Eleven vocalists from the Biola Conservatory of Music competed in the annual National Association of Teachers of Singing, LA branch (NATS-LA) voice competition on March 31, 2018 at Orange Coast College, Costa Mesa. Six Biola students took top prizes for their performances.

Vincent Paule received third place under the sophomore men category, Mallory McCollum received first place in the junior women and Laurel Coddington received third place, Joshua Burke received first place in the senior men category and Shasta Bigham received second place in senior women and Rebekah Burns won first place in the Hall Johnson Spiritual competition. In addition, Adjunct Professor Joel Balzun won first place in the Young Artist Auditions.

Every singer was expected to bring at least three prepared pieces in various languages (requirements varied by category). All collegiate voice professors who are members of NATS were assigned to judge the various categories and pick the top three performers in each category. The 24 finalists then performed in front of the rest of their peers and NATS professors in the final round. During this round, all the professors filled out ballots to cast their vote for first, second and third place in every category. All winners received a monetary prize, as well as a certificate of achievement.

While many students choose not to participate in vocal competitions because they can be anxiety-inducing, others see them as an invaluable opportunity to learn and become more confident performers.

“NATS challenged me to focus on my performance and not become intimidated or compare myself to the other singers,” said Sarah Ritter, a sophomore vocal performance major. “Along with the many helpful comments which have made me aware of what I need to work on and what I am good at, I became more confident in my voice and in the idea that I may improve in small steps and still enjoy the bountiful talent around me.”

Professor Joel Balzun sent his own students to NATS since he values the spirit of collegiality experience at the competition.

“I think the students who view it as a cut-throat competition which determines their future need to realize that becoming a professional singer is a long road - these collegiate auditions are centred around the idea of feedback and collegiality,” said Balzun. “It's good to get fresh feedback on familiar songs, but then to also practice the art of supporting your colleagues - encouraging your peers before and after their auditions, and cheering for those who make it into the final round. I hope that next year, we get many more students from Biola participating in this event - not for the sake of winning, but to make a showing as a community.”

The annual NATS competition is a great opportunity for singers to meet other artists as well as continue to develop their craft. It also provides opportunities for singers to focus on areas of strength and improvement. Voice professors help their students better understand their voices and create goals for the rest of the semester.

Visit the NATS-LA website to learn more about the competition.

Visit the Conservatory of Music website to learn more about the Biola Conservatory and the Voice area.