Carnegie Mellon University

School of Music

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Voice Department Handbook

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Each voice major receives a 50 minute lesson per week, during the 14-week long semester. Lessons are generally structured in two parts: the first 30 minutes are with your studio instructor alone, and then a pianist joins you for the last 20 minutes of your lesson, facilitating work on repertoire. Underclassmen are assigned student collaborative pianists, while upperclassmen, graduate, and ASM students are paired with faculty pianists.

Private Studio Attendance
Private studio lessons are exactly that- private! Therefore, an unexpected absence leaves the professor with a wasted hour. It is NEVER acceptable to miss a lesson without contacting the professor as far in advance as possible. Emergencies will be understood only when they are clearly emergencies. Unexcused absences are lost opportunities and need not be rescheduled by the teachers; such absences will adversely affect the students’ grades.

Change of studio teacher
The relationship between you and your studio teacher is crucial. Ordinarily, the teacher and student will work together throughout the student’s residence in the School of Music.

On the rare occasion when a student wishes to make a change, you must receive the permission of your proposed new studio teacher, and the School Head. Before formally requesting a change in studio, students must first discuss their concerns with their present studio teacher. Failure to do so may jeopardize the student’s request for a studio change. The order of following procedure MUST be adhered to (each step below must be completed by a signature obtained above before the next step in the process):

a. Discuss your request with the School Head or the Director of Student Services, if the change will between school years. Requests for change between the semesters of a school year, especially during the freshman school year, may only be approved on the basis of individual emergency circumstances.

b. Discuss your request with your present studio teacher.

c. *Discuss your request with your proposed studio teacher.

d. Submit this petition to the School Head

A request for change of studio teacher for the following fall semester is finalized after the end of the preceding spring semester; it may not be possible to honor a request which is submitted later than May.

*Space MUST be available on the proposed new studio teacher’s roster in order to be granted a place in that studio. Therefore, it is recommended that all students petitioning to change studios ALSO fill out a “Studio Preference Form” located in Sharon Johnson’s office.

NOTE: In this business, it is considered unethical to study voice with more than one teacher concurrently. During the academic year, it is important for singers to build a technical foundation and not have ‘too many cooks in the kitchen.’ We faculty will not proselytize to students from other studios, and voice students MUST NOT approach other teachers for sample lessons, regardless of the circumstance.

Seminars are scheduled in many of the performance areas and in composition. Most seminars are open to any music majors, visiting parents/students, teachers, etc…Voice seminar is considered an integral part of the studio training. Although this class is not taken for credit, it is required of all undergraduate and graduate voice performance majors, BXA students, and those graduate students with a concentration in voice. Seminar is a hybrid type of class, where performance meets master class (via written critique by the voice faculty). Students to experience performing before their peers, and those in the audience are expected to behave in a supportive and respectful manner, in a sense, practicing acceptable concert etiquette.

Singers are required to fill out 6 forms (one per voice faculty- you may find them on the Mezzanine level, just outside room 155). Because singers are gaining valuable experience walking onto, and performing on a stage, appropriate dress is


Dresses and skirts must be below, not above, the knee. Why? You are singing on a raised stage, knees being eye-level with your audience. Doing a simple turn on stage in a mini-skirt could result in disaster. In other words, what you see in the mirror is very different than what an audience sees: they are looking UP. Necklines should be considered as well. Choose a neckline that is flattering, but not distracting. Things to avoid: evening wear during a day-time seminar (sequins, strapless dresses, etc…) and stiletto-heeled shoes. If you have a question as to whether or not your outfit is appropriate for seminar, it probably isn’t.

Men may choose to wear a suit or jacket (sport coat) with a long-sleeved shirt and tie, or dress shirt/sweater with dress pants, as well as dress shoes. Jeans/shorts are NOT permitted!

Lastly: occasionally, singers are called upon to substitute for a scheduled singer on a given seminar day, due to cancelations. In the case of last-minute substitutions, we understand that the dress code may not be adhered to.

You may not have more than one absence in seminar, however: if you are absent more than once, you will need a medical excuse. Two late-arrivals equal one absence, so be mindful of your time. If you are ill and unable to sing, you must give at least 24 hours’ notice. If you don’t give 24 hours’ notice, and you don’t have a medical excuse, you cannot pass Voice seminar.

At Carnegie Mellon, singers are given the unique opportunity to coach with faculty pianists on a weekly basis. Freshmen through seniors receive weekly 30 minute coachings with an assigned faculty pianist, and graduate and ASM students receive hour-long coachings weekly. It is the students’ responsibility to provide music for each of their assigned pianists.

Working with a coach differs slightly from working with a voice teacher, but is no less important! Your voice teacher, especially during your formative years, is primarily concerned with healthy voice production, appropriate repertoire assignment, and other technical aspects of your instrument. While coaching does not address technical matters of voice production, it DOES touch on
• Diction
• Performance practice and style
• Rhythm
• Interpretation and deeper understanding of the poetry you are singing
• Etc…

Before you go to your coaching, it is expected that students will have already learned their notes and rhythms in the PRACTICE ROOM. A coach may point out discrepancies in intonation, or rhythmic mistakes, but it is not the job of a coach to:

• Teach singers a piece of music from scratch. A singer may certainly helped with the beginning stages of a song or aria, simply by being able to hear the accompaniment played, however: it is expected of all voice majors that after an initial coaching on a song or aria, that they will practice it on their own before taking it back to the coach the following week.
• Record the accompaniment, or solo vocal line, of any given piece of music. Students are encouraged to record any or all complete coaching sessions, but a coach is not a karaoke machine, and should not be treated as such.

Coaches will inform the faculty when students are ill-prepared, and are within their rights to dismiss students from coachings if students repeatedly come to their coachings ill-prepared. Grades in coaching will directly reflect the level of preparation students bring to their coaching.

Similarly to the studio teacher-student relationship, the relationship between coach and singer is of utmost importance. Voice majors are carefully matched with faculty pianists based on what we feel would best benefit the student’s temperament, skill level, musical compatibility, etc…This pairing is decided at the end of the spring semester, by your voice faculty (by both teachers and faculty pianists, alike).

The CFA is equipped with a state of the art recording facility, and students are encouraged to take advantage! Students may find more information on the Recording page. Faculty pianist may be hired to play for recording sessions at $75 per recording session. Because a booked session is typically 2 hours in length, students may want to double up with the same pianist, to save some money and rehearsal time

Carnegie Mellon stands apart from most American universities in many ways, but in particular, with regard to the performance opportunities afforded to our voice students. In addition to opera scenes, choir concerts, etc...CMU produces two fully staged, orchestra accompanied productions per year, all cast from within the singers at the CFA. Undergraduates are required to take 24 units of production, while graduate students are required to register for 12 units of “Performance Electives” which may include Production. ASM students may be considered for roles in productions, but only if the students’ curriculum is designed to include production.

In the two weeks prior to any given opera production, students are either assigned individual/ensemble coaching time, or are required to sign up for coachings on their respective roles in the productions. Typically, these rehearsals are from 6-9 on Monday-Friday, but are subject to change. These rehearsals are built into the master calendar for the year, and should be listed on Inside Music as well. All students are required to have ALL notes, rhythms and words learned before the coaching process begins. (Please see “Coaching” for more information) If the opera coach makes the determination that the student is not adequately prepared, they have the right to stop the coaching and make further recommendations to the voice faculty. Lack of preparation at any time during the coaching process may result in dismissal from the cast, and all credit for the given Production’s course are then forfeit.

Any absence during Opera Production MUST be pre-approved by the Director of Opera Studies, Stage Manager, and private voice instructor. Students may find the “Excused Absence Petition” on page 23 of this Handbook, or in Sharon Johnston’s office. Asking for a release via email, or by casually stopping a faculty member in the hallway is NOT acceptable.

Instances that would require an Excused Absence Petition include: Graduate School Auditions, Professional Gigs (with pre-approval of the faculty), Illness, family emergency, etc…

In this business, it is not uncommon to encounter sexually and/or politically provocative content within libretti or in the staging of certain productions. For this reason, the voice department has a required Audition Form for all singers, which assists us in knowing how we can best accommodate students wishing to abstain from using certain language, wearing immodest costume, or participating in provocative staging. Additionally, the voice department has recently appointed a “Sensitive Content Person”; a voice faculty member who is available to those students needing an additional perspective in opera rehearsals. The job of the SCP is to give students a sympathetic ear, some professional perspective, and of course, support and encouragement. In the event that student discomfort is the result of harassment, assault, or other illegal activity, the university’s Title IX Office must be contacted immediately.

Taken from

“The Office of Title IX Initiatives is dedicated to promoting gender equality at Carnegie Mellon University, which included coordinating the University’s efforts to prevent and effectively respond to all forms of gender discrimination (including gender identity discrimination) and sexual misconduct impacting community members, including sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating and domestic violence, and stalking” 

Any lessons canceled by the teacher for any reason (illness, out-of-town gig), will be made up. However, it is important to note that teachers are NOT required to make up lessons missed because of student illness or other absence. Missed lessons due to extra choir rehearsals will be made up. Make-up lessons due to teacher absence must be scheduled in a way that fits the student’s schedule and does not penalize the student academically or financially. Faculty who must be absent from lessons for a week or more are required to notify the department chair or school head, and make necessary arrangements to reschedule missed lessons, either before or after the anticipated absence. Teachers and students may opt to utilize Skype or Facetime for a ‘check-in’ type of lesson, but only if the teacher’s absence be more than 2 weeks, and only if permission to do so is granted by the School Head. Online lessons are ONLY to be used in this type of emergency circumstance, and may only be given if the student involved, agrees.

All teachers must be present for their students’ required recitals, seminar performances, and end-of-semester juries of their students. 

Freshmen Voice Majors:
The principle emphasis is on basic vocal technique and the sung Italian and English languages. Repertoire is selected by the studio teacher, and the assignment of operatic arias will be limited during the Freshmen year.

Minimum Requirements:
SIX memorized and performance-ready selections per semester: three selections to be performed in seminar, and three selections to be presented at Juries. Songs/Arias sung in seminar may NOT be repeated at the Jury without special permission from the studio teacher.

Study of a second foreign language, German, is added. Principle emphasis during Sophomore year will be on German repertoire (Lieder), and the continued study of the Italian and English repertoire.

Minimum Requirements, FALL semester:
EIGHT memorized and performance-ready selections: three selections to be performed in seminar, and five selections to be presented at Fall Juries. Songs/Arias sung in seminar may NOT be repeated at the Jury without special permission from the studio teacher.

Minimum Requirements, SPRING semester:
NINE memorized and performance-ready selections: three selections to be performed in seminar, and six selections to be presented at SOPHOMORE REVIEW. Songs/Arias sung in seminar may NOT be repeated at Sophomore Review without special permission from the studio teacher. Please see separate “SOPHOMORE REVIEW GUIDELINES” page for repertoire, and other requirements.

Study of a third foreign language, French, is added. Principle emphasis during the Junior year will be on the French repertoire (Chansons, Mélodies), the continued study of the Italian, German and English repertoire, and a new focus on operatic arias to be assigned at the discretion of the studio teacher.

Required Elements during Junior Year:
EIGHT memorized and performance-ready selections per semester: three selections to be performed in seminar, and five songs to be presented at Juries. Songs/Arias sung in seminar may NOT be repeated at the Jury without special permission from the studio teacher.

Junior Recital:
Junior voice majors will sing a solo recital with a duration of 25-30 minutes (musical timings, not including pausing in between sets), focusing on English and at least two of the following languages: Italian, German, or French. Recital repertoire should reflect the course of study to date, and may include Baroque, Classical, 18-20th century through contemporary composers (repertoire written after 1975). Standard operatic arias and musical theater selections are not considered acceptable recital repertoire at this juncture.

Recital repertoire may be offered in seminar or during juries, however: additional repertoire, at the discretion of the studio teacher, is encouraged for voice seminar, juries, and practice within studio.
• Students are encouraged, whenever possible, to present joint-recitals in groups of two or three. Because Junior recitals are only 25-30 minutes long, and are presented jointly, encores are discouraged.
• If the student has met the minimum time requirements stated above for the recital, the remaining available time may be used to sing repertoire of other styles and genres, with the approval of the studio teacher.
• It is understood that, with the exception of chamber music requiring more than one accompanying instrument, the recital will be performed from memory.
• If a student fails his/her Junior recital, a Recital Hearing may be recommended, taking place during Jury week of the semester in which the Junior recital took place. Students who fail may not register for their Senior recital until a “Pass” has been granted by the Recital Hearing panel.

Seniors will continue to add repertoire in all four languages, and will also be actively preparing repertoire for graduate school auditions, if the studio teacher feels this is the appropriate path for their individual students.

Required elements during Senior year:
Minimum requirements: 
EIGHT memorized and performance-ready selections per semester: three selections to be performed in seminar, and five songs to be presented at Juries. Songs/Arias sung in seminar may NOT be repeated at the Jury without special permission from the studio teacher.

Senior Recital:
Senior voice majors will also sing a solo recital with a duration of 50 minutes (musical timings, not including pausing in between sets), focusing on English, Italian, German and French. This repertoire will be chosen in conjunction with the studio teacher. If the student has met the minimum time/language required elements stated above, the remaining available time may be used to sing repertoire of other styles and genres, with the approval of the studio teacher. It is understood that, with the exception of chamber music requiring more than one accompanying instrument, the recital will be performed from memory.
• A 10-12 minute intermission is encouraged for Senior recitals
• The studio teacher retains the right to veto any repertoire deemed inappropriate for individual students (whether based on pedagogical reasons, content, or other
• In the case of student composers, the completed work must be submitted at least 6 weeks before the recital date
• If a student wishes to petition for exception to any of the above, a written letter must be submitted to the studio teacher 6 weeks before the scheduled recital, and must be approved by the studio teacher and the School Head.
• If a student fails his/her Senior recital, a Recital Hearing may be recommended, taking place during Jury week of the semester in which the Senior recital took place.  

The primary goals for graduate voice majors are: to advance their technical understanding of their instruments, to delve deeper into both song and operatic repertoire, to build vocal stamina, confidence and the vocal preparedness for entering the highly competitive music world, as a young artist.

Minimum Requirements:
10 memorized and performance-ready selections per semester: three selections to be performed in seminar, and seven selections to be presented at Juries. Jury repertoire must include an aria from an oratorio, and an aria from an opera. Songs sung in seminar may NOT be repeated at the Jury without special permission from the studio teacher. No jury is given during the semester of the required graduate voice recital. Recital repertoire may be offered in seminar or during juries, however: additional repertoire, at the discretion of the studio teacher, is encouraged for voice seminar, juries, and practice within studio.

Graduate Voice Recital (Required):
Graduate voice majors must sing a solo lecture recital with at least 50 minutes (musical timings, not including pauses in between sets), focusing on repertoire chosen in conjunction with the studio teacher and may include Italian, German, French, English, and/or other foreign languages. Depending on the focus of the program, fewer languages may be considered appropriate (if for example, half the program were dedicated to an extended song cycle or opus). It is understood that, with the exception of chamber music requiring more than one accompanying instrument, the recital will be performed from memory.

Comprehensive Review is tied to the students’ lecture recital, and must be submitted in order to graduate. Students may find more information regarding the required elements here. Excerpts from students’ comprehensive review may be included as program notes for the lecture recital.

Additional Requirements in Performance:
Voice graduate students at CMU are required to take “Performance” (18 units), and by definition, include performances where you are appearing in a public performance as “soloist.” These opportunities may be a CMU-sponsored event (as winner of the Concerto Competition, or soloist in a CMU choir oratorio, etc…), your required Lecture-Recital or other recital, or other professional organization (Pittsburgh Opera, etc…).

“Performance” units are separate from your “Performance Electives” (12 units) which encompass performances in CMU-productions, Opera Workshop/Scenes (Spring), or other independently produced performance, taking place with under the supervision of a studio teacher, acting teacher, or other faculty advisor.

For additional required elements of your Master’s Degree, including information on Outreach Performances, please visit the Current Students page, and speak with your graduate advisor.

The studio grade reflects both talent and effort. To receive an “A”, you must have a consistent record of hard work, have made substantial progress during the semester, and be performing in juries, convocations and/or recitals at a very high level of proficiency in comparison to your particular level of conservatory training. A student should not receive an “A” just because he/she works hard; nor will a student receive an “A” just because he/she has native ability.

For all required Junior, Senior and Graduate Recitals, students must register to receive a grade, which is separate from the studio grade.

As of August, 2016, the following courses are now on the class schedule, with letter grades:

57588 Junior Recital Voice
57589 Senior Recital Voice
57799 Graduate Recital Voice

The following scale reflects what each grade means:
A Excellent
B Good
C Satisfactory (Average)
D Passing (Poor)
R Failing

Studio is the heart of your professional training as a musician. Since “Average” playing or composing is not sufficient to sustain a career in music, the faculty consider a “C” grade in the major studio as a symptom of either insufficient talent to continue as a performance major or inadequate work during the course of the semester. A student will receive a letter of concern from the School Head whenever he/she receives a “C” or lower in the studio area. If “C’s” continue to be given in studio, the student may, at the discretion of the faculty, and upon evidence of problems in other professional courses, be asked to withdraw from the program. At the point of withdrawal, the student will be advised carefully and personally of the options available: to transfer to another music program in another setting, to transfer to another School at CMU, perhaps continuing in music as a minor, or to become a transitional student for one semester while taking university courses in preparation for a transfer to another college or university. In any case, the Director of Student Services and the School Head will work very closely with the student, and often with the parents, to ensure a healthy transition.

The faculty will continue to make a careful assessment of each student during the first year of study and will attempt to make a decision regarding his/her suitability for our program by the conclusion of the sophomore year, at SOPHOMORE REVIEW. (please see “Sophomore Review Guidelines” page for more information)

Once a student enters the junior year, it is our policy to do everything we can to bring his/her program to a successful conclusion. Once a student enters the junior year, he/she will be dropped from the School of Music only under extraordinary circumstances, which may include a lack of progress, emotional or physical illness or injury, lack of practice or sufficient learning of required repertoire, and/or an overall lack of cooperation or willingness to be taught. Although the studio grade serves as the most important criteria for determining each student’s suitability for our program and for a possible career in music, this grade will not be the sole determinant in dropping a student from the School.

Incomplete Grades
Any time a student is unable to complete a course or a group of courses, due to unavoidable circumstances, an “I” grade may be given for the incomplete work. If this becomes necessary, the student should discuss this grade option with each professor. It is ultimately the individual teacher’s decision as to the appropriateness of the “I” grade. “I” may not be given in instance where the student just did not do the work or chose to miss too many classes. All incompletes must be made up during the following semester, or the “I” grades revert to default grades. While it is the professor’s responsibility to fill out a “change of grade” form for the student at the completion of the required work, it is the student’s responsibility to determine exactly what needs to be done to complete the course and to do it.

Studio Grades
As per the departmental syllabus, your grade in studio is made up of two elements:
• 75% determined by the studio teacher
• 25% by the average of the jury grades by the adjudicating faculty. Grades in the studio are determined as follows, as recommended by the CFA:
• 50% Preparation. Preparation consists of completed assignments, quality of score preparation/study, independent thought, and understanding of style and text.
• 50% Participation. Participating in the studio includes attendance, technical understanding and mastery, performance, application of diction and language study, memorization, completed assignments, quality of music preparation and study, independent thought and understanding of style and text.

These recommended guidelines for teachers may be supplemented in your private voice teachers’ syllabus, so you are responsible for reading all materials carefully and thoughtfully.

Concerts held in Mellon Institute and Carnegie Music Hall are particularly important to the visibility and the reputation of our School. These concerts include our major ensembles, faculty and guest artist programs. Admission is charged (but all music events are free to music School faculty, staff and students). Attendance at these concerts is expected of everyone in the School! A small audience in a large concert hall reflects poorly on the School of Music and on the performers. Understandably, we may not be able to attend every single concert, due to unforeseen circumstances, student recitals, evening opera rehearsals, etc…in those rare instances when you cannot attend a live concert, webcasts may be available for viewing at

Voice students are REQUIRED to attend all on-campus voice recitals given by your voice faculty, and at least those recitals given by the members of your studio. It is recommended that each voice major attend (not watch on webcast, be in attendance live) a MINIMUM of 10-15 voice recitals per year, however, each studio teacher is responsible for student attendance, so please check your individual studio syllabi carefully.

School of Music Convocations are held every Thursday from 12:30-1:20 in Alumni Concert Hall. These meetings bring the entire School together once a week for special programs designed to enrich the educational experience. The yearly schedule of convocations includes faculty recitals, student performances, guest artists, guest lecturers, career seminars, and departmental meetings. All School of Music students are required to attend Convocation! (Three unexcused absences are allowed.) A full house is essential for the effectiveness of these programs. Attendance is taken and students receive Pass or Fail grades, which will be carefully considered before merit and special external scholarships are assigned to School of Music students.

To be eligible to receive your diploma, you must have accomplished the following:

--Completed all of your required classes with final passing grades posted on your transcript and with a minimum 2.00 QPA (for undergraduate students) or a minimum 3.00 QPA (for graduate students)
--Performed all of your required recitals 
--Passed all of your required proficiency tests
--Cleared your financial account You can check the status of your classes and your financial account on the Student Online system at any time. See “Student Information Online” at