Six students specializing in vocal performance in Fort Lewis College’s Music program received recognition at the regional National Association of Teachers of Singing auditions this April. This was the first time that students represented FLC at the event, with 12 Music majors competing with more than 500 collegiate singers from Colorado and Wyoming.
“Competing on a stage that big was a brand-new experience for them,” says Kerry Ginger, assistant professor of Music. “And in our first attempt at this competition, these students were able to shine.”
One student, senior Music major Jonathan Patton, claimed first place for his division in both classical and musical theater. Five other students earned citations, the term used for award recognition in the event.
The regional chapter of NATS held the annual competition at Metropolitan State University in Denver. Participating students must study with teachers who belong to that trade organization—which both of FLC’s voice teachers, Ginger and Adjunct Instructor of Music Erik Gustafson, do.
“Essentially, the competition is a forum for students to get really detailed feedback,” Ginger says. “They're judged on a very holistic presentation that encompasses their tone, their languages, their technique, and then their poise and their acting of the drama of the song. And there are separate musical theater and classical categories.”
Each student competes with a body of repertoire consisting of three or four songs. Because of the specific criteria laid out for the event, many students had to prepare for the competition with new material.
“On top of what they had to learn for class here, they had to learn additional music,” Gustafson explains. “And a lot of the students had been involved with the Theatre Department’s production of The Pirates of Penzance that closed the week before. It was a really busy time for our students, and they really pulled through.”
While the recognition at such an event is certainly a motivator in itself, Ginger and Gustafson see the experience of participating at NATS as far more integral to these student singers’ developing professionalism.
“They’re going to be emerging from Fort Lewis with a set of skills, but they're going to have to seek out opportunities, they’re going to have to work with and sometimes compete with other practitioners for jobs, for opportunities. And this was a taste of that,” Ginger explains. “It’s a microcosm of what they're going to have to do when they graduate Fort Lewis as independent artists.”
Both Ginger and Gustafson were stunned by their students’ enthusiasm for participating in the audition. They expected a small handful of students to volunteer. Instead, they received commitments from nearly half the voice students in the program.
To ensure that so many students could experience this professional environment, Ginger and Gustafson encouraged them to apply for Student Travel Grants. These grants from FLC’s Undergraduate Research program are available to students traveling to conferences, symposia, design competitions, theater or music festivals, and art exhibitions. The Music Department helped with the funding, as well. All this support enabled the dozen voice students to participate fully in the competition.
And while the experience itself was the main educational goal, the awards simply show the excellence of these students and their training.
“It was incredibly affirming, I think, for everyone—the administration, us teachers, the students—that what we have here at Fort Lewis is special,” Ginger says. “It is just as good as what you get at a larger institution. In some ways better, because of how personalized it is.”