Help! How do I memorize all this music! by Christopher Lorimer

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Christopher Lorimer, friend and colleague of mine, has advice for people who need suggestions for memorization.  These are notes from a longer class on the subject. 

Memorization Ideas

  • Simple concept, makes sense, but why it is so important
  • The best way to combat nerves, is to be completely prepared
  • Inevitable distractions (nerves, confidence, appearance, etc.) need not be complicated by memory concerns
  • The better you know your music the less likely to make unnecessary mistakes

When to do it

  • As soon as possible, pieces should be memorized at least one month before performance
  • What poor memorization (preparation) can do to you at your audition
  • Making technical and musical mistakes
  • Not being expressive musically or visually
  • Not being able to make it past the inevitable memory slip

How to do it

  • Rote repetition
  • Tape
  • Writing out the text
  • When it is close to being memorized, refer to the music again for a more complete visual appreciation of the score
  • Learn songs in pieces
  • Learn a song backwards
  • Start working on it early so that you are not cramming it

What to do if you have a memory slip

  • When to keep going; when to stop
  • Those listening will know if you’ve made a mistake or if you don’t know your music
  • Realization: You will survive

Interpretation Ideas

  • Dynamics
  • Decided if the dynamic markings are those of an editor or those of the composer
  • Musicianship goes way beyond loud and soft
  • Know your voice – do not sing too loud in an effort to be impressive; do not sing too soft in an effort to be musical.

Interpretation is expression

  • Important aspects of expression
  • The most important thing is always using your voice as cleanly and clearly as possible
  • Importance of legato
  • Importance of sense of a phrase
  • Understanding and using your text
  • Spend time speaking the poetry.
  • Know what your text means, whether it is in a foreign language, or in English
  • Foreign language: word by word, poetic, know what the verbs/adjectives/nouns are, "bar translation" (decide what it means to you)


Christopher Lorimer, tenor, has been singing professionally and teaching voice in the Chicago area for more than thirty years. A graduate of Northwestern University, where he received his Bachelor and Master of Music degrees in Vocal Performance, he currently serves on the voice faculty at the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music and Concordia University. He taught private voice at the DePaul University School of Music for 12 years as well as classes in German Diction and Vocal Pedagogy. He was on the voice faculty of the Northwestern University High School Music Institute for fifteen years, where, in addition to teaching private voice, he taught diction classes, led master classes, and conducted chamber music ensembles. He has also served on the voice faculty at the University of Illinois Chicago and College of DuPage.

His students have progressed to top-level undergraduate and graduate music programs throughout the United States, becoming music directors, educators, professional choristers, and featured performers in many music festivals and opera programs here and in Europe. He is the Director of Music Ministries at the First Congregational Church United Church of Christ of Naperville. He also served on the Board of Directors for the Chicago Chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing for six years.

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