Vocal performance minors finish strong at regional NATS auditions

Two music minors finished first and third in the regional collegiate vocal auditions held by the National Association of Teachers of Singing in March. Lucy Kimbell placed first in the second-year collegiate women classical category and Cole Nash placed third in the third-year collegiate men classical category. Both will advance to the next round — submitting video auditions to compete for a spot at the national competition in June.

“I’m pretty sure we haven’t sent anybody to NATS from NC State in quite some time, and I’d be willing to bet the better part of a decade almost,” said applied voice lecturer DeMar Neal, who teaches Kimbell and Nash. “So to have two students from a music minor program competing against students that are music majors at other schools…and for them to have placed as well as they did, I think that’s a pretty big achievement and that’s something to definitely be proud of.”

NATS is a national organization that promotes lifelong healthy singing at all ages and levels, from children through adult and continuing education. There are regional and state district organizations which organize student audition weekends annually — separated into musical theater and contemporary commercial singing in the fall and classical singing in the spring. Students aren’t auditioning in the sense of competing for a role in a show; rather they’re competing for rankings and recognition, and the chance to compete on the national level.

“We call them auditions but they are simultaneously educational and enrichment experiences for students, giving them an audition experience,” said Neal, who serves on the board for the North Carolina chapter of NATS. “But there is a competitive element. Most people elect to compete; it is possible just to go and get commentary but most people do want a chance to progress in the auditions. That experience is a little more reflective of what happens in the professional world.”

At the state-level auditions in February, Kimbell and Nash each placed third in their respective categories, qualifying them to compete in the regional auditions. Through that process, they received feedback they could apply to their preparations for regionals.

“I’d say [I did prepare differently for regionals than for state] because I knew what to expect at regionals and I knew how to prep leading up to regionals better,” said Nash. “Because I think overall regionals went better for me than states did, which is good. I had more time to prepare the music because I had a month period between each one.”

Nash, who hopes to pursue a Masters in Vocal Performance and Opera and ultimately a career as an opera singer, compared the process to his looming graduate school auditions. “You have a time, you walk into a room, you sing and you leave. And you don’t know how it went, you only know how it felt for you.”

At the competition, students are divided into rooms where they audition one at a time in front of a group of judges. They’re given a time limit and must choose pieces that highlight their abilities without exceeding their time, in addition to requirements such as choosing pieces in different languages.

“Depending on where they are in their development, depending on what they can do with their instrument, we pick the repertoire to maximize their current strengths, because we know they’re going into an audition and you really want the piece to be strong back to front, top to bottom,” said Neal. “We want to make sure the entire package has an appropriate contrast of styles. You want something that can be a little flashy, but you also want something that’s a little slower, a little more emotional, to show range of performance ability.”

The competition itself is brief, with a lot of sitting and waiting. Kimbell sang last in her group and then left to get lunch and wait for the results. “Dr. Neal just texted me like, ‘Hey, are you still around? You won.’ I was just sitting in the car waiting for my mom to come back outside, so I was cackling for five minutes because I was like ‘How? How did this happen? I have no idea.’ It’s crazy because pretty much all the people that go are music majors, so for me and Cole to do so well, we were really happy with the result.”

The first and third place finishes at regionals were high enough for both Kimbell and Nash to advance. Next they submit video auditions to be considered for the national competition. If selected, they’ll have the opportunity to compete at the national conference in June.

“[As a student] it’s so easy to get caught up in your local environment,” said Neal. “You sort of set yourself against everyone else that is here currently. It was really rewarding for me to see the validation that [Lucy and Cole] got from competing with other students that are Bachelor of Music students that want to go and do this professionally. For them to have achieved what they’ve achieved and to see the reward that they got from that was really validating for both me and for them.”

Kimbell found the feedback of the judges to be very helpful, and was proud to be representing the NC State Department of Music in the competition. “I’m glad that I’m able to help showcase how strong this department is and that it should get a little more recognition for what it’s doing,” she said, “because the bands, orchestras and choirs here are amazing.”