Question: I am really enjoying your blog, and had a request. Do you think you guys could write an entry on YAP programs for recent grads. There just seems to be so much, and a lot of it is really out of my league, or like $5000. So it would be nice to hear your opinion on reputable programs at the right level.

Angela: Great question! I think what you're asking for is a list of recommended programs for singers at your stage? I would have to do some research to put this together, but I'm thinking that any list I come up with wouldn't be specific enough to your needs, and you'd end up having to double my research anyway. So instead, let me give you some guidelines on how to do your own research, which I think will be ultimately much more valuable.

First off, one reason why any kind of YAP rating system won't give you what you need is because the programs are constantly changing. New programs will appear, bad programs will suddenly get better, and good programs will take a nosedive. They're reactive to how much funding they have, to who's teaching or directing or conducting that year, and to whom the other participants are. Research from last year is already potentially out-of-date. A second reason is that every single person who participates in a YAP is going to have a different experience of it, and that's going to color any information you gather from them. Some people will love it and think it was a career-changing, life-changing, bliss-creating golden memory while others will break out in hives whenever the name of *that place* gets mentioned. I went to a program overseas where I had a great time and got everything I expected out of it, while other people practically had to start a support group to recover from their Summer of Sheer Hell. When hearing someone else's opinion of a program, it really helps if you know them personally, if their participation was super recent, and if you're clear on what you would need from a program so you can ask specific questions.

So at the end of the day, you're safer if you do your own research. What I can help you with is to tell you what to look for based on where you are in the business.

So, first things first:


How's your technique? How's your repertoire? How's your resume looking? How big is your network? What kind of feedback have you picked up from people about your product and its marketability? Where are your training gaps? What do you need to get from a program right now? Consider this your own personal market study.

After you've figured out where you are, do your personal math: how much time do you have and how much money could you spend (and of course - forgive the stating of the obvious- don't forget to calculate in health insurance and the other life basics).

Career Tip: Crowdsourcing through Kickstarter and Indiegogo and stuff is an amazing tool these days to fund training programs. Consider, though, that people will have a limited amount of goodwill when blatantly asked for cash to fund your goals. I mean, remember that Sex and the City scene when a horrified Carrie realized how much money she'd spent on other people's life events? This is kind of the same thing. So consider planning to do this maybe only once or twice. Spend those few shots wisely and don't waste them for anything small.


You're absolutely right: there are a ton of programs. The paid ones can be everything from a truly amazing experience to slave labor for the opera company running it. The pay-to-sings can be everything from truly supportive programs that give everything they promise, to the other extreme of being moneymakers that only want to turn a singer upside down and shake the loose change out of their pockets. How will you know the difference? Research.


PAID: You're the employee. This can be a surprising experience when you're used to being a student. You'll be expected to perform on demand - consistently well - and any training they offer you is a perk. You're not among friends but rather among colleagues, you'll be expected to have worked out your problems before you walk in the door, you'll be networking whether you're ready for it or not, and everything you do will be noticed and gulp, remembered. A certain amount of leeway is present because they get that they’re dealing with young artists, but there are limits and you can be fired. Seriously, I’ve known people who have been. Pros: any feedback you get here is REAL because their money is at stake. Cons: Hirability at the YAP level does not necessarily translate to hirability in the real world. I've known singers who did well at YAPs and then did nothing after that, so see below for the YAP-casting problem and how to address it.

PAY-TO-SING: You're the consumer, and it’s still school. Cons: they want your money and they want you to have a good experience, so take any feedback you get here with a grain of salt. Pros: they want your money and they want you to have a good experience, so in a good program, you can get solid training on your own schedule. It might be remembered if you have to cancel something or if you blow it, but it won’t be the black mark you’d get at a paid gig.


Out of any YAP, there are three things you're going to get:

RESUME BUILDING: This includes roles, scenes, concerts, the name of the program itself, and anyone you might add to your reference list of teachers, directors, coaches, etc. Every single program is a RESUME BUILDER, really. So what do you need on your resume? Be mindful that YAPs will cast you in roles you may not be hirable for in real life. If you're playing the fifty year-old father at a YAP, it's unlikely that you'll get this role as a professional twenty-something. You'll waste your time (and everyone else's) trying to translate this experience to the real world. Make sure you're continuing to work on pieces that reflect where you really are in terms of the business as a whole. And by real world, I mean casting calls that include all ages and experience levels.

TRAINING: Voice lessons, coaching, languages, stagecraft, how to behave like a professional, how to prepare a role, how to behave in a rehearsal, how to behave backstage, how to talk to the maestro, master classes on various topics...the nitty-gritty of being a professional performer. The interesting thing about this area is that you won’t know what you don’t know until oops, lesson learned. So It's a safe bet that if you're just out of college or if you haven't worked much yet, then what you need is TRAINING. Be mindful that with some YAPs, you can land in a tiny fishbowl of people who are all at the same level. This can be great if you get a chance to perform something big, but the drawback is that any bad habits or training gaps can be reinforced by colleagues who don't know any more than you do. Observing more experienced colleagues is vital, so consider programs that work with people from all different stages of the business. I mean, do you learn more by covering a 25 year-old first time Violetta, or do you learn more by covering a 45 year-old Violetta who knows her shit, two snaps up? Aim to be surrounded by experience. You will learn more stagecraft and backstage rules from being around pros that from being around other students.

NETWORKING: Getting heard by people who can do something about it (this includes colleagues -never underestimate word of mouth from colleagues!- directors, teachers, coaches, etc). You work with someone somewhere and it gets you a job somewhere else because they a) picked up the phone to make a recommendation or b) thought of you when they were asked for a recommendation or c) hired you directly for whatever program they run themselves. If you're ready to go - you've had gigs, you have your roles, your technique is solid, and you're confident in your ability to deliver a product that is consistent and reliable - then consider focusing on programs that will give you NETWORKING opportunities. These are usually more expensive and/or harder to get into because they're paying higher salaries to well-connected people. If you're still developing your technique and your repertoire - i.e., you're not ready to be hired - then this investment isn't going to do much for you. You'll go to a program, get heard by someone important, they'll rightly come to the conclusion that you need more time in the oven, and you’ll be out your $5K. 

What combination of these is best for you right now?

Career Tip: Recent grads should consider going abroad to study, at least once, for any amount of time, and the earlier you have this experience, the better.


Look for the following:

  • Find clear, published information about the program: the schedule, the cost, the housing, cancellations, refunds, everything. Pretend you’re car-shopping. If anything is vague, be wary.
  • Read about the people running the program. Are they connected to houses, schools, and/or other training programs? Do they know what they're doing and have serious roots in the business? If program leaders (teachers, directors, conductors, etc) haven’t been announced a reasonable amount of time in advance, be wary.
  • Look for return business from students. Do singers come back a couple of years in a row?
  • Look for a combination of stability and turnover in the teachers. Do the same people run the program every year, but do they bring in a variety of guest conductors, coaches, directors, etc? That’s ideal, because stability + fresh input = a healthy program.
  • Ask around. Listen to what other people have said about programs they've gone to. Read Yaptracker, check the recent forums, look for people who are at your level and ask where they’ve gone. Standing outside the door at BSR auditions and asking everyone there for recommendations works really well. Read the resumes on BSR, pinpoint programs that stand out, and send some emails to those singers asking for feedback.

Career Tip: Once you’ve auditioned and have gotten an offer, make sure to read the contract. Goes without saying, right? But I’ve know singers who haven’t, and they’ve run into trouble. If people are paying you, make sure you understand under what conditions you can be fired or not paid. If you’re paying them, make sure it’s crystal clear and in written form what you’re performing and when. If you've been promised a full role with an orchestra, then your contract should say that. If a YAP doesn’t provide this documentation, be wary.


If financial or personal realities mean you can’t travel, then try this DIY approach: create your own YAP! Research your area for the best coaches and teachers. Set up times with all of them. Do a chorus gig with a local company that hires serious people so you can watch and learn. “Cover” a role in that opera: learn it, learn the blocking, and prepare like you might have to do it. Add it to the Roles Prepared section on *Your Resume*. Have drinks with other singers who are at a different level than you, and ask them for their thoughts on the business. These are all YAP experiences that can be had in real life, right now.


So, you do your own personal market study on yourself and your product, figure out what you need right now, figure out what you can do right now, research the programs thoroughly and then? Take your best guess and go. The worst thing that can happen is that you have a bad experience (like International Support Group bad) or a wasted $ experience ("I spent $5K and no one called") or something like that- but really, is any experience bad or wasted? They all accumulate in the uniqueness that is you, and there is no “right” way to carve out a path in this field.


Everyone, let's start off this research by chiming in with your recent experience at a YAP. Either in the comments below or in emails to info@bostonsingersresource.org (requests for anonymity will be honored) please list:

  • the name of the YAP
  • paid or pay-to-sing?
  • any relevant info you feel like sharing such such as cost, length of time, etc.
  • what you wanted to get out of it in terms of TRAINING, RESUME BUILDING, NETWORKING
  • what you actually got out of it in terms of TRAINING, RESUME BUILDING, NETWORKING
  • suggestions for someone who might be considering going there

Image removed.  Angela Jajko, mezzo-soprano, is the Editor of the BSR Blog. She has been praised in such publications as the Boston Globe and the Herald for her “peaches and cream” voice and dramatic delivery. Recent performances have included The Lady of the Lake in Spamalot, selections from Carmen in The Greater Worcester Opera Gala in Mechanics Hall, Tessa in The Gondoliers with The Sudbury Savoyards, Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus with New England Light Opera, Carmen with Greater Worcester Opera, Offenbach’s Island of Tulipatan with New England Light Opera, the roles of Buttercup, Phoebe, Katisha, and The Fairy Queen in concert with the New England Gilbert & Sullivan Society, and as a featured soloist in concerts with Opera on Tap, Masstheatrica, FIRSTMusic, Ocean Park Festival Chorus, Parish Center for the Arts and New Hampshire Opera Theatre. Her performances have included the roles of Carmen, Theodorine, Augusta, Marcellina, Hermia, Savitri, Pirate Jenny, and La Zia Principessa. She has also performed with PORTopera, Granite State Opera, Longwood Opera, BASOTI, Harvard University, and the International Lyric Academy in Viterbo, Italy.  She holds degrees in Vocal Performance from The New England Conservatory of Music and the University of California at Los Angeles and is currently the Associate Executive Director of NELO, an artist coordinator for Opera on Tap Boston, a Board Member of the New England Gilbert & Sullivan Society and a Board Member of L’Académie, a critically acclaimed orchestra specializing in performances of French Baroque music in health institutions. She has served as Costumer for a number of productions with companies including Guerilla Opera, Company One, NELO, BASOTI and Longwood Opera. She has also served as a Director for NELO’s Rising Stars program and in other productions as Assistant Director, Stage Manager, and Props Master. She has extensive experience in administration, office management, and event management in a variety of industries. Visit her at http://angelajajko.com/.