Dr. Diane Reich, School of Music
The annual convention of Classical Singer, a premier trade journal for singers and singing teachers, began in 2009 to hold a competition for university students. This is strictly for classical singers age 18-25, who are training and aspiring to become professional singers.
The initial proposal was intended for the 2009 convention only. Due to careful management of expenses, some funding remained for the 2010 convention as well, and solely went to aid a student participant.
The aim of this grant was to give BYU School of Music vocal performance students an opportunity to venture out into the world of classical singing and participate in advanced level activities. While we have various departmental competitions and auditions, and students often participate in the National Association of Teachers of Singing local chapter auditions, there are few opportunities to sing for a wider audience. This experience involved travel to the convention, singing in several rounds of the competition (Round 1, Round 2, Semi-finals, Finals), and receiving feedback from prestigious vocal adjudicators. In addition, our students would be able to hear other student competitors from throughout the country, sit in on various presentations and master classes given by professionals in the field–exposure than we cannot duplicate by remaining on our campus. While the 2009 students served by this grant did not advance to subsequent rounds, they were still able to take advantage of presentations and observe many other singers. For the experience of competition and exposure to a broader field of singers, I feel the academic goals were met successfully.
Students also had to prepare for months so that their audition repertoire was honed in every performance aspect–vocal technique, language, translation, interpretation, dramatic staging. I can easily attest to the fact that every singer performed at a level higher than they had previously. There is nothing like the impending pressure of a performance to intensify study and preparation. These students did just that and reaped the benefits of growth.
With 2009 being the first year of this competition, we did not know what to expect — neither did Classical Singer. Over 300 students registered to sing on location in Chicago. BYU students discovered first-hand the frustration of being placed with differing judges in various locations, and “luck of the draw” with performance assignments. In 2010 the procedure differed–students participated in a preliminary round locally (which served as Round I), and only 3-5 were selected to continue to the convention in New York City. This ensured that only those prepared to compete in an advanced setting went to participate on the national level. While fewer of our students attended, those who did attend gleaned even more for their development. I had one student who advanced from the local to national level. She took full advantage of the professional feedback sessions, receiving comments from judges on everything from resume to dress to performance skills. I feel the second year, albeit fewer students were served, was even more successful in fulfilling the goals of this project. I am hopeful that we will have students participate in the competition and convention every year.
Students who have participated in this project are as follows:
Emily Hendricks Duncan — (participant 2009) currently senior vocal
performance major; performed a role in BYU Fall opera (2010); was employed as a classical singer of Italian art song and aria; is successfully completing her degree (Winter 2011); and will continue with studies and possibly graduate school.
Emily Bateman — (participant 2009) continuing studies in vocal performance; currently serving a mission.
Josie Angerhofer — (participant 2009) after serving a mission has opted to change to a BA in music; this experience was one factor that helped her to see that the pressures and demands of the industry may not be desirable for her (an equally important lesson).
Amy Cartwright — (participant 2009) completed a vocal performance degree and will complete Master’s of Music in voice this semester (Winter 2011); she performed a principle role in BYU fall opera 2009.
Alison Hunter-Nielson — (participant 2009, 2010) completed a vocal performance degree and will complete Master’s of Music in voice this semester (Winter 2011); she performed a principle role in BYU fall opera 2010; has performed multiple roles in local and regional opera/theatre companies; was granted auditions for several Young Artist programs, including Houston Grand Opera Studio.
Eric Callison — pianist.
All of these students gained experience and insight through this process. Alison Hunter-Nielson, however, has gleaned the most, I feel, as she continued to seek advice from professionals (attending two subsequent years) and refine her skills and preparation to be a professional singer. As stated above, she has been successful in receiving many roles and auditions in a wide variety of venues.
Each student participant not only had an audition/competition experience, and received feedback from judges, but also got a feel for a high-pressure situation, as well as singing “on the road.” Listening to singers from across the country gives one a sense of value for the education and training being received their self. It also helps students to see a level of singing to which they could also aspire.
Beyond the professional benefits, I was especially pleased with how our students conducted themselves. In a competitive environment it becomes easy to feel spite or hostility towards judges or other competitors, especially as a result of disappointment. All of our BYU students (and there were many others who attended besides those listed on this grant) maintained a positive demeanor. They kept comments to themselves, or in private, and were supportive of those who advanced — both within BYU and without. Since we were far from church services, we all gathered for a Sunday devotional where students provided talks, spiritual thoughts and sang hymns. Although I was proud of their preparations and performances, I was even more touched at how each strove to be the kind of person they should be and in turn strengthen each other. I feel this MEG project was successful in every way.