Today’s guest post is from Renee Boomgaarden.
Our town has a wonderful vocal teacher. “Kathy” (not her real name) is a conservatory trained soprano who found true love with a local backhoe operator and successfully blended marriage and motherhood with the work of a vocal performance major. She teaches on occasion at the local college, performs with regional operas and civic choruses, and has a private vocal studio.
Kathy is really gifted at nurturing young voices and picking just the right material to challenge and inspire her students. This April, three of her oldest high school students (my daughter, daughter’s best friend, and another local girl) participated in a juried competition sponsored by the state chapter of NATS, the National Association of Teachers of Singing. The event was held at NDSU in Fargo while the Red River was cresting. Kathy is a member of NATS and participated as one of the nine judges. I drove the three girls to Fargo, along with best friend’s mother who also was the girls’ accompanist.
The singers were divided into competitive categories based on gender and year in school. Our girls were lumped in the one high school category. Most of the singers were college undergraduates, with a few singers in the graduate student and adult categories. There were separate categories for those singing Broadway musical numbers. Most of the participants sang opera arias and oratorio solos, with a few art songs thrown in. All singers started performing at 8:00 am.
It’s quite something to hear and see about 60 anxious singers preparing to compete that early in the morning. Practice rooms were at a premium. Most of the women wore rather daring and flamboyant cocktail dresses and very high heeled shoes. (By the end of the day, most of the women were walking around in bare feet). The men wore somber suits and ties. Once the 8:00 round was completed, the judges decided who would go on to the 10:30 round in which more singers would be eliminated, and so on through the 2:30 round, until the 4:00 final round in which the three best singers in each category would perform and be evaluated by all nine judges.
At 8:00, our girls were judged by two men who wrote furiously while the girls sang. They were finished by about 8:30 and they fell asleep in the van in the parking lot for two hours. Tension runs high at these events and those few minutes of singing wore the girls out. Best friend’s mom and I spent nap time listening to other singers and watching the weeping of those who were eliminated and the excitement of those who were sent on to the other rounds.
Our girls were the only high school students at the competition. Best friend has a phenomenal voice and she was the only one we expected to make it to any of the other rounds. Much to our surprise and delight, the judges decided that since there were only three high school students, all of our girls were automatically forwarded to the final round held in a lovely and intimate recital hall.
The Steinway grand took up most of the stage. The voices in the final round were truly beautiful and I don’t know how the judges decided between them. My daughter was the youngest singer in the competition. She is an alto, aka mezzo soprano at these events. Her voice is just developing strength and range. It was so interesting to hear how the voices matured as the singers got older, even among the college-age singers.
The last singer was a graduate student, a huge, barrel-chested man who closely resembled Pavarotti and looked like he was quite ill. He struggled to the stage, got himself in role, and and filled the room with an enormous, powerful baritone. He then struggled back to his seat and looked like he was going to collapse.
Daughter was awarded $10 for making it to the final round. The judges’ comments were all encouraging and kind. I am informed that she wants to do this again next year and she insists she has to have a new cocktail dress for the event. She feels she is too tall and her ankles too wobbly to wear high heels.
What have been your experiences being judged?