Posts > Audition Packet: Letters of Recommendation with Heidi Lauren Duke

Audition Packet: Letters of Recommendation with Heidi Lauren Duke

Heidi Lauren DukeAlthough YAP Tracker is primarily geared to singers and pianists, a number of directors and conductors  use the site as well to keep abreast of companies and information.  They often will be asked to write recommendations or serve as references using our customized tools.  Here is a post from Heidi Lauren Duke, director, choreographer, audition coach, and YAP Tracker member, about recommendations for singers. Later this week, we will ask Heidi Lauren how she uses the site as a networking tool from the production side.

Recommending and Reconnecting: Rec Letters and the People Who Hate Them

As an opera director, I am always honored and excited when a singer asks me to write them a recommendation letter, and immediately I want to help them succeed and am glad to hear they are putting themselves out there.  Unfortunately, life sometimes gets in the way.  Here are some tips and thoughts for making sure your rec letters don't get lost in the shuffle, and once they are in, they are full of glowing content.

1) A Recommendation is a Relationship!

Build a network of mentors and possible references.  At the end of any performance or program, ask any coach, director, or conductor (with whom you respect AND have had a positive relationship) if they would be open to serving as a reference.  You are in essence saying, "I respect your opinion and want you to be part of my team!" and who wouldn't love to hear that!  Also, don't be shy about asking for their thoughts on where to apply, or if they know anyone at certain companies.  A reference is always stronger if the "TO" and the "FROM" know each other!

2) The Big Ask - Make it Easy!
If you've developed a good relationship with your reference, it should be easy for them to remember how fantastic you are and write a letter in 60 seconds.  But again, life gets in the way.  I work with fifty singers a month sometimes, and that's nothing compared to some people in this business.  Help them out by writing a great email that (AGAIN!) establishes who you are, what your relationship is, and ALSO why they should be part of your team! Use this example as an outline of past, present, and future:

  • PAST: I sang Susanna in your production of Le nozze di Figaro at the New York Mozart Festival last January.  I really enjoyed coaching the recits with you and we had such fun dressing Cherubino up in all her crazy costumes!  My Italian and comic acting skills really improved, and I was so happy to get such great reviews and audience response!
  • PRESENT: Right now I am working hard on reviewing my French and German, and taking ballet classes.  I'm also preparing the roles of Juliette and Norina.
  • FUTURE: I would love your recommendation to top young artist companies, as I really think I'm ready this year for some fabulous auditions, and to learn and perform some more demanding roles.  

Do you see how a reference could turn this around into a recommendation letter very quickly?  It's important to remind them of the spectacular work you did with them, but also subtly display that you are aware of areas in which you lack (maybe Susanna wasn't so light on her feet, ahem?) and that you are working on those areas.  The reference can decide whether to speak to that or not (though I think the best letters do!)  And of course, goals are the name of the game in this business, and if you are clear in why you need them to write for you, they will turn that around in the letter to "this person is committed and will achieve results."

(I also think it admissible to ask for time-saving measures, like asking if they want you to write the letter yourself for them to edit, or if it is okay for them to email the letter and have you sign it or put in an envelope for them.  A reference understands the time constraints, and will either say yes or no.)

3) The Nitty-Gritty: It Ain't About Singing

In a recent recomendation form that I filled out (which is rare, but sometimes used by top companies) the things they wanted to know were about an artist's responsibility, punctuality, skills in acting and languages, and collegial demeanor.  It's really difficult to write about how gorgeous someone's voice is, and it doesn't mean anything because they are going you audition anyway.  So to be clear, this is why it's important to be the singer who is dependable, performs consistently, has clear awareness of his strengths and weaknesses, and has clear goals.  Why? Because this is the kind of person the company will hire, and if the letter is just about how talented you are, they will assume you are so talented that you forget to learn your role (admit it, you know that singer! Don't let it be you!)

4) Reminders, Reminders!
Let me know introduce you to my good friend Mr. Google Calendar.  Oh, you two know each other?  Goody!  Then you probably know that you can put in tons of reminders to nudge your references into getting that letter in.  Once they've agreed to do a letter, (hopefully 2-4 weeks before it's due) tell them they will get a reminder every three days, during the last two weeks until the deadline, unless they would prefer some other schedule.  The reminder should be a one line email from you.  Don't be afraid to be a bother! They can ignore you if they want, but it's about keeping top of mind.

5) References are Relationships (Yes, they still are!)
Have you ever interviewed someone for a job and had to check a reference?  Some people find it a drag but they are sadly missing the boat; reference checking is a great way to chat up new contacts, and your references know this!  So how does that apply to you?  Tell them who you are sending their letter to, and maybe even provide a direct email to the artistic director or company inbox, so they can follow-up, ask questions about the program, or reconnect if they wish. This is how recommendations can help everyone to feel supported, important, and develop lasting relationships in this chaotic business.

Heidi Lauren Duke has been a YAP Tracker member since 2007.  You can follow her writing at, and see video and photos from her productions at

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