Some Considerations to Guide Listening and Discussion of Performances of Art Songs and Arias

I wrote this brief document for my small group of private voice students at Westminster Choir College, fall 2020. It is shared here to help you focus ears/eyes/artistic lens for effective listening to performances of classical repertoire, although the considerations should help us in listening to multiple genres.

  1. Do the performers seem to engage in a cohesive way with the performance? Does it seem that their preparation was thorough and effectively carried out?
  2. Is there a sense of freshness, spontaneity, and commitment to this performance?
  3. Do the performers seem to be in sync with each other, re: musical and artistic intentions, moment-to-moment ensemble, etc.?
  4. Is basic musical and textual correctness secure enough not to be a distraction?
  5. Do the performers find originality in their artistic choices? (NB: originality is not limited to yet-unheard sounds or ideas. An original performance could possibly consist of combining interpretive choices that are borrowed from other performances.)
  6. Is there a healthy and creative balance between expressive/improvisational energy and stricture or respect for style and tradition?

Specific observations for the singer – how effective is she/he in these areas?

  1. Does the music seem securely learned? Describe how we know it’s secure: eyes, audible hesitation, apparent lack of full engagement, etc.
  2. Is text clearly delivered, re: diction choices, pronunciation, articulation?
  3. Does he/she seem confident in this performance? Are they truly prepared or simply trying to put the best foot forward and “wing it?”
  4. In addition to musical and textual faithfulness/correctness, do the following elements seem strong enough not to be a distraction? On the other hand, are they especially strong?
    1. Basic tone – evenness, brilliance, breath efficiency, spin/vibrato, audibility/projection
    2. Intonation
    3. Variety of intensity
    4. Expressive use of timbre/color
    5. Inflection of language, based on all four qualities of a musical tone: pitch/intonation, intensity, timbre, and duration
    6. Secure memorization
    7. Body usage that allows audience members to be confident and relaxed
    8. Relative ease of physical engagement
    9. Other?

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