Singers invade campus this weekend

Sonia Emmons

This weekend, while many Lawrentians spend their midterm reading periods cavorting in places not within biking distance of Main Hall, more than 400 singers will invade the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music.They come to participate in a vocal competition known simply as NATS — the National Association of Teachers of Singing. The Wisconsin State Chapter of NATS will hold its annual auditions here at the Con this Friday and Saturday, Nov. 2 and 3.

NATS is a statewide competition that attracts both high school and college students from around the state of Wisconsin. Last year, a total of 60 Lawrence students and two students from the Lawrence Academy of Music participated in the competition, and eight Lawrence University students were awarded first-place honors.

Depending on categories based on age and gender, NATS competitors must sing two, three or four classical pieces from different time periods with at least one selection sung in a foreign language.

According to sophomore Derrell Acon, a first-place finisher in last year’s competition, the focus of NATS differs from other vocal competitions: “Whereas most vocal competitions are centered around the prizes, I feel that NATS focuses more on the experience,” he said.

Winners are indeed awarded cash prizes, but as Acon said, “The cash prizes are usually only enough to cover the accompanist’s fee, so I guess it’s all about the prestige.”

This year’s competition will be sophomore Lara Wasserman’s third time participating in NATS. She happily remembered her first performance last year, which qualified her for the semifinals. Above all, she enjoyed watching the final round.

She also revealed her fears for this year’s competition: “I’m worried about forgetting the words — they’re the first to go when I get nervous.”

Assistant Professor of Music Steven Spears related another adverse symptom of nerves: low breath support. “When their hearts start beating quickly, they lose that good breath support.”

Spears will be judging the High School Boys division, along with the Women’s Lower College (freshmen and sophomores) Musical Theater division. He explained the benefit of participating in a competition like NATS:
“Students receive critiques from teachers outside of their own private teachers. It is an opportunity to get a different view than that of an opera coach or a conductor.”

Spears stressed the subjectivity of the judging, explaining, “Judges may have a certain preference for voice type. Students don’t always realize how subjective the judging can be. Every teacher has an inherent bias.”

Despite this potentially frustrating subjectivity, most singers enjoy the NATS experience. Acon remarked, “I’m really excited about going through the process again, seeing how the judges will respond to the changes in my voice.” He then joked, “That’s right, they know me, just kidding.”

Aside from winning his division, what was Derrell’s favorite part about last year’s competition? “Finals was all-around marvelous!” he exclaimed.

On Nov. 2, auditions will be held all day in rooms and halls in the Conservatory. They will be held Nov. 3 in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel and an assortment of rooms from 9 am — 5 pm.

The Con won’t even know what hit it.