National singing competition comes to campus

Arkansas chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing competition this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Jubilant Sykes, a Grammy award-nominated baritone, will also be perfoming on Friday night as part of the event.

According to the Association’s official website, it is the largest organization of teachers of singing in the world, with more than 7,000 participating members.

Each state in the U.S. has its own chapter of the Association. Paul Smith, head of John Brown University’s department of music, said some of the University’s faculty has been members of the Association for decades. In fact, Smith was president of the Arkansas chapter for two years. However, this is the first year the University has ever hosted the competition.

The University has participated in these competitions on both a state and regional level in the past and has been the home of multiple winners and finalists.

The competition this weekend will bring around 250 people to campus, Smith said. There are a range of students who participate, from high school students to those who are on pre-professional levels, sometimes with students as old as 40. Because of this range, the Association divides students into 20 categories.

“To make it fair, we categorize according to age and experience,” Smith said. He also noted, from the college level on up, the Association separates men and women into different classes.

The main category is classical music, but there is also a Broadway category for high school, college and advanced students.

“Kids that are much more interested in doing a lot of musicals, stage plays, Broadway musicals, etcetera, etcetera, [are given] an equal opportunity to compete,” Smith said. “That is, I think for a lot of people, one of their most favorite categories.”

Friday starts the preliminaries, the first time the participants sing. Each competitor sings two pieces of music. Most categories require one piece to be in a foreign language. Sophomores and up are required to sing a piece from an oratorio or opera.

Semi-finalists are announced Friday night, and the semi-finals are held on Saturday morning. Competitors sing one piece in the semi-finals.

After the semi-finals, finalists are announced. The Association will hold the finals Saturday afternoon in the Berry Performing Arts Center. The preliminaries and semi-finals are held in private offices in front of a small group of judges, but for the finals, everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend, Smith said.

Smith said the Jubilant Sykes concert on Friday night is likely to be the highlight of the competition for many.

“He is one of the foremost baritones in the country specializing in spirituals, however, he also is very comfortable in the classical world,” Smith said.

Sykes is also a friend of Smith’s.

“We attended a summer music conservatory together [in Carmel, Ca.] and were roommates. I competed against him also at the Southern California Vocal Association’s competition. When you see that gorgeous smile and that amazing stage presence, you’ll know instantly why I lost to him every time,” Smith said with a laugh.

Sykes is also in the process of opening a new part of his career, Smith said. He is making his acting debut in the film “Carry Me Home” with actor Cuba Gooding, Jr. The film will be in theaters in late spring.

Tickets to Sykes’ concert can be purchased online at or by calling 479-524-7382. They are $10 for students and $20 for adults.