Last week, thirteen music students from John Brown University competed in the Arkansas Spring Conference of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS). They brought home first place in three divisions and second place in two.
Every year, colleges and universities from all over Arkansas send their best singing students to compete. This year, the University sported an unusually large number of students, many of whom had done well in NATS competitions in years past. This year, the competition was held at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, Ark.
University voice students have practiced all year for the honor of competing. Divisions were based on singers’ gender and years of vocal training. After auditioning before three judges, students were eliminated in rounds — semifinals and finals. All finalists were required to perform before an audience made up of other competitors, teachers and singers from all over Arkansas.
“It’s challenging,” said junior A.J. Zaldivar, a worship arts major who attended NATS for the second time this year. “It gives me something to prepare for.”
“As a singer, it’s an opportunity to perform for an unbiased group of people,” said senior Ashley Grant. “It tells you where to go from here, not just with the competition but with your vocal training.”
Twelve of the thirteen students from the University made it to the semifinal rounds of their divisions. Nephtali Cantu and Adam Sloter took first and second, respectively, among freshman men.
Among junior men, Daniel Loganbill and Steve Hamilton took first and second, respectively, and Seth Long took first among senior men.
“The competition was thrilling,” said Loganbill. “We got lots of good comments about musicality and musical nuance,” he said of University students.
Loganbill said the competition was especially fierce in the younger women’s divisions, where there are many very confident entrants.
“NATS is looking for really big voices,” Loganbill said. “It’s more about power than musicality.”
In addition to the competition, students also attend a master class, where a few students sign up to workshop a piece with a master of the craft. The guest singer also gives a performance. Zaldivar said last year’s master, Jubilant Sykes, significantly impacted her. He performed a set of songs from a wide variety of genres.
“It was inspiring to hear him sing,” said Zaldivar. “I thought, okay, I’m not limited to just one genre. I can do lots of things—but correctly.”
The trip also serves as a bonding experience between the students, said Grant.
“It’s fun to get away with other music majors,” Grant said. “We eat meals together, we commiserate, we laugh together, we cry together.”
“Be proud of the singers that go to NATS,” said freshman Monica Matlick, one of this year’s semifinalists among freshman women. “They represent the school well.”
“This takes a lot of preparation,” said Grant. “Music is a serious study, and it is well worth the time and the effort. It’s one of the most rewarding studies I’ve ever done in my life.”