This week has been pretty rigorous, but very constructive for me as a singer. The big event of the week was the first contest of my audition season, Missouri NATS. This region is new for me. I grew up in the NATS West Central Region, winning the graduate division regional contest in 2008. NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing) is a very very fickle competition. Among singers, we generally loath the competition because it is entirely subjective. When you get knocked out of the contest, it is difficult many times to understand why you lost to so-and-so, and why whats-its-name won when they screamed the entire thing. But, it is a great way to practice high-stress situations. For me, there is nothing more intense than voice competitions.
Missouri NATS, in the grand scheme of things, is not a big contest. However, this one was much more competitive than what it would appear from the outside looking in. Of coarse, only Missouri singers were involved, but this involved singers from several conservatories including UMKC. Among these singers were some incredibly successful singers with nationally renown careers and competition winnings. There are divisions set up based on experience and age. My division was the most advanced division, so I was having to compete against the most successful and experienced singers. I know some of the singers I was competing against and I know what they have accomplished, including Met Audition Finals and graduates from very prestigious schools. So, I was not expecting to beat everyone; I just wanted to do my best and hopefully that would get me to at least advance to the Semifinals.
So, in the first round, we had ten minutes to sing as many excerpts from our four selections that we submitted to the competition. I sang Lenski's Aria from Eugene Onegin (which I have won three competitions with in the past), part of Thou Shalt Break Them from Messiah, and part of The Lamb by Hoiby. I performed pretty averagely this first round. I have been trying to get more resonance space past my passagio; in other words, a more mature sound way up in my high notes. Lenski was a little nasal and it was somewhat difficult to transition between the three songs because they are so different. I was a little too aggressive with Thou Shalt Break Them, and I had many troubles with The Lamb trying to make it delicate enough. But, The Lamb is a 20th century piece, and weird enough that I don't think it was as noticeable. It really bothered me though.
After a few hours of waiting, the results were in and I advanced to the Semifinals. I was very excited and very shocked because I advanced past some INCREDIBLY talented singers. The Semifinals were the next day, early in the morning, so I woke up early got a big coffee, took my allergy medicine, and drove the hour drive to the University of Central Missouri where the competition was. As soon as I arrived, I found that I was one of the first to sing. This was difficult, because singers are not used to singing early in the morning, so I had to do a cram warm-up session and shortly after had to compete. In the Semifinals we also had 10 minutes to sing and fortunately we were able to sing in a nice recital hall. Once again I sang Lenski's Aria. This was very powerful early in the morning, and I felt much more comfortable with it than how I sang in the first round. They asked to hear Thou Shalt Break Them, which I sang the whole way through. This was somewhat difficult because it is very virtuosic, and I had just finished a power aria and it was early in the morning. Nevertheless I finished, and it was about average or maybe a little less. Then they asked me what I wanted to sing and I selected Nebbie by Respighi. It is a "Pavarotti favorite" and one of my favorites as well. It fits my voice well because it is something that is relatively easy for me to sing and is very very difficult for others. Mainly because most of the crescendos are on descending lines, something I can do very well. Nebbie went well, and I felt very optimistic of how I performed.
Now, there were many other great singers, and the judges had to pick three to move on to the finals. So, I did not know what to expect but after another few hours of waiting, the results were posted and they had selected me to advance to the finals. Again, I was very excited. Not really because it was Missouri NATS, but because of the singers I was competing against. I later talked to one of my Semifinal judges who apologized for selecting Thou Shalt Break Them right after Lenski's Aria. He said, "Sorry, I just had to do it. I can wake up after sleeping for 10 hours and sing Thou Shalt Break Them without any warm-up, but I could never do Lenski's Aria no matter how hard I worked at it. I just couldn't resist picking them one right after the other." No one really ever gives me that kind of remark, so I was very happy to hear that.
I knew the three singers I was competing against in the finals, two sopranos. Now, I have never competed in a NATS contest that was mixed gender. Usually they are men only and women only categories. That is how this contest was except for the top division. Honestly, it is very difficult to compete against women, because they usually have a much more mature sound than men of the same age. Women do not have to go through a voice change so they can spend this time developing their voice, when all the boys have to start all over again with a wonky, cracky voice. So, to be the only male in the final of my division...I was very proud.
For the Finals, we had to sing in a giant concert setting. All the finalists of all the divisions sang one after the other and all the teachers are able to vote in a giant popularity contest of sorts. The final round lasted almost four hours and I was the very last person to sing. I had to wait over six hours from the last time I sang. This was very difficult to manage. Continually drinking water for six hours is very annoying - especially with all the bathroom breaks. I chose to sing Lenski's Aria which has been my "go to" aria for competitions. After talking to my teacher and coach, we decided to change it to Nebbie. It is very impressive, short, and memorable - someone might fall asleep with Lenski and I had to keep it under 5 minutes; I could go over 5 minutes with Lenski.
The other singers in my division were incredible. I was very honored to sing with them on the final. When it was my turn to sing, I was pretty nervous and as soon as I sang my first note, I felt the full weight of six hours of waiting. My voice was very heavy, meaning it had a lot of low resonance. The first phrase is an ascending octave and a half, booming up to a high note that I nailed. However, the lighter parts of the aria I had more trouble with because of how heavy my voice was. There is a second ascending line that was not very good, a little nasal, but still very full. I rushed a little too much in hindsight, but ended strong with a full low finish. It is a very unique art song; my only regret was that I should have been a little more lyric. There is not much I could have done to help that after the long wait.
At the awards ceremony, they invited all three of us up to the front. 3rd place.....not me. If they didn't call my name next that meant I won. They called my name. I placed 2nd. It is something I am used to, but I always wish I would have won. Since it was voted on by many people, it is a little more acceptable for me. But, I started to second guess everything, like "should I have sang Lenski since I've won a lot with it", "I wish I approached the second ascending phrase with a better breath", "I wish I paid more attention to my facial reactions and the performance", etc. In the end, it's spilled milk, and as formidable as a figure skating contest. I can only do my best, and make the most logical decisions. Nebbie is my most impressive piece, and the first ascending phrase I sang was excellent. I was very proud to have place 2nd among so many amazing singers and to have been the highest ranking guy.
Even though it was a relatively small contest, it was one of the most competitive ones that I have been a part of. I am very proud.
After the contest, I had to get back to Kansas City to sing at a gala concert for the Conservatory. We sang Brindisi from La Traviata as a grand finale with orchestra, opera chorus, and even fireworks (literally)! It was one of the fanciest things I have seen since coming to Kansas City.
This week I have a little time to prepare until I begin a couple months of many concerts and contests. I launched a new online service through KCVI and we are now available to have private coachings and lessons from anywhere around the world. Just this week I gave a voice lesson to someone in India! I will be announcing information about KCVI's online charity auction next week. We will have items from many famous musicians and many others including Pulitzer Prize winners, Caldecott Medalists, Newbery Medalists, Tony Award Winners, and Academy Award Winners. Some items include an autographed script from an episode of Law and Order, autographed music from Eric Whitacre, autographed film scores from Star Wars, Avatar, and Toy Story, autographed poetry from Maya Angelou, and autographed baton from world famous conductor Zubin Mehta, and autographed books, pictures, albums, and artwork from many others including American Idol winner David Cook, opera singer Marilyn Horne, and actress Angelina Jolie. These items were all donated by these individuals and the proceeds will go to their individual scholarships through the Kansas City Vocal Institute providing free or greatly discounted music education for children and families in the Kansas City metro area. I will post information on this next week on this blog and on all the KCVI sites. The tentative date for the auction will be the last week of November and first week of December. Hopefully there will be items up for auction that you will want to bid on to give to your music-loving family members or friends for the holidays or to keep for yourself.
And once again, in preparation for the Monteverdi Vespers concert that I will be featured in along with the Conservatory Singers and the Kansas City Symphony and St. Louis Symphony Chamber Ensembles, here's this week's weird and ancient instrument: the crwth.
That's right, the "w" is a vowel. It rhymes with "truth".
Click here to listen to a performance of a crwth with an annoying drone on E (I guessed it right on the first try)
Current Audition Info & Results
Missouri NATS - October 30-31 - 2nd Place Advanced Division
Santa Fe Opera - applied 9/16 - not invited 10/22
Chautauqua Opera (New York) - applied 10/5 - invited 10/22
Wolf Trap Opera (Washington D.C.) - applied 10/8 - not invited 10/18
National Opera Association Competition (San Antonio) - applied 10/12
Crested Butte Opera (Colorado) - applied 10/12
Sugar Creek Symphony and Song (near Chicago) - applied 10/12
Shreveport Opera Competition - applied 10/12
Symphony in the Valley (Colorado) - applied 10/13
Ash Lawn Opera (near Washington D.C.) - applied 10/13
November 10, 2010 - Singing "Der Lindenbaum" on John Mueter Presentation - Grant Hall 122 - 3pm
November 18-21, 2010 - The Dialogues of the Carmelites by Poulenc - Chevalier de la Force (cover) - White Recital Hall
November 30, 2010 - Choir Concert - Atonement Lutheran Church
December 2, 2010 - Chautauqua Opera Auditions - New York City, NY
December 7, 2010 - Featured Soloist - Monteverdi Vespers (400th Anniversary Concert) - Visitation Catholic Church - Kansas City, MO - 7:30pm
December 12, 2010 - Tenor Soloist - Messiah by Handel - Centennial United Methodist Church - Kansas City, MO - 4:00pm
March 17-20, 2011 - Don Giovanni by Mozart - Don Ottavio - White Recital Hall
April 23, 2011 - Gloria by Poulenc - White Recital Hall