Beverly Sills and the Mastery of Material

Beverly Sills said, “While performing my concentration is intense. When I finish singing an aria I am so disoriented I do not know where I am”. I thought a lot about the mastery of material required to achieve that level of concentration while planning my revised study plan this year.

My study plan needs to incorporate knowledge of material and expression just like any other great Diva. For me, performances like opera, dance, or sport are great examples for directing study efforts; you have to master basic skills which make exceptional expression possible. For example when you sing and hit a wrong note you must start over from the top or else you train yourself to make the same mistake again and again.  This year I reviewed my past exam results then studied the difference between my consistently 2:1 exam scores and my 1:1 goal.  I decided to approach the task like Beverly Sills rehearsing Lucia.

Artists who perform intensely emotional roles like Lucia go about it in very logical and disciplined ways. They define what they want to achieve then decide how to achieve that level of performance. Using their example I based my study plan on a thorough review of the ‘Regulations 2010-2011’ publication from The University of London International Programme.  It states very clearly what answers for each degree classification are expected to achieve. Comparing the descriptions for answers earning 1:1 and 2:1 marks was very revealing; it immediately showed me what was required and where my efforts should be directed. I decided to use a logic model and work backwards to organize my efforts.

Working backwards from the 1:1 description of an ‘excellent professional standard of execution’ helps put logical steps in place like mastery of skills in the study units, drawing cogent conclusions, applying rigorous analysis and independent thought, developing insights into primary texts and secondary reading, context, and fully analyzing and answering the exam questions.  The description of my 2:1 results does not contain several of these points including application of rigorous and analytical thought, detailed insight into primary and secondary reading, and context. Developing these areas while improving other points from good to excellent and exceptional is a tall order; but it allows me to implement a specific study plan based on outcomes.

Achieving specific outcomes requires focused effort; an accomplished soprano like Sills has coaches for voice, dramatic performance, and operatic singing. I decided to organize my ‘coaching’ into three areas also: writing and expression, analysis, and engagement with primary and secondary texts.  I test myself by writing timed essay plans for suggested exam questions. Producing timed essay plans tells me a lot about my mastery of material very quickly. 28 minutes is my best time for writing a detailed essay plan; it immediately shows if 1:1 points are present and tells me how to read and study.

Understanding how to read is important; I am not leisure reading although I am reading for pleasure as well as skills. This is how I analyzed and structured my study needs this term; I already see improvement in my approach to professional and creative projects. We will have to wait and see about exams.

2 thoughts on “Beverly Sills and the Mastery of Material

  1. It is important to use the specific criteria given in the student regulations to plan how much work and what level is required to achieve your goal. As you highlighted, if you are to achieve 1:1 then you must be fully aware of what it takes and what is required and devise your plan to fit.

    This should be done by all students at all levels including undergraduate. Every student should have a copy of the syllabus and examination marking guidelines right at hand when studying and revising. Always asking ourselves, ‘what is required of me?’

    Hearing it from someone else who is going through the process at even higher level motivates me to continue along this part. One day, the rewards will be sweet for the hard work!


  2. Well said! Thank you for reading and responding. I have found great rewards in my personal projects and professional work which are quite sweet and directly realted to our study model and exam process with the University of London International Programme. It is important to embrace and trust the process!



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