this year’s singers on their accomplishment in being accepted for this year’s program. We’re all very excited to get to know these 16 singers over the next two weeks, and inspired by what lies ahead for each of them!