Nurturing God’s Gifts
Posted on November 27, 2019 | Posted by Mary Stoneback
At the end of October, I made a 5-day trip to Manhattan, Kansas for the regional level of the National Association of Teachers of Singing National Student Auditions. I competed in the top division, the NATS Artist Award as well as judging the collegiate levels. The NATS auditions are a chance for vocalists from high school on up to hone their skills, receive feedback from top teachers, and compete against other singers in their category for cash prizes, scholarships, and sponsored recitals to give them national exposure.
The NATSAA competition is particularly challenging; requires that you bring 14 pieces (instead of the usual 3-5) that fill a complex set of requirements. At your audition, you pick the first piece you sing, and the judges choose from the remaining pieces until your time is up. So, you bring an entire recital to be judged and nitpicked and compared against 16 other singers, all of whom also have or are working on graduate degrees in music. I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember, joining an audition-only classical children’s choir at age 8 and starting one-on-one voice lessons at age 14. I am a firm believer in always striving to improve one’s self and developing the gifts God has given, so I decided to compete this year.
On the day of the competition, I prepared carefully, doing a small workout with cardio and yoga followed by a good vocal warm-up to get my body ready, then reviewing music to get my mind ready, and finally re-reading all of these beautiful poems I’d be singing to get myself emotionally ready to sing expressively. When my turn came, the pianist and I entered and I announced our first piece, Hugo Wolf’s “Kennst du das Land.” I focused on telling the story of the text until the 7-minute song was done, then they requested my next longest and hardest piece, the 5-minute “Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion.” I didn’t lose my nerve or technique and made it through that, a Poulenc song, and a Rorem song, before they called time. I didn’t win the competition, but I was proud of the hard work I had done to get there and the performance I gave that day. All the singers gave wonderful performances.
A lot of what I learned from this experience has nothing to do with the actual details of singing. I saw that I can set my mind to it, put in the work, and really do a recital or a competition on my own, with no teacher or guide watching my every step. I also had amazing conversations with singers and voice teachers at a variety of levels and was fascinated by the choices we make and paths we take. And I’m not sad that I chose to have a family and teach instead of devoting myself 100% to performance. But we all continue singing because we love the storytelling, the poetry, the emotions, the gorgeous music, the drama, the incredible feeling of letting the sound pour through you. It is just something you just can’t give up. We’ll see where it takes me next!